August 29, 2013 by Heidi
Today I’m very happy to play host as part of the blog tour for First Second’s latest, Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Tony Cliff. You guys, this graphic novel is just plain fun. In fact, you know who Delilah Dirk most reminded me of? The Doctor. That’s right, she’s a whirlwind of blasé adventure with a ridiculous past and connections, only you know, with more knives and lady bits. In fact, her bio makes her sound like the only woman who could possibly compete with The Most Interesting Man In the World. Also, as with the Doctor, we get to see her adventures from the eyes of a companion, which keeps her from being too Mary Sue and assures us that yes, this is all completely real. Awesome you say? Yes, yes it is.
And if that’s not enough to convince you to give this one a go, please check out Tony Cliff’s arguments that Delilah Dirk is more than just a pretty face, she (and her flying sailboat) are also 100% physically and scientifically sound!
The Rudimentary Physics of the Flying Sailboat
This may come as a surprise, but I have been accused of including a historically inaccurate flying boat in a comic I wrote, making suggestions as though the boat is somehow magic or otherwise improbable in a physics-based reality. In DELILAH DIRK AND THE TURKISH LIEUTENANT, a non-fiction* graphic novel I have recently unleashed upon the detail-oriented readers of the world, the main character owns and operates a small craft which floats on water, is propelled by sails, and which is able to lift out of the water and fly through the air much as airplanes do today. The story takes place in 1807.
Considering that last aspect, it may be natural for some readers to assume a disbelieving posture. It is commonly believed that the Wright Brothers were, in 1903, the first humans to achieve controlled, powered, heavier-than-air human flight in an airplane of their own invention. Rudimentary calculations reveal an approximate one-hundred year discrepancy (give or take) between my account of a controlled, useful flying craft and the great aeronautical victory of history’s chosen First Men of Flight. However, as I will discuss elsewhere, the annals of human history are kept by poor custodians. Though we will never know exactly what type of human flight had been achieved prior to the Wright brothers’ great accomplishment, it is folly to suggest that simply because no other record exists that consequently no other similar feats have been achieved, especially when plain and simple science reveals that the challenges posed by heavier-than-air human flight are not as great as the layperson has been led to believe.
To analyze how Delilah’s flying sailboat is not only feasible but immensely practical and a patently obvious innovation, we must immerse ourselves in the waters of aerodynamic forces and fluid mechanics. Big words, simple concepts. First we must understand the forces of thrust and drag. Thrust is the force moving our craft forward, drag is the force that resists said forward movement. In order for flight to be possible, we must first increase the amount of thrust such that it overcomes the amount of drag. This is simple, because boats are light and sails are made out of very thin canvas. Very, very thin. Since they’re so thin, they put up very little resistance and drag is all but eliminated. Thus, when the main and jib sails harness the power of the wind to provide forward thrust, the resistance of drag is easily overcome, because again, our boat is very thin.
Now we need to consider the forces of lift versus weight. The weight, naturally, is the mass of the object being pulled towards the centre of the earth by the force of gravity. Our flying boat is made of wood, which is generally quite heavy. Perhaps you have, on occasion, tried to move a piece of wood at the beach, or a wooden desk. Well, it turns out that 98% of the weight of any given piece of wood is due to water content. As you know, water is quite heavy, which is why much of it rests below sea level. When you have tried to move a log at the beach, it is the amount of saltwater absorbed by the porous wood (sometimes greater than 100%) that gives it such weight. When you have tried to move that heavy desk, it was heavy due to all the water it has absorbed both from the air and from spilled coffee over the years. That is why new Ikea desks are so light, and that the air in offices is usually so dry – the desks have absorbed all the moisture in the air. So, all we need to do to keep our flying boat from generating so much mass that it becomes impractical to lift is to keep the wood dry, a feat we accomplish using a material commonly referred to as “paint,” a colourful covering that not only looks sparkly clean and pleasant, but it keeps all that water out, too. That is why maintenance and upkeep on a flying boat is so difficult. Having to re-paint it all the time in order to maintain its optimal flying weight is a constant challenge.
Lift is generated by wings. In our case, the wings are lateral sails. Simply put, the wing encounters the air and splits the airflow so that it flows both above and below the wing. The air that flows beneath the wing becomes confused and wonders, “wait, where am I?” and it slows down to examine its surroundings, attempting to re-orient itself. The air above encounters no such difficulties, and speeds across the surface of the canvas. This faster-moving air exerts less pressure on the wing than the slow, dumbfounded air beneath the wing, and this difference results in “lift.” Physicist Daniel Bernoulli published this principle in 1738, so it was ripe for exploitation by clever inventors in the early 1800s. The angle of the wing determines its lift coefficient, so called because the wing and the angle work together to be efficient, much like you and a non-complaining co-worker might work together to be efficient at leveraging synergy.
Even knowing what I know and possessing a complete understanding of the mechanics involved, I will concede that these concepts can be difficult to comprehend. I found it useful to simply agree that since sails push a boat forward, they can also push it up and out of the water.
There are a lot of other details, but they only serve to distract from the fact that my flying boat in 1807 is perfectly feasible according to both physics AND science.
* This is the only lie contained by this article**.
** This… might be a lie?
Lovable ne’er-do-well Delilah Dirk has travelled to Japan, Indonesia, France, and even the New World. Using the skills she’s picked up on the way, Delilah’s adventures continue as she plots to rob a rich and corrupt Sultan in Constantinople. With the aid of her flying boat and her newfound friend, Selim, she evades the Sultan’s guards, leaves angry pirates in the dust, and fights her way through the countryside. For Delilah, one adventure leads to the next in this thrilling and funny installment in her exciting life.
A little bit Tintin, a little bit Indiana Jones, Delilah Dirk is a great pick for any reader looking for a smart and foolhardy heroine…and globetrotting adventures.
- Thanks to First Second, you have the opportunity to win a finished copy of Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Tony Cliff.
- Open to residents of the US only.
- Once a winner has been selected, you will have 24 hours to respond to my e-mail before an alternative winner will be chosen.
Good luck and enjoy!