FLYING STEAM ENGINES - History
Unique amongst the Early Pioneers, Clement Aders best efforts remain in the Musee des arts et Metiers
in Paris which I visited in 2006. What impressed me was the wonderful workmanship in the Machinery
and the limitless efforts made to reduce weight. The entire boiler looks to be made of pure nickel and
the engine is of forged steel cast iron and copper, with all components beautifully machined and hand
finished. He claimed a flight of 300 metres in 1895 which had two
independent witnesses it is said.
If you can get there it is worth the trip. Try www.ctie.monash.edu.au this site depicts more of the early pioneers than any site I have ever seen, it is crammed with simple
fact as best can be gained today, presented in a totally neutral way free of national bias and
It places the early pioneers in a context suited to their rightful place in the history of flight.
This very successful steam plane was built by the Beslar Brothers in 1933. They had
acquired the design and
other rights to Dobles steam vehicle engines and used a converted Travelair 2000 as the machine to use as a
testbed. It was an instant success technically and as a publicity platform for the Doble engines and monotube
steam generating system. I will not elaborate on this considerable achievement as it is well recorded and
detailed elsewhere, try www.airbornegrafix.com
Sir George Caley. 1799-1857
This wealthy English land owner is generally acknowledged as the father of
heavier than air aviation and the inventor of winged flight and whilst he did
not build a steam powered aeroplane he was in contact with and constantly
encouraged another man who did, John Stringfellow. The above pictures depict the
Replica 1853 Glider first flown, very reluctantly, by Caley's Driver, a fine example of the
aristocratic power of persuasion at work. Caley confined his own
aviation experiments to gliders but he did think and write of the
possibilities of the steam engine for manned flight. Above all he identified and wrote
at length about the basic forces that were involved in achieving powered
flight; weight, lift, drag and thrust.
Early in the 19th century Caley alone made the first recorded and authorative public statement
to the effect that powered flight will be achieved and is only a matter of
weight power sources and manned flight will become a reality. His courageous
foresight in the
face of his learned peers, the church and the rest of the population can never be taken from
him. There are many sites dedicated to his memory and an excellent Museum established quite close
to where he lived and worked. The same Museum has what is claimed as the only successful flying
example of a replica Wright Flyer in the World. Click and See www.yorkshireairmuseum.co.uk
Langley, Professor S P
Secretary of the Smithsonion Institution USA, Langley led a lone route toward
a practical demonstration of heavier than air powered flight. I have a very
interesting copy article published June 1887 in McClures Magazine (USA) in
which Langley adopts what I have to describe as a patronising tone toward his
audience. His work was financed by the US government through the Smithsonion.
He had a very capable team helping him and yet wrote much of this piece in
the first person giving the impression that he did everything himself!
Perhaps for reasons of securing a continued salary he made no reference to
his staff nor to the work of John and Fredrick Stringfellow who had already
flown steam powered flying machines. Furthermore he failed to mention the
earlier rotating test beds for airfoils and wings used by Stringfellow and
Caley nearly 50 and 100 years previously. Langley seems to have been his own
greatest publicist, rarely the hallmark of integrity.
Despite his claim in the same
article, I quote, "I turned for these principles (OF POWERED FLIGHT) to
my books, and got no help." No help? Yet in 1887 he purchased John Stringfellow's Tri-plane and its
prize-winning engine from his son Fredrick. No help? Langley's purchase of these items is an excellently
researched and reported fact to be found in Harald Penrose's biography of Stringfellow 'An Ancient Air'
ISBN 0905 778 54 5 my copy was published in 2000 by Wrens Park Publishing UK.
Langleys eventual success with two steam powered unmanned aircraft cannot be questioned, flights being
witnessed and photographed by many individuals, one being Alexander Graham Bell. However I cannot but
conclude that had Langley openly accepted and built upon earlier knowledge and success gained inside
and outside the USA he should have beaten all comers in achieving manned flight, including the Wright
Brothers. Particularly as he had the benefit of the then finest 50 HP radial aero engine in the world;
built by his very able assistant Manley to help him along! He enjoyed the best of State patronage
through the Smithsonion no less, none of his forbears or concurrent
experimenters in the USA, or anywhere
in the world had that kind of support.
My impression is that he wasted time and tax payers money re-inventing the wheel. I believe from one account
I found on the net that Professor Langley may have been rather difficult to work with!
Maxim, Sir Hiram
An account I have of Maxims work is from a copy of the company magazine Vickers News of about 1938/9 and one of
their staff, a Mr George Court worked with Maxim at the time of his experiments. Parts of the piece were contributed
by Mr Court who still worked at Vickers at that time. Maxim's company was called Maxim Nordenfeldt before it became
Vickers. Many flights were made and on one occasion the machine broke free of its restraining rails at 40 miles
per hour and flew on in stable flight and in some measure of control until it hit the ground with some damage but not
fatally to any of the crew of three. Some accounts say that experiments continued for some time after that. On that
day it so happened there were dozens of eager spectators so overseas detractors cannot dismiss this flight by shouting
not enough witnesses. Go to www.bondle.co.uk. some excellent pictures, I quote from this site, "Heavier than air
flight is termed as "the ability of a vehicle to lift it's own weight using it's own power". Under that definition
Maxim and his crew were the first to demonstrate a manned aircraft that could lift its own weight plus a ton more
if you read the web site in detail! Detractors will always insist that the Wright Brothers were the first to fly,
they weren't but as Goebbles said, "Shout the lie long enough and loud enough and everyone will believe it in the
end"! The Wright Brothers singular success was learning to fly gliders before they used an engine and reading about
the work of others, thus realising before they used an engine that control in all planes was essential, they were
both very fine practical engineers.
Maxims aims in this aeronautical experiment were limited to proving that man could make a steam powered flying
machine large enough to lift a crew, a cargo and its own fuel and water supply and in this he succeeded at the first
real trial. However he did more than this. He proved in one experiment that cargo planes and aerial bombardment
was a virtual future certainty and that it could be steam powered. It was not an aerodynamic wonder as it was mounted
on rails and was stabilised mechanically in x,y and z. It was however a constructional wonder at the time, gargantuan
in scale 130 feet long x 105 foot span and at least 20 feet high powered by two 180 hp engines driving two propellers
17 feet in diameter. It almost certainly could have been made to fly self stabilised as it had an elevator, and ample
dihedral to ensure that it would be reasonably stable and turn fairly safely on rudder alone if it had one were fitted.
From other points of
view the Brothers Wright must take the honour of being first except both attempts used an assisted take off. Which,
under the definition I understand as being generally accepted and clear, neither of them qualify. The first
Wright brothers first flight ln 1903 lasted 12 seconds and there is little to suggest that the Russian flight
lasted as long that. Maxims longest flight lasted nearly half a minute with no gravitational assistance and
dozens of witnesses. One report I read stated that Maxims plane never flew again another says it went on for
many more test runs. It was not seriously damaged and two of the crew escaped unhurt and the third suffered
an injury to the head, which could mean anything.
A Russian Naval Officer of far reaching talents and great determination was claimed in 1949 by Stalin as being the
first man to fly a manned aircraft, from some points of view it is a fair claim. In the glaring light of hindsight
it is simple to see that without any attempt to laterally stabilise his aircraft Mozhaisky must have been very
worried for a few seconds! With only 30 HP and at least one hefty boiler to lift it seems most unlikely that
the aircraft could have gained height under it's own power. The engine has been reported as being made by Maxim
or some of his staff and the boiler was also from the same source. One account I found stated that the boiler and
engine came from Maxim's plane but such a weight could not have been born by this much smaller aircraft, Maxims
boiler was the height of a man.
The most glowing report of Mozhaisky's acheivment is to be found, not surprisingly on a Russian Web site, go to www.vor.ru/EVENTS/program42.html There are lots of other sites covering this gallant man's effort, he was a resourceful Officer as well. The drawing
of his aircraft was published in a Czech model magazine "Letecky Modelar" which a kind Czech visitor to Middle
Wallop gave me in 1994 or thereabouts. I have found little else to confirm the exact events of the day that the
flight took place; and nothing in the way of eye witness or press reports.
If anyone out there perhaps a Russian Aviation historian comes across this web site and would like to give me
more information about this achievement I would be pleased to add to this very short account-------a Photograph
Sir Charles Parsons
This particular Genius produced the first steam turbine as well as the first steam powered Helicopter! and perhaps
the last. I do still harbour the desire to have a crack at the steam helicopter problem myself. A picture of this
machine and a steam powered aeroplane can be seen in the thumbnails, click these for a better picture. These
photographs appear on this web site and may be the earliest photographic record of a steam aircraft in flight, http://www.Birrcastle.com/Inventions and Experiments.
To Charles Parsons it would seem that this achievement in about 1890 was just a modest test, no more than
a trifling experiment. He was of a wealthy family and no doubt he had skilled help at hand to engage on
some of the development of his ideas, he filed 300 patents during his busy life.
Stringfellow & Hansen
Of these two collaborators I personally see Stringfellow as the more dedicated and certainly as an individual
more dedicated to the basic problem of making machines that could fly. Hansen has the distinction of having
published through the launch of the Arial Steam Transit Company the best approximation (waving Pennants and
Dragging Flags excepted!) of a working powered monoplane 50 or more years before experimenters like Dumont
and Bleriot caught on and became perhaps the most famous early monoplane enthusiasts. Whilst the design of
the 'Airliner' depicted in the prospectus for the London launch of the Company was perhaps fanciful given
todays hindsight; launching the company was an act of considerable faith and self confidence for them and
their immediate collaborators to enter into with all the embarassment and humiliation that could have resulted.
Not surprisingly no public investors were forthcoming so a public drubbing was averted. The Patent application
dated 1842 beggers belief in its lack of detail and specific 'how we will do this' information for the Patent
Office attention. As patents were relativly rare and perhaps still granted by the crown at that time florel
language and hopeful claims were perhaps normal. I have applied for three patents in my time and the detail
needed is exhaustive. My enquiring mind asks why was John Stringfellows name not on the applicants list as
a joint applicant, my impression has always been that Hansen was far more ambitious than he was inventive, little
if any of his own mechanical developments seem to have survived.
Within a few years after the patent application I suggest that Hansen realised that it was far more effort
making something fly than just making a noise about it; and the Arial Transit Company was unlikely to make
money quickly enough for his requirement. Hansen left the UK in 1848/9 to seek his fortune in America.
Hansen's Patent application can be read in full here www.ctie.monash.edu.au/hargrave/stringfellow.html. On this same site there is a very comprehensive list of early researchers into flight, their names and
achievements, there are 50 or so; most of them clustered from 1850-1910, which is no surprise.
In about three years Stringfellow built and flew three steam powered aircraft and one of those survived many
years and his son flew it as late as the 1880s, there are many details of Stringfellows life and family never
revealed until the book 'An Ancient Air' was published a few years ago, I referenced this book earlier in this
brief history under 'Langley'. I cannot pile enough praise on this new history, it is excellent, so much new
material from new sources.