British Rail patented a design for a flying saucer powered by thermonuclear fusion back in 1973. The public transport body submitted Charles Osmond Frederick's maverick contraption, the Guardian reports.
The fact that sustainable fusion hasto this day eluded scientists was no deterrent to such a ferociously inventive mind. Frederick explains how to dodge the scientific watershed: "The thermonuclear fusion will take place in a series of pulses, each pulse being triggered by laser energy, and/or energetic particles reflected from a previous pulse. The system will be arranged so that the fusion process will decay after each pulse so that the stability of the system is maintained." Ah...gotcha.
European Patent Agency lawyer Alexander Clelland told El Reg why the ground-breaking answer to all the world's transport and climate change problems remained interred until now. He said that in the paranoia of the Cold War any application containing the word 'nuclear' was slapped with a secrecy order.
Clelland compared Frederick's innovation to the ideas of Authur Paul Pedrick. A former patent officer himself, Pedrick bombarded his former employers with legendarily screwball designs in the 60s and 70s - one of which was a catflap fitted with a colour sensor to allow his cat Ginger through, to the exclusion of his neighbour's black moggie.
Hilariously mutton-chopped space wurzel Professor Colin Pillinger - of Beagle 2 infamy - is excited by Fredrick's blueprints. He told the Guardian: "I think the plans are fascinating; it really looks like a flying saucer."
Hmm. Perhaps because it is a drawing of a flying saucer?
Nobody knows just how far ahead of his time Frederick will turn out to be; but shades of Da Vinci's helicopter must come to mind. Indubitably, the cut-and-thrust of modern day privatised public transport would never allow room for such a wildly imaginative brain. A skim of the original application suggests perhaps that's a good thing, however. ®