Saturday, April 10, 2021


John Hartford, Tony Rice Vassar Clements "Steam Powered Aereoplane" ( sorry about the poor quality but it is the only live performance I can find):

When I first heard this I thought it was another typical piece of whimsy from John Hartford.

Steam trains, steam rollers, steam ships I knew about. Even a few steam cars in the early days of motoring and, more recently, I’ve heard of steam bicycles but a steam plane? It seemed highly unlikely; how would it carry enough water for example? Water is rather heavy and it would need a very powerful aircraft to lift such a weight off the ground but then I came across these two stories:

"On 20th April 1933 William Besler took off from Oakland Airport, California in a steam driven aircraft which he and his brother George had designed andbuilt. It was the result of three years of work and secret experimentation in a machine shop in Emeryville, California.

“This blue machine, with William Besler at the controls, sped down the runway and climbed into the air without a sound except the low whine of the propeller and the hum of wind through the wires. Swinging back over the field at 200 feet, the pilot shouted ‘Hello!’ and heard the answering calls from spectators below.”

I had never heard of a steam plane before I came across that page on the web So I wondered if there might be film of it somewhere and I found some here (no sound):

There is also this promotional film made by the Besler Corporation which features the steam driven vehicles made by the company. I had heard of the Stanley Steamer motor car but as far as I know it could not reach the 85mph claimed for Besler's car!


* An earlier version of this post originally appeared at Nourishing Obscurity on 27/9/2011; that original post has been lost in NO's technical problems.


James Higham said...

There’s a more recent but never mind - I’ll link to this one anyway. Comprehensive post ... lovely.

Jim in San Marcos said...

Quite an eye opener to the past, I never knew that a steam airplane existed.

If I remember correctly a Stanly steamer race car in 1898 went airborne in a race at a speed of over 100 mph (it was built like an airplane wing to eliminate wind resistance).

MrMC said...

There maybe mileage, literally, in this ... mid air refuelling, one just needs to clatter around a cloud for a while

Sackerson said...

@MrMC: like an earthly version of this?

MrMC said...

@Sackerson, I gave up R and D on my steam powered interstellar rocket when I realised the consequences of high speeds in space, (if anyone is interested in purchasing a large boiler with fins welded to it please contact me)

Just how dangerous is it to travel at 20% the speed of light?
Breakthrough Starshot has examined the impact of stray atoms, cosmic dust.

Sackerson said...

@MrMC: depends, if the space ramjet used a force field to take in and spit out intergalactic atoms/molecules?