These questions bothered my dad, so much so that he concocted a scheme to beat gravity with a sophisticated device that used the principles of a gyroscope. He eventually coined the acronym RIAR, for Radial Impulse Activated Reaction, as a name for it. He built a couple of models in an attempt to demonstrate the principle. It was something he played with in his spare time. In his later years he had a great deal of spare time.
I remember the first model he made. I was still in elementary school. We lived in Seattle and he worked for Boeing. I remember the model was made of a board about a foot square with a largish (ten inch) hole through the center. A piece of glass was fastened to the underside. The sides of the hole were to provide a race way for some marbles, like a big ball bearing. This was back around 1960, when making things out of metal was still an expensive proposition. I don't remember any further progress on it. I think it was at this point that he realized that anything that acted in one plane was not going to cut it. If the device was to have a prayer of working, it would have to operate in three dimensions.
Robert Heinlein used a similar concept in some of his books in order to move from one Universe to another. His mechanism rotated a gyroscope about all three axii simultaneously. Great minds think alike. From The Number of the Beast:
``Go to the head of the class. Now -- think hard! -- suppose we put a gyroscope in a frame, then impress equal forces at all three spatial coordinates at once; what would it do?''Okaaaay, they disappear. Right. But this is fiction, and you can make up stories about anything you can imagine. Rotating something on all three axii simultaneously only results in the thing being rotated on one axis that is some average of the three. The three rotations are basically added together.
I tried to visualize it. `I think it would either faint or drop dead.''
``A good first hypothesis. According to Jake, it disappears.''
``They do disappear, Aunt Hilda. I watched it happen several times.''
My dad's idea evolved over time. Eventually the idea was to have a weight on the end of an arm that followed a convoluted path. It would swing through a 180 degree arc at a large radius. The radius would then shorten dramatically, the axis of rotation would change 90 degrees, and the weight would traverse another 180 degree arc at this shorter radius. The radius would then return to its' previous length, the axis of the rotation would change another 90 degrees, and the process would repeat. I think there were also some velocity changes involved. It was quite cool. However, he was never able to build a model that actually worked.
I sat down one time and worked through the forces involved and half convinced myself that it would work. On the other hand, I never really understood why gyroscopes worked, and if I looked at my dad's concept another way it was obvious that it was never going to do anything. I still would like to understand gyroscopes. On the other hand, we still don't have a good explanation of gravity.
My dad wasn't the only one was captivated by gyroscopes. YouTube is full of videos from inventors of anti-gravity gyros. I like this one, mostly because it illustrates levitation very well. The business about lifting it over his head with no effort, well, that's just showmanship.
They used to use giant gyroscopes to stabilize ocean liners.
Now they use swim fins.