Maxim, 1892, Progress in Aerial Navigation

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Hiram Stevens Maxim, "Progress in Aerial Navigation", Fortnightly Review vol. LII, pp. 438–449, October 1892.

The article focuses on engine weight/power/efficiency and the advances enabled by use of new petroleum-fueled engines.

First Maxim describes the people and attempts he considers most important, post-Montgolfier.

  • Henri Giffard, aerostat launched 24 September 1852: "an elongated balloon, pointed at both ends, and entirely covered—excepting the points and the lower part—by a net". Wooden beam suspended below; triangular rudder. 39' diameter, 144' long, 88,291 cubic feet of gas. Coke-fueled 3hp engine.
    • Giffard's further experimentation in captive balloons.
    • "He prepared a complete specification of a gigantic balloon which formed the subject of a patent." (Presumably Patent FR-1866-74226.) "The text of this patent was published in the Génie industriel de MM. Armengand frères, and at the time was considered a monument of skill and ingenuity in aeronautics."
    • Engine improvements.
  • Henri Dupuy de Lôme, 40,000 franc contract to createa dirigible for National Defence; not used until two years after it was called for in 1870. 118 long, 48' diameter, 120,076 cubic feet of hydrogen gas, cigar shaped. First tested 2 February 1872 at the Fort of Vincennes. Eight guys operating the screw. 6.2mph.
  • Gaston Tissandier & Albert-Charles Tissandier. Experiments with a balloon shaped like de Lôme's. Bamboo and copper wire. Electric current. First experiment, 8 October 1883.
  • Dirigible balloons created at Chalais-Meudon by Captain Charles Renard, Captain Arthur Krebs and Captain de la Haye. Fish-shaped, biggest in front. 165' long, 27.5' diameter, 63,830 cubic feet. 8.5 horsepower electric motor. 9 August 1884. and further experiments through 22 September 1885.

Maxim mentions the division between balloonists and aviators (see also Chanute, 1891, Aerial navigation).

"Two complete and independent sets of experiments have been conducted recently with a view of ascertaining how much power is required to perform artificial flight."

  • Samuel P. Langley's in the U.S.
  • Maxim himself, at Bexley, Kent county. Maxim says he got figures similar to Langley's.

Maxim quotes Langley's observation that experimental data do not bear out the sine-squared law (for now see Francis Herbert Wenham who already showed this). In general the quotations are optimistic about the possibilities of heavier-than air flight.

In my experiments I found that a well-made screw operated well and was fairly economical, and that the skin friction was so small as to be negligible. I found that whatever push my screw communicated to the aeroplane the plane would lift in a vertical direction from ten to fifteen times as much as the horizontal push that it received from the screw, and which depended upon the angle at which the plane was set, and the speed at which the apparatus was travelling through the air. (445–446)

Maxim used "naphtha" (petroleum) for fuel in a 600 lbs. steam-engine. He says that engine weight/efficiency is the primary limiting factor in aviation, and that his new motor will enable someone, perhaps him, to succeed, soon.

Moreover, experiments have taken place in America, England, and Switzerland with naphtha-engines, and the results obtained have been rather startling. The eminent engineers, Messrs. Yarrow, have conducted some very careful and accurate experiments, and have proved that the same amount of heat will develop twice as much energy in a naphtha-engine as in a steam-engine, and this, notwithstanding the fact that engineers and mathematicians proved that it could not be done. It is a good steam boiler that will evaporate ten pounds of water with one pound of coal. In some experiments which I conducted in the United States I found that one pound of light naphtha (gasoline) would evaporate nearly 200 lbs. of gasoline.

Original title Progress in aerial navigation
Simple title Progress in aerial navigation
Authors Hiram Stevens Maxim
Date 1892
Countries US
Languages en
Keywords heavier-than-air, propulsion, engine, petroleum, steam, electricity, history, sine-squared law, Henri Giffard, Henri Dupuy de Lôme, Chalais-Meudon, Gaston Tissandier, Samuel Pierpont Langley, Hiram Stevens Maxim, Patent FR-1866-74226
Journal Fortnightly Review
Related to aircraft? 1
Page count 12
Word count
Wikidata id


  • Brockett 1910, page 565, entry 8224: Maxim, Hiram Stevens. Progress in aerial navigation. Fortnightly Review, Vol. 52, N. S., No. 310 (Oct. 1892), New York, pp. 438-449. S (8224