Jet Propulsion Isn't New!
February 1949 Air Trails Hobbies for Young Men

February 1949 Air Trails
February 1949 Air Trails Cover - Airplanes and RocketsTable of Contents

These pages from vintage modeling magazines like Flying Aces, Air Trails, American Modeler, American Aircraft Modeler, Young Men, Flying Models, Model Airplane News, R/C Modeler, captured the era. All copyrights acknowledged.


Jet Propulsion Isn't New!

By William R. Suda

Experimentation in Jet Power Began as Long Ago as Two Thousand Years

The notion that jet propulsion and guided missiles are comparatively recent innovations of warfare has been fostered by the secrecy which surrounded all experiments and developments during the ┬Ělast war. In reality, however, the principle of jet-propelled missiles is an ancient one.

• Hero's aeolipile: reaction propulsion.

Over 2,000 years ago Hero, ancient Alexandrian philosopher conceived and utilized the same principle employed in the steam and gas turbine and jet-propelled planes of today in his "aeolipile." But since slaves were less expensive there was no use for the weapon and it remained in the toy stage.

Nothing more was heard of the principle until the year 1232 when, during the battle of Pien King, between the Chinese and Tartars, the defenders of the city used a rocket-propelled arrow for their defense.

Two hundred years later an Italian engineer, Joanes DeRontana, used rockets on wheels disguised as rabbits, pigeons and fish which propelled themselves toward the enemy, lines.

• Rocket arrow used by Chinese in Pien King battle.

• DeRontona rocket disguised as animal fooled the enemy.

• XS-1, Chinese style. Did not achieve the same results.

• First proposal for steam turbine was by Branca, 1629.

• Isaac Newton's proposed jet-propelled steam carriage.

• Congreve's rocket, mentioned in Star Spangled Banner.

The distinction of being the first jet-propelled human, falls to a Chinese gentleman and scholar, Wan Hoo. Forty-four years before the conquest by the Manchus, Van Hoo attached 47 rockets and two large kites to a chair, sat himself in the chair and had 47 coolies ignite the rockets. Unfortunately posterity has no record of what happened to Wan Hoo.

A quarter of a century later Giovanna Branca perfected a steam engine with a direct application of the jet principle. This engine was the forerunner of the modern steam turbine.

Several years prior. to Branca's steam engine Sir Isaac Newton planned a jet-propelled wagon. This wagon was to be propelled by steam emerging from a nozzle in the rear.

In the Paris of 1783 Parisians were astonished when an engineer named Abbe Mollan and a partner lofted a balloon steered and propelled horizontally by jets. A series of holes located around the center of the balloon were covered by flaps attached to strings. By pulling the proper strings, a flap could be released and the balloon propelled in the desired direction - it says here in fine type at the bottom of the history page.

Shortly after Mollan's experiment an Englishman, John Barber, secured a patent for a turbine containing a gas producer, a compressor, a turbine wheel and reduction gears, but it never progressed beyond the patent state.

In the latter part of the 18th century the Ruggieri brothers were the experts on pyrotechnic rockets. They shot rockets carrying small animals into the air and landed them safely with parachutes.

The idea of rockets as a military weapon was expanding as is evidenced by the first rocket corps. Organized by India's Prince of Mysore, Hyder Ali, it consisted of 1200 men. They used rockets weighing from six to 12 pounds. Each rocket consisted of a round tube eight inches long and one and a half inches in diameter, packed tightly with powder and guided by long bamboo poles. Range was up to one and a half miles. These missiles were used against the British and inspired British rocket development.

A few years later, when Napoleon prepared to invade England, the British used the William Congreve rocket against his concentrations at Boulogne. They fired 2,000 rockets from the Channel into the city, starting numerous fires and completely halting the invader.

After 1807, when the British, using 25,000 rockets, attacked Copenhagen from the sea and almost completely destroyed the city, rockets were used often and successfully. The British used them against the French fleet at Caltars and Bayonne. The city of Danzig was almost completely destroyed in 1813 when the French bombarded the city with rockets. In the decisive battle of Leipzig a considerable number was used by the Germans.

During the War of 1812, the British landed 4,500 men on Chesapeake Bay. Using the William Congreve rocket they caused two American regiments to flee in panic. The British captured Washington and moved on toward Baltimore where they attacked Fort McHenry. The rockets were unsuccessful but resulted in inspiring Francis Scott Key to write "The Star Spangled Banner" with the lines. "The rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air." These rockets had a 2,000-yard range and weighed 32 pounds.

The first U. S. rocket battery was organized at Fort Monroe in 1846, using Hale's tailless rocket. It was designed to rotate by means of three stabilizers in the base. Later Congress authorized ten additional regiments to be equipped with rockets and mountain howitzers. By June, 1847, two thousand rockets had been manufactured and stored in a Washington arsenal. Some of these rockets were used in the Mexican War at the Vera Cruz landing with some success.

The first guided missile was conceived during the Civil War, when the South worked on a torpedo that was unsuccessful. It moved too slowly and allowed ships time to maneuver out of its path.

The torpedo was perfected during the first World War, which also saw development of a pilotless plane flying a pre-set course, which was to be loaded. with explosives. It was never used operationally. The Germans used rockets attached to large anchors to pull up barbed wire entanglements. The Russians and French fired rockets by mounting them upright in planes and then flying beneath observation balloons and igniting them.

At the beginning Of the 20th century, the leading authority on rockets was Dr. Robert H. Goddard of Clark University in the United States. He experimented with powder rockets and within five years he reached the conclusion that powder rockets were not adaptable for high altitude rocket work. In 1920 he turned to liquid fuels and after five more years of experimentation fired the first successful liquid fuel rocket. Goddard worked out the mathematics for computing thrust and the idea of using step rockets. His text book became the bible of the German rocket scientists.

In 1928 Fritz Von Opel, the German Henry Ford, was experimenting with rocket-propelled automobiles. At a public demonstration his Opel I, propelled by a series of 12 rockets attained a speed of 70 miles per hour. At a later display the Opel II reached a speed of 100 miles per hour, propelled by 44 rockets. The Opel III, set up on a stretch of railroad track reached a speed of 180 miles per hour. In 1929, a German, Herr Valier, perfected an ice sled which was rocket-propelled and which reached the amazing speed of 250 miles per hour.

At Dessau, in 1929, the Junkers Company developed the jet-assisted take-off but kept the results secret. The jet-assisted take-off was used by heavily loaded planes for the mass air raids on London.

The Germans worked out theoretical studies to set up stations in space which would constantly move about the earth at an altitude of about 400 miles. These space stations were to control the world and act as stations for directing guided missiles.

Since the modern rocket carries its own oxygen it has no ceiling. It can as easily travel in the stratosphere as the atmosphere. Recent developments in the field of reaction motors, aerodynamics and remote control of aerial vehicles makes possible entirely new weapons capable of attaining high velocities, great altitudes, long ranges of operation and extreme accuracy.

During the last war landing barges fitted out with 150 banks of rockets were equivalent in fire power to 30 battalions of field artillery. They were a faint whisper of what could come with rocket warfare.