First aircraft build by Indian
not Wright brothers!
Talpade – The Indian Sanskrit scholar who built and flew a mercury engine aircraft in 1895, 8 years before the Wright brothers!
Shivkur Bapuji Talpade, flew an unmanned aircraft, eight years before the Wright brothers demonstrated on December 17th 1903 that it was possible for a ‘manned heavier than air machine to fly’. But, in 1895, eight years earlier, the Sanskrit scholar Shivkar Bapuji Talpade had designed a basic aircraft called Marutsakthi (meaning Power of Air) based on Vedic technology documented in ancient Sanskrit manuscripts. His demonstration flight took place before a large audience in the Chowpathy beach of Bombay. The importance of the Wright brothers lies in the fact, that it was a manned flight for a distance of 120 feet and Orville Wright became the first man to fly. But Talpade’s unmanned aircraft flew to a height of 1500 feet before crashing down and the historian Evan Koshtka, has described Talpade as the ‘first creator of an aircraft’.
This historic day in 1895 (unfortunately the actual date is not mentioned in the Kesari newspaper of Pune which covered the event) was witnessed by the famous Indian judge/ nationalist/ Mahadeva Govin-da Ranade and H H Sayaji Rao Gaekwad.
It is important to note that Talpade was no scientist, just a sanskrit scholar who had built his aircraft entirely from the rich treasury ofIndia’s Vedas.
Shivkar Bapuji Talpade was born in 1864 in the locality of Chirabazar at Dukkarwadi in Bombay. He was a scholar of Sanskrit and from his young age was attracted by the Vaimanika Sastra (Aeronautical Science) expounded by the great Indian sage Maharishi Bhardwaja.
Historic documents such as the Vedas and some Indian epics do mention flight and structures termed Vimana’s but nobody seems to have taken them seriously (inspite of claims & rumors that NASA's ion engine is based on the vedic texts). The contents of the book Vimanika Sastra and all the innuendo put together by H Childress and Berlitz, were dismissed as hogwash by many learned scientists. Having read the “the anti-gravity handbook” and the Vaimanika Shastra translation myself, I should agree that both leave a number of new doubts and questions in the reader’s mind rather than answering them. It could be so since the original Sasthra text itself is considered incomplete.
1800-1900 was a period of inventions- People were innovating left and right, at a pace never attained since then. Eventually, two attempts got recorded into the annals of aviation history. One was Santos Dumont of Brazil and the other the Wright brothers of USA. The latter are accorded all the credit today for being pioneers of manned, controlled flight. Dumont’s supporters argued that his 14bis flew for 722 feet in 1906-1907 after his 1901 dirigibles; The Wright brothers did their first 852’ flight in 1903, but more in secret. Brazilians argued that Dumont flew without use of catapults and slopes to aid take off, the Wright brothers did just that. Clement Ader did a self powered flight in 1890; or so it appears, but just 8 inches above the ground. Then there was John Stringfellow’s plane in 1848. The Wright brothers did some more sparsely witnessed flight demonstrations 1903-1906. But was there somebody else before the Wright’s, perhaps? Somebody who did not get his due recognition?
Well, one other person 'purportedly' flew a self powered unmanned plane in 1895. That man was Shivkar Bapuji Talpade. His plane was called ‘MarutSakha’. Reports concluded that he obtained the designs from his Guru Subbaraya Shastri (who compiled Maharishi Bhardwaja’s Vaimanika Shastra – a collection of some parts of the original Vedic period text), that he had his wife supporting him in these design & production endeavors, that the plane flew only a short distance before crashing, that it had a mercury ion engine, that he stopped his efforts after the crash due to paucity of funds, imperial animosity & lack of sponsorship.
The problem with this story is that there is very little to corroborate it except for the two articles, one by Times of India and one by Deccan Herald. There is a third write up linked here.
The Times article states- In 1895 an Indian pioneer flew what is said to be the first Indian plane in the air. The centenary year of the first successful flight, by the Wright brothers, was celebrated from December 17, 2003. But our own pioneer from Mumbai, Shivkar Bapuji Talpade, made an aircraft and had flown it eight years earlier. One of Talpade's students, P Satwelkar, has chronicled that his craft called 'Marutsakha'(Friend of the Winds) flew unmanned for a few minutes and came down.
Surprisingly according to the bi-monthly Ancient Skies published in USA, the aircraft engines being developed for future use by NASA also uses mercury bombardment units powered by Solar cells! Interestingly, the impulse is generated in seven stages. The mercury propellant is first vapourised fed into the thruster discharge chamber ionised converted into plasma by a combination with electrons broke down electrically and then accelerated through small openings in a screen to pass out of the engine at velocities between 1200 to 3000 kilometres per minute! But so far NASA has been able to produce an experimental basis only a one pound of thrust by its scientists a power derivation virtually useless. But over 100 years ago Talpade was able to use his knowledge of Vaimanika Shastra to produce sufficient thrust to lift his aircraft 1500 feet into the air!
Kesari was a newspaper edited by Bal Gangadhar Tilak in Marathi. Some argue that the very fact that Kesari Bal Gangadhar
himself was editor when this article was printed, gives it complete credibility. Some add that Shivkar Bapuji's craft only flew only to a twenty meter height and crashed within seventeen minutes,
hence was counted largely as a failure but had he been loaned more R&D money he might have gone into the annals of history. Anyway Talpade supposedly lost interest in things after his wife`s death which happened some time after the test flight, and after his own death in 1917 at the age of 53 his relatives sold the machine (in which children of the house used to play) to Rally Brothers, a leading British exporting firm then operating in Mumbai.
Maharaja Sayaji Rao Gaekwad of Baroda was a great supporter of the Sciences in India, and was willing to help Talpade with funds to build his aircraft and the mercury engines.
But the success of an Indian scientist was not liked by the Imperial rulers. Warned by the British Government the Maharaja of Baroda stopped helping Talpade.
Talpade passed away in 1916 unhonoured, in his own country. It is said that the remains of the Marutsakthi (the aircraft Tapade built) were ‘sold’ to a British company by Talpade’s relatives
The story of the first Indian to fly a plane thus remains a myth, for lack of further evidence. If somebody has some more concrete data to prove this event, please feel free to provide it.