Sunday, 8 June 2014

Howl's Moving Castle - and Hello Again!

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Great Wizard Pendragon has seen fit to supply us with technical knowledge of the esteemed King's Airframes for our humble analysis straight from the Grand Library of Kingsbury!

Ha ha, not really, folks, but we've got the next best things - images, guesswork, and a belated return from yours truly. The last few years have seen little occur on my end on this blog, but I thought, in the face of continued (and thank you!) interest, no matter how light, I should produce a few more posts on here. The nature of this blog means it's more for 'reference', realistically speaking, since it's not exactly the sort of subject one can write quick Twitter-style periodicles about, so I've thought of two more blogs to create for your perusal - Howl's Moving Castle, and The Wind Rises. I'd also like to add that, just the same as a few years ago, my aeronautical knowledge isn't, by any stretch of the imagination, certified - if you have thoughts, I beg you add your opinion as a comment or two to fill out any gaps in any part of anything around here.

It's fitting that this year be the centeniary of that awful Great War, undoubtedly the model for a striking pastiche that the Ghibli studio and Diana Wynne Jones ran with in such a resonating fashion. So, without further delay, I present to you: Howl's Moving Castle, and all the wonderful flying machines included within.

Let's start with the first flying machine in the film - the Flying Kayak.

The Flying Kayak appears to be an ornithoptic vertical takeoff and landing capable airframe capable of carrying at least three passengers with power left to spare. It appears to be of approximately 3.8 to 4 metres in length, considerably less - perhaps 2.3 - 3 metres - in wingspan. The sizes seem to change in subtle ways in each scene, however, so these are estimates - in general, however, it seems to have a ration of 1:3 width to length ratio.
Let's start with what we can see, shall we? The control and power surfaces appear to be integrated together into the "wings". The wings themselves are made of two distinct parts each; a spar and a 'rotor'. The spar, despite being extremely thin, can transfer extremely powerful oscillations to the rotors without showing wear over a good length of time - in the film, Sophie is depicted as flying a Kayak from noon until sundown with no breaks. The rotors are longer than they are wide, which would, theoretically, enable excellent lateral and roll responsiveness for an experienced pilot at the expense of lift and stability. To counterract this, the two winglets seen on the edges of the main fueselage may provide some degree of lift, or, at least, some stability due to positive inclination and a basic aerofoil shape. At the extreme rear, along another spar, is the tail rudder.
I've jumped the gun a bit, but let's do some analysis. General layout first - it would be very unstable. Ignoring the questionable lift strategy for now, the rotors are too wide for the single spar that connects them to the rest of the airframe; the spars would bend and warp in all but the gentlest of manouevres, rendering the Kayak unusable. In addition, the lack of a proper tail empennage or forward stabiliser of some kind means that, with the weak spars, pitch would be horrendously difficult to control safely.
Next, we'll take a look at the engine. In the film, a Kayak has its bonnet (or, if you speak American, hood) torn off, and we get a little look at a sketchy inside. Good news! Oil pours out! We know it's powered by some variant of fuel oil. To power an internal combustion engine as such would be a little innefficient - power to weight ratios do tell us why nearly all aircraft built today use paraffin derivatives! The engine would need an extensive and extremely efficient gearing system to power some sort of mechanism that transforms rotary power into oscillating power for the rotors - I would guess a simple flywheel attached onto the gearbox that connects to two rods that push the rotors with a lever mechanism using the end of the spars as the main joint, with a spring (hydraulics?) system to compensate for the wheel demanding changes in length - the spring could also be connected to the wings to swivel them downwards during an upstroke, enabling the ornithoptic system to have some hope of not just flailing wildly and pointlessly, which wouldn't be an awful lot of fun for those upper class tourists we see riding around as passengers!
All of that may make it seem a bit implausible, which, sadly, it is - but, I think, not that bad... Really, all the Kayaks require are 1) A tail empennage, 2) strength in the spars, 3) power, 4) unbelievably low weight. Admittedly, using a tail empennage with horizontal aerilons would result in the VTOL ability being compromised a little - but honestly, I'd much prefer moving along at speed than staggering about up and down in this skinny little aircraft. However, a tail would provide stability and control during forward motion and headwind - any hover ability of the Kayak would be difficult enough to control to warrant its castration. Strength in the spars would, naturally, stop the wings from breaking - it would require, perhaps, a lattice structure or, at the very least, two beams meeting together at the rotor in a triangle. The aim there is to enable tortion/torque from the rotors to be transferred safely to the Kayak proper. Third, power and weight are extremely important on VTOL aircraft - even more so than those laughably boring normal aeroplanes - and the Kayak is no exception. An ornithopter of this design is like a compromise between a helicopter and a fixed-wing aircraft, with, sadly, none of the advantages of either; the wings are too small and too innefficient to work without being virtually weightless and the rotors very, very cleverly designed to produce no downforce on the upswing. It's not impossible, though - I mention back up there somewhere how it could be linked into the drive systems to provide a mechanical means of swivelling the rotors downwards to prevent them from pushing anywhere but up.
So, the doctine - what are these Kayaks used for, why, and would that work in real life? Well, here, we must of course take into account the context of the film, which is the late 19th-early 20th century, at least, as we would probably understand it. So, they would be used as troop transport, material transport, propaganda tools, and, most importantly, scouting and recon roles for the military. They'd be effective at troop transport as they appear to be able to carry up to three passengers; in addition, they could provide close air support during an engagement with a well armed passenger (in the films we see several instances of a rifleman on the rear seat acting as a turret, much like very early two-person aircraft of the First World War). Material transport would be extremely useful, as troops in hard to reach areas could have quick and efficient drop offs of material exactly where needed, as opposed to dragging it up on carts or by hand - a massive help in urban and mountain warfare, of which there would be plenty in the environment of Howl's. Propaganda tools are fairly simple: army/air force sponsored rides around the grand sights of the capital, drag flags around the sky, and generally look impressive enough to get people nice and jingoistic, all ready for a nice big war. We see it perform this role admirably in the film. It should be noted the fact that, in the event of a war where the design was truly tested, I wouldn't be surprised if they modify it to feature armour plating to protect the passenger and pilot.
Well, that about sums it up for the Kayak. It's a design which, I must admit, I like - and, happily, with only some fairly simple changes, it looks sort of - just about - on the edges of the fringe areas of concievably crossing the passing chance of not failing abjectly.

Next up we've got the big boys - the Flying Battleships. These include the smaller, more traditional-looking airships that we see once or twice over the film.

I'd just like to point out that these are designed to look scary because it's a metaphor for how war can warp even majestic flying machines into monsters - peace dudes!
Let's start with the basics of the designs we see, and the common points they seem to share. First, we have size and armaments, both of which are not in short supply. The airships appear to be several hundred metres long, and the winged version that in width. There is a shot of the belly of an airship-type carrying a huge assortment of bombs in an enormous cargo bay, and frequent uses of some sort of ejection system for concripted wizards that have turned themselves into monsters at the whim of their royal masters (more metaphors, people!) so they may act as a mixture of interceptor fighters and ground troops, as seen in the film. The bombs carried by those airships attacking the kingdom that Sophie and Howl claim "allegience" to (but there's metaphors... Oh, I give up) appear to be incendiary rounds designed to destroy the wooden framed buildings present in the pretty world of Howl's (metaphors!) modeled after German towns (metaphors!) that sport French-inspired soldier uniforms (metaphors! Underlying meanings! There's more to this film than you think! Oh dear, my English student-eyness is showing, isn't it?)
Anyway, they're fantastical, and you don't need me to point out the obvious fact that they wouldn't fly particularly well. Well, they'd fly rather like brick. The ornithoptic one would crash because, as we've seen with a brief intrusion inside of it, it's powered by a giant steam engine, which is patently useless for aerospace needs; the lack of a considerable gas chamber or other similar aerostatic lifting body means that, short of magical help, it would crash.
The fact is that these really are more metaphorical allegories for corruption and violence. In the film, we see how not only the Witch of the Wastes, Howl, and Sophie become bewitched and accursed, but also, and most destructively, the two kingdoms that go to war - they come afoul of curses of violence, greed, pride, and hate. These aren't just things that the 'bible' or what have you say not to do, they're the most important thing we can do today - not to engage in conflict over trivial matters.
Anyway, enough of my yakking. You can probably tell from my rambling that it's getting a little late around here! So, I hope that I've given you a little bit of an insight into the aerial world of Howl's Moving Castle, and, maybe, an unexpected side dish of the ever-present philosophy of Hayau Miyazaki.
Oh, one last thing...
I can't go without just saying how crazy awesome those battleships are. I'd also like to say that they're pre-dreadnought inspired ships with many calibres of multiple turrets and carronades, and that they would sink and blow up very, very quickly.
Have a great day!
Shoeburger/shwabonka/mramazingfuntime/maurice/ whatever my name is on here... I don't actually know...


  1. I just watched the movie for the first time and was very moved. One remark I would add to your battleship analysis is that the first has a submarine conning tower on the top, and the hull or fuselage, while it may resemble an airship, rather more, to my eye, resembles a shark or other large sea creature, at least in the "face;" the propulsion is provided not by wings, but by whale flukes along the sides. Thus does the sea-going variety take to the air. The other battleship design seems a swollen strategic bomber of the boxy B-52 variety, with some ironically charming resemblance in the tail to a swallow - what a nightmare spring this class of warship brings! So of our two types of battleship pictured, the first takes its design cues from sea life and weaponry, the second from aerial life and weaponry. I didn't notice a flying hippopotamus/tank combination so I suppose the artist decided he had made his point and didn't require a third, land-inspired design. Maybe he didn't want to compete with Howl's spindle-legged Castle itself!

  2. Please never ever end or delete this blog. This is the most amazing thing I've stumbled upon over my years of internet browsing. I am so inspired by Ghibli craft, so much so that it inspired me to become a pilot and an areonautical engineer (Porco Rosso specifically). I have always dreamed of building and re-designing these craft (to practicality standards of course), but to making them come to life nonetheless. Your blog input is a massive help on my research, thank you so very much.