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M. Laurent Seguin, the inventor of the Gnome rotary aero engine, provided as great a stimulus to aviation as any that was given anterior to the war period, and brought about a great advance in mechanical flight, since these well-made engines gave a high-power output for their weight, and were extremely smooth in running. In the rotary design the crankshaft of the engine is stationary, and the cylinders, crank case, and all their adherent parts rotate; the working is thus exactly opposite in principle to that of the radial type of aero engine, and the advantage of the rotary lies in the considerable flywheel effect produced by the revolving cylinders, with consequent evenness of torque. Another advantage is that air-cooling, adopted in all the Gnome engines, is rendered much more effective by the rotation of the cylinders, though there is a tendency to distortion through the leading side of each cylinder being more efficiently cooled than the opposite side; advocates of other types are prone to claim that the air resistance to the revolving cylinders absorbs some 10 per cent of the power developed by the rotary engine, but that has not prevented the rotary from attaining to great popularity as a prime mover.


There were, in the list of aero engines compiled in 1910, five rotary engines included, all air-cooled. Three of these were Gnome engines, and two of the make known as 'International.' They ranged from 21.5 to 123 horsepower, the latter being rated at only 1.8 lbs. weight per brake horse power, and having fourteen cylinders, 4.33 inches in diameter by 4.7 inches stroke. By 1914, forty-three different sizes and types of rotary engine were being constructed, and in 1913, five rotary type engines were entered for the series of aeroplane engine trials held in Germany. Minor defects ruled out four of these, and only the German Bayerischer Motoren Flugzeugwerke completed the seven-hour test prescribed for competing engines. Its large fuel consumption barred this engine from the final trials, the consumption being some 0.95 pints per horsepower per hour. The consumption of lubricating oil also was excessive, standing at 0.123 pint per horsepower per hour. The engine gave 37.5 effective horsepower during its trial, and the loss due to air resistance was 4.6 horsepower, about 11 per cent. The accompanying drawing shows the construction of the engine, in which the seven cylinders are arranged radially on the crankcase; the method of connecting the pistons to the crank pins can be seen. The mixture is drawn through the crank chamber, and to enter the cylinder it passes through the two automatic valves in the crown of the piston; the exhaust valves are situated in the tops of the cylinders, and are actuated by cams and push rods.


The radial rings assist cooling of the cylinder, and the diameter of these rings is increased round the hottest part of the cylinder. When long flights are undertaken the advantage of the lightweight of this engine is more than counterbalanced by its high fuel and lubricating oil consumption, but there are other makes which are much better than this seven-cylinder German in respect of this.


Rotation of the cylinders in engines of this type is produced by the side pressure of the pistons on the cylinder walls, and in order to prevent this pressure from becoming abnormally large it is necessary to keep the weight of the piston as low as possible, as the pressure is produced by the tangential acceleration and retardation of the piston. On the upward stroke the circumferential velocity of the piston is rapidly increased, which causes it to exert a considerable tangential pressure on the side of the cylinder, and on the return stroke, there is a corresponding retarding effect due to the reduction of the circumferential velocity of the piston. These side pressures cause an appreciable increase in the temperatures of the cylinders and pistons, which make it necessary to keep the power rating of the engines fairly, low.


Seguin designed his first Gnome rotary as a 34 horsepower engine when run at a speed of 1,300 revolutions per minute. It had five cylinders, and the weight was 3.9 lbs. per horsepower. A seven-cylinder model soon displaced this first engine, and this latter, with a total weight of 165 lbs., gave 61.5 horsepower. The cylinders were machined out of solid nickel chrome-steel ingots, and the machining was carried out so that the cylinder walls were less than 1/6 of an inch in thickness. The pistons were cast-iron, fitted each with two rings, and the automatic inlet valve to the cylinder was placed in the crown of the piston. The connecting rods, of 'H' section, were of nickel chrome steel, and the large end of one rod, known as the 'master-rod' embraced the crank pin; on the end of this rod, six hollow steel pins were carried, and to these the remaining six connecting rods were attached. The crankshaft of the engine was made of nickel chrome steel, and was in two parts connected together at the crank pin; these two parts, after the master-rod had been placed in position and the other connecting rods had been attached to it, were firmly secured. The steel crank case was made in five parts, the two central ones holding the cylinders in place, and on one side another of the five castings formed a cam-box, to the outside of which was secured the extension to which the air-screw was attached. On the other side of the crank case another casting carried the thrust-box, and the whole crank case, with its cylinders and gear, was carried on the fixed crank shaft by means of four ball-bearings, one of which also took the axial thrust of the air-screw.


For these engines, castor oil is the lubricant usually adopted, and it is pumped to the crankshaft by means of a gear-driven oil pump; from this shaft the other parts of the engine are lubricated by means of centrifugal force, and in actual practice sufficient unburnt oil passes through the cylinders to lubricate the exhaust valve, which partly accounts for the high rate of consumption of lubricating oil. A very simple carburetor of the float less, single-spray type was used, and the mixture was passed along the hollow crankshaft to the interior of the crankcase, thence through the automatic inlet valves in the tops of the pistons to the combustion chambers of the cylinders. Ignition was by means of a high-tension magneto specially geared to give the correct timing, and the working impulses occurred at equal angular intervals of 102.85 degrees. The ignition was timed so that the firing spark occurred when the cylinder was 26 degrees before the position in which the piston was at the outer end of its stroke, and this timing gave a maximum pressure in the cylinder just after the piston had passed this position.


By 1913, eight different sizes of the Gnome engine were being constructed, ranging from 45 to 180-brake horsepower; four of these were single crank engines one having nine and the other three having seven cylinders. The remaining four were constructed with two cranks; three of them had fourteen cylinders apiece, ranged in groups of seven, acting on the cranks, and the one other had eighteen cylinders ranged in two groups of nine, acting on its two cranks. Cylinders of the two-crank engines are so arranged (in the fourteen-cylinder type) that fourteen equal angular impulses occur during each cycle; these engines are supported on bearings on both sides of the engine, the airscrew being placed outside the front support. In the eighteen-cylinder model, the impulses occur at each 40 degrees of angular rotation of the cylinders, securing an extremely even rotation of the airscrew.


In 1913 the Gnome Monosoupape engine was introduced, a model in which the inlet valve to the cylinder was omitted, while the piston was of the ordinary cast-iron type. A single exhaust valve in the cylinder head was operated in a manner similar to that on the previous Gnome engines, and the fact of this being the only valve on the cylinder gave the engine its name. Each cylinder contained ports at the bottom, which communicated with the crank chamber, and were overrun by the piston when this was approaching the bottom end of its stroke. During the working cycle of the engine the exhaust valve was opened early to allow the exhaust gases to escape from the cylinder, so that by the time the piston overran the ports at the bottom the pressure within the cylinder was approximately equal to that in the crank case, and practically no flow of gas took place in either direction through the ports. The exhaust valve remained open as usual during the succeeding up-stroke of the piston, and the valve was held open until the piston had returned through about one third of its downward stroke, thus permitting fresh air to enter the cylinder. The exhaust valve then closed, and the downward motion of the piston, continuing, caused a partial vacuum inside the cylinder; when the piston overran the ports, the rich mixture from the crankcase immediately entered. The cylinder was then full of the mixture, and the next upward stroke of the piston compressed the charge; upon ignition, the working cycle was repeated. The speed variation of this engine was obtained by varying the extent and duration of the opening of the exhaust valves, and was controlled by the pilot by hand-operated levers acting on the valve tappet rollers. The weight per horsepower of these engines was slightly less than that of the two-valve type, while the lubrication of the gudgeon pin and piston showed an improvement, so that lower lubricating oil consumption was obtained. The 100 horsepower Gnome Monosoupape was built with nine cylinders, each 4.33 inches bore by 5.9 inches stroke, and it developed its rated power at 1,200 revolutions per minute.


An engine of the rotary type, almost as well known as the Gnome, is the Clerget, in which both cylinders and crankcase are made of steel, the former having the usual radial fins for cooling. In this type, the inlet and exhaust valves are both located in the cylinder head, and mechanically operated by push rods and rockers. Pipes are carried from the crankcase to the inlet valve casings to convey the mixture to the cylinders, a carburetor of the central needle type being used. The carbureted mixture is taken into the crank case chamber in a manner similar to that of the Gnome engine. Pistons of aluminium alloy, with three cast-iron rings, are fitted, the top ring being of the obturator type. The large end of one of the nine connecting rods embraces the crank pin and the pressure is taken on two ball bearings housed in the end of the rod. This carries eight pins, to which the other rods are attached, and the main rod being rigid between the crank pin and piston pin determines the position of the pistons. Hollow connecting rods are used, and the lubricating oil for the piston pins passes from the crankshaft through the centres of the rods. Inlet and exhaust valves can be set quite independently of one another a useful point, since the correct timing of the opening of these valves is of importance. The inlet valve opens 4 degrees from top centre and closes after the bottom dead centre of the piston; the exhaust valve opens 68 degrees before the bottom centre and closes 4 degrees after the top dead centre of the piston. The magnetos are set to give the spark in the cylinder at 25 degrees before the end of the compression stroke two high tension magnetos are used: if desired, the second one can be adjusted to give a later spark for assisting the starting of the engine. The lubricating oil pump is of the valve less two-plunger type, so geared that it runs at seven revolutions to 100 revolutions of the engine; by counting the pulsations the speed of the engine can be quickly calculated by multiplying the pulsations by 100 and dividing by seven. In the 115 horsepower nine-cylinder Clerget, the cylinders are 4.7 bore with a 6.3 inches stroke, and the rated power of the engine is obtained at 1,200 revolutions per minute. The petrol consumption is 0.75 pint per horsepower per hour. A third rotary aero engine, equally well known with the foregoing two, is the Le Rhone, made in four different sizes with power outputs of from 50 to 160 horse-power; the two smaller sizes are single crank engines with seven and nine cylinders respectively, and the larger sizes are of double crank design, being merely the two smaller sizes doubled fourteen and eighteen cylinder engines. The inlet and exhaust valves are located in the cylinder head, and both valves are mechanically operated by one push-rod and rocker, radial pipes from crank case to inlet valve casing taking the mixture to the cylinders.


The exhaust valves are placed on the leading, or airscrew side, of the engine, in order to get the fullest possible cooling effect. The rated power of each type of engine is obtained at 1,200 revolutions per minute, and for all four sizes the cylinder bore is 4.13 inches, with a 5.5 inches piston stroke. Thin cast-iron liners are shrunk into the steel cylinders in order to reduce the amount of piston friction. Although the Le Rhone engines are constructed practically throughout of steel, the weight is only 2.9 lbs. per horsepower in the eighteen-cylinder type. 


American enterprise in the construction of the rotary type is perhaps best illustrated in the 'Gyro 'engine; this was first constructed with inlet valves in the heads of the pistons, after the Gnome pattern, the exhaust valves being in the heads of the cylinders. The inlet valve in the crown of each piston was mechanically operated in a very ingenious manner by the oscillation of the connecting rod. The Gyro-Duplex engine superseded this original design, and a small cross-section illustration of this is appended. It is constructed in seven and nine-cylinder sizes, with a power range of from 50 to 100 horsepower; with the largest size the low weight of 2.5 lbs.. per horse power is reached. The design is of considerable interest to the internal combustion engineer, for it embodies a piston valve for controlling auxiliary exhaust ports, which also acts as the inlet valve to the cylinder. The piston uncovers the auxiliary ports when it reaches the bottom of its stroke, and at the end of the power stroke the piston is in such a position that the exhaust can escape over the top of it. The exhaust valve in the cylinder head is then opened by means of the push-rod and rocker, and is held open until the piston has completed its upward stroke and returned through more than half its subsequent return stroke. When the exhaust valve closes, the cylinder has a charge of fresh air, drawn in through the exhaust valve, and the further motion of the piston causes a partial vacuum; by the time the piston reaches bottom dead centre the piston-valve has moved up to give communication between the cylinder and the crank case, therefore the mixture is drawn into the cylinder. Both the piston valve and exhaust valve are operated by cams formed on the one casting, which rotates at seven-eighths engine speed for the seven-cylinder type, and nine-tenths engine speed for the nine-cylinder engines. Each of these cams has four or five points respectively, to suit the number of cylinders.


The steel cylinders are machined from solid forgings and provided with webs for air-cooling as shown. Cast-iron pistons are used, and are connected to the crankshaft in the same manner as with the Gnome and Le Rhone engines. Petrol is sprayed into the crankcase by a small-geared pump and the mixture is taken from there to the piston valves by radial pipes. Two separate pumps are used for lubrication, one forcing oil to the crank-pin bearing and the other spraying the cylinders.


Among other designs of rotary aero engines the E.J.C. is noteworthy, in that the cylinders and crank case of this engine rotate in opposite directions, and two air-screws are used, one being attached to the end of the crankshaft, and the other to the crank case. Another interesting type is the Burlat rotary, in which both the cylinders and crankshaft rotate in the same direction, the rotation of the crankshaft being twice that of the cylinders as regards speed. This engine is arranged to work on the four-stroke cycle with the crankshaft making four, and the cylinders two, revolutions per cycle.


It would appear that the rotary type of engine is capable of but little more improvement save for such devices as these of the last two engines mentioned, there is little that Laurent Seguin has not already done in the Gnome type. The limitation of the rotary lies in its high fuel and lubricating oil consumption, which renders it unsuited for long-distance aero work; it was, in the war period, an admirable engine for such short runs as might be involved in patrol work 'over the lines,' and for similar purposes, but the water-cooled Vee or even vertical, with its much lower fuel consumption, was and is to be preferred for distance work. The rotary air-cooled type has its uses, and for them it will probably remain among the range of current types for some time to come. Experience of matters aeronautical is sufficient to show, however, that prophecy in any direction is most unsafe.


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

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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