The Mystery of “NB Gas” solved and “Aero” Airship Flight: A Chemical Perspective

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Charles Dellschau was an American artist who created drawings, collages and watercolors of airplanes and airship.  Dellschau was also involved in the recording of the activities of the Sonora Aero Club (a group of flight enthusiasts).  According to Dellschau, one of the members (Peter Mennis, an inventor and pilot) had discovered a formula for an anti-gravity fuel called the mysterious “NB Gas”.  The Sonora Aero Club disbanded in the 1860’s due to the untimely death of Peter Mennis and without the secret “NB Gas” formula (Mennis did not write down the formula) the group could not fly any more.  After an extensive chemical search, this article will attempt to solve the mystery regarding “NB Gas”.  It will be illustrated that a mixture of two solids (ammonium chloride and and sodium hydroxide) with water could produce ammonia gas.  Therefore, ammonia gas (is lighter than air) could be used as the gas fuel source known as “NB Gas” to lift and propel the “Aero” airships as described by Charles Dellschau.

Aero airship - Peter Mennis - The Sonora Aero Club

Aeros – The Airships of the 1850’s

Charles August Dellschau was born on June 4, 1830 in Brandenburg, Prussia and he died on  April 20, 1923 in Texas (in the United States)(Busby, 2004, Crenshaw, 2009, McEvilley, et al. 2013).  He was an American artist who created drawings, collages and watercolors of airplanes and airship (resulting in twelve large, hand-bound books with more than 2,500 drawings) that were discovered decades after his death.  After Dellschau’s death in 1923, these books and drawings were stored in the attic of the family home in Texas where they remained until being discovered after the home had burned and the works (drawings, collages and watercolors ) were discarded into a landfill in Houston, Texas and then salvaged (in the 1960’s)(Busby, 2004, Crenshaw, 2009).

Dellschau was also involved in the recording of the activities of the Sonora Aero Club, of which he was a member (Busby, 2004, Crenshaw, 2009, McEvilley, et al. 2013).  The Sonora Aero Club was a secret group {thought to be a branch of a larger secret society known with the initials NYMZA (this organization was the provider of financial backing for the Sonora Aero Club) (Busby, 2004)} of flight enthusiasts who met at Sonora, California in the mid-1800’s.  Dellschau’s watercolors and collages resembled a fleet of aircraft that could be best described as using hot air balloons for flight (Crenshaw, 2009, McEvilley, et al. 2013).  In the UFO community however, it is believed that some of Dellschau’s drawing resembled flying saucers and the infamous NAZI “Bell” (Die Glocke) secretly developed by the NAZI’s in World War II.  This also is a matter of speculation.

According to Dellschau, one of the members (Peter Mennis who was an inventor and pilot) had discovered a formula for an anti-gravity fuel called the mysterious “NB Gas” (“weight nullifying  gas”) (Crenshaw, 2009, McEvilley, et al. 2013).  “NB Gas” was also called “lifting Fuel”, “supe”, “suppe” or “suppa”.  This anti-gravity fuel according to Dellschau drove the ships’ wheels, side paddles and compressor motors (Crenshaw, 2009, McEvilley, et al. 2013).  Enclosed is a brief description of Dellschau’s 1856 “Aero” motor (according to Dellschau’s notebooks):

  1. A secret powder was added to water
  2. The resulting solution was dripped onto a ‘special drum’
  3. The liquid was converted to “NB Gas”
  4. A chemical reaction causes the drum to spin
  5. This then powers an ‘air compressor’, and apparatus for lift and propulsion (Crenshaw, 2009).

The mission of the Sonora Aero Club was to design and build the first navigable aircraft using this mysterious gas (“NB Gas”) for lift and propulsion.  These flying machines where called “Aero” and Dellschau made no claims that he was a pilot.  He was the official draftsman and scribe for the club, because of his artistic ability.  He never drew himself aboard an “Aero”.  He illustrated a remarkable number of designs (as many as 100) and named the airships; “Aero Mio”, “Aero Trump”, “Aero Schnabel” and “Aero Mary” (Crenshaw, 2009).  Dellschau drawings also illustrated the heroic Peter Mennis (pilot of the “Aero Goose”) and inventor of “NB Gas” (Crenshaw, 2009).

The Sonora Aero Club disbanded in the 1860’s due to the death of Peter Mennis (according to Dellschau’s notebooks) and without the secret “NB Gas” formula (Mennis did not write down the formula) the club could no longer fly (Crenshaw, 2009).  In other words, the formula went to the grave with the death (presumed untimely death where details are not unknown) of Peter Mennis.  In many drawings, Dellschau laments about the demise of Mennis.  Dellschau writes in one drawing “Peter Mennis you are not forgotten”, and in another,  he writes “no more suppe” (Crenshaw, 2009).

There are many speculations for the exact formula of “NB Gas”.  It could be Neon gas {with the chemical symbol (Ne) (which has a density of 0.9002 g/L (gram per liter) at STP and average atomic mass 20.17 g/mol)}.  Neon is lighter than air and will lift a balloon.  However, it is relatively rare on Earth and it would require a considerable expense to produce.  Neon gas was discovered {along with krypton and xenon (with the chemical symbols Kr and Xe respectively)} in 1898, well after the Sonora Aero Club disbanded in the 1860’s.

“NB Gas” could also be Helium gas (with a chemical symbol of He).  Helium (which has a density of 0.1786 g/L at STP and average molecular mass 4.003 g/mol) is twice as heavy as (diatomic) hydrogen with hydrogen having a 8% more buoyancy than helium.   On Earth, Helium is relatively rare with only 5.2 ppm  (ppm means: parts-per-million) by volume in the atmosphere.  Therefore, this gas too would require considerable expense to produce or extract from the air using 1850’s technology.

It should be noted, that there are limited chemical possibilities for a solid mixed with water (as described by Dellschau) to produce a gas that would be lighter than air.  After an extensive chemical search however, this article will attempt to solve the mystery regarding “NB Gas”.  It will be illustrated that a mixture of two solids (that were available and known to inventors/chemists in the mid-1800’s) with water could produce a gas and that this gas could give lift and propulsion for an airship (as described by Dellschau).

Therefore, it is proposed that a mixture of two solids (ammonium chloride (with the chemical formula, NH4Cl) and sodium hydroxide (with the chemical formula, NaOH) was used to produce “NB Gas”.   Ammonium chloride is  a white crystalline salt that is highly soluble in water (Cohen 2015).  Aqueous solutions of NH4Cl are mildly acidic (Cohen,  2015).  “Sal ammoniac” is the name of the natural mineralogical form of NH4Cl, and the mineral is commonly found on burning coal dumps (due to the condensation of coal-derived gas) (Cohen, 2015).  Interestingly, the ancient Egyptians were very familiar with NH4Cl and at one stage in their history, they worshipped Amun (or Amon, a major Egyptian deity) and used NH4Cl in their religious worship rituals (Cohen, 2015).  An inventor/chemist in the mid-1800’s would be very familiar with the compound ammonium chloride.

Sodium hydroxide (NaOH) is also known as lye and caustic soda and is an inorganic compound that is a white solid (and a strong base) which is available in pellets, flakes, or granules (that could easily be pulivered into a fine powder).  Sodium hydroxide is extremely soluble in water and can form an approximately 50% (by weight) saturated solution with water.  When dissolved in water solid sodium hydroxide is a highly exothermic reaction that produces extreme heat.  Interestingly, in 1807, sodium hydroxide was discovered in England by Sir Humphry Davy, therefore making it available to Peter Mennis’ formula for “NB Gas” in the mid-1800’s.

A mixture of these two solids {a 50/50 mixture or 1:1 stoichiometric quantity (see EQ 1)}, ammonium chloride (NH4Cl) and sodium hydroxide (NaOH) can be dissolved completely in water to produce “NB Gas”.  Therefore, ammonium chloride (NH4Cl) reacts with a strong base, like sodium hydroxide (NaOH), to release ammonia (NH3) gas (EQ 1).

NH4Cl(Ammonium chloride) + NaOH(sodium hydroxide) → NH3(ammonia gas) + NaCl +H2O (EQ 1)

The above balanced equation would be extremely efficient due to the excellent solubility of the two reactants ammonium chloride (NH4Cl) and sodium hydroxide (NaOH) (found on the left side of the reaction).  It should be noted, that the product NaCl (sodium chloride) salt would be completely dissolved in water (H2O) found on the right side of the reaction (the product side) due to its extreme solubility in water.  This reaction is a classic Acid + Base to yield a Salt + water reaction, where the Acid is ammonium chloride (NH4Cl), the Base is sodium hydroxide (NaOH), the salt is NaCl (sodium chloride) and water (H20).

Ammonia gas (NH3) has a density of 0.769 g/L at STP, with an average molecular mass of 17.03 g/mol and is considered lighter than air.  A gas is lighter than air if the gas has an average density lower than that of air.  Dry air has a density of approximately 1.29 g/at standard conditions for temperature and pressure (STP).

EQ 1 illustrates the reaction of a 50:50 mixture of ammonium chloride/sodium hydroxide to produce ammonia gas in a saline solution (sodium chloride/water solution).  Steps 2 and 3 of Dellschau’s 1856 “Aero” motor (described above) (according to Dellschau’s notebooks) involves dripping this solution onto a ‘special drum’ that is spinning, where the liquid (as described by Dellschau) is converted to “NB Gas” (Crenshaw, 2009).   Ammonia gas is miscible with water.   Miscibility of a substance is the property of a substance that can be mixed in all proportions with another substance, resulting a homogeneous solution.   In an aqueous (water) solution however, ammonia gas can be expelled by boiling.  The physical act of spinning of this ‘special drum’ would resulting in a boiling effect and more of the ammonia gas  (contained in the sodium chloride or saline solution) would be released or expelled.  It should also be noted, that sodium hydroxide mixed with water results in an extreme exothermic reaction (with the release of extreme heat) and this too can result in boiling of saline water solution found in EQ 1.

It should be also noted, that ammonia gas (NH3) is a toxic gas. This gas is an irritate to the eyes, lungs and breathing it can lead to severe poisoning.  The human nose can detect ammonia gas at well below danger levels.  For a 15-minute exposure, the concentration in the atmosphere should not exceed 25 mg.m^-3.  It is proposed here, that since limited to no information is available concerning the death of the inventor of “NB Gas” (Peter Mennis), that prolonged exposure to ammonia gas could have lead to his demise (presumed in an untimely manner).

On a different note, Peter Mennis called his mysterious gas “NB Gas” and the chemical formula for ammonia gas is (NH3).  NH (the first two letters of the chemical formula for ammonia) is very close to the “NB” in the “NB Gas” as described from Peter Mennis.  Peter Mennis could have used this difference in order to keep his gas confidential and secret.

Therefore, it is proposed in this article that ammonia gas (NH3) could be produced from a simple mixture of two solids, ammonium chloride (NH4Cl) and sodium hydroxide (NaOH) dissolved completely in water and allowed to react.   Ammonia gas (is lighter than air) could be used as the gas fuel source known as “NB Gas” to lift and propel the “Aero” airships as described by Charles Dellschau.

Published articles by Dr. Cohen 

 

References

  1. Busby, M. Solving the 1897 Airship Mystery.  Pelican Publishing Company, Gretna, Louisiana (USA), 2004.
  2. Cohen, BI. THE GREAT PYRAMID OF GIZA AND THE QUEEN’S CHAMBER SHAFTS:  A CHEMICAL PERSPECTIVE. Nexus vol. 22, no. 5 (August-September) 2015.
  3. Crenshaw, DG. THE SECRETS OF DELLSCHAU: The Sonora Aero Club and the Airships of the 1800s, A True Story. Anomalist Books, LLC, San Antonio, Texas (USA), 2009.
  4. http://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/gas-density-d_158.html
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Die_Glocke
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helium
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neon
  8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodium_hydroxide
  9. http://science.cleapss.org.uk/resource/SSS030-Ammonia-gas-and-solution.pdf
  10. McEvilley, T.; Cardinal, R.; Brett, J.; Crouch,TD.; Safarova,B.;  Morris,R.; Baker-White,T.; Charles Dellschau. (ArtBook, LLC)/Marquand Books/D.A.P., New York, New York (USA), 2013.

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About Author

Dr Brett I. Cohen holds a PhD in inorganic and bioinorganic chemistry from the State University of New York at Albany. He received his PhD in November 1987 for his thesis entitled “Chemical Model Systems for Dioxygen-Activating Copper Proteins” and was a postdoctoral fellow at Rutgers University in 1988–1989. His research at Rutgers was in the area of peptide synthesis utilising transition metal chemistry. After his postdoctoral fellowship, from 1989 to 2003 Dr Cohen was one of the owners of Essential Dental Systems (manufacturer of dental composites and dental materials) where he was Chief Executive Officer and Vice President of Dental Research. Dr Cohen has been awarded 16 US patents and has had over 100 papers published in peer-reviewed journals (such as Journal of the American Chemical Society, Inorganic Chemistry, Journal of Dental Research, Journal of Prosthetic Dentistry, Journal of Endodontics and Autism, etc.). These papers cover a variety of areas such as inorganic and bioinorganic chemistry, biomedicine, autism, physical chemistry, dentistry and more.

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