S.Ransom, R.Fairclough English Electric Aircraft and their Predecessors (Putnam)
Howard Wright-Capone Helicopters
Among the first of Howard T. Wright's commissions was a helicopter, the product of the remarkably inventive mind of Federico Capone, whose work has remained relatively unknown because of his own modesty and horror of publicity. This helicopter was Capone's second design. His first was the result of some thirty years spent in research to solve the problem of flight for which aim he had built in succession a series of models, several of them ingenious but quite complicated. In 1905, he achieved moderate success with his first full-scale experiment, when he, with the aid of his mechanic, Ceccarelli, constructed a form of pilotless helicopter. The main structure of the aircraft was built of steel tubing, as were the two rotors which were covered with aluminium sheet. The rotors were coupled and driven by a motor-cycle engine developing 4 1/2 hp, and rotating cams were used to vary the incidence of the rotor blades to reproduce the helicoidal motion of rowing oars. The whole machine weighed only 240 lb. Capone proposed to launch the helicopter from a scaffold tower, erected in a field near the Coliseum in Rome, and to cushion its fall with a stretched cable. On 30 April, 1905, all was ready for the initial launch when a violent squall upset the aircraft, damaging the rotors. The trials were recommenced a little later and made at Altavilla Irpina, in the province of Naples, where the helicopter was launched from a high terrace and achieved sustained flight for a short distance. Having proved the rotor principle capable of practical application, Capone concluded that it would be necessary to pilot the aircraft to keep it in the air for any length of time and flying in the required direction. A modified form of this helicopter was granted British patent 28,590/1907.
In 1907, Capone moved to Arpaise in the province of Benevento and there designed a second helicopter based on his earlier experiments. Unlike the first its construction was undertaken by Howard Wright. Detailed drawings for the helicopter were completed at Howard's office at Belgravia Chambers during the winter of 1907-08 and shortly afterwards the aircraft took shape at the Marylebone workshops of Warwick Wright Ltd and subsequently at those at Battersea. The helicopter was built of thin-walled steel tubing, supplied by Accles & Pollock Ltd of Birmingham, welded together without the aid of sockets, to form a central box-shaped structure carrying two cantilever frameworks. The upper surface of the framework was extended in area by the addition of a steel tube lattice with balloon-cord leading and trailing edges, and the whole covered with fabric to provide flight surfaces. The rotors, their axes inclined outwards from the vertical, were mounted at the cantilevers' extremities and driven through a system of shafts and spur and bevel gears by a single 50 hp Antoinette water-cooled engine, mounted transversely within the central structure. Two paddle-shaped blades were fitted to each rotor, the pitch of which was varied by means of a cam such that the blades had incidence only when travelling rearwards. The main undercarriage comprised four rubber-tyred wheels, whilst six smaller wheels were used to prevent the helicopter toppling over on landing. The rear starboard main undercarriage wheel was driven by a chain from the rotor drive shaft to enable the helicopter to be taxied. Directional control and stability of the machine were achieved with a system of movable surfaces: a large tailplane hinged at the trailing edge of the main surface; two triangular rudders, built on wooden frames, hinged at the corners of the tailplane and two triangular surfaces beneath the rotors, which provided roll control and propped the aircraft on the ground. The control surfaces were cable-operated from three small winches placed within easy reach of the pilot who sat cradled within the central structure aft of the engine. Another somewhat curious control device was fitted: it consisted of two large rectangular surfaces, mounted adjacent to the main framework, driven by the engine through a gear train, an eccentric and a slide. The resultant flapping motion, according to Capone, created 'billowy-like air currents beneath the body of the apparatus to increase its stability.'
The flight of the helicopter, as envisaged by Capone, would have provided an interesting, if not alarming, spectacle. The rotors were to lift the aircraft to a reasonable height at which altitude the speed of the rotors would be reduced, and, because the machine's centre of gravity was well ahead of its centre of lift, the aircraft would glide forward. The extent of the flight surfaces was such that at 20 mph the helicopter was expected to support its own weight. After a certain interval and before the machine had reached the ground, the rotor speed would be increased to lift it once more into the air. By intermittently increasing and decreasing the speed, the aircraft would proceed in a series of curves or billows.
In March 1908, the completed helicopter was conveyed to the privacy of a large tent, erected at one corner of Norbury Golf Links, which were situated southwest of London on the road to Croydon. On Friday, 7 March, Howard Wright and his assistants wheeled the machine from its hangar and proceeded to test it in secrecy. The initial trials, which involved taxi-ing and tethered hovering manoeuvres, revealed a number of defects. Contemporary reports of these tests and the accompanying descriptions of the helicopter fail to mention two small-diameter, four-blade tractor propellers geared to the rotor drive-shaft. The propellers are clearly visible in photographs (unsuitable for publication), of the helicopter at Norbury, and were shown on the drawing accompanying British patent 7,129 granted to Capone in 1908. Possibly, propellers were added in the intervening days before the helicopter's second series of tests in an attempt to provide forward movement. However, all of the tests proved unsuccessful, inasmuch as the machine failed to lift its pilot and only when its all-up weight of 1,250 lb had been reduced to 650 lb did it rise readily to two feet clear of the ground, a restriction imposed on the helicopter by its tethers. Clearly, the power of the engine and the size of the rotors were inadequate, although the rotors were considered to be particularly efficient, giving a lift of 33 lb/hp at the rotor axis, with the blades set at a maximum incidence of 37 degrees and rotating at approximately 100 rpm.
To achieve success, Capone was faced with several solutions by which he could improve the helicopter's performance: the main ones of which were to reduce substantially the all-up weight; increase the motive power or to improve the efficiency of the rotors. Capone took the last course of action by designing rotors of larger diameter, but also decided to design a new machine. Again, Howard Wright was asked to undertake its construction. Meanwhile, the helicopter at Norbury was dismantled for delivery to Capone in Italy.
In the course of designing the third helicopter a considerable weight saving was achieved and the need to install a more powerful engine, if one had been available, was less acute. The redesigned helicopter, according to the short-lived magazine The Airship, was fitted with a single 30 hp REP, seven-cylinder air-cooled semi-radial engine, and the weight of the aircraft, including the pilot, was 600 lb. The magazine continued: 'The fans are each 26 ft in diameter and run at 90 to 100 rev/min. The soaring speed is only about fifteen miles per hour, and as the old fans lifted 650 lb there should be plenty of power with the fans of the new machine, which are 6 ft larger in diameter. The motor is cooled by a large fan, which acts as a propeller. It weighs 130 lb complete in running order, with magneto, carburettor, pipes, oil and all fittings. The framework of the aeroplane is entirely of steel tubes welded together without sockets. It weighs but 120 lb, which is decidedly light in view of the fact that the main plane is 30 ft wide, 22 ft deep. The reduction gear, which transmits 30 hp and gives a reduction of 10 to 1, weighs 12 1/2 lb. The 30 hp clutch weighs but 15 lb. Perhaps, however, the fans are most remarkable in this respect. Each of them only weighing 40 lb, including the hub. The blades are 6 ft 6 in long and 3 ft wide. The main plane is mounted on three strong motor-cycle wheels, with spring forks on the two in front, which are 20 ft apart.' In all other respects the third helicopter was similar to the second.
The fact that The Airship was able to give a detailed specification in November 1908, when the article was published, indicates that the design or construction of the third helicopter was very advanced and must have been started soon after the trials of its predecessor. On 9 January, 1909, Flight recorded: 'Howard Wright helicopter now completed and sent to Italy, tests in England were eminently satisfactory.' Much later, on 30 October. 1909, with Howard Wright in attendance, the helicopter was tested on the military parade ground at Naples. Of the trials La Stampa reported them successful and a French source stated: 'The inventor not having risked sitting in the machine to pilot it, the launch was made simply on the inclined plane which had been prepared to this end.'
Nothing further was heard of the helicopters but they were not to be Capone's last efforts in the field of moving wing aircraft, for it has been recorded that Howard Wright built for him an ornithopter and another helicopter. Details of the former remain unknown. Work on the fourth helicopter was started in June 1909 and was completed that year.
Span across tips of rotors 48 ft 2 in; overall length with rotors fore and aft 27 ft; rotor centres and wing span 28 ft 10 in; rotor diameter 19 ft 4 in; rotor blade length 6 ft 4 m;. rotor blade maximum chord 2 ft 4 in; wing root chord 11 ft 8 m; tailplane span 13 ft 2 in; tailplane chord 8 ft 2 in; propeller 'diameter 4 ft 8 in; propeller centres 10 ft; undercarriage wheel base 6 ft; undercarriage wheel track 4 ft; wing area 160 sq ft; tailplane area including rudders 81 sq ft.
Weight loaded 1,250 lb.
Gliding speed 20 mph.
Span across tips of rotors 56 ft; rotor centres and wing span 30 ft; rotor diameter 26 ft; rotor blade length 6 ft 6 in; rotor blade maximum chord 3 ft; undercarriage wheel track 20 ft.
Weight 600 lb.
Gliding speed 15 mph.
M.Goodall, A.Tagg British Aircraft before the Great War (Schiffer)
Deleted by request of (c)Schiffer Publishing
P.Lewis British Aircraft 1809-1914 (Putnam)
Howard Wright Helicopter
Howard T. Wright served an engineering apprenticeship in his father's firm, Joseph Wright and Co., of Tipton, Staffs., and in 1889 sold the works to Hiram Maxim, whom he assisted in the construction of the rotary "flying-machine" erected at the Crystal Palace, initially for the purpose of aerodynamic experiments and later surviving, as a sophisticated form of roundabout, as the nucleus of the Amusement Park.
In 1907, Howard Wright and his brother Warwick set up a small aircraft and coach-building factory in a railway arch at Battersea, where he designed and built a helicopter to the order of Signor Capone of Naples. The machine was a framework of steel tubes with two two-bladed lifting rotors of 26 ft. in diameter driven by a 30 h.p. Antoinette engine, which drove also two small four-bladed propellers. Generous fixed and movable horizontal surfaces were provided to relieve the lifting rotors in translational flight; to some extent the design foreshadowed the Rotodyne principle. The helicopter was tested at Norbury Golf Links in February, 1908, and succeeded in lifting a total weight of 1,250 lb. while tethered. It was then taken to Naples for further tests, but these were unsuccessful. Howard Wright designed a second helicopter for Signor Capone and an ornithopter also, before he abandoned the moving-wing principle. The steel tubes used in the helicopter were supplied by Accles and Pollock Ltd.