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Plan of First Balsa Model Aircraft with IC Power

What is the oldest design IC balsa plane for which a plan exists?

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David Mellor14/11/2018 14:30:03
1245 forum posts
607 photos

Thanks for all your contributions.


I also put the same question (as in my first post) to Jackie Shalberg who is the Archivist and Historian at the American Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA). She was very helpful and asked the AMA Collections Manager (Maria Van Vreede) for assistance. Maria came up with quite a lot of information, including some British engine/plane designs.


It seems there were many people working on gas-powered model planes in the 20's and 30's. And then there was the English Jopson Motor from 1910 which weighed 7.5 pounds (8 pounds 14 oz with battery and coil) which flew in a 96" span model (the airframe of which weighed 7 pounds 2 ounces). This model features here, and a viable model could be made today based on existing photographic and weight data:-


And further details of Jopson can be found in "Model aeroplaning" Its Practice and Principles" by V.E. Johnson (pub. 1922).



The most widely and generally accepted answer is the Miss Philadelphia II, powered by Bill Brown's Model Engine (see earlier posts in this thread).


However....... I think it is fair to say that the grounds for accepting Miss Philly/Brown Engine as the first are largely to do with that combination being the first to enjoy widespread popularity and replication by other enthusiasts.


It would appear that the Langley Aerodrome Model (not the full sized aircraft, which sadly didn't fly) may indeed be the first gas-powered model to fly. However, since the wild, unbridled enthusiasm for man-carrying planes had yet to strike, there were no modellers to take up the idea! Doubtless the 1910 Jopson Engine/Model suffered from a similar lack of popular interest.

There are other early examples, (the 1909-1910 engine manufactured in London by Gamage) and the Baby engine made in Connecticut around 1911-1914. But firm details of what airframes they went into and how successful they were are now more or less lost to us, and, of course, they are well beyond reach of living memory.....


Edited By David Mellor on 14/11/2018 14:31:33

Colin Leighfield14/11/2018 17:06:39
5682 forum posts
2318 photos

David, as I understand it the original  Langley Aerodrome models were steam powered, so don’t qualify. Samuel Langley flew  two models of it successfully and it was the results of that which lead to funding by the US military of the full sized plane, which failed. 

Can’t speak for the smaller model of it that you show though, clearly not built by Langley. Perhaps that was the first as you suggest. 


Edited By Colin Leighfield on 14/11/2018 17:12:58

David Mellor14/11/2018 18:52:08
1245 forum posts
607 photos

Colin, you have put your finger on the crucial question, as far as the Langley Aerodrome models are concerned.

David Wilson (see his post on Page 1) show a photograph of a caption of a model of a 1/4 scale model of the later Langley Aerodrome which plainly identifies it as the world's first successful gasoline engine powered model.

So, on the face of that evidence, it would seem straightforward, you'd think!


However.... it isn't quite that simple or clear cut because Langley made and flew well over a hundred models before committing to the full sized aerodrome. Almost all of these flying models used rubber motors. When he built up enough confidence he switched to bigger models powered - as you rightly say - by external combustion (steam) engines, and these, of course, don't count.

We know for a fact that some (perhaps all) of his steam engines used a form of gasoline to feed to the burner to raise steam. So it is true that he used steam power and gasoline to produce the steam.

Where the uncertainty lies is whether or not he finally switched to internal combustion engines on his models. I have found some references that state that he did. If these references are factually accurate, then Langley would be the first human being to successfully fly a gasoline (internal combustion) engine powered model.

This reference explicitly states that he did indeed do exactly that - he successfully flew a gas-powered IC engined model aircraft, using a 1.5 HP internal combustion engine developed by Stephen M Balzer - that is a highly specific and detailed description.  It seems to be authoritative........ and perhaps it is?


(Advice:  there is lots of info here - you have to scroll down to 1901 to see the National Air And Space Museum SmithsonianInstitution 2000 NASMSI  reference).




Edited By David Mellor on 14/11/2018 18:58:37

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