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A History of Aeronautics by Marsh and Vivian

Except as regards the method of ignition


The evolution of the motor-car led to the adoption of the vertical type of internal combustion engine in preference to any other, and it followed naturally that vertical engines should be first used for aeroplane propulsion, as by taking an engine that had been developed to some extent, and adapting it to its new work, the problem of mechanical flight was rendered easier than if a totally new type had had to be evolved. It was quickly realised--by the Wrights, in fact-that the minimum of weight per horse-power was the prime requirement for the successful development of heavier-than-air machines, and at the same time it was equally apparent that the utmost reliability had to be obtained from the engine, while a third requisite was economy, in order to reduce the weight of petrol necessary for flight.

Daimler, working steadily toward the improvement of the internal combustion engine, had made considerable progress by the end of last century. His two-cylinder engine of 1897 was approaching to the present-day type, except as regards the method of ignition; the cylinders had 3.55 inch diameter, with a 4.75 inch piston stroke, and the engine was rated at 4.5 brake horse-power, though it probably developed more than this in actual running at its rated speed of 800 revolutions per minute. Power was limited by the inlet and exhaust passages, which, compared with present-day practice, were very small. The heavy castings of which the engine was made up are accounted for by the necessity for considering foundry practice of the time, for in 1897 castings were far below the present-day standard. The crank-case of this two-cylinder vertical Daimler engine was the only part made of aluminium, and even with this no attempt was made to attain lightness, for a circular flange was cast at the bottom to form a stand for the engine during machining and erection. The general design can be followed from the sectional views, and these will show, too, that ignition was by means of a hot tube on the cylinder head, which had to be heated with a blow-lamp before starting the engine. With all its well known and hated troubles, at that time tube ignition had an advantage over the magneto, and the coil and accumulator system, in reliability; sparking plugs, too, were not so reliable then as they are now. Daimler fitted a very simple type of carburettor to this engine, consisting only of a float with a single jet placed in the air passage. It may be said that this twin-cylindered vertical was the first of the series from which has been evolved the Mercedes-Daimler car and airship engines, built in sizes up to and even beyond 240 horse-power.

In 1901 the development of the petrol engine was still so slight that it did not admit of the construction, by any European maker, of an engine weighing less than 12 lbs. per horse-power. Manly, working at the instance of Professor Langley, produced a five-cylindered radial type engine, in which both the design and workmanship showed a remarkable advance in construction. At 950 revolutions per minute it developed 52.4 horse-power, weighing only 2.4 pounds per horse-power; it was a very remarkable achievement in engine design, considering the power developed in relation to the total weight, and it was, too, an interruption in the development of the vertical type which showed that there were other equally great possibilities in design.


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