I. THE VERTICAL TYPE
The balloon was but a year old when the brothers Robert, in 1784 attempted propulsion of an aerial vehicle by hand-power, and succeeded, to a certain extent, since they were able to make progress when there was only a slight wind to counteract their work. But, as may be easily understood, the manual power provided gave but a very slow speed, and in any wind it all the would-be airship became an uncontrolled balloon.
Henson and Stringfellow, with their light steam engines, were first to attempt conquest of the problem of mechanical propulsion in the air; their work in this direction is so fully linked up with their constructed models that it has been outlined in the section dealing with the development of the aeroplane. But, very shortly after these two began, there came into the field a Monsieur Henri Giffard, who first achieved success in the propulsion by mechanical means of dirigible balloons, for his was the first airship to fly against the wind. He employed a small steam-engine developing about 3 horse-power and weighing 350 lbs. with boiler, fitting the whole in a car suspended from the gas-bag of his dirigible. The propeller which this engine worked was 11 feet in diameter, and the inventor, who made several flights, obtained a speed of 6 miles an hour against a slight wind. The power was not sufficient to render the invention practicable, as the dirigible could only be used in calm weather, but Giffard was sufficiently encouraged by his results to get out plans for immense dirigibles, which through lack of funds he was unable to construct. When, later, his invention of the steam-injector gave him the means he desired, he became blind, and in 1882 died, having built but the one famous dirigible.
This appears to have been the only instance of a steam engine being fitted to a dirigible; the inherent disadvantage of this form of motive power is that a boiler to generate the steam must be carried, and this, together with the weight of water and fuel, renders the steam engine uneconomical in relation to the lift either of plane or gas-bag. Again, even if the weight could be brought down to a reasonable amount, the attention required by steam plant renders it undesirable as a motive power for aircraft when compared with the internal combustion engine.
Maxim, in Artificial and Natural Flight, details the engine which he constructed for use with his giant experimental flying machine, and his description is worthy of reproduction since it is that of the only steam engine besides Giffard's, and apart from those used for the propulsion of models, designed for driving an aeroplane. 'In 1889,' Maxim says, 'I had my attention drawn to some very thin, strong, and comparatively cheap tubes which were being made in France, and it was only after I had seen these tubes that I seriously considered the question of making a flying machine. I obtained a large quantity of them and found that they were very light, that they would stand enormously high pressures, and generate a very large quantity of steam. Upon going into a mathematical calculation of the whole subject, I found that it would be possible to make a machine on the aeroplane system, driven by a steam engine, which would be sufficiently strong to lift itself into the air. I first made drawings of a steam engine, and a pair of these engines was afterwards made. These engines are constructed, for the most part, of a very high grade of cast steel, the cylinders being only 3/32 of an inch thick, the crank shafts hollow, and every part as strong and light as possible. They are compound, each having a high-pressure piston with an area of 20 square inches, a low-pressure piston of 50.26 square inches, and a common stroke of 1 foot. When first finished they were found to weigh 300 lbs. each; but after putting on the oil cups, felting, painting, and making some slight alterations, the weight was brought up to 320 lbs. each, or a total of 640 lbs. for the two engines, which have since developed 362 horsepower with a steam pressure of 320 lbs. per square inch.'
The result is remarkable, being less than 2 lbs. weight per horse-power, especially when one considers the state of development to which the steam engine had attained at the time these experiments were made. The fining down of the internal combustion engine, which has done so much to solve the problems of power in relation to weight for use with aircraft, had not then been begun, and Maxim had nothing to guide him, so far as work on the part of his predecessors was concerned, save the experimental engines of Stringfellow, which, being constructed on so small a scale in comparison with his own, afforded little guidance. Concerning the factor of power, he says: 'When first designing this engine, I did not know how much power I might require from it. I thought that in some cases it might be necessary to allow the high-pressure steam to enter the low-pressure cylinder direct, but as this would involve a considerable loss, I constructed a species of injector. This injector may be so adjusted (hat when the steam in the boiler rises above a certain predetermined point, say 300 lbs., to the square inch, it opens a valve and escapes past the high-pressure cylinder instead of blowing off at the safety valve. In escaping through this valve, a fall of about 200 lbs. pressure per square inch is made to do work on the surrounding steam and drive it forward in the pipe, producing a pressure on the low-pressure piston considerably higher than the back-pressure on the high-pressure piston. In this way a portion of the work which would otherwise be lost is utilised, and it is possible, with an unlimited supply of steam, to cause the engines to develop an enormous amount of power.'
With regard to boilers, Maxim writes,