Fred Ferguson: Interview with the Inventor of the Magenn Air Rotor

After writing about the Magenn Air Rotor we asked the inventor if he would subject himself to an interview and he graciously accepted. Fred Ferguson has an amazing history as the developer of a series of lighter-than-air crafts that should be dominating our skies. They do not, but we hope that the development of the Magenn generator will change this and thank him for granting us this interview. It is obvious that treehuggers all over are excited about your invention- it is just so logical to get up high where the wind is stronger and to use a balloon to get you there. However can you explain the underlying Magnus lift, where the process of rotation actually creates lift? In laypersons terms?

The magnus effect was discovered in the mid 1800s when a scuffed up cricket ball flew further than a smooth one. Today we see the magnus effect in the flight of golf balls and baseball "curve" balls. Basically when a back spin is imparted to any object, cylinder or ball, moving through a medium (wind as example) the spinning object takes on the aerodynamic characteristics of a wing or air foil. The back spin due to the blades and position of our wind rotor creates a lift similar to a kite of the same size. In fact if you look on the web for Hawaiian rotor kites, you'll see the magnus effect kites.

Your idea of backpack-sized units, deployable in emergency situations, is remarkable, and you suggest that the only lift necessary is the magnus effect. I can't think of anything better- blow it up, let it go and have power anywhere. How soon will this be available?

Back pack size or small units will hopefully available in about one year from now. We have not yet talked to a manufactuer about this concept (pop-up tent people?). since weight/strength is very sensitive in a unit this small (and cost) it wis planned to come after the larger units.

Probably a dumb question, but if you are on one tether, what keeps it facing the wind rather than rotating to show the ends to the wind?

Not dumb at all. The disk shaped rudder at the ends or in the center of the rotor line the rotor up across the wind. The rotor always rolls backward due to the lean on the cable. As the wind shifts the rotor will swing to maintain proper orientation.

Many correspondents complained about the use of helium vs hydrogen; people are obsessed with the hydrogen economy these days and both molecules are small and hard to keep bottled up. But you suggest in your letter that you could fill it with anything that floats. Is the choice of helium simply a matter of avoiding fears of flaming balloons?

Yes, Helium's inert quality over other lifting gases makes it very acceptable in North America. In other parts of the world other lifting gases will probably suffice due to availability and low cost.

As an inventor with some experience, what advice would you give to others who are trying to work with new ideas and technologies and bring them to market?

In general try to rationalize the economics relative to your invention, as opposed to any other existing similar object or method. The world's investment community thinks in terms of cost vs other means. Perhaps this will change due to necessity. Of course immense breakthroughs in medicine or other necessities aren't driven by economics - but most mechanical luxuries - in the present world environment are. Also try and build a proven prototype. The world beats a path to the door of the better mousetrap - after it has killed the mouse (and again is economically effective - "cheap")

I can understand the problems of bringing a new kind of blimp to market- there isn't much demand for the old kind either so you have a lot of built-in resistance in the marketplace. Yet this idea seems so revolutionary and there is so much interest in wind power- what have you found to be your biggest distractions or problems in launching this?

So far we have kept this under wraps - so were not yet aware of potential marketing problems. This biggest obstacle in this program is that fact that the prototype is a million dollar unit and that, although not yet a stumbling block, is probably the hardest money to put together - in the best way. We still have to kill the mouse.

We have never seen so many people who not only say they want to buy one, but they want to empty their RRSP's(Retirement savings plans) to invest in it. Any suggestions?

It's wonderful to see the response. This project more than any other I have ever worked on keeps fitting together in a positive additive way. There will be an investment opportunity, for the RRSP people, but right now we are looking for just one or two angel investors to help us conclude this stage (current new investment is at the founder level and still requires $2 million) a business plan is available through our CEO Mac Brown (

what is your vision for the future of this? where do you think the greatest demand will come from, the big energy producers or individuals?

My personal ambition is to see individuals be able to utilize this technology. The third world, needy, etc., - I expect the big units will be a different story and developed by one or more big energy producers. But, I will see that the small -disaster relief units, are never tied up or unavailable not immersed in profitability issues. This I can do.

You have your feet planted in aviation and now in energy, two areas that will be radically affected by the Long Emergency and the end of oil. What do you think the best approaches are for dealing with these

We have been tied to oil for perhaps the past 100 years. What would we have done had oil not existed - we would have still progressed and maybe even been further along than we are today. Other, clean, safe forms of energy will quickly evolve, plus the global philosophy to go with it... - is my hope.

What is your next big idea?

aha - I wish I could tell you - it's just as good and just as workable. And comes from my life experience (inflatable structures).. Call me in about 3 months (patenting is underway) so that I can tell you then.

We will.
Treehugger Alert: If you have questions for Fred send them to Lloyd (at) treehugger (dot) com and we will do a follow-up.