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File:1913 - Berriman - Petrol engine.png
Diagram illustrating petrol engine in Berriman, 1913, Aviation, p. 296

Petroleum fuel enabled efficient (power-to-weight ratio) engines which could propel flying machines.

Berriman, 1913, Aviation, "The Petrol Engine", p. 292:

Petrol is the trade name given to a group of volatile fractions in the paraffin series of hydrocarbons. In America the commodity is known as gasolene; in France it is called essence. In the scale of densities and boiling points, the petrol group stands immediately above the lamp oils, which are misnamed in England by the generic title paraffin, and in France by the word petrole, but in America are called kerosene.
The chief source of petrol is natural petroleum, which is mined in all parts of the world. Great Britain now derives more than half her supply of petrol from Borneo, Sumatra, and Java, via the "Shell" route through Suez; the remainder, "Pratts," come from the American fields. [...]
The petrol engine works on this principle. One of its accessories is a carburettor, which consists of a simple spraying device, the flow of petrol being regulated by a needle valve controlled by a float. [...]

See Maxim, 1892, Progress in Aerial Navigation which analyzes engine efficiency along these lines.

In a 1902 essay Maxim identified the petroleum motor as the key to balloon dirigibility:

As far as navigating the air with balloons is concerned, it has often been said that Commandant Renard reached the end of the tether, and accomplished all that could be accomplished in this direction. But it appears that Commandant Renard was rather chary about using petroleum motors in the presence of a large amount of highly inflammable gas. At any rate, I am not aware that he has ever attempted to navigate the air with a balloon driven by petroleum engines. It is said that Commandant Renard had at his disposal an ulimited amount of skill and cash, but M. Santos Dumont went one better, for it would appear that he possessed not only the necessary skill and cash, but also personal pluck to a remarkable degree. M. Santos Dumont has taken advantage of the new and light petroleum motors which have been developed for the purpose of driving motor-cars, and by attaching one of these to an elongated balloon has succeeded in driving the balloon through the air at a pace considerably greater than ever has been done before. This has enabled M. Santos Dumont to make short excursions, and to return to the point of departure, even in the face of a slight wind, and this has never been done before.

Zahm, 1911, Aerial Navigation, pp. 256–257:

In 1906, while many aviators in Europe were developing flyers, and cautiously testing them in various ways, by gliding above sand or water, or swinging from a high wire or traveling arm, Señor Alberto Santos-Dumont, of Brazil, brought forth in France the quaint and crude biplane shown in Plate XXII. Aërodynamically this was not a great improvement on the aëroplane of Sir George Cayley constructed 98 years earlier; but it had a petrol motor whose power and lightness would have astounded that talented pioneer in aviation. The motor was an eight-cylinder Antoinette, weighing 170 pounds and developing 50 horse power.

(Alberto Santos-Dumont was an early adopter of petroleum fuel, beginning with Santos-Dumont No. 1.)

Hallion, 2003, p. 198:

Early in the Roman Empire, technicians could have cut, framed, and assembled the basic structure of a wood-and-fabric airplane, and had they possessed the Wrights' insight, could have flown and controlled it—but a "prime mover" required the high-temperature materials, fuels, propeller design, and engines of the late Industrial Revolution. In the absence of this, even the most insightful pioneers—people such as Cayley—were reduced to seeking what in retrospect were bizarre or even laughable solutions, such as complex banks of oars, or moving wingtip featherlike paddles. The Wrights would have confronted the same problem, except for one thing: their work coincided with the development of the internal combustion, petroleum-fueled engine.
On August 29, 1859, Edwin L. Drake, a self-styled but commendably obstinate "colonel," struck oil in the small northwestern Pennsylvania community of Titusville, becoming the first oil driller and triggering the petroleum revolution. Out of that discovery came fuels for illumination, cooking, heating, and propulsion, as well as lubricants and waxes. But his discovery, as significant as it was, could not have had anywhere near the impact it ultimately did had it not been for the invention of specialized engines to burn petroleum distillers. That enabled the creation of modern mechanized transportation systems, typified by the automobile and the airplane. It was of particular importance to the invention of powered flight.
Enclosing categories Propulsion, fuel
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