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A History of Aeronautics by Marsh and Vivian

After the dynamometer test had been completed


Consequently,

a safety track was provided, consisting of squared pine logs, three inches by nine inches, placed about two feet above the steel way and having a thirty-foot gauge. Four extra wheels were fitted to the machine on outriggers and so adjusted that, if the machine should lift one inch clear of the steel rails, the wheels at the ends of the outriggers would engage the under side of the pine trackway.

The first fully loaded run was made in a dead calm with 150 lbs. steam pressure to the square inch, and there was no sign of the wheels leaving the steel track. On a second run, with 230 lbs. steam pressure the machine seemed to alternate between adherence to the lower and upper tracks, as many as three of the outrigger wheels engaging at the same time, and the weight on the steel rails being reduced practically to nothing. In preparation for a third run, in which it was intended to use full power, a dynamometer was attached to the machine and the engines were started at 200 lbs. pressure, which was gradually increased to 310 lbs per square inch. The incline of the track, added to the reading of the dynamometer, showed a total screw thrust of 2,164 lbs. After the dynamometer test had been completed, and everything had been made ready for trial in motion, careful observers were stationed on each side of the track, and the order was given to release the machine. What follows is best told in Maxim's own words:--

'The enormous

screw-thrust started the engine so quickly that it nearly threw the engineers off their feet, and the machine bounded over the track at a great rate. Upon noticing a slight diminution in the steam pressure, I turned on more gas, when almost instantly the steam commenced to blow a steady blast from the small safety valve, showing that the pressure was at least 320 lbs. in the pipes supplying the engines with steam. Before starting on this run, the wheels that were to engage the upper track were painted, and it was the duty of one of my assistants to observe these wheels during the run, while another assistant watched the pressure gauges and dynagraphs. The first part of the track was up a slight incline, but the machine was lifted clear of the lower rails and all of the top wheels were fully engaged on the upper track when about 600 feet had been covered. The speed rapidly increased, and when 900 feet had been covered, one of the rear axle trees, which were of two-inch steel tubing, doubled up and set the rear end of the machine completely free. The pencils ran completely across the cylinders of the dynagraphs and caught on the underneath end. The rear end of the machine being set free, raised considerably above the track and swayed. At about 1,000 feet, the left forward wheel also got clear of the upper track, and shortly afterwards the right forward wheel tore up about 100 feet of the upper track. Steam was at once shut off and the machine sank directly to the earth, embedding the wheels in the soft turf without leaving any other marks, showing most conclusively that the machine was completely suspended in the air before it settled to the earth. In this accident, one of the pine timbers forming the upper track went completely through the lower framework of the machine and broke a number of the tubes, but no damage was done to the machinery except a slight injury to one of the screws.'

It is a pity that the multifarious directions in which Maxim turned his energies did not include further development of the aeroplane, for it seems fairly certain that he was as near solution of the problem as Ader himself, and, but for the holding-down outer track, which was really the cause of his accident, his machine would certainly have achieved free flight, though whether it would have risen, flown and alighted, without accident, is matter for conjecture.


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