The Pennington Flying Machine of 1877

by Cleo G Hogan, 1978

James Jackson Pennington (1819-1884) of Henryville TN conducted experiments with various instruments for aerial flight 25 years before Count Von Zeppelin and the Wright brothers' first flight. He patented a device in 1877 consisting of a balloon from which was suspended a fan which would draw air into a chamber and expel it through a narrow aperture. The thrust of the expelled air would make the contrivance move.

    "I am sure," he wrote another inventor, Eugene Falconnet, in 1883, "I have the Aerial Bird. It has the power to go and to guide right and left and up and down and that is all a buzzard has or any other fowel [sic]. I can cross the briney deepe and plane the North Pole and conquer the world and will stop all Wars. But, I have the Bird but have not the money to put up an Air Ship ..."

    In the patent abstract, Pennington described: "My invention relates to machines navigating the air; and it consits in a fan of peculiar construction, which taken air in from the front of the air-ship and forces it out at the rear. The apparatus is suspended by a balloon or upon a rope tramway, and is propelled by drawing the air into the conduits and driving it out of the discharge-nozzle. When the apparatus is suspended by a balloon it is raised or lowered by auxiliary fans, and when it is desired to turn the apparatus in a horizontal plane, the gate is turned so as to direct the air to one side or the other, as may be required. By means of my improvement, air-vessels are rendered as manageable as those upon water, and all the advantages of aerial navigation are secured."

    Pennington could not find funds to build a full-scale prototype and died without seeing his dream come true. His widow sold the model of the Flying Machine to the Wright brothers for $500, and the patent expired in 1894. Yet his dream climbs into the air daily at the Lawrenceburg TN airport, named Pennington Field in his memory.