Dr. Pevsner Springs Leonardo’s Catapult on an Expectant Crew
Many of Leonardo DaVinci’s weapons were innovative and new, however the invention of the catapult was not new. It was invented more than 1800 years before the birth of DaVinci – perhaps around 399 BCE.1 The fact that it already existed didn’t mean Leonardo would have no opinion as to what a catapult should be. DaVinci expert and Crew Leader, Dr. Jonathan Pevsner,2 chose to feature Leonardo’s catapult for episode #6 of the Discovery Channel’s “Doing DaVinci.”
Too Simple to Work? Too Delicate?
Leonardo’s sketches – his designs – often seem to be overly simple, even naïve. Can any of his inventions possibly work? The first five episodes of the Discovery Channel series aptly demonstrated they can and they do. The catapult sketch wasn’t overly convincing, yet Dr. Pevsner instructed his crew, Jurgen Heimann, Valek Sykes, Flash Hopkins, and Bill Duggan, to build one. Would it work? A special guest, a bow-expert, was called in to assist.
Leonardo’s catapult is of simple design, the heart of the works being a bow-like section of tough, yet flexible laminated wood whose ends are pulled together into a “U” like a spring by ropes, cranked by hand – at the right time to be suddenly released. The throw-arm was long and had a cup on its end that was fashioned by Heimann to resemble that in DaVinci’s sketch.
More Than a Construction Project
The finished structure was stained like a piece of fine furniture, giving it a renaissance look and the atmosphere of the period. Clearly Dr. Pevsner was well-pleased. Now he wanted to test the catapult as to what it could throw and how far it could throw it. Would the mechanism hold together? Would the throw-arm hold up?
What Went Wrong?
It did not hold up. The throw arm kept going until it hit the ground and was damaged. There had to be a means of stopping the arm after its contents were launched. Readjustments were made, and the catapult was ready to launch again. Launching was successful to a degree, but here is where this episode of Doing DaVinci fell short in this writer’s estimate. Sufficient time should have been taken to perfect the throwing arm. Also, the stopping point (angle of the arm) allowing release should have been fine-tuned, and solid measurements taken.
A Call! A Challenge!
By way of “modernization,” I wonder what improvements modern technologies and small design changes could make with DaVinci’s engineering sketches? What if the throwing arm is made of fiberglass? Things like that. I would love to see Leonardo’s inventions continue to be made as the crew is now making them, but followed by another crew (or the same crew at another time) making modernized counterparts.
What do you say, Folks? What do you say, Discovery Channel? Dr. Pevsner? Crew? To quote Ben of Cash Cab, “You in?”
1 “The Catapult: A History”, Tracy Rihall, 2007
2 In addition to being an expert on Leonardo DaVinci, Dr. Pevsner has many other credentials, enumerated here.