It all began in 1935 because of a young aeronautical engineer with a high school education and two years study in the School of Mechanical Engineering at Oregon State College, who later became a World War I flier. His name at that time was Jonathan E. Caldwell and he lived near Glen Burnie, Maryland. He invented and built a tighter than air machine which in addition to conventional nose propulsion, was driven by a nine cylinder, 45 horse power French engine with controlled speed blades, each three feet long by 12 inches wide, mounted on top of midship which enabled the plane to ascend or descend vertically and even hover. The blades were attached to the cardinal points of a 14 foot wooden disk which was free revolving, deriving its momentum from the puwer driven nose prop blast.
The canvas covered, tubular steel plane, christened the "Grey Goose", had been constructed in a tobacco warehouse and then tested on the Maryland farm of Caldwell's friend Lewis Pumpwrey on State Road Number 3, Anne Arunder County. The machine flew fairly well; it was actually the wingless forerunner of today's helicopter.
Not satisfied with his initial achievement, a few months later Caldwell completed a fundamentally different design named the "Rotoplane", similar to an earlier model, the spectacular lifting capability of which had been tested successfully in Denver, Colorado in 1923. Notwithstanding its lifting power, this machine proved to be less maneuverable. Its energy source consisted of six large, pitched, rotor blades encased in a single 12 foot diameter rim or flange, above and in the center of which the operator sat. A news story at the time referred to the contraption as a "flying joke".
But regardless of critics and lampooners, Caldwell was not deterred from his dream of a round wing air machine. He began his final prototype which would indeed prove successful. The latest model was 28 feet in diameter and would disappear before the press or public was allowed to examine it closely, although it had been used openly to provide rides and give demonstrations to interested observers and investors.
The machine resembled a huge tub with a set of six blades projecting out from both the top and bottom of the "tub". In the center of the affair was a round tubular housing or cockpit containing seats for two persons, plus gauges, gears and levers and of course the motor. (The first motor was an eight cylinder Ford V8 gasoline engine with the block cut in half. This motor was considered heavy and troublesome in operation and was later replaced by a newly cast four cylinder lightweight aluminum block, along with aluminum gears which were later substituted with bronze.)
The operator sat in the top of the center tubing or hub with his head and shoulders above for the purposes of sight navigation. Hands and feet operated with ease the levers and pedals for speed and direction. The bottom set of six lift blades were wide, fixed at a slight angle, and they turned clockwise. They had a controlled speed operated by one of the gears.
The six, maneuverable pitch blades located topside were for lateral direction, projecting from the housing; they turned counterclockwise. In essence, the structure and design of the craft, as well as its mechanical movements and controls, were of utmost simplicity.
The two sets of rotors, set six feet apart, revolved in opposite directions around the ship. They were power driven during ascent but turned freely in pure aerodynamic descent if the motor failed, thus allowing the craft to float down under direction from its chosen height at a slower speed than that of a parachutist.
Airborne directional control was attained by changing the angle of the upper set of rotors: that is, forward or reverse thrust was accomplished by a tilting mechanism attached to the top bank of rotors. Thus slippage took place toward the lower side with advancing blades riding down-grade and retreating blades gaining altitude. According to Caldwell's description it was the same principle which birds used in flight, substituting rotors for feathered wings and tail.
The bottom of the craft could be made water tight, enabling it to take off from land or water. To raise capital for his forthcoming enterprise and float costs, Caldwell attempted unsuccessfully and repeatedly to sell stock in his aviation marvel names "The Rotoplanes Inc.," even offering up to $5.00 for a trial ride in the machine. The stock certificates read in part: "That the stock is for an invention, which invention is used in the development of an aeroplane designed to fly on the bird principle of flight, and that the stock is worth $10.00 to $100.00 per share, depending on his (Caldwell's) success in developing the aeroplane."
Eventually, a curious Army- Air Corps Colonel, Peter B. Watkins, dressed in civies, appeared as a prospective buyer whom the delighted inventor took for a test flight. The Colonel was permitted to take the controls, and was astonished at the craft's advanced maneuverability over the bi-wing and mono- wing airplanes of the 30s.
The Colonel flew the machine 45 miles to Washington, D.C., where he made 100 mile per hour passes over Washington Monument, and the White House. The Colonel was elated when he actually stopped the forward motion of the machine and hovered for a few minutes directly over the 241 foot high Washington Monument. Upon return to the city he was granted an interview with President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
He told the President that Caldwell's mystery plane was so advanced in design that to avoid copy by foreign military, the United States should immediately obtain control of patents and production. Roosevelt agreed with the Colonel, asking him to reevaluate the project and report back in 30 days for Congressional approval.
Within 30 days, without apparent Congressional approval, Roosevelt acted. Caldwell received a letter from the Attorney General of Maryland, advising him to cease and desist the sale of the stock in his new company. Previous solicitations to sell stock in New York (1934) and New Jersey (1932) had likewise been stopped by their State Attorney Generals. Caldwell, in effect, was forced out of his new aviation venture before it got off the ground.
In the autumn of 1936, Caldwell disappeared and officially was never heard of again.