Unexpectedly Intriguing!
08 September 2023

Gaining the ability to fly is one of the oldest dreams of human beings. It can be found in the ancient Greek myth of Icarus. In that story, all Icarus needs to fly is a pair of wings made with feathers attached by wax. But what starts as myth becomes a cautionary tale. Icarus flies too high, too close to the sun. The sun's heat melts the wax attaching the feathers to the wings, causing them to fall out. When too many feathers detach, Icarus stops flying and starts falling. It all ends quite tragically.

It's only been in last dozen or so decades that human beings have learned to fly safely. The U.S. Patent Office has issued hundreds of patents related to that achievement. But what most of those patents describe is not the kind of flight humans dream about. A dream of flying requiring minimal gear and nothing more than jumping from the ground before the experience of soaring in the air for as long as desired before gently touching down again at the end of flight. There's no falling involved. Certainly nothing like what happened in Icarus' story.

There may be hundreds of patents related to flight, but U.S. Patent 4,457,509, issued to Jean St-Germain in 1984 is the one that has come the closest to delivering making it possible for humans to have that long-dreamt experience of flight. Enter the Levitationarium!

U.S. Patent 4,457,509 Figure 1

Given the scale of the figure, it may be tough to see the people entering the Levitationarium and engaging in flight, so we added some color to help locate them. Here's the patent's abstract, which describes St-Germain's inventive vision:

An installation such as in the form of a building having a room or chamber in which an upward air flow is produced to levitate human beings. This installation, herein called a levitationarium, is constructed and arranged to be simple, safe and economic to operate in particular by comprising a blowing propeller that is shrouded and arranged to produce an induced suction flow in an annular air passage around it, under the action of the direct flow by the propeller inside the shroud; by having a toroidal air passage arranged for closed circuit streamline air flow serially through it and the levitation chamber; and by including a toroidal core portion interposed between the levitation chamber and the toroidal air passage and providing a spectator gallery and access to the levitation chamber.

It's not the fully free flight of which humans have always dreamed, but its not that far from it. Today, levitationariums are places you can go to experience it.

Although they're not called levitationariums. You'll find them advertised as "indoor skydiving" or "vertical wind tunnel" facilities in several dozen cities across the U.S. Check out the following 2016 video from iFly Westchester in Yonkers, New York, where the modern incarnation of St-Germain's invention appears to live up to the hype:

At this writing, booking a two flight experience can be done as at offpeak times for as low as $75 at the Yonkers location, the price at peak times is $105.

That's a bargain. Just try to make your own pair of waxy wings for less than that these days.

From the Inventions in Everything Archives

The IIE team has a long history with things that either fly or float through the air. Here's a short list:


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