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Chamber of Invention

My Speedboat Is Stuck In The Sky: The Astonishing World of Anti-Gravity

Blog image of My Speedboat Is Stuck In The Sky: The Astonishing World of Anti-Gravity

If you’ve ever dropped a bowling ball on your winklepickers (while wearing them) or fallen down a flight of stairs, you will know that gravity is not always your friend. Few are brave enough to challenge gravity to a fight, yet here are two quixotic heroes seeking vengeance for Newton’s bruised head. 

It is said that you can judge a man’s calibre by his choice of enemy. If this is true then Roger Babson (1875-1967) was a most impressive individual, as his enemy was nothing less than gravity itself. By day, Babson was a millionaire financial wizard (he was almost alone in accurately predicting the Wall Street Crash of 1929). But wealth wasn’t enough for Babson; what he cared about most was saving people from the ‘weakest force’:

“ Gradually I found that ‘old man Gravity’ is not only directly responsible for millions of deaths each year, but also for millions of accidents …" 

Clearly, something had to be done, as Babson made clear in his essay ‘Gravity – Our Enemy Number One’.

You can’t keep a good man down

A lesser man would have been content to merely shake his fist at the invisible force. However, Babson was a human dynamo and with his typical determination he set up the Gravity Research Foundation (GRF). Its goal was to make a ‘gravity shield’ and eventually a ‘harness’ that could be worn, protecting the wearer from everything from plane crashes to slipping on ice. The GRF held gravity conferences that attracted a peculiar human menagerie including Igor Sikorsky (inventor of the modern helicopter), top physicists and even a frozen food magnate.

Babson also hired investigators to hunt for any patent “which directly relates to the harnessing of gravity”. The Foundation did all it could, paying out a small fortune while it scoured the world for bonny bouncing anti-gravitationalists.

Babson never found his magic harness. Perhaps they had more luck in Russia?

The flying man of Russia

It’s 1991: a sixty-four year old man flies above the Russian countryside. He has a pointy grey beard and is wearing a beret. His vehicle is a small wooden platform, with handlebars on a long stalk similar to a child’s scooter. He accelerates to seven hundred miles per hour and disappears over the horizon.

No doubt this remarkable sight caused at least one Russian picnicker to spit out her kvass with surprise.

The bearded, flying man in question was one Viktor Stepanovich Grebennikov (1927-2001). Grebennikov was an entomologist (insect specialist) and it was this field of study that led to a remarkable discovery.

Beetle-mania?

According to his claims, he was studying the wing shell of a particular beetle (he refused to divulge the type) when it began to float of its own accord! When he touched two dismembered sections of the wing together they spun round at great speed. Bewildered by the startling behaviour of the wings he experimented further, finding that this odd property was caused by the ‘chitin’ structure of the wing shell (don’t ask me how, I have no idea). Experimentation revealed that they were not lifting by aerodynamic lift, like an aeroplane, but by cancelling out gravity.

Grebennikov scratched his beard and wondered how much weight these wing shells could lift. He attached the beetle shells to a piece of board and found it could lift the weight of a man. By attaching controls, he turned the board into a flying machine.

Floats from the underground
His decidedly odd book ‘My World’ describes the adventures he had flying his anti-gravity device across Russia. It is a dreamy, romantic account that is popular in the bizarre world of Russia’s scientific ‘underground’.

To avoid unwanted attention his device folded to resemble a painter’s box, which was a fitting disguise as Grebennikov was a painter. Sadly there is no film of the flights of Grebennikov; the space-time warping effect of the process is not compatible with photography. The reason being that it makes both the device and the pilot invisible.

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