The Unexplained: Where is the mysterious airship now?

Bartlomeu’s drawing of his last airship. Did he actually build it, and does it still exist? Image from On Verticality.

At the time of his death, in November of 1724, Bartolomeu was working on a more sophisticated airship shaped like a pyramid and filled with gas.

In the 17th Century there lived an individual that had been christened Bartolomeu de Gusmao.  In 1686, he was born in Santos, Brazil, which was a Portuguese colony.  When he was 15, he began his time as a novitiate to the priesthood in a Christian order at Bahia.  He was able to travel to Portugal at the beginning of the 1700s when he found a sponsor in Lisbon, a Marquis.  Bartolomeu was able to continue his studies at the University of Coimbra.

He had a brilliant memory and a talent for language—he concentrated his studies in mathematics and philology, until one day he received a title:  Doctor of Canon Law as it related to theological studies.

Bartolomeu was a respected priest who was also an accomplished naturalist.  He also dabbled in scientific experiments.  He was so admired for his accomplishments, that he was able to gain an audience with King Joao of Portugal to present his plans for an airship and possibly gain the king’s endorsement for its completion—yes, an airship.  Bartolomeu had been expanding on the ideas of another admired experimenter.

The actual petition to King Joao, and an illustration of the contraption, are said to be preserved and sequestered in the mysterious and secret archives of The Vatican.

The airship had both good and bad points.  Bartolomeu had had some success with his lighter-than-air craft experiments.  He had built some small balloons that did fly.

The plan that Bartolomeu submitted to the king had the very scientific feature of a balloon-like canopy that the pilot could fill and refill with air coming in from air tubes, below, powered by a giant bellow.  In the ship were two large ball magnets that would provide direction and propulsion.  One of the far-fetched features of the amazing machine was that the body of the airship was shaped like a giant bird, complete with a head, wings, and a tail.

Bartolomeu was supposed to have a public test for the machine in 1709.  That did not happen, but he had an earlier exhibition in which he propelled a ball onto a roof.

The king was impressed by his experiments and gave him a professorship at Coimbra.

At the time of his death, in November of 1724, Bartolomeu was working on a more sophisticated airship shaped like a pyramid.  It would be filled with gas.

The airship that was shaped like a bird—did he build it or did he just draw it?  There are tales that he did build a model and that it is sequestered somewhere in The Vatican.  It is one of twenty or so fantastic and mysterious artifacts said to be hidden there.

Will they ever see the light of day?

Sara Marie Hogg is the author of The Scavenger’s Song. Please click HERE to find the mystery novel on Amazon.

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