Three Germans succeeded
in developing a scale model of what they believe is the first airplane,
found as an archaeological discovery in South America.
1968, the Swiss author Erich von Däniken remarked in his
world bestseller Chariots of the Gods? that, in his opinion,
an artefact recovered from Columbia was nothing short of a prehistoric
airplane. The statement was controversial, as archaeologists had
catalogued the artefact as an insect. True, there is a difference
in scale between an insect and an airplane, but what both had
been studying was a small golden artefact, on display in the Smithsonian
Institute in Washington DC. Its explanation states: “gold
artefact, a stylised insect, from the Quimbaya culture, Antioquia
province, Columbia, ca. 1000-1500 AD.” Von Däniken
was on a mission to try and find evidence of a prehistoric, high
technological civilisation. Not content with making more out of
the Atlantis molehill than had already occurred, his main interest
were artefacts or buildings that were visible to each and all
– but which he felt had been misinterpreted. This, von Däniken
felt, was one such artefact: an airplane, not an insect.
There are several small "insects" that share more in
common with an airplane than an insect. Some of these are on display
in the Gold Museum of Bogota, Colombia. They are approximately
1500 years old, between two to three centimeters in length and
were recovered from royal tombs. Today, the Museum has a collection
of 33,000 plus objects and is one of the few sites where some
of the golden artifacts from Southern America civilisations can
be seen; most of the gold was taken by the Spanish in the 16th
century, melted, and shipped to Spain. Gold was considered to
be a sacred metal, reflecting the creative, life-giving energy
of the sun. In the Pijaos collection, the Museum has identified
a number of pendants in the shape of fish and insects, even though
the wings are attached underneath the body; and what to make of
the upright tail fins?
1994, three Germans, Algund Eenboom, Peter Belting and Conrad
Lübbers, decided to create a scale model of the “airplane”.
They wanted to experiment with its flight capabilities. At the
same time, they began to draw parallels between the features of
this artefact and other similar artefacts – as well as insects,
The trio soon realised that the people of South America were always
able depict insects and other flying animals anatomically correct.
If this gold artefact was indeed an insect, than it was still
an anomaly, as this “insect” was not depicted anatomically
correct. The wings were at the bottom of the body, not the top;
all insects have their wings at the top of the body. Still, even
some planes do; in fact, most propeller planes do; only the more
modern jet engine planes have their wings attached to the bottom
of the body.
Eenboom, Beltung and Lübbers concluded this could therefore
not be an insect. The design of the artefact nevertheless corresponded
perfectly with the design of aircraft – and even the space
shuttle and the supersonic Concorde.
1996, Peter Belting had created a scale model – an area
he was well-versed in, so much so that his interest in the field
of scale models had led to his decision to study the Columbian
artefact. The scale model was baptised “Goldflyer I”.
Built at a scale of 16:1, the plane measured 90 cm long, with
a wingspan of approx. 1 metre. It weighed 750 gram. A propeller
was added to the nose of the plane and the wings were equipped
with the necessary flaps and rolls.
Early test flights were a success. The plane had a stable flight
path and was able to make accurate and comfortable landings. In
short: the artefact behaved as a plane was meant to behave.
Next in the “BBL” development line was the Goldflyer
II. The model had the same dimensions, but was equipped with a
landing gear and a jet engine. The engine itself was a “Fun
jet”, able to make 20,000 rotations per minute. The modification
from a propeller to a jet engine was made as the scale model did
not have a propeller. If it had, it would have been an ominous
task for established scientists to label the artefact an insect…
If the “insect” had been an airplane, then it was
clear that its mode of propulsion was a jet engine.
The next problem to overcome was the location of the jet engine.
On modern airplanes, this jet engine is on the wings (e.g. modern
Boeings and Airbuses) or at the back (e.g. Fokker); the space
shuttle has them at the back, but its take-off and flight is vastly
different from traditional airplanes, as its airborne status is
aided with the aide of booster rockets. Goldflyer II’s jet
engine was positioned at the back of the aircraft, the only position
the artefact allowed for such a position. This insertion of the
jet engine in that position was a novelty and a risk; the air
flow into the engine would be different from the accepted standard.
Test flights learned that the plane continued to behave impeccably:
take-off and landings were perfect and its flight path was stable.
In short: the insertion of an engine at the back of a plane could
be perfectly achieved in modern aviation, if they wanted to!
have based their speculation on modern capabilities. The scale
models that fly are much larger than the artefact itself. The
original size of the artefact is difficult to estimate. The team
feels that the position of the jet engines determines the amount
of people that the plane could accommodate. If the jet engine
had been on the fuselage, then there would be room for 3 to 4
people in the cockpit. If the jet engines had been on the bottom
of the wings, then it could be the size of a modern aircraft,
e.g. a Boeing 737. This would allow a capacity of approx. 100
people. However, the problem with this assumption is that the
artefact shows nothing on the wings. Furthermore, there is nothing
to indicate that this scale model is indeed of a genuine airplane.
In its original size, it may have been made of light wood, and
may have been handheld, as a toy for children; a kite. It underlines
the basic problem that this artefact is just that: an anomaly,
which does allow for speculation, but which in itself can never
prove it is indeed a plane. Still, being able to demonstrate that
the artefact behaves like an airplane and is more of an airplane
than an insect, should give warning to the archaeologists that
further study of the artefact is required. Even if “only”
the archaeologists might have to re-evaluate their conclusions
to the notion that South Americans in 1000-1500 AD had airborne
toys would be a major discovery…
the AAS Conference in Florida (August 1997), Belting and Eenboom
gave a demonstration of the object in flight. The proof is in
the demonstration, and in this case, the proof is there: Goldflyer
II behaved impeccably, its landings being a thing of beauty. It
is impressive to see enthusiasts take this approach and demonstrate
their case – no-one can argue with the flight capabilities
of the “insect” as it is. This is what the model looks
like, and this is how it flies. But the definitive answer is still
in the future. In my opinion, BBL have been able to demonstrate
that the artefact is not an insect. At the moment, they have only
been able to prove it is an anomaly, an “item” that
has all the characteristics of an airplane. But is it one? Or
is it something else? Only new evidence, or comparisons with other
findings of a similar nature, might give us the final answer.
This article appeared in Frontier Magazine 3.6
(1997) and was updated once.