New Delhi: Shivkur Bapuji Talpade, flew an unmanned aircraft, eight years before the Wright brothers demonstrated on December 17th 1903 that it was possible for a ‘manned heavier than air machine to fly’. But, in 1895, eight years earlier, the Sanskrit scholar Shivkar Bapuji Talpade had designed a basic aircraft called Marutsakthi (meaning Power of Air) based on Vedic technology documented in ancient Sanskrit manuscripts. His demonstration flight took place before a large audience in the Chowpathy beach of Bombay.
The importance of the Wright brothers lies in the fact, that it was a manned flight for a distance of 120 feet and Orville Wright became the first man to fly. But Talpade’s unmanned aircraft flew to a height of 1500 feet before crashing down and the historian Evan Koshtka, has described Talpade as the ‘first creator of an aircraft’.
This historic day in 1895 (unfortunately the actual date is not mentioned in the Kesari newspaper of Pune which covered the event) was witnessed by the famous Indian judge/ nationalist/ Mahadeva Govin-da Ranade and H H Sayaji Rao Gaekwad. It is important to note that Talpade was no scientist, just a sanskrit scholar who had built his aircraft entirely from the rich treasury ofIndia’s Vedas.
Shivkar Bapuji Talpade was born in 1864 in the locality of Chirabazar at Dukkarwadi in Bombay. He was a scholar of Sanskrit and from his young age was attracted by the Vaimanika Sastra (Aeronautical Science) expounded by the great Indian sage Maharishi Bhardwaja.
Historic documents such as the Vedas and some Indian epics do mention flight and structures termed Vimana’s but nobody seems to have taken them seriously (inspite of claims & rumors that NASA’s ion engine is based on the vedic texts). The contents of the book Vimanika Sastra and all the innuendo put together by H Childress and Berlitz, were dismissed as hogwash by many learned scientists. Having read the “the anti-gravity handbook” and the Vaimanika Shastra translation myself, I should agree that both leave a number of new doubts and questions in the reader’s mind rather than answering them. It could be so since the original Sasthra text itself is considered incomplete.
1800-1900 was a period of inventions- People were innovating left and right, at a pace never attained since then. Eventually, two attempts got recorded into the annals of aviation history. One was Santos Dumont of Brazil and the other the Wright brothers of USA. The latter are accorded all the credit today for being pioneers of manned, controlled flight. Dumont’s supporters argued that his 14bis flew for 722 feet in 1906-1907 after his 1901 dirigibles; the Wright brothers did their first 852 ’ flight in 1903, but more in secret. Brazilians argued that Dumont flew without use of catapults and slopes to aid take off, the Wright brothers did just that.
Clement Ader did a self powered flight in 1890; or so it appears, but just 8 inches above the ground. Then there was John Stringfellow’s plane in 1848. The Wright brothers did some more sparsely witnessed flight demonstrations 1903-1906. But was there somebody else before the Wright’s, perhaps? Somebody who did not get his due recognition?
Well, one other person ‘purportedly’ flew a self powered unmanned plane in 1895. That man was Shivkar Bapuji Talpade. His plane was called ‘MarutSakha’. Reports concluded that he obtained the designs from his Guru Subbaraya Shastri (who compiled Maharishi Bhardwaja’s Vaimanika Shastra – a collection of some parts of the original Vedic period text), that he had his wife supporting him in these design & production endeavors, that the plane flew only a short distance before crashing, that it had a mercury ion engine, that he stopped his efforts after the crash due to paucity of funds, imperial animosity & lack of sponsorship.
Talpade passed away in 1916 unhonoured, in his own country. It is said that the remains of the Marutsakthi (the aircraft Tapade built) were ‘sold’ to a British company by Talpade’s relatives The story of the first Indian to fly a plane thus remains a myth, for lack of further evidence. If somebody has some more concrete data to prove this event, please feel free to provide it.