Classic History Books

William J. Claxton - The Mastery of the Air

The flying machine designed by the elder Maxim consisted of a small platform, which it was proposed to
lift directly into the air by the action of two screw-propellers revolving in reverse directions. For a motor

the inventor intended to employ some kind of explosive material, gunpowder preferred, but the lecturer

distinctly remembered that his father said that if an apparatus could be successfully navigated through the

air it would be of such inevitable value as a military engine that no matter how much it might cost to run

it would be used by Governments.

Of his own claim as an inventor of air-craft it would be well to quote Sir Hiram's actual words, as given
by the Glasgow Herald, which contained a full report of the lecture.

"Some forty years ago, when I commenced to think of the subject, my first idea was to lift my machint
by vertical propellers, and I actually commenced drawings and made calculations for a machine on that

plan, using an oil motor, or something like a Brayton engine, for motive power. However, I was

completely unable to work out any system which would not be too heavy to lift itself directly into the air,

and it was only when I commenced to study the aeroplane system that it became apparent to me that it

would be possible to make a machine light enough and powerful enough to raise itself without the

agency of a balloon. From the first I was convinced that it would be quite out of the question to employ a

balloon in any form. At that time the light high-speed petrol motor had no existence. The only power

available being steam-engines, I made all my calculations with a view of using steam as the motive

power. While I was studying the question of the possibility of making a flying machine that would

actually fly, I became convinced that there was but one system to work on, and that was the aeroplane

system. I made many calculations, and found that an aeroplane machine driven by a steam-engine ought

to lift itself into the air."

Sir Hiram then went on to say that it was the work of making an automatic gun which was the direct
cause of his experiments with flying machines. To continue the report:

"One day I was approached by three gentle- men who were interested in the gun, and they asked me if it
would be possible for me to build a flying machine, how long it would take, and how much it would cost.

My reply was that it would take five years and would cost L50,000. The first three years would be

devoted to developing a light internal-combustion engine, and the remaining two years to making a

flying machine.

"Later on a considerable sum of money was placed at my disposal, and the experiments commenced, but
unfortunately the gun business called for my attention abroad, and during the first two years of the

experimental work I was out of England eighteen months.

"Although I had thought much of the internal-combustion engine it seemed to me that it would take too
long to develop one and that it would be a hopeless task in my absence from England; so I decided that in

my first experiments at least I would use a steam-engine. I therefore designed and made a steam-engine

and boiler of which Mr. Charles Parsons has since said that, next to the Maxim gun, it developed more

energy for its weight than any other heat engine ever made. That was true at the time, but is very wide of

the mark now."

Speaking of motors, the veteran lecturer remarked: "Perhaps there was no problem in the world on which
mathematicians had differed so widely as on the problem of flight. Twenty years ago experimenters said:

'Give us a motor that will develop 1 horse-power with the weight of a barnyard fowl, and we will very

soon fly.' At the present moment they had motors which would develop over 2 horse-power and did not


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