PRINT Summer 1967

Journal of a Flying Sculpture

IN EXPLORING THE POSSIBILITIES for flying sculpture am concerned with six basic directions:

TYPE . . . . . . . . . POWER . . . . . . . . . BODY . . . . . . . . . CONTROL
1. air cushion . . . electric . . . . . . . . . . rigid . . . . . . . . . . . electronic
2. air cushion . . . gas jet . . . . . . . . . . flexible-inflated . . . electronic
3. air cushion . . . gas . . . . . . . . . . . . . rigid-inflated . . . . . pilot
4. ducted fan . . . gas . . . . . . . . . . . . . rigid-flexible . . . . . . electronic
5. helicopter . . . gas . . . . . . . . . . . . . flexible-inflated . . . . electronic
6. underwater . . electric . . . . . . . . . . . rigid . . . . . . . . . . . . electronic

These combinations cover the basic possibilities of flying radio-controlled sculpture, powered by electricity, batteries, gas engine, jet engine, etc. The controls would be radio, manual or random, the bodies constructed of aluminum, wood, plastics, magnesium, vinyl-covered nylon and other lightweight materials.

SUMMER 65: Built kites in Sea Cliff.

JANUARY 13, 1966: Began experiments with rubber- powered flight, purchased gas engine, miniature solid fuel engine—investigation of inflated-flexible, non-rigid forms.

FEBRUARY 23: First flight-model gas engine, spring, steel, plastic. Difficulties starting motor, weather: bitter cold. Collective flight time about 1 min.; flight uncontrolled, many crashes! Plainly not aerodynamic flight.

MARCH 15: Flexible forms, wood, nylon, silk, balloons, helium, plastic inflated forms.

MARCH 20: Model hover sculpture, 110V motor, magnesium body, unit rides on cushion of air.

My original idea was to take the flying pieces to Kittyhawk, North Carolina, and stage an appropriate celebration for the ascent of the first flying sculpture. A rough draft follows:


Clear plastic suits inflate into six-foot sphere.

Person is energy unit, sphere is body. Invisible kite of polyethylene.

Air show of helicopters, blimps, one man jetpacks, balloon suspension.

Helicopters one hundred feet in the air pump water, space water fall.

Ballooning with harnesses, gravity-defying leaps, the Billy Mitchell air ballet, air dance of Orville and Wilbur Wright.

Night flying screens, carrying projectors, show movies of clouds.

Fleet of helicopters drop paper bags of aniline dye into the bay; water painting.

Helicopters drop styrofoam liquid and catalyst in loose plastic bags, fall through space, shapes form, foam is rigid when it lands.

Floating buildings, suspended skyscrapers.

Flexible tubing of colored light, drawing lines on the infinite darkness.

Cones, wires, cavities, reeds, pipes, holes, diaphragms, for musical kites.

Tape recording of outer space.

Radio controlled submarine with television camera records A Day Below The Hudson River.

Non-rigid inflated sculpture, gas-powered, rocket-powered, electricity-powered, radio controlled to rise from the ground and move through space.

Radio-controlled boat that leaves wake of flames, drawing on the water.

Soft rocket, paisley and silks.

Hover-sculpture, self-propelled fiberglass sculpture floating on a cushion of air.

Low level jet flight, movie records hedge-hopping jet crossing the country in two hours, See the U.S.A.

Make first drawing in space, release inflated sculpture from space capsule.

Flying fires, fire kites at night.

Palette for the first radio-controlled sculpture at Kittyhawk:

YELLOW . . . . . TV crew
ORANGE . . . . movie crew
RED . . . . . . . . still crew
BLUE . . . . . . . sound crew
PURPLE . . . . flight crew
GOLD . . . . . . . female assistants in topless overalls
WHITE . . . . . . . .chief pilots

Colors available for audience, fire department, police, local radio station, visiting dignitaries.

APRIL 5: Dwan offers to sponsor flying event built around experiments with flying sculpture to take place in the Hamptons during Summer, 1966.

APRIL 6: Allan Kaprow is willing to collaborate. Will also invite Mordi Gerstein and Gordon Hyatt.

APRIL 12: Installed gas motor in aluminum duct, linear body of spring steel wire. David Jacobs and I flew piece using nylon control lines. Engine loud, smoky and powerful.

MAY 29: For the Happening I will build two hovercraft, one fifty-foot inflated building, one flying maypole, many small solid fuel rockets, an inflated alphabet and numbers from 1 to 0. Events will include still and movie photographers documenting the Hamptons. TV will cover the entire project and is an integral part of the events. Actions of camera and sound crew will be part of Happening. Mordi will make film of CBS making film.

JUNE 4: Began two 10-foot hoverpieces, 4 hp gas engine will lift body 16 inches off ground, body will be covered with light canvas or muslin, 30-inch two-blade prop.


Ten-foot diameter sculpture was the first full size working piece that functioned on the air cushion principle. It rode on a bubble of air 16 inches off the ground, horizontal direction was controlled by shifting weight. The body was made of spruce and plywood covered with muslin. Power was from a 4 hp utility engine. I built two pieces so that we could have a hovercraft race. The crowds at the South Hampton Railroad Station made any sort of competitive contest impossible. Control of a hovercraft is soft, more like a boat than a car and it was necessary to use ropes to control the craft and prevent injury to the irrepressible participants. Miss Liquid Hips dressed in a silver sequin ex-Sonja Henie skating costume with white boots rode a white hovercraft with aluminum trim. The other craft was piloted by the Neutron Kid who was attired in black polyethylene, white rope and a soft black leather helmet; his craft was matching. The American Boy Mechanic, who kept everything running, wore white overalls and white cap.


I built the fifty-foot skyscraper rocket of black polyethylene. It was heat-sealed and taped for added strength; in principle it was a long tube sealed at one end, the open end was spread out in a circle on the sand and buried. Nozzles from three vacuum cleaners were inserted and the black undulating form rose to 50 feet of inflated phallic magnificence.

The Coast Guard Beach event opened with an orange flare signaling the children to release colored, helium-filled balloons which in turn signaled four skydivers to jump from their plane onto the beach which in turn signaled a skywriter to write some inanity across the sky, which in turn signaled the inflation of the fifty-foot soft rocket and ten weather balloons. The children had been issued kites with instructions to have the flying kite wrap its string around the rocket and then everyone would pull it down, but with all the prevailing chaos, including two rock-and-roll bands, the little beasties pulled it down with their bare hands.


A flying maypole was made for a children’s event in the Springs car dump. The structure was built on the ducted fan principle powered by a 15 gas engine, controlled by colored ribbons tied around the perimeter. A circle of children held the ribbons taut as the body rose over their heads and hung in the air, a wonderfully poetic concept but unfortunately the noise from the engine frightened the children.


The solid fuel rockets were more successful. used an overturned car in the woods behind the dump as a launching platform. The children gathered round their group leaders, panting from an energetic tire roll, and performed the familiar but classic countdown, 10-9-8-7-6 -5-4-3-2-1-FIRE! The rockets hurled into the air to a height of three to four hundred feet and if the ejection system worked properly they floated gently back to earth on a tiny parachute. The rockets were made of cardboard and balsa with plastic parachutes. My wife painted them, she leans toward blue and yellow. The main theme was flowers and stars; occasionally one was polka dot or a Persian motif was evident. Pursuing expansion, we inflated 20-foot weather balloons inside the rusty car bodies and capped it off with an inflated alphabet hunt in the surrounding woods.

I named the happening GAS because of the word’s slang connotations and as a symbol of the underlying theme of expansion, outdoor space, helium, airplanes, blimps, skydivers, gasoline, and of course, internal combustion. In keeping with the name GAS the events expanded to include the cooperation of the Hampton’s city councils, fire depts., police depts., and local citizens, the Kidde Corporation that provided the foam for the events at Montauk and the garbage dump, Union Carbide, who contributed helium for the inflated pieces at Coast Guard Beach and the car dump. Pepsi-Cola had agreed to send a skywriter out for the beach events but when the pilot arrived he found an earlier bird writing M-A-R-T-E - - - -. I would have much preferred “THINK YOUNG.” The Goodyear people were delighted with the idea of including their blimp but a prior engagement made their participation impossible.

Mordi Gerstein is putting together a film from his participation, the rough footage was shown at the Guggenheim Museum. Gordon Hyatt created a half-hour TV show for Eye on New York, magazines and newspapers printed articles on the events. The experience expanded beyond our most remote expectations.

The pleasure of working with the Kidde Corporation led to further cooperation with Air Tech, a subsidiary that builds inflatable buildings.

SEPTEMBER 9: Central Park, 35-foot sphere.

Kurt Meyer of Air Tech built a 35-foot-diameter inflatable sphere of white vinyl-covered nylon with clear round vinyl windows for an event I performed in the Central Park Avant-Garde Festival. At the request of the Park Commission, then under Commissioner Hoving, my event was conceived as a large toy for children. The floor of the sphere was covered with inflated party balloons, air pumped inside to keep the building inflated also created a turbulence that aided the children in bouncing the balloons around. I was prepared to build a 100-foot water slide for the children but unfortunately the Park Engineer had no method of handling the water runoff at the bottom of the hill. That evening of the 9th I loaned the space inside the sphere to the USCO group who used the walls as a screen, projecting from the inside for the audience outside. In Mr. Meyer’s enthusiasm for working with artists he has offered invaluable assistance in providing information and contacts with industry. We are now discussing the construction of a 6-foot sphere that is radio controlled to move horizontally in any direction and up and down slight grades. Following this is a bouncing sphere 8 feet in diameter that will be called a flying piece because when working it will spend more time in the air than on the ground.



Built in 1955 at Chouinard Art Institute, Los Angeles, in collaboration with Gerald McGlaughlin. A 13-foot high structure of brass tubing and redwood, four related units using water jets to activate the entire structure. For a night presentation we positioned high-intensity projectors with colored gels from the surrounding balconies and filled the water basin with dry ice. The mist covered the patio floor, the water changed color as it passed through the beams of colored light.

Picture space is an illusion. The concrete space of sculpture is limited by the inert material. The eye is a porthole into limitless inner space. A movie camera can travel into the macrocosm as the inner eye travels through the personal microcosm. Film requires a constant backward referral through memory. With sculpture it is possible to refer back visually to the origin of the experience. Technology will eventually enable sculpture to exist in a weightless environment the same as the weightless world of pictures. Self-propelled forms that move over the ground, through the air and under water will allow the sculptor to physically extend his work where he is no longer burdened by gravity. Somewhere between technology and art is another world.

CITY FILM, 1959: 3-D collage, 4 min. film of 2-foot high city built of cardboard cartons and photographs. Physical properties of space and form and scale were juggled and shifted, camera moved like miniature helicopter through city.

BIRD FILM, 1962: 3 min. film based on 1 minute of music by Don Sphect; the music was repeated three times. Combination of live action of nature, photographs and found objects and sculpture and Xerox.

6-FOOT CUBE OF SPACE, 1963: Linear box of 1-inch square steel tubing which gave six 6-foot by 6-foot planes, an inside and outside, up and down, right and left, front and rear. The three-dimensional elements were chosen to affect this space and charge it or “tone” it to make it a particular space, a lived-in space.


The dimensional collage idea was carried into bronze casting involved with space and measurement; squares, globes, flat worlds, square worlds, round maps, weathervanes, arrows, North, South, East, West, eggs, coffins, wings, wheels, hands, boats, cars, moving from Here to There. Moving from combining machines and bodies to wax castings of fruit and vegetables. Use of fruit as a conceptual axis, soft forms that expand from inside, tender and pneumatic as a woman’s body, polished interlocking spheres give illusion of expansion. The mirror-like surfaces reflect the literal world surrounding it creating difficulties in locating the surface of the sculpture. Then to soft flexible forms where the size and relationship of elements is variable.

The volume of the earth is dense and that of the surrounding atmosphere is light. Nature has a tendency to produce spherical and circular forms, owing to the law of minimum containing area. Man’s variation was the cube, the source of this inspiration was the tree which was first used in its natural cylindrical form, then split in half, then sliced lengthwise for flat planes. I equate the importance of this development with the growth of animation; of moving from a still frame to a succession of frames to simulate movement; the use of film to turn a form in space. The most striking use of technology has been in the fabricating of spherical and circular forms.



In the construction of a Heli-sculpture I selected a triangular form for structural strength and to solve problems of weight distribution. The vertically- mounted engine required the adaptation of a fuel system that would fit within the vertical structural core of the power unit. The metal hinges, supporting arms, balancing weights, rotating collars, all parts except for the .15 gas engine were fabricated in my shop. The rotation blades are of wood, the body is wood and painted silk. This is a 3-foot working model for a 6-foot sculpture that will be radio-controlled.


An 8-by-5-foot hovercraft is under construction, powered by a VW engine 48 hp. This construction is going into the area of sports or competition. The horsepower will allow for a horizontal speed of 30 mph and greater maneuverability. A duct system will allow movement from the ground to the air, from land to water, to sand to marsh, etc.


I am drawing up plans for a one-man helicopter but, not wishing to re-invent the machine the direction of the piece is not clear yet. Possibly it will be a musical instrument that could be suspended and moved through space. The body would be flexible and could change shape, expanding or compressing, through small electric motors, inflating or deflating through lightweight electric pumps; body units would be composed of cones, wires, bags, cavities, hollows, reeds, pipes, diaphragms, holes, etc. Movement would be controlled by audible radio signals from the transmitter. Position and shape would change according to sounds.

Dance cannot exist in pure state; it needs music which fills and homogenizes space. In the space of dance there is no “historical movement”; the movement is of ebbing and flowing. Dance space is not determined by distance, direction, size, and limitation but is the elective medium of rhythm and of demonstrative movements. Distance is not a quantity but a quality of that space.


This radio-controlled, electric-powered sculpture will have ballast tanks for submerging and surfacing. It should be made of glass but probably will be made of aluminum and plastic. The appreciation of this piece will be limited to skin divers and fish until people start living under the sea. The working model will be 5 feet across, the finished sculpture will be 30 feet across the widest part. The movement would be slow and ponderous like a glass whale.

DECEMBER: My ideas for a parade as part of the projected New York Biennial were presented to Mr. Hoving. The parade would consist of floats created by galleries around the world. The parade would take place within the boundaries of Central Park. I also considered an air event in the park as my part of a proposed sculpture show.

JANUARY 12, 1967: Working on plans for an electronic circus, programmed units that fly, crawl, leap, fold, bounce, twist, stretch, change color, shape, and make their own music.

The appeal for art outside architecture is Californian for me, coming from the physical openness of space, ease of access to the beaches, cities, deserts and mountains and lack of clothes. The exploration of scale is worthy but it does seem that to rebel against the gallery cramp is less purposeful than a logical extension of desire unhindered by petty irritants. The forms that become so ponderous and unwieldy and bland of face remind me of a childhood poem, “fatty, fatty, two by four, can’t get through the gallery door.” This path leads to THE FATE OF THE DINOSAUR. Of course my ideas of athletic sculpture that surround space instead of filling it in from the inside may simply be the other side of the coin, but as Napoleon had his Waterloo, will these plywood and fiberglass dinosaurs have their LA BREA TARPITS?

Flying sculpture relates directly to the Western Tradition, being the conceptual offspring of Calder’s mobiles. The concept of flying applied to sculpture is the next logical step, of releasing sculpture from the earth, off the ground into the air, out of the galleries and museums and into the world.

The gift of this century is to give eyes, voice and movements to a previously silent world.

Charles Frazier