Earliest possible heavier than air powered flight

Earlier, GlebPro2004 introduced a thread dealing with latest possible introduction of manned aircraft. This led to speculation on how much earlier controllable , powered aircraft could emerge. I realize that this topic may straddle the 1900 boundary but, since four years of the 20th century are available, lets try it here.

Check out Gleb's thread, then give us your thoughts.

Dynasoar
 
As in the other thread the main issue is power plants. Without aluminum the possibility of a low weight power plant diminishes. Perhaps the use of sheet metal in the construction of engine structure is an option. After all before cast aluminum blocks were perfected any number of engines were built with welded cylinder construction. While the IC engine is the prefered choice in terms of power output now at the time steam offered possibilities also. Plus steam was better understood as a technology. If a small enough boiler along with an efficent condensor could be developed perhaps a steam* powered aircraft might possible in 1880. But in my opinion 1890 is more likely.

*Steam powered. Steam engines are external combustion engines relying on the expansion of a working fluid under pressure. But nothing says that working fluid needs to be water. Water was used simply because it was readily available. What about using a different working fluid, say ammonia In a double expansion engine.Afterall ammonia has been used in refrigeration systems
 

marathag

Banned
Precharged boilers could be used, as there were number of switching locomotive with no firebox, for reasons of ventilation/visability/firehazard

For the early hops that counted a flight, that could be an even lighter powerplant than the early IC units.
The rest was wood, wire and doped cloth.

So 18th Century, after steam engines are introduced.
 
Kevin,

A prime example of steam driven "flying machines" is Hiram Maxim's 1894 giant. Here are some specs. 360 HP from two double acting reciprocating steam engines, light enough for 56 year old Maxim to to be photographed lifting one. 5550 square feet of flat lifting surfaces and a loaded weight of about 8000 pounds. There were leading and trailing stabilizer/control surfaces, which were positioned by one of the three of four crew members. The device ran along a circular track (large, but unspecified diameter) with rails below and a short distance above the wheels, the upper rails to prevent free flight of the laterally unstable test rig. Prevention of free flight was wise since there was no vertical stabilizer or rudder or, at the time of the flight, no wing dihedral. On a 40 MPH run, lift exceeded weight and the rig broke through the upper rail and flew, at an estimated altitude of between one foot and one yard above the upper rail, several hundred feet with the throttles closed. I suspect, with a demonstrated lift coefficient of 0.4, the device could have climbed and continued flight, given adequate stability and control.
 
Kevin,

One of the suicide devices of the late nineteenth century was the "naptha engine". Imagine a light weight, mostly sheet metal and tubing, vapor expansion engine, where the working fluid was a hydrocarbon partway between kerosene and gasoline. There was a sealed container for the naptha, which was externally heated and the vapor evolved, at something under 100 PSI expanded thru a simple brazed brass reciprocating expander. The exhaust vapor went to the burner. It ran until the naptha had all boiled/burned off. The operator let things cool off (these things were usually installed in small pleasure boats), then refilled the boiler and continued on. If the naptha (or whatever) could remain stable at higher pressure/temperature this might be a light engine available before 1890.

Kind of reminds me of proposed liquid hydrogen jet engines, where the fuel went to a heat exchanger where it vaporized, then forward to a "steam turbine" where the hydrogen vapor expanded to drive a coaxial compressor, then to the heat exchanger burner. No conventional turbine was needed.
 

longsword14

Banned
@Dynasoar
I think the earliest point of time where you could get a heavier than air machine would not be restricted by the engine, which would have to be IC, but by the style of controls. The engine could be much better than the Wrights' first attempt if a more resourceful designer had decided to try his hand. Will some sort of flight with bad controls count ?
 
One thing I was thinking about is the possibility of a closed loop system on the working fluid. That others got off the ground before the Wrights is beyond doubt. What the Wrights did was establish control. What might have worked would be a opposed 4 cylinder engine using double expansion with a high pressure and low pressure cylinder on each side of the crankshaft. This arrangement could of reduced vibration significantly. If the cylinders are only single acting this should result in a simpler and more compact powerplant due to lack of a crosshead one each cylinder. The high pressure cylinder could exhaust via ports In the cylinder walls similiar to a two stroke pressurizing the low pressure cylinder. This expanded working fluid enters a condensor exposed to the airflow which drains into a supply tank for the boiler. The heat source for the boiler would need to be something that would not be subject to being extinquished by the airflow. If the fuel used is kerosene perhaps an atomizer arrangement spraying pressurized fuel into a combustion chamber lined with the tubes for the boiler. I know one thing. You wouldn't get me within ten klicks of the damn thing. Would it work? I'm reasonably certain that people who know far more about steam engines were around then and somebody must have looked into the problem of providing enough power to achieve flight With a low weight engine.

What about an extremely high pressure boiler in conjunction with a steam turbine connected to a gearbox. Imagine if flight had never had a piston engined era.
 

marathag

Banned
Kevin,

One of the suicide devices of the late nineteenth century was the "naptha engine". Imagine a light weight, mostly sheet metal and tubing, vapor expansion engine, where the working fluid was a hydrocarbon partway between kerosene and gasoline. There was a sealed container for the naptha, which was externally heated and the vapor evolved, at something under 100 PSI expanded thru a simple brazed brass reciprocating expander. The exhaust vapor went to the burner. It ran until the naptha had all boiled/burned off. The operator let things cool off (these things were usually installed in small pleasure boats), then refilled the boiler and continued on. If the naptha (or whatever) could remain stable at higher pressure/temperature this might be a light engine available before 1890.

If you check what the Wright Brothers used for a 'Carburetor' you would find a pan that was heated by the engine, that had straight run Fuel called Gasoline, that was a blend of everything from Kerosene to Pentane, that had fuel dribbled onto it, with the vaporization of that, sucked into the open intakes for each cylinder
There was no adjustment of the air intake, just the amount of fuel to be added.

Now for what fuel was back then

Straight run Gasoline : specific gravity is around 0.72. C6 thru C9. It's really a blend of C5 H12 Pentane, C6 H14 Hexane, C7 H16 Heptane and C8 H18 Octane, depending on base stock of Crude, that still would have traces of heavier varnishes, waxes and tars

West Coast US fuels were considered the best, and Pennsylvania the worst for performance

At the Turn of the Century you could only really guess how good your fuel was by measuring the specific gravity, or the quick guess by weighing a gallon.
Heavier than 6 2/3rds pounds, it was mostly Kerosene. Lighter than 6 pounds, it had more of the stuff they called Rhigoline at the time.

Rhigoline : A mixture of volatile hydrocarbons intermediate lighter than Gasoline. Its specific gravity is .61 used as a local anesthetic, used in place of Ether(C2H5)2O. Or for Huffing, but that wasn't the term back then.

It consists largely of Pentane, C5 H12, variants of this was used for Dry Cleaning before replaced by Naphtha, then Carbon Tetrachloride and in turn Trichloroethylene for obvious safety reasons.
It would explode, and evaporate quickly.

Naphtha, 'White' Gasoline : specific gravity is around 0.76 C10 H22. Stoves and lanterns, as well as non staining cleaning fluid. It didn't explode.

So if you had light 'gasoline' which was then as now just a marketing term, you could uncap a gallon on a warm day, and see how much would evaporate. That lets you know how much 'Rhigoline' just boiled out and what today's Octane rating, would drop.
By WWI refining processes were to the point where blending and testing was unnecessary by the everyday user, though the low compression and user adjustable spark advance allowed a variety of fuel ranges to be used
 
The requirement for responsive three axis control for a flying (or gliding) device arose largely due to the inherent instability of the basic configurations selected. The "operators" like the contemporary bicycle riders, had to employ the same kind of kinesthetic feedback to balance their aircraft. The pioneers who built and flew what amounted to hang gliders, Chanute, Lilienthal, Pilcher and the Wright bros depended on constantly directing their craft.

A much more basic approach, certainly the one I favor, was to begin with pilotless models that were inherently stable. and only then add a directional control, the equivalent of a boat's rudder. Pitch control would require similar horizontal elevator surfaces, like George Caley' three dimensional tiller in the 1850s. Stable flight was demonstrated with configurations not too different from those we are familiar with today, by Penaud in 1878, by Dr Langley in 1896 with steam models that flew straight for nearly a mile till the steam ran out and others.

Beginning with an inherently stable aircraft, already defined by 1880, all that remained was the powerplant. If the pioneer flyer would settle fo a first flight comparable with the Wrights' best, a five or six minute run time at perhaps 30 HP was available from a variety of powerplants, ranging from a compressed air/burner torpedo motor, a carbide/acetylene expansion/combustion engine. a flash steam engine brazed together from brass sheet and tubing, and even a similarly constructed Otto or Clerk engine.

The pilot could be imagined standing behind a ship's wheel controlling the yaw axis, and a trim wheel controlling a weak pitch input, and most of the time having nothing to do. This airplane could only operate from a large field, rather than a runway but, without question it would be able to fly. 1890-1895 latest.

Dynasoar
 
Marathag,

You mentioned the Wright's (actually Charlie Taylor, their "mechanician") evaporative carburetor. On the internet are several videos of engines, from Briggs lawnmotor to Chev. V-8 operating on gasoline vapor. The vapor is generated by bubbling intake air through a container of gas. Frightening.

Actually, I'm surprised that flight didn't emerge from the huge background of sailing ship technology/experience. Certainly the capability of the wind to develop large propulsive effort against a sail could be applied at 90 degrees to develop lift.

This thought was brought home to me many years ago, when I would take Friday afternoons off (workload permitting) from the Princeton based aerospace think-tank that paid the bills, and drop in at the Forrestal Research Center. There I would, with friends from the aero engineering group, informally make suggestions or occasionally try to get flights on ground effect devices or in their North American Navion, modified for low speed flight (you could, wearing headphones, actually listen for boundary layer separation on very slow final approach). One of the Principal engineers, Tom Sweeney, developed a wing which consisted of leading edge tubular booms with sail-like membrane surface behind. The surfaces could be differentially varied in tension for roll control. Tom flew a Nelson 40 HP test rig up and down the runway at low altitude to prove the concept, which was later patented and employed in windmills. Not surprisingly it was called "Sailwing". Tom's idea was simple but brilliant. It is amazing that some 18th century ship designer or sailor didn't come up with the idea.

Dynasoar
 

marathag

Banned
Tom flew a Nelson 40 HP test rig up and down the runway at low altitude to prove the concept, which was later patented and employed in windmills. Not surprisingly it was called "Sailwing". Tom's idea was simple but brilliant. It is amazing that some 18th century ship designer or sailor didn't come up with the idea.

Or earlier for ships, on missed chances, like this turbosail
Rotorship_Alcyone_in_harbour.jpg

and
rotor_ship.jpg

if not outright rotorships powered by a small steam engine

psm9-25a.jpg


and then back to aircraft, the Flettner rotors on an R/C model

 
Altho a spinning cylinder in linear flow is introduced in Aero Engineering 101 to work up to the Kutta-Joukowsky Relation and Magnus Effect, I don't believe anyone has ever been lifted into the air that way. Great model videos, and lots more on youtube.

Merry Christmas, Dynasoar
 
I'm thinking there are questions about the engine that might need answering. Why you get someone looking into powered flight bears (in some measure) on what engine builders are doing.

So, will you accept earlier "production" by Diesel (OTL 1892)? Otto (OTL 1876)? Lenoir (OTL 1859)?

That said, it might be possible to build a small man-carrying "powerglider" as early as the 1840s, with George Cayley designing, & engine by one of the early (earlier? iest?) IC-engine experimenters, pre-1859. (At least one of whom probably better belongs in a thread on developing the first semiautomatic rifle, since he was using gunpowder as a fuel.:eek::eek:)

As for material, a low-pressure boiler need not be excessively heavy. Proper aerodynamic design will reduce drag (& Flyer I had way more drag than it really needed:eek:). Between the two, horsepower in the 100s seems not to be essential to achieve flight. (IIRC, Flyer I had as little as 20.)

So...1840, anyone? 1850? Earlier?
 
With sufficient roll stability, you don't even need ailerons. Look at early Flying Fleas and the much later Sky Pup.
Sky Pup has strong dihedral effect.
With sufficient pitch stability, you don't need elevators. French inventors built several light planes (1950s) that only needed throttle adjustment to climb or descend.
Another way to achieve inherent stability is to mount the wing high above the Center of Gravity: Rogallo or para-glider.
 
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PHX1138'

Interesting points raised in your post. Unquestionably engine power and power/weight ratio were key to sustained flight. On the other hand, if you will accept a first "flight" which consists of a catapult assisted launch like the Wright Bros. (which I consider as disqualifying) followed by rising 10 or 15 feet up and flying a mile or so (way beyond OTL)- I agree that this might have been accomplished by 1850. A Congreve derived rocket (longer burning but lower thrust) exhausting into a light sheet brass ejector (as was well known for locomotive draft, using steam exhaust) could have propelled a first daredevil pilot. From the standpoint of aerodynamics, Sir George Caley's glider was recently recreated and demonstrated as capable of controlled flight though extremely high in drag. Possibly Sir George's unknown coachman (who is reputed to have quit after gliding it across a valley) could be recruited as pilot.

As for engines potentially capable of flight in the mid-nineteenth century, internal combustion (except for rumored "gunpowder engines") was not a factor, though many today could sketch an IC engine using then contemporary materials and technology, which would have been fine for sustained flight. (Maybe today we have everything available to demonstrate simple anti-gravity-except the know-how.)

Moving to the last third of the nineteenth, we were beginning to understand engine processes, the need for compression in the cycle, etc but literally everything seemed to be fabricated out of cast iron. Any flight capable engine would have to have been brazed together from sheet steel and brass and castings machined down to a small fraction of starting weight. No need for the brilliant complexity of Manley's magnificent 1902 engine for Dr Langley's nearly successful airplane.

Dynasoar
 
Riggerrob,

Agree. Check out my #9. Inherent stability, which was demonstrated in flight in the 1880s and Montgomery's introduction of dihedral in his balloon launched gliders provided adequate inherent stability about all three axes. If the pilot was content to take-off, fly and land at the same speed (not me), no elevators or longitudinal trim system would be needed. I would suggest a rudder and weak elevator control surfaces.

Dynasoar
 
catapult assisted launch like the Wright Bros.
That appears to be in doubt. I've seen the claim, & I've seen it refuted & said the "launch track" was something else. IDK.
Caley's glider was recently recreated and demonstrated as capable of controlled flight though extremely high in drag.
It surprises me drag would be so high.
internal combustion (except for rumored "gunpowder engines") was not a factor
I broadly agree, unless we open the definition some, to anything "not external": it'd (necessarily) be crude & inefficient, but the technology existed; the Wilkinson cylinders & rifle or shotgun makers could produce sealed cylinders & pistons, & the steam engine makers could provide rotary gear systems.

Improbable? Maybe. Could be somebody stumbles on it...

The suggestion of Congreve rockets I reject; AFAIK, nobody ever considered it at the time. (This one is more a Hollywood idea, like putting a Gatling gun on a wagon like a Wild West version of "Rat Patrol"...:rolleyes:)
 
(This one is more a Hollywood idea, like putting a Gatling gun on a wagon like a Wild West version of "Rat Patrol"...:rolleyes:)

2009843_original.jpg


Now I am slightly nervous of checking whether Hartford PD actually tried a Congreve rocket powered glider :hushedface:

BTW actual historical context is a picture that was used as the original for an engraving in an 1892 issue of Scientific American. I really don't think anyone thought of Congreve rockets as a sustained flight power source mind.
 
phx1138,

The Wright Bros. catapult was a tripod behind the "launching track" (used until at least mid 1905). A weight hoisted to the top of the tripod, when released, pulled a cable thru pulleys located at the top of the tripod, at the bottom rear of the launching rail and at the front of the rail. The cable pulled a small structure which rode the rail and supporting the (wheel-less) flyer forward. The Wrights made no secret of this assist device, which was shown both in still photos and motion pictures.

The British replica of the Caley glider employed his uncambered low aspect ratio wing planform. Induced drag appeared sufficient to bog down the first small car they (RAF trade school of some kind) attempted to tow it into the air with. I'd estimate the wing aspect ratio was less than 1-3/4. Successful towed flight behind a larger vehicle, tho glide, after releasing tow rope, appeared quite steep.

Not surprised to learn that no one tried to propel a glider with low thrust solid rockets in 1850. (rockets were a well established technology at the time, tho gliders were not). 75 years later Fritz Opel flew with them in 'twenties Germany.
His flights, once he attached enough solids, comfortably exceeded the Wrights' first.

Dynasoar

(Edit to revise Caley's aspect ratio)
 
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Dynasoar wrote:
Actually, I'm surprised that flight didn't emerge from the huge background of sailing ship technology/experience. Certainly the capability of the wind to develop large propulsive effort against a sail could be applied at 90 degrees to develop lift.

Not as 'intuative' as it might seem actually.

This thought was brought home to me many years ago, when I would take Friday afternoons off (workload permitting) from the Princeton based aerospace think-tank that paid the bills, and drop in at the Forrestal Research Center. There I would, with friends from the aero engineering group, informally make suggestions or occasionally try to get flights on ground effect devices or in their North American Navion, modified for low speed flight (you could, wearing headphones, actually listen for boundary layer separation on very slow final approach). One of the Principal engineers, Tom Sweeney, developed a wing which consisted of leading edge tubular booms with sail-like membrane surface behind. The surfaces could be differentially varied in tension for roll control. Tom flew a Nelson 40 HP test rig up and down the runway at low altitude to prove the concept, which was later patented and employed in windmills. Not surprisingly it was called "Sailwing". Tom's idea was simple but brilliant. It is amazing that some 18th century ship designer or sailor didn't come up with the idea.

Ah yes, my beloved "Princeton Sailwing" design, NASA in fact studied it as did the DoD for various purposes:
http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/275307.pdf
https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/19790015726.pdf (Note this paper disusses how BAD a 'single-layer-sail-like' Sailvane layout is compared to any double layer membrane layout. As note previously early airfoil development focused on 'single-layer' aerodynamic shapes which to be significantly different requires someone to 'figure out' that doublt sided is better. Similarly 'wingsail' ships didn't come about really until after extensive development of aerofoils themseves)
https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/19740008656.pdf
https://crgis.ndc.nasa.gov/crgis/images/e/e1/AIAA-Ormiston.pdf

Very early on in balloon flight it was found that 'sails' were useless for propulsion due to the lack of a differential resistance media between the vehicle and the air. Simiilary I suppse the idea for using sails to generate 'lift' would have had to come from some method of having the 'wind' move in a direction applicable to 'lift' rather than 'drive' as it were.

The "Wingsail" (as opposed to the "Sailwing") while an idea and developed and can be traced back to the late 1890s in speculaiton didn't really begin to 'takeoff' (pardon the pun) until after aerodynamic became a studied and understood field of study.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wingsail
https://www.sailmagazine.com/diy/have-wingsails-gone-mainstream
http://www.cruisersforum.com/forums/f48/remember-the-walker-wingsail-69706.html

Various attempts, (and there have been a LOT of them) to use rotary and/or Magnus effect lift haven't worked out to well in model flights let alone larger scale attempts, (note how wobbly the model is in turns and acending or decsending) in addition to requireing power to operate. (You did note the rotor are powered right?)

The proposed Magnus effect spherical blimp model in fact generated more drag than lift which was exactly opposite what the theory said should happen. As it worked out that lead to the idea of using the design as an airborne wind turbine instead of a lifting vehicle.

Randy
 
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