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Home History My Recent Efforts Generating the Steam
Fuel Designs for aircraft Hydroplanes Practical

Clement Ader
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 exaggeration. 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 acquiring light 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
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.

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.

Mozhaisky, Alexander
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.

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.
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 perhaps.

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.


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