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)
Maxim 1894 Biplane
Designed on a grand scale, construction of Hiram S. Maxim's first biplane commenced in 1891, and the enormous machine was completed in 1894. Power for the pair of 17.83 ft. diameter propellers was provided by two light-weight compound steam engines, which gave a total of 360 h.p. 320 lb./sq. in. steam was supplied by a Thorneycroft marine boiler fired by naphtha, total thrust being 2,100 lb.
Testing was carried out at Baldwyn's Park, Bexley, Kent, on a 9 ft. wide steel railway track 1,800 ft. in length, equipped with check rails of Georgia pine 35 ft. apart. With pilot and three passengers aboard, the machine took off after a run of 200 yds., when it reached 40 m.p.h., but broke the check rails and came to a halt. The measured lift was 4,000 lb. Owing to the illness of the inventor, and the fact that the grounds at Baldwyn's Park were required for use as a public institution, the whole project was abandoned. Span, 104 ft. Length, 120 ft. Wing area, 3,875 sq. ft. Weight loaded, 8,000 lb.
C.Andrews Vickers Aircraft since 1908 (Putnam)
The Maxim Flying Machine
Although Vickers were not directly concerned with the flying machine invented by Hiram S. Maxim, an American living in England, a short note is presented here of his pioneering efforts in aeronautics, because of his subsequent association with Vickers, Sons and Maxim Ltd. His firm, Maxim Nordenfelt Guns and Ammunition Co Ltd was acquired by Vickers Sons and Co Ltd in 1897, and his original Maxim machine-gun was developed into the Vickers gun, which was widely used in military aircraft.
Maxim's aeroplane was an ungainly structure with five sets of wings, the three centre pairs of which could be removed to vary the wing area from 5,400 to 4,000 sq ft. The total weight of the machine was about 4,000 lb, and it was powered with two compound steam engines fed by a water-tube boiler. They developed 363 hp each and drove a propeller of 17 ft 10-in diameter at 375 rpm. The weight of each engine was about 320 lb, but the boiler added some 800 lb. This boiler was mounted on a midships platform which also carried the crew of three, with the controls and water tanks. The overall span was 125 ft and the length was 104 ft.
The Maxim machine was tested by its inventor in Baldwyn's Park, Bexley, Kent, in July 1894. It was mounted on a specially constructed railway track of 9-ft gauge, with a secondary wooden track of 35-ft gauge on the outside inverted to prevent the machine rising more than a few inches for the preliminary experiments.
As with other early attempts to fly a heavier-than-air craft, evidence was obtained that Maxim's machine did rise off the ground. But the uncontrollability common to all attempts prior to the Wright brothers became catastrophic during the first trials and the machine was wrecked, without injury to Maxim and his assistants. It had cost Maxim over ?20,000. Later he became a British citizen and was knighted.
A.Andrews. The Flying Machine: Its Evolution through the Ages (Putnam)
The climax of the heavyweight contest to launch a steam-powered aeroplane was signalled by the huffing and puffing generated by Hiram Stevens Maxim. Maxim, born an American citizen in Maine but later becoming a naturalised Briton, was an extremely capable operator, who diminished his own reputation by writing too many flourishes into his own fanfares. Trained as a naval architect and later as an electrical engineer, Maxim became a very thrusting businessman after his invention of the Maxim quick-firing gun (producing 10 shots a second) and his entry into the Vickers armaments consortium. By 1887 he was convinced that aeronautics was not only a feasible but a profitable concept for the future, and in 1889 the Vickers directors gave him financial support in a long-term project to construct a large aircraft designed to convey passengers.
At this crucial moment Maxim opted for steam power, although he had originally intended to develop Otto-type gas engines. He did not grasp the potential of the internal combustion engine in spite of the fact that Daimler’s two-cylinder V-type engine was then on show at the Paris Exhibition. It is true that the first Panhard-Levassor motor car incorporating this engine was not sold until 1891, but Levassor had had the skill to project its successful future, and it may be held against Maxim that he did not. On the other hand Maxim, to his great credit as a visionary, was aiming uncompromisingly for big size. He wanted to construct a machine that would transport a payload weighing several thousand pounds. In the 1890s, the decade of his most concentrated experimentation, reliance on steam may have seemed the more correct solution - even after Maxim’s most successful effort the Comte de Dion was racing steam carriages and Leon Bollee putting an eight-seater steam omnibus on the grid for speed and endurance contests in France.
While he was developing a suitable aero engine, Maxim began to superintend further research in an admirably wide field. He built a wind tunnel, tested and recorded the aerodynamic reaction of a series of wing sections, and emerged with a selection of cambered wings labelled with the details of lift and resistance apposite to their individual shapes. He tested various arrangements of these sections, and concluded a theoretical ideal of a multiplane format, equipping a sharply dihedral biplane with three auxiliary wings, to be rigged almost at will, as when a barque crowded on more sail. He built a whirling arm with an eventual girder radius of 50m (including an attached wire) so that he could test models in the air at 80mph around a 1,000ft orbit. He experimented with propeller construction and shape, torsion and strength , until he produced the design of laminated wood that was later adopted as standard for three decades. Again in advance of the practice of the time, he designed his aircraft of tubular steel construction with oxyacetylene-welded side trusses - all this before an aeroplane had ever flown.
Maxim proposed to run the 8,000lb 104ft wing-span aircraft he was creating from two independent pusher propellers nearly 18ft long, driven by two engines each developing 181hp but weighing only 1,800lb, together with the specially designed boiler (weighing 2,400lb, including water and the naphtha, which was burnt from 7,560 jets in a continuous ‘square bed’ of flame 20in deep). This concentration of weight was correctly sited so that the centre of gravity of the machine was accurately related to the position of the wings.
After seven years’ work Hiram S. Maxim was ready for take-off. His creation was not yet a ‘flying machine’, although it was always called so. Its covered wings were of a finely calculated camber, but it did not yet have its full wing-span, and it did not have directional steering (except by individual variation of the speeds of the airscrews). It did, however, possess elevators. Maxim was at the time concerned only to test the lifting capacity of his design - recorded, even before take-off, by measuring the tension of springs between airframe and undercarriage - and for this purpose the kite-formation of the lifting surfaces of the centre section of the aeroplane was deemed sufficient; tapered dihedral extensions of the mainplane were not fitted.
Maxim knew that it would take much time and experience to learn to control the machine in the air, and therefore he contrived that it could not lift more than 2ft off the ground. He achieved this by running the machine on heavy iron wheels along a straight railway track, 1,800ft long, of wide 9ft gauge, and having two other raised wooden rails mounted on posts 2ft above the ground, each guard rail 13ft on the outside of the steel rails. Under the guard rail ran disengaged wheels mounted on outriggers from the machine’s fuselage. If the craft rose 2ft in the air, the extra wheels engaged, and ran along the underside of the wooden ‘horizontal fence’, thus keeping the machine from rising higher. The locomotive had no brakes and was restrained at the end of its 1,800ft run by three ropes stretched across the end of the track and working on tension capstans.
On 31 July 1894 Maxim boarded his machine with his additional crew of three - one to work the elevators and two to shout out the dial readings, while Maxim himself twirled the wheels of the throttles. They prepared for flight. While steam pressure was being increased and the propellers screwed into the air, the craft was tethered to a dynamometer. Maxim ran up the steam pressure to 2,200lb per sq in. As the machine strained, throbbing at its mooring, Maxim suddenly gave the signal for release, and the two dial-watchers were thrown to the slatted floor with the acceleration. Recovering his own balance while his chief continued to open the throttles, Tom Jackson, the Number One, shifted the elevator controls and the craft edged upwards. Maxim recounted:
We soon obtained a speed of 42 m.p.h., when all [guard] wheels were seen to be running on the upper track, and revolving in the opposite direction from those on the lower track. After running about 1000 feet, one of the restraining axletrees [of the guard wheels] doubled up. This put the lift of the machine on to the other three. The upper track was broken, the machine was liberated and floated in the air, giving those on board the sensation of being in a boat. However, a piece of the broken track caught in one of the screws: at the same instant I shut off the steam, and the machine stopped and settled to the ground. ... It was the first time in the world that a powered flying machine had actually lifted itself, and its crew, into the air.
One wing was wrecked, the others were displaced, and the fuselage was distorted. There was proof'enough that the quartet had ‘flown’, or at least been lifted by ‘making a surface support a given weight by the application of power to the resistance of air’. The freshly painted rims of the guard wheels had made a continuous mark on the underside of the guard rails.
Possibly Maxim boasted too much of his incomplete achievement, for most historians say he never did another thing with his partially wrecked machine, but merely talked about his ‘triumph’. He certainly never went on to practise steering and control in freer flight. But he did rebuild, he did make further designs, within three years even patenting a four-rotor helicopter. The flying machine was restored to full operational efficiency, as far as it had progressed, an action which has escaped most aeronautical writers, but they have omitted to research the royal archives; for in the summer after the crash of 1894 Maxim invited to his test ground at Baldwyns Park, Bexley, the then Duke of York, afterwards King George V. The Duke went aboard the machine. Again the pressure against the mooring was increased until there was a screw thrust of 2,000lb. Maxim had the machine cut loose and it plunged forward. ‘For God’s sake, slow up!’ roared the Duke’s escort, Admiral of the Fleet Sir George Commerell. ‘No! Let her go for all she’s worth!’ countermanded Prince George. The future King George V, a very careful and reserved man who was not inclined to exaggerate the wonders of nature or man, recorded in his diary that night: ‘It made two runs for me to see. I was in it for one of them; it did lift off the ground part of the time.’
Many years later, when the Duke of York became king, he gave Maxim a knighthood. Undoubtedly Sir Hiram Maxim did too little in the aeronautical field for all the expense he incurred, and talked too much. He unctuously wrote in 1908 after a nil achievement over the preceding decade: ‘It is very gratifying to me to know that all the successful flying machines of today are built on the lines which I had thought out [in 1893 and 1894]. ... I had reasoned out the best type of a machine even before I commenced a stroke of the work.’
Part of the truth about Maxim is, without doubt, that he had plenty to do and plenty to earn, not only in the armament world but in other spheres of achievement, by no means always in Great Britain. Some of this private enterprise may present the clue to his virtual abandonment of the flying machine as powered by steam. In 1896 he was concerned in harnessing factories in the United States to manufacture the automobiles designed by his son, Hiram Percy Maxim, which were marketed as Columbias. The system of propulsion chosen was the petrol (‘gasoline’) engine. In reality this was no revolutionary change. In his youth he had studied and developed both steam and internal combustion engines, and had invented an automatic gas engine. The helicopter that Maxim pere was planning in 1897 had an internal combustion engine, driven by exploding acetylene. But when Hiram Percy Maxim came down for petrol he came down in a very big way, having also risked going up a much longer distance while making up his mind. He cheerfully described his introduction to the explosive mixture:
My first experiment was a rough ‘get acquainted’ test. My idea of such a test was to introduce a drop [of gasoline] out of the bottle into an empty six-pounder cartridge case and then touch it off. I began with one drop [plugging the 12-inch case and rolling it around a few times]. I was excited, for I felt this might be a historic moment for me. Standing back, I scratched the match and tossed it in. There was a short and very ominous pause. Then the end of the world came, it seemed to me. There was a terrifying explosion, fire shot up out of the cartridge case, the latter staggered drunkenly on the bench, and the match I had thrown in went hurtling to the ceiling. It was evident that there was about a thousand times more kick in a drop of gasoline than I had pictured in my wildest flights of imagination.
If that experience seems to depict a somewhat naive approach from a man who was the nephew of an inventor of high explosives, the son of the inventor of automatic weaponry, and himself the inventor of a silencer for firearms, it may merely demonstrate that all the Maxims had a slightly unscientific gift of the gab. But, for what it was worth, it was the outward and visible sign that Hiram Stevens Maxim was lining up with the Wright brothers - or possibly in his own estimation ahead of them - in the resolution of the conflict of thought concerning the struggle over power in aeronautical machines.
Flight, July 5, 1913.
It is impossible to mention all the names of those who have contributed useful work as pioneers in the realm of flight, and far less is it possible to do justice to the more important efforts. It is sufficiently clear, however, that for a long period the science of aviation had its most serious students in England. The Aeronautical Society was founded in 1866, and the first paper that was read before its members was an extremely interesting and also a very important contribution by F. H. Wenham. Sir Hiram Maxim, as all the world knows, had very ambitious ideas about what an aeroplane should be, and he built an enormous machine with which he experimented on a rail track laid down in Baldwin's Park, Kent, in 1893. The machine was fitted with a steam engine of his own design and construction, and on one occasion the lift of the planes was sufficient to cause the machine to break through its guard rail and perform a short free flight.