Ancient Civilization's Airplanes

Man has always wanted to fly since the wake of human civilization. It would be great injustice to the efforts of the ancient men if we suppose that aircrafts were not made until the 18th century. The same history that gives you the accounts of Leonardo Da Vinci and Wright Brothers hides within its fold much older mysterious evidences of early aircrafts made by anonymous men of various forgotten world cultures.

Leonardo da Vinci’s Flying machine, the precursor to the airplane. 

If you dig a little beneath the mythical surface, you will come across well-documented ancient accounts of advance technology and craft used for making airplanes, beyond the domain of modern imagination. Some of the remnants of this outstanding old technological knowledge are evident in the rare artifacts, inscriptions and symbolic carvings preserved in some of our museums while some others lie open on the face of earth, exposed to the elements.

The Ancient Egyptian airplanes

A panoramic view of the pyramids at Saqqara, they are much older than the ones at Giza. It is located south of Cairo.

If you visit Room Number 22 of Cairo’s Egyptian Museum, you will see a curious wooden model that approximates the shape of a modern glider or aircraft. This little wooden bird/airplane structure was first discovered in 1898 at a tomb close to Saqqara and deemed to belong to 200 B.C. Dr. Khalil Messiha was the first scholar to study this model dedicatedly and bring it to limelight.

Side view of the glider model of Saqqara-the model resembles a bird but with vertical tail, no legs and straight wings

Under his initiative, the artifact measuring 5.6 inches in length and 7.2 inches of wingspan gave rise to speculations about ancient Egyptians possessing aeronautics technology. Interestingly, this model was found to have a very advanced ‘pusher-glider’ mechanism that can keep it air-borne at speed limits of 45 to 65 mph. Its assumed ability to carry a heavy weight during its flight was greatly attributed to its downward-pointing wings.

Although archaeologists and historians have challenged the existence of airplanes in ancient Egypt, this model has stood its ground as a proof against that for believers. Scientists have also stressed that Egyptians were known to create a miniature prototype of large-scale projects they planned to form. Viewed in that light, this bird-like artifact indeed appears to be a mini plane even to non-professionals.

Abydos Temple Reliefs

Abydos Helicopter and Submarine

Did the Ancient Indians have airplanes 2000 years ago?

Reaching out to the skies… – Kesava temple, Somanathapura

Dating back to the epical times, the modern Northern India and Pakistan area that was the hot seat of science and culture has yielded written texts talking about people using a sophisticated form of airplanes called ‘Vimanas’. Going by these accounts, a Vimana used to be a two-tier, circular vessel looking like a flying saucer with a dome and portholes. Vimanas were also made in cylindrical or cigar shapes and had phenomenal speed and melody characterizing their flight.

The ancient Indian creators of these wonder ships wrote down ‘instruction manuals’ on the varieties and control system of Vimanas that have found their way into the modern world and even translated to English. The ‘Samaranga Sutradhara’ is one such text of 230 stanzas that gives you an elaborate description on the detailed technicalities of air travel. The ‘Vaimanika Sastra’ belonging to the 4th BC is another text with airplane diagrams composed by the sage Bharadvajy that speaks of emergency flight means, ideal materials for making an airplane and use of renewable energy sources to fly them.

An interesting assumption about these Vimanas is that they could defy gravitational force and take off vertically from the ground in the manner of a helicopter! There used to be garages called ‘Vimangriha’ for parking the planes. These Vimanas were possibly propelled by gasoline, although there is confusion over this and some find the description matching mercury. A team of Russian scientists has even discovered glass or porcelain ensembles in the Turkstani caves that resemble navigating cosmic vehicles.

You will find discreet references to Vimanas even in the Indian epics Mahabharata and Ramayana. The references to Bhima’s chariot flying to Tibet and Ravana’s Puspak Rath are bright reminders of aeronautics technology. If that sounds like a fairy-tale, the Vedic references to the Vimanas will change your view. Mention is made of the dual-engine “ahnihotra-vimana” and the multiple-engine “elephant-vimana”. The Vedic technology was taken seriously by a Sanskrit scholar Shivkar Bapuji Talpade who came up with a unique unmanned plane in 1895 called “Marutsakthi”, which took a height of 1500 feet before crash landing. This first Indian aircraft design was entirely based on the rich treasury of India’s Vedas.

Thousand-Year-Old Airplanes from Ancient America

Chitzen Itza, Mexico

Ancient airplanes were not typical to India and Egypt; you will be surprised to know that golden trinket-like structures were found in America too that resembled aircrafts. Stratigraphical studies conducted on these gold models have attributed them to a period in between 500 and 800 CE, which makes them over 1000 years old!

Precolombian Airplane Model

The discoverers of these gold artifacts found them similar to animal shapes though later observations related them to airplanes because of the telltale signs of cockpit openings on them. Besides, if you see these structures for yourself, its plane-like nose meant for take-offs and landings will strike you immediately. To add to these, the gold ornaments seem to have a tail at their rear for obvious aerodynamic reasons.

This particular ‘model’ is on display in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC. Its explanation states: “gold artefact, a stylised insect, from the Quimbaya culture, Antioquia province, Columbia, ca. 1000-1500 AD.”

The spirals upon its wings and nose look like symbolical inscriptions rather than zoomorphic (animal like) eyes. You will further see semicircular grooves, a rectangular knob-like projection under the fuselage, slightly down-curved wings and the geometric symmetry of the entire structure. All these features have led many experts to conclude the figurines as crude forms of olden airplanes.

Ancient Chinese knew to fly?

Great Wall of China

China has remained the wonderland of East to give forth a wealth of inventions and remarkable new ideas to the world; no doubt, it did have its share of ancient airplanes too! If you go by the 770-475 BC Chinese book records, you will come across the master creator Lu Ban who fathered the first Chinese airplane. The Mozi·Luwen accounts describe a light flying model made of wood and bamboo that could fly for three days at a stretch. Other texts like Hongshu attribute to Lu Ban the credit of making a passenger plane.

However, the most remarkable and detailed account is found in Youyang Zazu that tells us that Lu made his wooden plane when he was posted far away from his home and family in a different town. So great was his longing to meet his wife that he used this ‘wooden bird’ to visit her! It was after a number of trials that this primitive plane was able to budge and fly. It made possible for Lu to visit his wife everyday and return to work the day after.

Evidences of mysterious airborne journeys
Some of the most popular and prevalent religious texts, like the Holy Bible also mentions the presence of flying technology. The Bible is truly a book of wonders in more ways than one and there must be times when you have given a thought to the Book of Ezekiel. What Ezekiel describes as the ‘arrival of God on earth’ could have possibly been another close brush with extraterrestrial or nearly extinct culture – what we readily connect with UFO sightings today.

The sense of miracle and awe with which Ezekiel described the encounter to his fellow folks could have received no other explanation in his limited worldview. The Book of Enoch also describes air-borne objects reaching the outer space. The interesting adventure of Enoch in a possible spacecraft for a number of days still catches our attention, specially the remarkable lapse of time between his departure and reappearance on earth.

And still more intriguing hints of ancient flying …
If you never stopped wondering about the mysterious massive stone faces of Easter Island, here is something more to authenticate the ancient knowledge of flight. Almost 300 zoomorphic and geometric figures drawn with astoundingly straight lines are found as elaborate geoglyph formations at Nazca plains in Peru. While some speculate these to be the outlines of constellations and landing strips of spacecrafts, others are of the opinion that these represent pictures of animal-god.

The Panamericana highway slicing through the Lines and Geoglyphs of Nasca and Pampas de Jumana, Peru

Nazca Lines – “Trapezoid” in the desert

However, seen from a height, these outlines appear close to be those of some mysterious maps. These could be roads or astronomical lines or runways or tracks for athletes … the list of speculation is virtually endless. What should strike you as an observer is by what technology were these miles of straight line drawn by people belonging to 2000-year old civilizations. Could they possibly have left the grounds to plan the geoglyphical layout?

We will never know! Nazca Lines continue to hold the mystery of supernatural occurring, that may be remotely related to ancient modes of flying. There is no end to myths and legends that gloss over ancient flying machines. Another fascinating of these accounts is that of Guru Padmasambhava of Tibet. This 8th century Buddhist leader is said to ride upon the back of his devotee Yeshe Tsogyal, transformed into a tigress for his trips to Tibet. Bon Po was another lama with a magical drum that acted as a personal flying machine and took him around places.

It has always been difficult for modern man to consider some unknown civilization superior than his. But, facts remain where they are – no matter if we have the courage to accept it or not. Nevertheless, it would not be fair to refute the apparent evidences without scientific explanations. And today when we stand face to face with challenges of understanding our own civilization, the thing that matters most is to have an open mind.