When it comes to fixed-wing aircraft, well, the consensus on the basic principles was pretty much agreed on over a hundred years ago – engine provides thrust, wings provide lift, plane flies. This basic concept works well enough that it is pretty much universal. From the humblest Cessna to the most advanced F-22, this principle essentially holds true.
But naturally, inventors being inventors, there have been a few that couldn’t leave well alone and thought they could come up with something better. One of those was a flight instructor from Chicago, Steven Paul Nemeth.
Nemeth had a vision – that everyone should have the ability to fly as their mode of transport of choice. To this end he set about inventing a small aircraft that could be stored in a large garage and had good short take off capabilities.
The issue for Nemeth was how to land the aircraft in a very small space. The solution?
A parasol wing that acts like a parachute.
And not only did it get built, but it actually worked.
After conducting wind tunnel experiments at the University of Michigan in 1929, in 1934 Nemeth collaborated with students from the University of Miami to build the Nemeth Parasol, also known as the “Roundwing”. This used an Alliance Argo two-seat biplane fuselage as a base to build on, to which was fitted Nemeth’s parasol wing in a manner like a high-wing monoplane, held with multiple struts.
The wing itself had a diameter of fifteen feet (4.57m) and though only limited descriptions of the flap arrangement seems to exist photographs of the time show that the entire rear edge was divided into three large flaps, the two outer edge ones being the ailerons.
Other than the wing, the rest of the aircraft was fairly conventional, being a tail dragger design. Details on the engine are somewhat confusing, with sources saying that the aircraft initially was fitted with a Lambert radial and then with a Warner Scarab 7-cylinder radial that produced 110hp. As the Argo’s were fitted Hess Warrior engines, I don’t know why this was changed, but the Scarab is reported as being used in the test flights by press at the time.
Regardless, reportedly the Parasol achieved a top speed of 135mph (217km/h). The aircraft also demonstrated its remarkable flying capabilities. Apart from being steady to fly, during the test flight Nemeth deliberately stalled the aircraft to see if the disc wing would act like a parachute as intended.
And it did. With the engine off, the wing stabilized the aircraft, and it came down “almost vertically” to a gentle landing.
It was probably this, plus a healthy dose of marketing, that led Nemeth to claim that the aircraft was both “stall-proof” and “fool-proof” and that someone could learn to fly it in a mere thirty minutes.
While I am not sure about that, the STOL capabilities of the Parasol do seem impressive, the aircraft reportedly being capable of taking off in a mere 63 feet (19 metres) and landing in a quite ridiculous 25 feet using the “parachute-stall” method. Certainly, Nemeth’s aircraft got some attention, being reported on by Modern Mechanix and Popular Science.
After the successful test, the aircraft was redesigned with new flaps that underhung the wing, no doubt to try and improve low speed handling.
The aircraft also received a new engine, this one producing 120hp and fitted with a Townend ring for streamlining.
But though experiments carried on for a couple of years, nothing more seems to have come from the Nemeth Parasol. The aircraft has since vanished, whether scrapped or returned to its original Argo configuration impossible to say.
And with it went an intriguing exploration into a new wing concept, as well as another exponent of the idea of bringing the ability of flight to the masses. With comparatively little data seemingly surviving on this aircraft, maybe there is a university aeronautic department out there that may fancy having another crack at it?
Food for thought.