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Until recently, the steam engine was the most widespread source of energy on the planet. Steam engines were installed on ground carts – prototypes of the first automobiles, set in motion trains and steamers, and ensured the operation of pumps and machine tools. Steam power and steam engines were widely used in industry in the 19th century. It is not surprising that over time, the idea of building an aircraft with a steam engine penetrated into the heads of designers. However, the process of building a steam-plane turned out to be difficult and thorny.
Air steam crew
The birth of aviation dates back to the beginning of the 19th century. It was at the turn of the 18th-19th centuries that the first concept of an aircraft was proposed. This concept was put forward by the English naturalist George Cayley. It is Kayleigh who is considered one of the world’s first researchers and theorists in the field of creating heavier-than-air aircraft. Cayley began his first studies and experiments to study the aerodynamic characteristics of the wing in 1804, in the same year he made a model of his own airframe design. According to him, the glider could travel no more than 27 meters through the air. In 1809-1810, the first monthly scientific journal in Great Britain, Nicolson’s Journal of Natural Philosophy, published a work by George Cayley entitled “On Air Navigation.” It was the world’s first published scientific work, which contained the fundamental principles of the theory of glider and airplane flight.
It is no coincidence that it was in Great Britain, closer to the middle of the 19th century, that they tried to build the first airplane, or rather, a steam jet, because it was planned to install a steam engine on the model as a power plant. The idea of building an unusual aircraft belonged to the English inventor and pioneer in the field of aviation, William Samuel Henson. Together with another British inventor, John Stringfellow, Henson developed the world’s first aircraft design, which took into account all the basic elements of a classic propeller-driven aircraft.
The designers called their brainchild the Aerial Steam Carriage. The patent for the invention was obtained in 1843, in the same year the inventors and their partners registered a joint stock company called the Aeriel Transit Company. The designers created the first model of their “air steam crew” in 1843. It was a six-meter aircraft, which was powered by a steam engine with a power of only 1 hp.
The model tested by Henson and Stringfellow
The design of the wing of the parlet, which was presented by Henson and Stringfellow, contained elements that in the future will find application in aviation: spars, ribs, struts with braces. The wing of their steamer, like that of modern aircraft, was thick. At the same time, the designers designed the wing spars hollow, which was supposed to facilitate the design of the aircraft. The wing itself was attached to the body of the parlet from above, it was planned to place the engine itself, the crew and passengers in the body. The power plant was supposed to drive two pushing propellers. The landing gear of the aircraft was planned to be three-wheeled, with one nose wheel.
At the same time, the idea of the designers was too bold, not only by the standards of the middle of the 19th century. The technical characteristics of the air steam crew were excellent. The airplane was supposed to carry up to 12 people by air over a distance of 1600 km. At the same time, the wingspan of the model was estimated at 46 meters, and the wing area was 424 m², the diameter of the propellers was 6 meters. The power of the installed power machine was estimated at 30 hp. It was believed that this was enough to provide an aircraft with a maximum takeoff weight of 1360 kg a cruising speed of 80 km / h.
In fact, it all ended with the tests of the reduced model, which continued with varying success from 1844 to 1847. All this time, the designers made a large number of changes to the project, changed parameters, altered the airframe, and also looked for an increasingly powerful steam engine. Despite the efforts of British naturalists, time after time they failed. This was mainly due to the complete lack of world experience in the field of aircraft construction. Both Henson and Stringfellow were pioneers, taking only the first timid steps in a new field, faced with a huge number of difficulties. In 1847, all work on the project was finally stopped.
Steam plane of Alexander Mozhaisky
In Russia, the idea to build an aircraft with a steam engine was picked up by Rear Admiral Alexander Fedorovich Mozhaisky, “the grandfather of Russian aviation”, not only a famous military figure, but also an inventor. Mozhaisky was engaged in research and invention both during his service in the Russian Imperial Navy and in the civil service. The inventor finally came to the idea of building his own aircraft by 1873. Having completed his plan by the end of 1876, Mozhaisky presented the project to the Ministry of War, where the project was considered and funding was allocated for its implementation. In particular, three thousand rubles were spent on scientific research and research, the results of which could be further used to create a new aircraft.
Alexander Fedorovich Mozhaisky
When developing his version of the aircraft, Alexander Mozhaisky, like many other pioneers of aeronautics, relied primarily on the design and flight performance of kites, which he personally designed and launched over the course of several years. Mozhaisky rightly believed that a heavy and slow aircraft should have a large wing area. At the same time, like other inventors of aircraft, Mozhaisky went through trial and error, changing the design and characteristics of his aircraft versions many times.
According to the project, the aircraft was supposed to have a fuselage length of about 15 meters, a wingspan of 23 meters, a take-off weight of 820 kg. At the same time, the dimensions of the aircraft vary in various studies by aviation specialists. The fact that Mozhaisky wanted to equip his aircraft with two 20 hp engines at once remains unchanged. and 10 hp. At the same time, initially it was about internal combustion engines, which had just begun to emerge. The design speed of the aircraft was supposed to be about 40 km / h. Low flight speed forced the designer to build an aircraft with a very large wing area of the original shape. Externally, the aircraft designed by Mozhaisky was a bracing monoplane, made according to the classical aerodynamic design.
Quite quickly, the designer was forced to abandon the internal combustion engine, since the first such engines were extremely unreliable and had a lot of weight. Then Mozhaisky decided to return to the classic steam engines for his era. On his password, he planned to use the most lightweight models of steam engines of the Arbecker-son and Hemkens company from London, which had an excellent reputation and had time to establish itself as a manufacturer of lightweight steam engines that were used on destroyers.
Mozhaisky plane model, State Polytechnic Museum in Moscow
The first prototype of the aircraft was ready in 1882. But the tests were unsuccessful. Alexander Mozhaisky, like many aviation pioneers, could not rely on anyone’s successful experience, in those years the world aircraft industry simply did not exist. The designer did not equip his password with anti-roll devices, as he did not consider them necessary. As a result, the plane, not even having time to rise into the sky, fell on its side, and its huge wing area simply “folded”. The subsequent three years of work on finalizing the design did not lead to anything, the tests in 1885 were again unsuccessful, the plane again fell on its side. This is where the history of this aircraft ends, and in 1890 the designer himself passed away.
The only flying password
Ultimately, the first steam plane that was able to take to the skies and made a full flight was not built until the 20th century. This happened in the 1930s, when the world had already accumulated significant experience in the field of aircraft construction. Released in 1933 in a single copy, the Airspeed 2000 not only took off, but was also in active operation, at least until 1936. An unusual plane worked in the US Post Office, but after 1936 his life is lost.
The first flying steamer was built by the American brothers, inventors George and William Bessler, with the direct assistance of engineer Nathan Price. Demonstration of the novelty took place on April 12, 1933 in California in the city of Oakland and was widely covered in the American press. In appearance, this would be the most ordinary plane of those years. This is not surprising, since the brothers simply took the serial Travel Air 2000 biplane as a basis. The power plant itself was unusual. The aircraft, dubbed Airspeed 2000, was equipped with a powerful steam engine.
The heart of the car was a V-twin-cylinder steam engine that produced a maximum power of 150 hp. With a tank with a total capacity of about 10 gallons, the Bessler brothers’ plane could fly about 600 km. At the same time, the steam engine weighed even less than standard gasoline internal combustion engines – 80 kg, but another 220 kg was added to the weight of the power plant with a water tank with a firebox.
The plane easily took to the skies in 1933 and was subsequently in operation. The car had no problems with flights. At the same time, the journalists appreciated the quiet operation of the aircraft engine, noting that the conversation between the pilot and the passenger could be heard even from the ground. The noise was made only by the whistle of a propeller chopping the air. In addition to a quiet flight, the plane had other advantages, for example, the use of water instead of gasoline. Also, the power of the steam engine did not depend in any way on the flight altitude and the degree of rarefaction of the air, which was a problem for all aircraft with internal combustion engines. For example, at an altitude of more than two thousand meters, the steam engine on the Airspeed 2000 became more efficient than gasoline engines of the same power.
Despite its advantages, the Airspeed 2000 did not interest civilian customers and the US military. The future was for aircraft with internal combustion engines, and the biplane of the Bessler brothers looked like some kind of curiosity from the 19th century, albeit with an obvious set of advantages. The disadvantages still outweighed. In terms of efficiency, the steam engine was inferior to internal combustion engines. Ultralight materials had to be used in the design of the aircraft to compensate for the weight of the massive water boiler. It did not allow to compete with aircraft with internal combustion engines and a shorter flight range. And even such an obvious quality as quietness, which could be used to create reconnaissance aircraft or bombers, did not attract representatives of the military department.