Slip the surly bonds of symmetry
December 30, 2017 3:31 PM   Subscribe

Happy to see the Boomerang in its rightful position
posted by exogenous at 3:45 PM on December 30 [2 favorites]

I can't see how #8 is asymmetrical...but these all make me inexplicably uncomfortable
posted by scruffy-looking nerfherder at 3:51 PM on December 30 [5 favorites]

Oh, sure, those are great if you want to fly around in circles all the time. You're not fooling me with this stuff, I've been in rowboats with only one oar, so I know how this works.
posted by gusottertrout at 3:59 PM on December 30 [13 favorites]

I can't see how #8 is asymmetrical...

The left wing is noticeably longer than the right.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 3:59 PM on December 30 [3 favorites]

The left wing is noticeably longer than the right.

Don't look at it too long. I developed a twitch in the left side of my face that won't go away.
posted by dazed_one at 4:20 PM on December 30 [8 favorites]

Wow, this is amazing. I only knew about the Boomerang and the slight asymmetries that come from engine torque or helicopter tail rotors. The Bv 141 is a particular delight.
posted by Nelson at 4:33 PM on December 30

My first thought was "I hope they can find some non-Rutan designs to pad this out"
posted by ckape at 4:37 PM on December 30 [7 favorites]

What, no F-15?

posted by Devonian at 4:40 PM on December 30 [9 favorites]

Gah, I love these. There was an article in Scientific American years ago (maybe 15-20 years or so) about asymmetry in nature, whose thesis (if I remember correctly) was that in nature symmetry is the default, so where there is asymmetry then there is usually some evolutionary reason for it. For some reason, it's just stuck with me all these years and I've come to find beauty in asymmetric designs. I've sadly never been able to find the article again.
posted by noneuclidean at 4:41 PM on December 30 [5 favorites]

Is that Eugene from The Walking Dead piloting #6?
posted by ejs at 4:42 PM on December 30 [1 favorite]

I did not know there were such things, and they're right, as a customer I would not like it.
posted by bongo_x at 5:07 PM on December 30 [3 favorites]

There should be a Miyazaki film featuring all of these.
posted by Artw at 5:26 PM on December 30 [8 favorites]

My very first metal shop project in middle school was a simple model airplane that came out like this. Measure twice, cut once, folks.
posted by spbmp at 6:12 PM on December 30 [6 favorites]

I used to make model airplanes when I was a boy, but I didn't just leave them on a shelf when I'd finished, I'd play with them and bits would snap off inevitably. I'd fix them by gluing bits of different models together and making spaceships. Spaceships don't have to be symmetrical, just look the millennium falcon. It got to the point where I wouldn't bother following the instructions in the box anymore, I'd just loot the tailfins and rockets and fuel tanks and glue them onto my mutant spaceship models.
posted by adept256 at 6:25 PM on December 30 [15 favorites]

Great post! I love this kind of esoterica.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 6:45 PM on December 30

Don't look at it too long. I developed a twitch in the left side of my face that won't go away.

You joke, but the first few times I looked at that photo, I couldn't figure out what the asymmetry was, I just knew I was deeply unsettled, and couldn't put my finger on why...
posted by kalimac at 7:02 PM on December 30 [1 favorite]

BV 141 should be #1,
but ranking lists are dumb.
posted by ovvl at 7:33 PM on December 30

These are all beautiful and interesting and I would never ever step foot in one in a million years.
posted by mrjohnmuller at 8:07 PM on December 30 [1 favorite]

Spaceships don't have to be symmetrical, just look the millennium falcon.

Speaking of which, I vaguely remember some comment made on the blue which asserted that the preposterously-designed technology found in Star Wars only makes sense if you assume that their culture values aesthetics over function. The Millennium Falcon is not a great example, given its in-universe reputation as being ugly but capable, but take something like an AT-AT, or a Star Destroyer, or Darth Vader's suit, or a lightsaber. All clearly designed to be aesthetically striking rather than practical. If it seems hard to imagine that a culture might develop this way, consider that the primary reason we don't build asymmetrical aircraft (even when such designs show superior performance) is simply that they look weird.

What I really want to see are aircraft designed by evolutionary algorithms. Computers are blind to the subtle and not-so-subtle biases we have about how aircraft should look. There could be all sorts of weird variations that no one ever thought to try.
posted by dephlogisticated at 8:11 PM on December 30 [12 favorites]

I don’t think the preference for symmetry is all aesthetic. There’s some cost savings to be had if both halves can use identical (or even mirrored) parts, right?
posted by juv3nal at 8:25 PM on December 30

All of these look horrifyingly wrong except for... and I would have bet some fine money on this... the Scaled Composites ARES and that's just kind of disturbingly wrong looking, like the weird lack of stomach or torso on a skinny whippet or greyhound.

And then I scroll down to the Boomerang.

Damn it, Burt.

I'm trying to design the most wrong aircraft in my head that I can think of and it might be some off-axis gyrocopter with rocket tips on the rotor and some ungainly box kite contraption and counterweight opposing the offset gyro.

Some kind of staggered wing triplane with an off-centerline fuselage and dual engines would be pretty weird, too. And maybe cant the wings forward and give it some Long EZ canards and weird double-dihedrals, so it's just a nest of wings sticking out everywhere with two engines and an off-axis main fuselage.

Well, I guess now you could go full multicopter and fly a bedstand around like Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Three rotor platforms are pretty popular among drone racers and DIY point of view fliers.
posted by loquacious at 8:32 PM on December 30 [1 favorite]

Blohm & Voss had designs for other asymmetric (and symmetric but weird) planes as documented at luft 46.
posted by adamrice at 8:53 PM on December 30 [1 favorite]

So the Boomerang design has a purpose. Small twin engine planes are great unless an engine fails. Then they are often really, the asymetric of the single engine is often deadly, particularly in the first minute. The Boomerang is designed so if one engine quits is still flies gently. It's a very clever design, albeit not a successful product.
posted by Nelson at 9:27 PM on December 30 [2 favorites]

The Gyrocopter looks like it's going around the world to the right.

A number of the vehicles in the Star Wars universe have bugged me because they are asymmetrical. For example, the ski speeders in The Last Jedi do bad things to my brain. Some of these aircraft peck at the same spot. I'm not sharp enough to pick up on No. 8's left wing, though.
posted by bryon at 11:54 PM on December 30

Having restored several British cars, asymmetry is alive and well on the road, let me tell you.

I thought the slip wing craft was really interesting. I'm surprised if it's as efficient as it specs out to be that it hasn't found a market.
posted by maxwelton at 2:31 AM on December 31

So the Boomerang design has a purpose. Small twin engine planes are great unless an engine fails.

Sure, but this might be solved easier by a pusher-puller configuration, with canards and airflow control to minimize dirty air and maximize single engine response and handling, front and rear. You could even do turboprops with matched, opposing intakes going to two different turboprop engines.

Less mass, cross sectional drag and complications in the fuselage. Rough symmetry is favored by nature especially in fluids and gases for good reasons. Not all of these map to aircraft, but there's definitely the design and manufacturing complexity and being able to mirror measurements, tooling and assembly jigs.

Having a good centerline is fairly important for pilots, too. Landing in a cross wind is a huge pain without a good centerline, and even basic rolls and banks can be hard. Flying by VFR is hard enough when your senses are relatively close to the center of gravity.

I can't remember if it was a Long EZ variation but Rutan and Scaled Composites had at least one pusher-puller that I know is floating around in my memory that was basically an evolution of the idea of "Two engines good, one engine way out on one side not so good and further holy shit give me some rudder and trim before we roll or spin."

I've spent enough time in high realism flight sims as well as growing up building a variety of aircraft and really diving into aeronautics and getting my hands dirty down to looking up NACA airfoils and cutting ribs and struts out of balsa, spruce and pine.

I'm into this stuff more than enough to have tried stuff like landing planes with engine failures, single and double and more - with a mouse and keyboard, even. Actually manually landing something like a 747-800 heavy with everything working in any kind of crosswind with full aids on is really remarkably difficult, even at easy airports.

Doing it without a good centerline and an aircraft with unpredictable visuals and translation responses is asking for difficulties, and in all of my aerospace fandom I've never heard a pilot talk about any acutely asymmetrical aircraft and say something akin to "That's totally better!", and I've read some stories about some of the planes in the article and I can confidently summarize what I've read as "Hey, that works, but, it was weird and different."

With the advances of computer modeled flight controls and unconventional airfoils, there's obviously a whole lot of room for asymmetry for, say, reponsiveness in an engine failure on small to medium two engine aircraft, or even more benefits than I could think of.

But in the end I think we generally come back to symmetry for vehicles (and animals) because being able to translate and navigate through space roughly equally in left or right hand directions as well as being able to mirror design, manufacturing (or genetic replication and coding) is just too strong of an advantage.
posted by loquacious at 3:05 AM on December 31 [3 favorites]

I keep thinking the Dornier DO 335 belongs on this list for being symmetrical in the wrong way, sort of.
posted by lagomorphius at 6:13 AM on December 31

loquacious, I've got over 1000 hours of pilot-in-command flight time so please trust me when I say that real airplanes are easier to fly than simulators. I found this true even when I was a student pilot and especially now that I have more experience.
posted by exogenous at 6:53 AM on December 31 [7 favorites]

These look delightfully wrong.
posted by doctornemo at 7:20 AM on December 31

loquacious, you need a sock puppet account "audacious". I'm not saying you're wrong exactly, but "I played a lot of video games and I know more about designing airplanes than Burt Rutan" is pretty hilarious. I mean yeah, the asymmetric design of the Boomerang is ridiculous and it clearly was a market failure. Rutan fans say that's because the GA market in the US is so terrible, but it could well be because it was really a bad design. But it has so much poetry to it. I love the off-kilter solution to a problem of twin engine aircraft, that in some situations they are horribly asymmetric. So just design the asymmetry in from the beginning! It's quite clever.

There's a huge number of push-pull twin engine designs out there. Rutan designed two, including one that's rather famous. The SkyMaster is the one I've seen at little airports the most. I think there's some drawbacks to the configuration. They aren't great for training because you're limited to flying push-pull aircraft if you get your certification in one (which means no step up to professional flying). And I imagine it's a big challenge getting efficiency out of both propellers when one is disturbing the other's airflow. But it sure is a simpler solution to the "what if one engine quits?" problem.

While I'm here being a Rutan fanboy, allow me to plug Lookup Up, Way Up!, an upcoming documentary film about his life. With a bunch of detail about the SkiGull, the new plane he's designing in his not-retirement. At least I hope it's upcoming; the Kickstarter is very late now, although the filmmakers are actively working on it.
posted by Nelson at 8:01 AM on December 31 [2 favorites]

I'm not entirely sure that I agree with the author that the failure of the Bv 141 was a "pity," given who the customer was...
posted by schmod at 8:46 AM on December 31 [4 favorites]

Speaking of Star Wars ships... Also, the Breen in Star Trek have asymmetrical ships.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:24 AM on December 31 [1 favorite]

I find these misfit planes comforting. Doing their jobs, flying around all lopsided none the wiser. Sometimes you just need a reminder that the weird shit works too, you know?

I want to fly around in one and have adventures. I feel pretty sure you'd have better adventures in an asymmetrical airplane.
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 10:20 AM on December 31 [5 favorites]

My brain hurts.
posted by Splunge at 11:41 AM on December 31

To some extent all aircraft are asymmetric -- the pilot does not usually sit on the centerline, and propellers are of course handed. As aircraft age they inevitably develop asymmetries. This means to fly straight-and-level you may be holding asymmetric controls, or you provide slightly different control inputs to turn left vs. turn right.

In practice this is never an issue, the brain can compensate automatically. (But if you've always flown from the left and you switch -- or if you've always flown behind US engines which turn one way and one day you fly behind an old English engine which turns the other way -- the results are very interesting!)
posted by phliar at 12:17 PM on December 31 [2 favorites]

Speaking of Star Wars ships... Also, the Breen in Star Trek have asymmetrical ships

Pretty much all Star Trek ships are asymmetrical. We just tend to privilege the vertical axis over the horizontal. Hell, the fact that there IS a default horizontal axis shows our distorted Terran-based perspective, since it shouldn't matter if we rotated the Enterprise 90 degrees.
posted by happyroach at 12:48 PM on December 31 [2 favorites]

loquacious, you need a sock puppet account "audacious". I'm not saying you're wrong exactly, but "I played a lot of video games and I know more about designing airplanes than Burt Rutan" is pretty hilarious.

Oh no, that's not what I was trying to say at all. Heavens no.

No, I was just saying I have more than a passing interest in aircraft design and history and have gotten my hands a little dirty in the process of design, and trying to explain why most aircraft are symmetrical. Because it's not just one reason.

And for better or worse, aesthetics definitely have had a long standing place in aircraft design, not at all unlike boats. There are a lot of aircraft that look as pretty as they do specifically because someone designed them that way and made decisions that amounted to "I don't like how that looks, and it looks better like this."

And the history of aircraft design is also well populated with funny looking aircraft that failed to sell, even if they might have been better performers.
posted by loquacious at 1:18 PM on December 31 [1 favorite]

> "fly a bedstand around like Bedknobs and Broomsticks"

Simpsons Rolls Royce already did it.
posted by GeckoDundee at 3:03 PM on December 31

What I really want to see are aircraft designed by evolutionary algorithms.

Or Star Wars vehicles designed that way... AT-ATs would be somewhere between a Strandbeest and Deepmind Parkour.
posted by Foosnark at 6:19 PM on December 31

Well, jjray, I have no idea how I've never seen this site before. I know what I will be doing for most of 2018.

By the way, I think the definition of "lame old guy" has something to do with browsing the web on New Year's Eve...
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 7:57 PM on December 31 [1 favorite]

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