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THE WAR PERIOD

 

Up to this point an attempt has been made to give some idea of the progress that was made during the eleven years that had elapsed since the days of the Wrights' first flights. Much advance had been made and aeroplanes had settled down, superficially at any rate, into more or less standardized forms in three main types tractor monoplanes, tractor biplanes, and pusher biplanes. Through the application of the results of experiments with models in wind tunnels to full scale machines, considerable improvements had been made in the design of wing sections, which had greatly increased the efficiency of aeroplanes by raising the amount of 'lift' obtained from the wing compared with the 'drag' (or resistance to forward motion) which the same wing would cause. In the same way the shape of bodies, interplane struts, etc., had been improved to be of better stream-line shape, for the further reduction of resistance; while the problems of stability were beginning to be tolerably well understood. Records (for what they are worth) stood at 21,000 feet as far as height was concerned, 126 miles per hour for speed, and 24 hours duration. That there was considerable room for development is, however, evidenced by a statement made by the late B. C. Hucks (the famous pilot) in the course of an address delivered before the Royal Aeronautical Society in July 1914. 'I consider,' he said, 'that the present day standard of flying is due far more to the improvement in piloting than to the improvement in machines.... I consider those (early 1914) machines are only slight improvements on the

machines of three years ago, and yet they are put through evolutions which, at that time, were not even dreamed of. I can take a good example of the way improvement in piloting has outdistanced improvement in machines in the case of myself, my 'looping' Bleriot. Most of you know that there is very little difference between that machine and the 50 horse power Bleriot of three years ago.' This statement was, of course, to some extent an exaggeration and was by no means agreed with by designers, but there was at the same time a germ of truth in it.

 

There is at any rate little doubt that the theory and practice of aeroplane design made far greater strides towards becoming an exact science during the four years of War than it had done during the six or seven years preceding it.

 

It is impossible in the space at disposal to treat of this development even with the meagre amount of detail that has been possible while covering the 'settling down' period from 1911 to 1914, and it is proposed, therefore, to indicate the improvements by sketching briefly the more noticeable difference in various respects between the average machine of 1914 and a similar machine of 1918.

 

In the first place, it was soon found that it was possible to obtain greater efficiency and, in particular, higher speeds, from tractor machines than from pusher machines with the air screw behind the main planes. This was for a variety of reasons connected with the efficiency of propellers and the possibility of reducing resistance to a greater extent in tractor machines by using a 'stream-line' fuselage (or body) to connect the main planes with the tail. Full advantage of this could not be taken, however, owing to the difficulty of fixing a machine gun in a forward direction owing to the presence of the propeller.

 

This was finally overcome by an ingenious device (known as an 'Interrupter gear'), which allowed the gun to fire only when none of the propeller blades was passing in front of the muzzle. The monoplane gradually fell into desuetude, mainly owing to the difficulty of making that type adequately strong without it becoming prohibitively heavy, and also because of its high landing speed and general lack of maneuverability. The triplane was also little used except in one or two instances, and, practically speaking; every machine was of the biplane tractor type.

 

A careful consideration of the salient features leading to maximum efficiency in aeroplanes particularly in regard to speed and climb, which were the two most important military requirements showed that a vital feature was the reduction in the amount of weight lifted per horse power employed; which in 1914 averaged from 20 to 25 lbs. This was effected both by gradual increase in the power and size of the engines used and by great improvement in their detailed design (by increasing compression ratio and saving weight whenever possible); with the result that the motive power of single seater aeroplanes rose from 80 and 100 horse-power in 1914 to an average of 200 to 300 horse-power, while the actual weight of the engine fell from 3 1/2-4 lbs. per horse-power to an average of 2 1/2 lbs. Per horse-power. This meant that while a pre-war engine of 100 horsepower would weigh some 400 lbs., the 1918 engine developing three times the power would have less than double the weight. The result of this improvement was that a scout aeroplane at the time of the Armistice would have 1 horsepower for every 8 lbs. of weight lifted, compared with the 20 or 25 lbs. of its 1914 predecessors. This produced a considerable increase in the rate of climb, a good postwar machine being able to reach 10,000 feet in about 5 minutes and 20,000 feet in under half an hour. The loading per square foot was also considerably increased; this being rendered possible both by improvement in the design of wing sections and by more scientific construction giving increased strength. It will be remembered that in the machine of the very early period each square foot of surface had only to lift a weight of some 1 1/2 to 2 lbs., which by 1914 had been increased to about 4 lbs. By 1918 aeroplanes habitually had a loading of 8 lbs. or more per square foot of area; which resulted in great increase in speed. Although a speed of 126 miles per hour had been attained by a specially designed racing machine over a short distance in 1914, the average at that period little exceeded, if at all, 100 miles per hour; whereas in 1918 speeds of 130 miles per hour had become a commonplace, and shortly afterwards a speed of over 166 miles an hour was achieved.

 

In another direction, also, that of size, great developments was made. Before the War a few machines fitted with more than one engine had been built (the first being a triple Gnome engined biplane built by Messrs Short Bros. at Eastchurch in 1913), but none of large size had been successfully produced, the total weight probably in no case exceeding about 2 tons. In 1916, however, the twin engine Handley Page biplane was

produced, to be followed by others both in this country and abroad, which represented a very great increase in size and, consequently, load-carrying capacity. By the end of the War period several types were in existence weighing a total of 10 tons when fully loaded, of which some 4 tons or more represented 'useful load' available for crew, fuel, and bombs or passengers. This was attained through very careful attention to detailed design, which showed that the material could be employed more efficiently as size increased, and was also due to the fact that a large machine was not liable to be put through the same evolutions as a small machine, and therefore could safely be built with a lower factor of safety. Owing to the fact that a wing section which is adopted for carrying heavy loads usually has also a somewhat low lift to drag ratio, and is not therefore productive of high speed, these machines are not as fast as light scouts; but, nevertheless, they proved themselves capable

of achieving speeds of 100 miles an hour or more in some cases; which was faster than the average small machine of 1914.

 

In one respect the development during the War may perhaps have proved to be somewhat disappointing, as it might have been expected that great improvements would be effected in metal construction, leading almost to the abolition of wooden structures. Although, however, a good deal of experimental work was done which resulted in overcoming at any rate the worst of the difficulties, metal-built machines were little used (except

to a certain extent in Germany) chiefly on account of the need for rapid production and the danger of delay resulting from switching over from known and tried methods to experimental types of construction. The Germans constructed some large machines, such as the giant Siemens Schukhert machine, entirely of metal except for the wing covering, while the Fokker and Junker firms about the time of the Armistice in 1918 both produced monoplanes with very deep all-metal wings (including the covering) which were entirely unstayed externally, depending for their strength on internal bracing. In Great Britain cable bracing gave place to a great extent to 'stream-line wires,' which are steel rods rolled to a more or less oval section, while tie rods were also extensively used for the internal bracing of the wings. Great developments in the economical use of material were also made in the direction of using built up main spars for the wings and interplane struts; spars composed of a series of layers (or 'laminations') of different pieces of wood also being used.

 

Apart from the metallic construction of aeroplanes an enormous amount of work was done in the testing of different steels and light alloys for use in engines, and by the end of the War period a number of aircraft engines were in use of which the pistons and other parts were of such alloys; the chief difficulty having been not so much in the design as in the successful heat-treatment and casting of the metal.

 

An important development in connection with the inspection and testing of aircraft parts, particularly in the case of metal, was the experimental application of X-ray photography, which showed up latent defects, both in the material and in manufacture, which would otherwise have passed unnoticed. This method was also used to test the penetration of glue into the wood on each side of joints, so giving a measure of the

strength; and for the effect of 'doping' the wings, dope being a film (of cellulose acetate dissolved in acetone with other chemicals) applied to the covering of wings and bodies to render the linen taut and weatherproof, besides giving it a smooth surface for the lessening of 'skin friction' when passing rapidly through the air.

 

An important result of this experimental work was that it in many cases enabled designers to produce aeroplane parts from less costly material than had previously been considered necessary, without impairing the strength. It may be mentioned that it was found undesirable to use welded joints on aircraft in any part where the material is subject to a tensile or bending load, owing to the danger resulting from bad workmanship causing the material to become brittle an effect which cannot be discovered except by cutting through the weld, which, of course, involves a test to destruction. Written, as it has been, in August, 1920, it is impossible in this chapter to give any conception of how the developments of War will be applied to commercial aeroplanes, as few truly commercial machines have yet been designed, and even those still show distinct traces of the survival of war mentality. When, however, the inevitable recasting of ideas arrives, it will become evident, whatever the apparent modification in the relative importance of different aspects of design, that enormous advances were made under the impetus of War which have left an indelible mark on progress.

 

We have, during the seventeen years since aeroplanes first took the air, seen them grow from tentative experimental structures of unknown and unknowable performance to highly scientific products, of which not only the performances (in speed, load-carrying capacity, and climb) are known, but of which the precise strength and degree of stability can be forecast with some accuracy on the drawing board. For the rest, with the future lies apart from some revolutionary change in fundamental Design the steady development of a now well-tried and well-found engineering structure.

 

 
 
Section 1
The Period of Legend | Early Experiments | Sir George-Thomas | The Middle 19 Century | Wenham Bris & Others | The Age of Giants | Lili & Pilcher | American Gliding Experiments | Not Proven | Samuel Langley | The Wright Brothers | First Year of Conquest | First Flier in England | Rhems and After | The Channel Crossing | London to Manchester | Summary to 1911 | Summa to 1914 | The War Period-I | The War Period-II | Reconstruction | 1919-1920

 

 
Section 2
The Beginnings | Multiplicity of Ideas | Progress on Standardized Lines | The War Period
 

 
Section 3
The Beginning | The First Dirigibles | Santos Dumont | The Military Dirigible | British Airship Design | The Airship Commercially | Kite Balloons
 

 
Section4
The Vertical Type | The Vee Type | The Radial Type | The Rotatory Type | The Horizontal Opposed Engine | The Two Stroke Cycle Engine | Engines of the War Period
 
 
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