Tom Swift and his Ultrasonic Cycloplane

By Victor Appleton II

Summary: The following summary was copied from the dustjacket of the book and sent to me by Greg Weir. Thanks, Greg!


"There's part of Bud's wrecked plane!" Hovering his new cycloplane, the DRUMHAWK, in turbulent skies above the wilds of the New Guinea jungle, Tom Swift Jr. points to the sheared-off wing of his friend's plane. The area, flanked by two extinct volcanoes, is as forbidding as the deserted native huts clustered in sinister shadows.

Without Tom's latest aircraft, which uses ultrasonic rotating drums to provide lift, a rescue attempt would be impossible. Battling violent weather conditions, the young inventor lands the DRUMHAWK and organizes a rescue expedition.

Hazards are encountered from hostile natives who fire barrage after barrage of razor-sharp stone missiles and from a scientist with a deadly ray weapon. Tormented constantly by crafty enemies and nature's perils in the search of Bud, the rescuers unearth a clue that the young pilot is a prisoner of an unscrupulous group of white men who have discovered a fabulous ancient secret and are utilizing it for nefarious purposes.

How Tom, at the risk of his own life, outwits Bud's captors and opens up a new field for science makes tense, exciting reading. 


Major Inventions


The main invention in this book is, of course, the Ultrasonic Cycloplane. The Cycloplane is Tom Swift Jr's first redesign of the old-fashioned airplane. Using a completely new flight technique, the Cycloplane can take off vertically, hover, is noiseless, and can break the sound barrier. In this book, Tom Swift uses the Cycloplane in the jungles of Papua New Guinea to locate his friends who have crashed deep in the hostile jungles.


How does the Ultrasonic Cycloplane work? I think that Tom explained this invention well, so I'll let him handle it:

On each side of the ship a shiny magnesium cylinder, wide as an oil drum, ran the full length of the fuselage. In flight, the twin cylinders would spin at terrific speed, powered by Tom's ultrasonic generator that had now passed all tests successfully.

"Do you really think those twin rollers will provide enough life for take-off and flight?" Bud inquired doubtfully.

"They will if my answers to certain aerodynamic equations are correct. For example, when you apply Bernoulli's equation--"

"Give it to me in kindergarten talk," Bud pleaded. "Those ten-syllable words make my head spin. And I'm note even air-borne yet!"

"Okay." Tom chuckled. Know how a pitcher throws a curve?"

"Sure -- by making the ball spin."

"Right. And as the ball spins, it drags air around it by surface friction. As a result, air piles up on one side of the ball and thins out on the other side."

Bud's face brightened as he suddenly caught on. "Oh sure. That air build-up on one side causes an increase in pressure, and that's what forces the ball away from a straight-line path. Only I still don't see what all that's got to do with the twin cylinders on your cycloplane."

"Same principle. A stream of air from the sonic turbine flows outward from the plane and passes over the cylinder. As the cylinders spin around, the air piles up on the lower surface. So you get an increase in pressure there, just like the pressure on the lower surface of a wing. And that's what boosts us upstairs!"

"Guess it figures at that." Bud nodded slowly. "Will your cycloplane be able to do the same kind of flying as a helicopter -- I mean, hovering and all?"

"Sure, but it'll also have many advantages over an ordinary helicopter," Tom pointed out. "For example, there are no overhead rotors to cope with, and there is no noise or vibration. With the ultrasonic generator powered by Swift solar-charged batteries, the plane will fly almost forever without new fuel. And with a jet engine added for forward flight, I'm hoping to break the sound barrier."

"Looks as if you 'd picked the wrong name, skipper," Bud remarked. "You should have called it a cyclocopter, meaning a mixture of helicopter and cyclone!"

What other features does the Ultrasonic Cycloplane have? There are two other important features of the Cycloplane that I think are worth mentioning. The first one is its an advanced automatic pilot:

"What's that box you're installing, skipper? Some kind of electronic gear?"

"It's a cybertron, Bud," the young inventor replied. "You've heard of cybernetics, the science of thinking machines? Well, this is a cybertron."

Bud looked baffled. "You mean that gadget does the thinking for the plane? Oh, I get it! Must be some kind of automatic pilot!"

"Right," said Tom. "A very advanced type of automatic pilot."

As Bud climbed up into the cockpit beside him, the young inventor explained how the cybertron, and gyrostabilizer, controlled by servomechanisms, would regulate the speed, course, and altitude of the cycloplane in flight. In addition, it would also beam out a radar-type signal to detect any obstacles in the plane's path.

"If an echo bounces back," Tom went on, "the cybertron automatically figures out what has to be done, and instantly alters the plane's course to avoid a crash."

"Wow! Wait'll the airlines get hold of that!"

"They'll have it soon, I hope," Tom replied with quiet pride. "That is, if it works out okay in my new cycloplane."

Secondly, the Cycloplane is outfitted with a pair of wheels and can be driven as a car on the highway.

What was Tom's biggest problem in perfecting the Ultrasonic Cycloplane? Tom's biggest problem with perfecting this invention was in perfecting the ultrasonic generators. Tom had two problems here: first, the generators did not work right and caused nearby items to burst into flames. Secondly, the generators caused the Cycloplane to vibrate, and the vibration was violent enough at speeds of 450 knots to cause the Cycloplane to go out of control. Tom overcame both of these problems, however, with subsequent redesigns of the main ultrasonic generator.

How feasible is it to build an Ultrasonic Cycloplane? Well, while there are no problems in the theoretical design of the craft, there are some problems in actually carrying the plan out. First of all, there is the ultrasonic generator. The generator that Tom built emitted very intense, high-frequency waves. Creating sound waves takes a lot of electrical energy, and harnessing them as Tom did is extremely difficult as well.

Besides the major problem of creating the sonic generator there is another problem as well: system integration. You see, Tom Swift's Cycloplane had three separate systems: the ultrasonic generators, the jet engine, and the motor that drove the wheels. Integrating those three systems all in one small vehicle would prove to be an extremely difficult challenge -- and add that challenge to the challenge of creating the generators and you end up with a project that is feasible but unpractical.

How much impact would an Ultrasonic Cycloplane have on civilization? I think that the biggest deciding factor on the Cycloplane's impact is its price. If the Cycloplane was comparable in price to a Cessna, I think that the Cycloplane would likely completely take over the small aircraft market. After all, think about it: why buy a Cessna when you can get a Cycloplane that is faster, smoother, safer, and has an automatic pilot? Add the fact that the Cycloplane comes with a lifetime's supply of gas, and you have an unbeatable combination.



Minor Inventions


There are a few other interesting things mentioned in the book that I would like to mention, the first one being Tom Swift's resistorizer. The resistorizer is basically a one-man force-field that shields against one thing: strong electromagnetic waves. Why bother to build such a device? Well, in the book, Tom Swift discovered that the camp in which Bud had crashed was being protected by a strong electromagnetic "force shield". This force-field, in fact, is what caused Bud to crash in the first place: when Bud's plane came into contact with the field, the field disrupted the controls of the plane and caused it to go out of control.

Since Tom wanted to rescue Bud, he needed to find a way to protect both himself and his plane from the harmful effects of this shield, and he did so, after spending some long hours in the Flying Lab. Here is how he did it:

"Well, it all goes back to Maxwell's equations," Tom began. If we assume the wave length of the electromagnetic radiation produced by the -- "

"Wwoo-o-oa! Hold it, pardner!" Chow protested. "I kin bust a bronc, but I sure can't stick in the saddle when you start spoutin' them jawbreakers!"

"Okay, Chow," Tom laughed. "What it all boils down to is this: I've doped out a small gadget--you might call it a resistorizer, I guess--powered by one of my flashlight-size solar-charged batteries."

"What's it do?" asked one of the men.

"Very roughly, it automatically throws out a counterwave of its own," Tom explained. "This wave is always 180 degrees out of phase with any electromagnetic wave and will dissipate the energy of our enemy-s weapon in a burst of tremendous heat."

(One small side note here: some of you might have noticed that the repelatron and the resistorizer work on what appear to be the same principles. This is the case, but there is even more similarity between the two: the book Tom Swift and his Deep-Sea Hydrodome states that the repelatron was simply an enhanced resistorizer.)

Tom Swift soon found another use for his device, however: absorbing the force of the enemy' stunray guns. In the book, Tom Swift's enemies had a gun that produced high-intensity electromagnetic waves. The waves, when they hit a person, had the effect of stunning him. Tom Swift's resistorizer acted as a defense against the electromagnetic waves by dissipating the waves in a burst of intense heat.


While we're talking about the enemy's stunray gunsÖ

What did the enemy's stunray guns look like?

His other arm cradled a queer-looking device like nothing Tom had ever seen before. Cylindrical in shape, it was covered with white ceramic insulation. From the front end protruded two thick electrodes that looked like the antennae of some monstrous insect.

How did the stunray guns work?

An instant after the unknown man puled the trigger a bluish-white luminescent glow filled the air around the electrodes. For a few fearful seconds Tom wondered if his resistorizers would repel the attack.

Feeling no effect himself, he watched his friends. They too seemed to be all right.

Ed, relaxing a bit, said, "Tom, how does that thing work?"

"The antennae probably sends out a train of electromagnetic shock waves!" Tom repliedÖ

Meanwhile, the bluish-white luminescent glow still filled the air around the antennae of the overseer's weapon. But fortunately it had no effect on Tom's group. Even Bud and Hank showed no evidence of further shock.

Suddenly there came a sound like a small thunderclap. A wave of heat struck them with the searing force of a furnace blast! Fearfully Tom and his companions fell back, shielding their faces against the overpowering heat.

"Wow!" choked Ed, struggling for breath. "Wh-wh-what was that?"

"Our resistorizers dissipating the shock waves!" Tom explained.

All three of the rescuers were red-faced and panting. Their lungs seemed to be on fire from the stifling effect of the hot air, but the resistorizers had protected them from being shocked into submission.

How strong was the stunray gun?

"Sure is a deadly looking gadget." Ed Longstreet shuddered. "Especially when the business end was pointing our way! Could it kill a man?"

"Not likely," Tom replied. "I imagine the field is just strong enough to knock a person out at close ranger. What I'd like to know is how the thing's powered, but I guess that will have to wait till I have time to take it apart."

How was the stunray gun powered?

"How about that electric shock gun, skipper? Do you think Strang used [the natural battery] in there?"

"I believe not," Tom replied. "But let's find out for sure."

With deft fingers he took the weapon apart, then burst into laughter. "Strang tried to knock me out with one of my own inventions! This shock gun is powered by a Swift solar-charged battery he must have bought!"


Also, about the enemy's main electromagnetic wave oscillatorÖ

Where was the oscillator located? The oscillator was located in the same cave as was the ancient city.

How did the oscillator work? The book doesn't give any details, but I imagine that there was nothing very complex or fascinating about its innards. Simply put, it just generated electromagnetic waves.

How was the oscillator powered?

"An oscillator needs an electrical power input to make it run. But there's nothing like that down here."

Tom grinned. "Now you're asking the pay-off question, chum. See that corona around the pit? That's your answer, I believe."

He opened jackknife and reached down into the pit. A mere touch of the blade sent up a shower of sparks! Cautiously the young scientist gouged a small particle out of the ground.

"This is something like mica," said Tom. "You know -- the flaky substance that's used in making electrical insulation and condensers."

For the first time, his companions realized that the pit was actually a mineral bed of some kind. The soil was streaked and veined with queer materials, some of which Tom had just dug up on the point of his knife blade. He rubbed the stuff between his fingers, and it flaked away at the touch.

"Do you realize what this mineral bed really is?" Tom asked.

"Sure -- a mineral bed." Bud grinned.

"That's not all. It's also a huge, natural battery!"


The others started at the young inventor in amazement, then Bud pleaded, "Explain it real simple like, so the rest of us can understand."

"Sure, that'll be easy." Tom smiled. "Notice how this bed is made up of thousands of layers of mica with layers of that steellike material between?"

"That steellike material is cerium, another one of the rare earths. Cerium is what they use in photocells. It makes electricity out of the daylight that pours down through the volcano shaft, and stores it up in the form of chemical energy like a giant battery. I imagine that in olden times, when the storm clouds weren't around here all the time, the charge was even stronger."

Tom's companions were awe-struck by the unique phenomenon. Doc pointed to the cables leading from the control board down into the pit. "Then Strang simply taped this source of power to run his oscillator!"

"Right," Tom agreed. "What's even more amazing is that the ancient people who lived here took advantage of this phenomenon and used it for light. I think they drilled this crevice to bring in the sunlight."

Ed gaped. "You're implying that this civilization achieved a highly advanced level of scientific know-how thousands of years ago!"

"I admit that it's only a theory, Ed, but why else would they build their city underground? There must be some connection between that fact and this natural battery--otherwise it's too big a coincidence to swallow!"



And FinallyÖ


The book after Tom Swift and his Ultrasonic Cycloplane is, of course, Tom Swift and his Deep-Sea Hydrodome. However, if you happen to have a dustjacket copy of this book, you will find (on page 181) that the next book is referred to as The Undersea Mountain Mystery. This mistake was corrected in later printed cover copies of this book, but why the mistake was made in the first place I do not know. Perhaps the name of the next book was changed after this book was writtenÖ

Tom Swift on the Phantom Satellite | Tom Swift and his Deep-Sea Hydrodome | Index

This page hosted by