Burnelli - Smithsonian Correspondence

The Burnelli Web Site
Evidence of Suppression and Official 
denial is overwhelming

List of Smithsonian 

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March 14, 1991


Mr. George C. Larson, Editor
370 L'Enfant Promenade, S. W. - 10th Floor
WASHINGTON, DC 20024-2518

Dear Mr. Larson,

Dick Johnson kindly sent me a copy of your letter to him of March 1, 1991, as well as a copy of his appropriate, cogent response.

The documented record confirms that Mr. Burnelli not only originated many diverse inventions, but he also reduced them to practice. The documented record also shows that the material you have published and the letters you have written on Burnelli do not represent the truth. An outstanding example of this can be seen in the malicious Air & Space article in the October/November 1989 issue. Other examples are your letters to me and the subject letter to Mr. Johnson. Furthermore, your article "Things in Wings", (Air & Space - June/July 1990), omitted any reference to the fact that Vincent Burnelli not only invented the breakaway leading edge in combination with high lift flaps in 1927, but he also reduced the idea to practice in his GX-3 in 1929. Patent No. 1,917,428, covering the invention, was awarded to Mr. Burnelli on July 11, 1933. Instead of presenting this fact, you gave credit to others for developing the practice in 1944. This refutes entirely your statement, "… the material we publish reflects accurately the judgments of history and of the best minds that can be brought to bear." How wrong can you get?

Mr. Johnson has dealt properly with the total absurdity and irrelevance of the third and fourth paragraphs in your letter to him. For you to write Mr. Johnson, an experienced design engineer, that the NASA lifting body end-products for transonic use were "simple modifications to missile 'nosecones'" is not only preposterous but amusingly so. It was NASA that appropriated the term, "lifting body", from Burnelli, as you will see from the enclosed Shell Aviation News article (September 1950), entitled "LIFTING BODY", by Mr. Burnelli. Furthermore, the enclosed letter to me from Mr. Jean Roche, Chief of Airplane Design for the U. S. Army Air Corps/USAF at Wright and Langley Fields for 43 years, appropriately confirms that "lifting body" was the correct terminology for the Burnelli design. Therefore, it is clear that NACA/NASA took full advantage of Burnelli's genius without giving him any credit. Again, you have failed to examine the facts! Again, you are wrong!

The "current Burnelli Company" happens to be the re-named Uppercu-Burnelli Company which merged with V. J. Burnelli Airplanes, Inc. and Central Aircraft Corporation during the 1950's. Mr. Burnelli himself was chairman of this corporation until his death in 1964. Your attempt to imply otherwise is typical of the snide manner in which you have tried to discredit Burnelli at Air & Space. All of the inaccuracies and Burnelli derisions, referred to above, cause me to question your suitability for the position you hold. In my opinion, your attacks on Mr. Burnelli, his company and his adherents/proponents "reflect badly" on you as an editor/historian.

Regarding your ultimate paragraph, if you have supplied the White House with erroneous information on Burnelli, such as has appeared in Air & Space thus far and in your letter to Mr. Johnson, you have not only done a great disservice to President Bush and the nation, but you have cast an indelible stain upon the escutcheon of the Smithsonian Institution, generally held as a responsible source of historical truths.

Robert Runcie, Archbishop of Canterbury, said recently on his retirement: "Conflict is inevitable, but truth must always be paramount." Think about it!

Best regards.

Yours sincerely,


Chairman and President



CC: Mr. R. M. Johnson



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