Francesco Lana, son of a noble family, was born in 1631; in 1647 he was received as a novice into the Society of Jesus at Rome, and remained a pious member of the Jesuit society until the end of his life. He was greatly handicapped in his scientific investigations by the vows of poverty which the rules of the Order imposed on him. He was more scientist than priest all his life; for two years he held the post of Professor of Mathematics at Ferrara, and up to the time of his death, in 1687, he spent by far the greater part of his time in scientific research, He had the dubious advantage of living in an age when one man could cover the whole range of science, and this he seems to have done very thoroughly. There survives an immense work of his entitled, Magisterium Naturae et Artis, which embraces the whole field of scientific knowledge as that was developed in the period in which Lana lived. In an earlier work of his, published in Brescia in 1670, appears his famous treatise on the aerial ship, a problem which Lana worked out with thoroughness. He was unable to make practical experiments, and thus failed to perceive the one insuperable drawback to his project - of which more anon.

Only extracts from the translation of Lana's work can be given here, but sufficient can be given to show fully the means by which he designed to achieve the conquest of the air. He begins by mention of the celebrated pigeon of Archytas the Philosopher, and advances one or two theories with regard to the way in which this mechanical bird was constructed, and then he recites, apparently with full belief in it, the fable of Regiomontanus and the eagle that he is said to have constructed to accompany Charles V. on his entry into Nuremberg. In fact, Lana starts his work with a study of the pioneers of mechanical flying up to his own time, and then outlines his own devices for the construction of mechanical birds before proceeding to detail the construction of the aerial ship. Concerning primary experiments for this he says: -

'I will, first of all, presuppose that air has weight owing to the vapours and halations which ascend from the earth and seas to a height of many miles and surround the whole of our terraqueous globe; and this fact will not be denied by philosophers, even by those who may have but a superficial knowledge. because it can be proven by exhausting, if not all, at any rate the greater part of, the air contained in a glass vessel, which, if weighed before and after the air has been exhausted, will be found materially reduced in weight. Then I found out how much the air weighed in itself in the following manner. I procured a large vessel of glass, whose neck could be closed or opened by means of a tap, and holding it open I warmed it over a fire, so that the air inside it becoming rarified, the major part was forced out; then quickly shutting the tap to prevent the re-entry I weighed it; which done, I plunged its neck in water, resting the whole of the vessel on the surface of the water, then on opening the tap the water rose in the vessel and filled the greater part of it. I lifted the neck out of the water, released the water contained in the vessel, and measured and weighed its quantity and density, by which I inferred that a certain quantity of air had come out of the vessel equal in bulk to the quantity of water which had entered to refill the portion abandoned by the air. I again weighed the vessel, after I had first of all well dried it free of all moisture, and found it weighed one ounce more whilst it was full of air than when it was exhausted of the greater part, so that what it weighed more was a quantity of air equal in volume to the water which took its place. The water weighed 640 ounces, so I concluded that the weight of air compared with that of water was 1 to 640 - that is to say, as the water which filled the vessel weighed 640 ounces, so the air which filled the same vessel weighed one ounce.'

Having thus detailed the method of exhausting air from a vessel, Lana goes on to assume that any large vessel can be entirely exhausted of nearly all the air contained therein. Then he takes Euclid's proposition to the effect that the superficial area of globes increases in the proportion of the square of the diameter, whilst the volume increases in the proportion of the cube of the same diameter, and he considers that if one only constructs the globe of thin metal, of sufficient size, and exhausts the air in the manner that he suggests, such a globe will be so far lighter than the surrounding atmosphere that it will not only rise, but will be capable of lifting weights. Here is Lana's own way of putting it: -

'But so that it may be enabled to raise heavier weights and to lift men in the air, let us take double the quantity of copper, 1,232 square feet, equal to 308 lbs. of copper; with this double quantity of copper we could construct a vessel of not only double the capacity, but of four times the capacity of the first, for the reason shown by my fourth supposition. Consequently the air contained in such a vessel will be 718 lbs. 4 2/3 ounces, so that if the air be drawn out of the vessel it will be 410 lbs. 4 2/3 ounces lighter than the same volume of air, and, consequently, will be enabled to lift three men, or at least two, should they weigh more than eight pesi each. It is thus manifest that the larger the ball or vessel is made, the thicker and more solid can the sheets of copper be made, because, although the weight will increase, the capacity of the vessel will increase to a greater extent and with it the weight of the air therein, so that it will always be capable to lift a heavier weight. From this it can be easily seen how it is possible to construct a machine which, fashioned like unto a ship, will float on the air.'