第24章 A Great British Inventor ofAeroplanes(1)

Though, as we have seen, most of the early attempts at aerial navigation were made by foreign engineers, yet we are proud to number among the ranks of the early inventors of heavier-than-air machines Sir Hiram Maxim, who, though an American by birth, has spent most of his life in Britain and may therefore be called a British inventor.

Perhaps to most of us this inventor's name is known more in connection with the famous "Maxim" gun, which he designed, and which was named after him.But as early as 1894, when the construction of aeroplanes was in a very backward state, Sir Hiram succeeded in making an interesting and ingenious aeroplane, which he proposed to drive by a particularly light steam-engine.

Sir Hiram's first machine, which was made in 1890, was designed to be guided by a double set of rails, one set arranged below and the other above its running wheels.The intention was to make the machine raise itself just off the ground rails, but yet be prevented from soaring by the set of guard rails above the wheels, which acted as a check on it.The motive force was given by a very powerful steam-engine of over 300 horse-power, and this drove two enormous propellers, some 17 feet in length.The total weight of the machine was 8000 pounds, but even with this enormous weight the engine was capable of raising the machine from the ground.

For three or four years Sir Hiram made numerous experiments with his aeroplane, but in 1894 it broke through the upper guard rail and turned itself over among the surrounding trees, wrecking itself badly.

But though the Maxim aeroplane did not yield very practical results, it proved that if a lighter but more powerful engine could be made, the chief difficulty iii the way of aerial flight would be removed.This was soon forthcoming in the invention of the petrol motor.In a lecture to the Scottish Aeronautical Society, delivered in Glasgow in November, 1913, Sir Hiram claimed to be the inventor of the first machine which actually rose from the earth.Before the distinguished inventor spoke of his ownwork in aviation he recalled experiments made by his father in 1856-7, when Sir Hiram was sixteen years of age.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.

William J. Claxton