CHAPTER XXII. The Aeroplane Engine

We have seen that a very important part of the internal-combustion engine, as used on the motor-car, is the radiator, which prevents the engine from becoming overheated and thus ceasing to work. The higher the speed at which the engine runs the hotter does it become, and the greater the necessity for an efficient cooling apparatus.

But the motor on an aeroplane has to do much harder work than the motor used for driving the motor-car, while it maintains a much higher speed. Thus there is an even greater tendency for it to become overheated; and the great problem which inventors of aeroplane engines have had to face is the construction of a light but powerful engine equipped with some apparatus for keeping it cool.

Many different forms of aeroplane engines have been invented during the last few years. Some inventors preferred the radiator system of cooling the engine, but the tank containing the water, and the radiator itself, added considerably to the weight of the motor, and this, of course, was a serious drawback to its employment.

But in 1909 there appeared a most ingeniously-constructed engine which was destined to take a very prominent part in the progress of aviation. This was the famous "Gnome" engine, by means of which races almost innumerable have been won, and amazing records established.

We have already referred to the engine shaft of the motor-car, which is revolved by the pistons of the various fixed cylinders. In all aeroplane engines which had appeared before the Gnome the same principle of construction had been adopted; that is to say, the cylinders were fixed, and the engine shaft revolved.

But in the Gnome engine the reverse order of things takes place; the shaft is fixed, and the cylinders fly round it at a tremendous speed. Thus the rapid whirl in the air keeps the engine cool, and cumbersome tanks and unwieldy radiators can be dispensed with. This arrangement enabled the engine to be made very light and yet be of greater horse-power than that attained by previously-existing engines.

A further very important characteristic of the rotary-cylinder engine is that no flywheel is used; in a stationary engine it has been found necessary to have a fly-wheel in addition to the propeller. The rotary-cylinder engine acts as its own fly-wheel, thus again saving considerable weight.

The new engine astonished experts when they first examined it, and all sorts of disasters to it were predicted. It was of such revolutionary design that wiseacres shook their heads and said that any pilot who used it would be constantly in trouble with it. But during the last few years it has passed from one triumph to another, commencing with a long-distance record established by Henri Farman at Rheims, in 1909. It has since been used with success by aviators all the world over. That in the Aerial Derby of 1913 - which was flown over a course Of 94 miles around London - six of the eleven machines which took part in the race were fitted with Gnome engines, and victory was achieved by Mr. Gustav Hamel, who drove an 80-horse-power Gnome, is conclusive evidence of the high value of this engine in aviation.