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The Besler Steam Plane and the Aero-News Network

Posted November 10, 2008 11:30 AM by Ron

Aerospace engineers and aviation enthusiasts can view some of the world's greatest aircraft on-line. Ron Darner, a longtime CR4er who is also the newsletter editor for Chapter 320 (Watertown, Wisconsin) of the Experimental Aircraft Organization (EAA), has offered to take us on another tour. Today, let's check out a video of the Besler Steam plane and visit the Aero-News Network.

The Besler Steam Plane

This YouTube video shows the Besler Steam plane. A Travel Air 2000 biplane made the world's first piloted flight under steam power over Oakland, California, on 12 April 1933. The strangest feature of the flight was its relative silence; spectators on the ground could hear the pilot when he called to them from mid-air. The aircraft, piloted by William Besler, had been fitted with a two-cylinder, 150-hp reciprocating engine.

The advantages that were claimed at the time included the elimination of audible noise and destructive vibration; greater efficiency at low engine speeds and also at high altitudes where lower air temperatures assisted condensation; reduced likelihood of engine failure; reduced maintenance costs; reduced fuel costs; because fuel oil was used in place of gasoline, reduced fire hazard since the fuel was less volatile and operating temperatures were lower; and a lack of need for radio shielding.

For capacities in excess of 1000-hp a turbine captures the energy released by the expansion of steam more efficiently than a piston. Thus, the steam reciprocating engine turned out to be unsuitable for scaling up to the needs of large aircraft.

But why didn't it catch on for smaller ones?

The Aero-News Network

It's time once again to mention Aero-News Network. Their video side is getting better and better, and covering more areas of aviation each time I look. My latest find is a video "Aero-TV Checks Out The 'Why' Of Homebuilt Aircraft". It opens with the title "Homebuilts at Oshkosh: Why Build Your Own?" After a montage of aircraft photos, they have an interview with Scott Jones, who almost immediately speaks of being inspired in part by a meeting with Joe Schifferl and his Velocity at Watertown.

ANN also provided the link to "The Homebuilders Next Door", a short Aero-TV show about builder John Brady of Tomah, WI, who built a Rans S7. You'll want a good web connection to watch.And, if you are looking for an engine, or know someone who is, you may want to check out their video on the Rotax 912S/ULS.

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Guru
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#1

Re: The Besler Steam Plane and the Aero-News Network

11/11/2008 3:39 AM

I like them.

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Anonymous Poster
#2

Re: The Besler Steam Plane and the Aero-News Network

11/11/2008 3:49 AM

I seem to remember, in the '60s, that Lear he of the Lear jet developed very efficient and powerful steam (learium) engines for road vehicles. If memory serves these were bought up by oil companies and subsequently disappeared.

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Anonymous Poster
#3
In reply to #2

Re: The Besler Steam Plane and the Aero-News Network

11/11/2008 8:08 AM

From James Sandige, at http://www.steamautomobile.com/ForuM/read.php?1,105,105: "William Lear had an article in Car and Driver in 1969. It detailed his engine and the testing. From my memory of the article it described a 6 cylinder 12 piston 3 crankshaft delta design which produced 500HP at 1000PSI. He had also invented a substance named appropriately "Learium" as a replacement for water. It had lubricating and antifreeze qualities."

Other entries in the thread confirm my recollection that the "Learium" was never actually developed or demonstrated, and apparently was mostly a pipe dream of Bill Lear's. The strange engine (three parallel crankshafts at corners of a triangle, with pairs of cylinders between them on each side, each cylinder with two pistons moving toward and away from each other) was a mechanical nightmare for construction and assembly. The cranks had to be geared together to have a means of taking the power off, too.

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Guru

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#6
In reply to #3

Re: The Besler Steam Plane and the Aero-News Network

11/11/2008 10:54 AM

For what it's worth: #3 was mine. Working from home through my work server, I get cut off as though my keyboard were inactive, and it thus "lost" the fact of my being logged in.

Hiram Maxim's machine, while it was steam-powered and man-carrying, lacked controllability. Consequently, it might make "hops" rather than "flights", in the view of aeronautical historians. There were also a number of models - especially those by Sir George Cayley - which stayed aloft for longer durations, but were built with inherent stability instead of having any provision for flight controls. Cayley realized that the steam engines of his time were inadequate for flight, and proposed that other forms of engine would be used. His gliders were the first to carry humans (see http://www.ctie.monash.edu.au/hargrave/cayley.html). Cayley DID realize the need for control, and understood the forces acting on an airplane, probably the first person to do so. William Henson got closer still, even gliding a 20-foot machine with steam power [before Maxim!], and designing a 150-foot "Aerial Steam Carriage", but hadn't solved the problem of controllability, either.

Ron

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Power-User

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#7
In reply to #3

Re: The Besler Steam Plane and the Aero-News Network

02/04/2009 9:36 AM

"The strange engine (three parallel crankshafts at corners of a triangle, with pairs of cylinders between them on each side, each cylinder with two pistons moving toward and away from each other) was a mechanical nightmare for construction and assembly. The cranks had to be geared together to have a means of taking the power off, too."

That probably accounts for why Deltic engines were so popular in Britian for locomotives and patrol boats. One man's nightmare is another man's dream. Imagine! Gears! The Deltic, by the way, could be considered a development of and improvement on the Junkers Jumo aero-engine widely used in WW-2. It, too, was an opposed piston engine with the crankshafts geared together.

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Guru

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#8
In reply to #7

Re: The Besler Steam Plane and the Aero-News Network

02/04/2009 11:59 AM

I can't be sure, but I suspect that Lear's people didn't really appreciate the need for one crankshaft to rotate opposite of the other two, or that they had to be out of phase in order to get the separation between intake and exhaust port timing, even though designers of the Jumo 205 had figured out the second part of the system.

Needing to make a Deltic layout light and compact enough to fit into a bus, rather than a ship or locomotive, probably made things much worse. I don't have sufficient knowledge to seriously comprehend what additional problems were encountered due to the differences between two-cycle Diesel and steam as motivating force - but I'd bet that they were NOT trivial!

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Anonymous Poster
#5
In reply to #2

Re: The Besler Steam Plane and the Aero-News Network

11/11/2008 9:21 AM

Yes! And space aliens landed next to my garage last night and gave me a magic formula for batteries that never need charging and never die! I will sell it to you for $10,000,000 (US)

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Guru
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#4

Re: The Besler Steam Plane and the Aero-News Network

11/11/2008 9:05 AM

A John Hartford song on the topic...

Well I never went away on a Steam Powered Aero plane.
Well I went and stayed and damn near didn't come back again.
Didn't go very fast on a steam powered aero plane,
Oh the wheel went around, up and down, and inside and then back again.

Sittin' in a 747 just watching them clouds roll by,
Can't tell if it's sunshine or if it's rain.
Rather be sittin' in a deck chair high above Kansas City,
On a genuine old fashioned steam powered aero plane.

Well I'd like to be a pilot on a steam powered aero plane.
Well I'd pull that pilot wheel around and then back again.
Well, I'll wear a blue hat, yeah, that says Steam Powered Aero plane
With letters that go around the rim and then back again.

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Veni, vidi, video - I came, I saw, I got it on film.
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