A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding
Re: Centerless Sextant
From: George Huxtable
Date: 2008 Jul 1, 12:11 +0100
From: George Huxtable
Date: 2008 Jul 1, 12:11 +0100
D. Walden has done us a good turn by drawing our attention, in , to the Hughes "centerless sextant", held in Mystic museum, and to the related US patent , 1,383.950, granted July 5 1921. To his posting he attached just one of the pages from that patent, but it's useful to see it all, by going to Google Patents, and entering that patent number, then click "download pdf", from which you can see, and print, 4 pages. This includes a ray diagram, which explains (nearly) all. That shows up several curiosities about the instrument, and leads to some further questions. Bill Morris ("engineer") has made perceptive comments in , copied below, but there's a bit more to discover yet, I hope. To follow Bill's comments, and mine, you need those 4 patent pages, text and all. D. Walden first pointed out a link to the museum catalogue at Mystic, http://mobius.mysticseaport.org/detail.php?t=objects&type=browse&f=maker&s=Hughes%2C+H.+%26+Son&record=2 but that is woefully uninformative. The photo is hard to make out, and the instrument appears to lack its telescope. That insrument appears to differ in some respects from the patent. There appears to be a silly error on page 2 of the patent's text , line 27. It describes, sensibly, in line 31, the pitch of the screw as being equal in pitch to a 720th of a circle, so that one revolution of the spindle moves the carrier half a degree. But then, it goes on to say "To enable readings to be taken of less than half a degree the head f4 of the spindle is divided into 30 divisions ..." continuing, to say that these could be further subdivided. But of course, that spindle-head should be divided into 60 minutes, just like the drum of a normal sextant, because the carrier movement of half degree changes the viewed angle by 1 degree.. We have to put this development into context. As far as I can discover, no British micrometer sextant emerged until the very late 1920s, and this 1921 patent from Hughes is the earliest proposal that I have seen. This contrasts with Plath of Hamburg, who had been offering micrometer instruments since 1908. My guess is that Plath had the international patents sewn up, and this Hughes proposal may have been no more than an attempt to circumvent them by attaching their first micrometer to a rather different instrument, which (whether it actually was, or not) they could make out to be an improvement on the traditional sextant. But I know little about the arcane world of patent law. Some of the details are a bit odd, on close inspection. In place of a horizon mirror, there's a prism with a very wide angle. Bill Morris states- " The prism has an angle of 120 degrees and acts somewhat like a Porro prism except that there is an extra internal reflection on the long face." What is its advantage, over a simple mirror? As far as I can see, it allows the reflected light ray to be displaced vertically, so allowing greater spacing between the index mirror and the telescope. However, that spacing is far more than really needed to accommodate the telescope that's shown, but it might then allow the substitution of a larger-aperture telescope, for night vision. Otherwise, to achieve a similar clearance with a single mirror, at a similar angle of reflection, it would need to protrude way out in front of the sextant. Presumably, the angled faces of that prism must be silvered; otherwise, at the angles that the internal light ray strikes them, they would transmit, and so lose, much of the light that needs to be internally reflected. The ray-diagram shows that when the index mirror is set to observe light entering at 90 degrees, it's just on the verge of moving out of view from the horizon prism, so I would expect part of the field of view to be already starting to darken. By the time the carrier has moved another 5� or so, so as to try to observe angles of 100�, there appears to be no field of view left at all. This is a consequence of the centreless construction, which causes the index mirror to shift in an unusual trajectory. So it seems likely, to me, that far from the claims in the catalogue that this is a quintant, it doesn't even qualify to be a sextant, and only just as an octant. Really, though, that needs confirming by a visual inspection of the instrument, before we can be sure. George. contact George Huxtable at firstname.lastname@example.org or at +44 1865 820222 (from UK, 01865 820222) or at 1 Sandy Lane, Southmoor, Abingdon, Oxon OX13 5HX, UK. ================================= ----- Original Message ----- From: "engineer"
To: "NavList" Sent: Monday, June 23, 2008 6:47 AM Subject: [NavList 5575] Re: Centerless Sextant Many thanks for bringing to our attention the patent document on Hughes and Baker�s centreless sextant. Their stated aim was to reduce the size of the instrument and lower its cost of manufacture. They suceeded in the former aim but presumably not in the latter, as it seems to have sunk almost without trace. I wonder if anyone who has seen the actual instrument noted whether it bore any serial number that might give a clue as to whether there was any production run? One of the main points of interest is the guiding of what the patent document calls the index mirror carrier, e. We would nowadays call it the index arm. It is worth noting first that the index mirror is not mounted where the axis of rotation would have been if there had been a real rather than virtual axis. The mirror would be about half-way down the index arm of a conventional sextant. The carrier slides between two �curved and concentric� surfaces on the upper and lower flanges, a and j. The lower curved surface, a, is vee- shaped in section and is on the inside of the arc. A mating surface on the carrier engages with it. The upper curved flange, j, has a slot machined in it and a bracket screwed to the carrier engages the slot. The micrometer assembly differs in detail from that of a modern sextant, but the principle is the same: a micrometer screw engages with a rack on the periphery of the limb and is held in engagement by a spring. The screw can be swung down out of engagement with the rack by overcoming the resistance of the spring, to allow rapid movement of the index arm. In the case of this instrument, the spring seems to have another function, to keep the sliding vee surfaces in contact and maintaining concentricity. George Huxtable wondered about the accuracy of guiding the index mirror carrier. This could only be found out for certain by actual trial, but I don�t suppose anyone is going to send an example to New Zealand for me to check the calibration. However, there is nothing wrong with it in principle. Most lathes made since about 1930 have prismatic guides that follow the narrow guide principle. That is to say, the guiding surfaces should be narrow and as close as possible to the point of application of the force that moves them. The guides on the limb and carrier would have been relatively simple to machine and the matching surfaces on the index mirror carrier would not even have to match exactly. If the angle of the vee on the carrier was no greater than the angle of the vee on the limb it would not rock at right angles to the plane of the instrument. If the radius of the vee on the carrier was no less than the radius on the limb, the carrier would not rock in the plane of the instrument. In practice, it would not be difficult to get a very close match I guestimate that the vee guides are about 60 mm long and 15 mm wide, adequate no doubt, but longer would have been better. The upper flange, j, serves only to stop things falling apart when the micrometer screw is disengaged and is a �keeper� rather than a guider. The placing of the handle is unusual, but hold your closed hand up to your face and you will see that for a lightweight instrument about 120 x 200 mm, it is placed entirely rationally. The light path, shown in Figure 6 of the patent document is certainly unusual in that the horizon is viewed beneath the horizon prism; and that a prism is used instead of a mirror. The prism has an angle of 120 degrees and acts somewhat like a Porro prism except that there is an extra internal reflection on the long face. Hughes and Son showed a curious combination of following tradition combined with some brilliant departures from tradition. One sees this in the rather clunky, but entirely adequate design of Husun micrometer sextants, contrasted with the ingenious and ergonomically advanced design of the Mark IX series bubble sextants of WW II. I for one greatly regret that their centreless sextant never took off. I would have enjoyed examining and possibly owning an example, something now denied to me by its extreme rarity. Bill Morris --~--~---------~--~----~------------~-------~--~----~ Navigation List archive: www.fer3.com/arc To post, email NavList@fer3.com To unsubscribe, email NavListemail@example.com -~----------~----~----~----~------~----~------~--~---