- Evgeny Podkletnov watched in annoyance as clouds of
smoke drifted across the laboratory from his colleague,s newly lit pipe
and clung to his delicate research apparatus.
- The fumes would mean hours of recalibration, but the
smoker was his superior and Podkletnov, a quiet, shy man, felt unable to
stop him. Then, in the midst of his annoyance, he spotted something peculiar.
As the smoke drifted over his machine it suddenly changed direction, shooting
upwards to form a bizarre column shape above it.
- At the time it seemed no more than a curiosity. But that
observation, in an obscure university in Finland 10 years ago, would soon
change his life and prompt some of the biggest aerospace companies to come
knocking at his door. For Podkletnov had unwittingly discovered a device
that, if his claims are to be believed, can change gravity itself.
- From futuristic airliners hanging weightless in the sky
to hovering cars held aloft by gravity repulsion, the significance of such
a discovery is not hard to fathom for any fan of science fiction. The science
fact, though, is a little more complicated.
- Podkletnov had built his equipment to test superconductivity,
the ability of some metal alloys to transmit electricity with no resistance
at low temperatures.
- The kit was basic by current scientific standards: a
ceramic disc coated in specially formulated alloys was cooled to -220C
and then spun at high speed in a magnetic field.
- It was important but dull work, and had no apparent link
with challenging the forces of gravity.
- But when Podkletnov observed his columns of smoke he
was puzzled enough to investigate further. First he suspended a metal ball
above the machine, then some silicone and wood. Each time he found that
the objects lost about 2% of their weight above the spinning disc.
- That wasn,t all. Investigating further, Podkletnov found
that the anti-gravity effect extended far above the machine, right to the
ceiling. Then he went up to the roof and, sure enough, there was a narrow
circular beam penetrating right the way through the building which reduced
the weight of anything placed in its path. It was just as strong there
as it was above the machine. His anti-gravity beam, it seemed, had no limit.
It extended upwards forever.
- Podkletnov, an experienced researcher with two doctorates,
immediately knew the impact of his discovery. If he had found a way of
changing an object,s weight, even by a small degree, then the aerospace
and transport industries could be revolutionised.
- PODKLETNOV was not the first man to dream of the benefits
of anti-gravity. More than a century ago H G Wells, the writer, suggested
that spacecraft might fly to the moon using gravity shields. He had realised
that a device that could negate gravity would enable spacecraft to launch
without fuel. It followed that planes, ships and even cars could also have
their weight reduced, saving on fuel and enabling incredible speeds.
- Others imagined a more sinister purpose. Nazi Germany
devoted serious research to developing an anti-gravity weapon in a programme
headed by the Austrian scientist Viktor Schauberger.
- For the past five decades Schauberger,s achievements
have remained shrouded in mystery. When the war ended, the invading Americans
stripped his laboratories of all machinery and documents and shipped them
- Last year, however, Nick Cook, an aerospace expert at
Jane,s Defence Weekly " whose book The Hunt for Zero Point describes
the history of gravity research " tracked down Schauberger,s family
and former colleagues. From them he coaxed an extraordinary tale of flying
saucers that levitated without fuel and glowed silver and green.
- Sadly for Schauberger, the machines also apparently all
crashed. They had, however, hinted at the power of an undreamt of new technology
and within months of the war ending his documents and prototypes were in
the hands of engineers at secret US laboratories.
- Two years after the war the knowledge gleaned from them
prompted Nathan Twining, a general in the US air force, to state that America
could now build a plane that would defy gravity.
- Then everything went silent. The world has still never
seen a plane that flies without fuel or a spacecraft that can defy gravity.
No research papers have been published and official sources deny all knowledge
of anti-gravity research before 1990. What could have happened?
- One logical answer is that anti-gravity research proved
fruitless. Cook believes otherwise. Over the past few years he has interviewed
dozens of researchers from Lockheed Martin, Boeing and other companies
involved in aviation research. His conclusion? That the anti-gravity research
programmes have continued amid the utmost secrecy.
- "Someone realised that anti-gravity could be so
destructive that it would endanger world peace and decided to keep it secret
for a long time, he claims.
- COULD it be, then, that Podkletnov had stumbled on a
secret other scientists had been trying to keep quiet for half a century?
What is certain is that since his work was released to the public in 1996
some very big names have admitted their enthusiasm.
- Last week George Muellner, the executive who oversees
Phantom Works, Boeing,s secretive research organisation, told The Sunday
Times that "anti-gravity works. He added: "We know it can work
but what we don,t know is whether it can be useful. The systems we have
seen consume too much energy. I believe that one day there will be a breakthrough
but it is a long way away.
- What Muellner would not talk about was an internal seminar
held at Boeing earlier this year in which the researcher Jamie Childress
and other senior Phantom Works executives described the potential of anti-gravity
- Childress, who has been in contact with Podkletnov, concluded:
"It is plausible that gravity modification is real. He warned that,
if it were proven, the aerospace industry would experience a "gold
rush that would alter Boeing,s entire business.
- The story is similar at Nasa. It has commissioned a £3m
study that will aim to replicate Podkletnov,s work. Mark Millis, head of
Nasa,s breakthrough propulsion programme at the Glenn space centre in Cleveland,
confirms he is particularly interested in Podkletnov,s recent claim that
he has generated a beam that can exert a force 1,000 times more powerful
than Earth,s gravity.
- Podkletnov,s device, built with Giovanni Modanese, a
respected Italian physicist, could be the basis for launching anything
from spacecraft to missiles.
- Millis, like Boeing, emphasises the peaceful uses of
such technology, but both accept that it could have a darker purpose. Such
a beam could, for example, be projected against an aircraft, satellite
or missile, knocking it off course or smashing it apart from huge distances.
- Like Boeing, Nasa has been trying to bring Podkletnov
and his equipment to America, but has been blocked by Russian laws banning
the transfer of such sensitive technology.
- Nasa may, however, have more of a head start than it
is admitting. It emerged recently that in 1993 the advanced concepts office
at the Marshall Space Flight Center received a paper written by Ning Li
and Douglas Torr, both respected physicists, who knew nothing of Podkletnov
but like him described how rotating superconductors could alter gravity.
- Nasa immediately set up a programme to study the phenomenon
which has continued ever since.
- SUCH potential has also interested British researchers
including some at BAE Systems. It has appointed Ron Evans, a senior researcher
and mathematician, to run its anti-gravity research, codenamed Project
Greenglow. Similar work is under way at Toshiba,s research centre in Japan.
- Getting any of these companies to discuss their work
is another matter. Whether for fear of ridicule, or to protect the scope
of their discoveries, none will outline the form or success of their experiments.
- The same applies to Podkletnov. Since 1996, following
the surge of media attention that greeted his research, he has been a near-recluse.
The last public sighting of him was two years ago, when he slipped into
Britain to give a lecture at Sheffield University and sensationally announced
that he,d been able to reverse gravity so effectively that his experimental
equipment had actually levitated " just as Schauberger,s flying saucers
had done five decades earlier.
- But having dropped his bombshell, Podkletnov disappeared
again and has never published details of that work. Officially he still
works for the Moscow Chemical Science Research Centre, a secretive institute
that does not even publish its address.
- This weekend The Sunday Times traced Podkletnov to Finland,
to a home near the University of Tampere, where he did his first gravitational
research. "He will not talk to anyone about anything, said a woman
who then slammed the phone down. What is he hiding from? What does he know?
- One day all may be revealed. Boeing, Nasa and BAE are
taking his principles seriously enough to challenge our most basic understanding
of gravity itself. It could be that the very force that binds us to the
ground could be harnessed to carry us to the stars.