Look Through the Propeller: Air

In the pictures - Aerotrain I80, equipped with a seven-blade propeller. Under the “skirts” of Bertin’s air cars, pressure was created, that is, they worked on the principle of hovercraft.

Today, the Helikron car has been restored and is underway, but its origin remains a mystery: most likely, this is a private development of an enthusiast.

Schienenzeppelin Initially, the Schienenzeppelin propeller was a four-blade, later it was replaced with a two-blade; made a propeller from ash wood.

In 2003, one of the two Heliks that survived to this day made a splash at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. True, her propeller is not native, it is replaced after the accident.

Despite the non-stop scientific and technological progress, propellers are not a thing of the past. Turboprop engines are profitable, economical and convenient to use in small aircraft. Of course, the designers have repeatedly improved the propeller over the past half century. Today, many turboprop aircraft use impellers - propellers enclosed in an aerodynamic ring to reduce the annular flow around the blades (respectively, increase efficiency), in addition, the blades take on increasingly sophisticated and advantageous forms.

But history also knew attempts to use a propeller where it is more profitable and cheaper to use a drive from the engine to the wheels. What made inventors create locomotives driven by propellers? And cars? .. Let's try to figure it out.

Soviet attempt

A vehicle traveling by rail and driven by a propeller is called an air carriage. History knew no more than a dozen attempts to develop such a locomotive, about half of them were embodied in metal. But the matter never went beyond a single demonstration instance.

The second in the history of the carriage was built by the talented Russian engineer-self-taught Valerian Abakovsky in 1921. Why are we talking about the second and not the first? Because it was Abakovsky’s design that gave the name to the entire class of vehicles. And much more is known about it than about the German air car created two years earlier.

Abakovsky worked as a driver in the Tambov branch of the Cheka, and in his leisure he was engaged in invention. He brought his idea to adapt an aircraft engine with a propeller to a railcar from the need to improve the speed characteristics of a vehicle. Speeds above 100 km / h in those days were available only to airplanes (we are not talking about record and racing cars), and the use of a propeller and streamlined bodywork allowed to accelerate the trolley to an incredible 140 km / h.

The engineer presented his project in Moscow - and unexpectedly received the “go-ahead” in the form of cash and a building permit. In a short time, Abakovsky and the team built an air car. An aircraft engine was located in front of the streamlined machine, and a two-bladed propeller was carried out.

The principle “ahead of the rest” worked, many progressive revolutionary leaders were interested in technical innovations. Therefore, at the very first road test, a whole delegation of Soviet and foreign communists appeared, headed by Comrade Artem (Fedor Sergeyev), who at that time was chairman of the Central Committee of the All-Russian Union of Miners and Secretary of the Moscow Committee of the RCP (b). On July 24, 1921, a delegation of 22 people “loaded” into a technical innovation, and the air car successfully crossed the route from Moscow to Tula in record time.

Abakovsky did not take into account one thing - the monstrous state of Russian railways, not designed for such fast and light locomotives. On the way to Tula, a trolley was lucky, but on the reverse - no. The delegation left for Moscow a few hours after arriving in Tula. And a few minutes after gaining speed, the first and only Soviet car flew off the road in a bump and crashed. 7 out of 22 passengers died.

German projects

The goal of creating the Steinitz wagon mentioned at the beginning of the article was purely political. After World War I, Germany was subjected to severe sanctions to limit the size of the armed forces - in particular, it was forbidden to have combat aircraft. In this regard, a huge number of aircraft engines created for the needs of the army remained unclaimed. Steinitz was just trying to figure out a way to use them. But the representatives of the railway were extremely skeptical about the monstrously noisy and very strange device. Therefore, the project was closed, and "Ringos" redone back to the usual trolley.

The Germans returned to the idea of ​​an air car ten years later. The development of the engineer Franz Kruckenberg was called Schienenzeppelin ("Rail Zeppelin") and acquired the status of a legend over time. Kruckenberg was an aeronautical engineer and was eager to transfer the propeller to the railway. Representatives of the German Imperial Railway became interested in the project, and by the fall of 1930 the Zeppelin had left the gates of the factory in Hanover.

The main "chip" of the development of Krukenberg was its futuristic design. Against the background of the usual locomotives of that time, the Zeppelin looks amazing: outwardly it looks most like the modern high-speed Shinkansen and TGV. Kruckenberg developed an aerodynamic design based on the principles used in airship building. The 25-meter locomotive was very low (2.8 m), light (only 20.3 tons) and was equipped with a 12-cylinder BMW VI V-engine, which developed 600 hp. Unlike its predecessors with a pulling screw, the Zeppelin propeller was pushing.

Kruckenberg understood that his project was more a work of art than a serious vehicle. Therefore, he ordered the interior from employees of the Bauhaus Higher School of Construction and Art Design.

On May 10, 1931, the Rail Zeppelin reached a speed of 200 km / h - unheard of for rail transport. In June, he broke his own record, showing a speed of 230.2 km / h on the stretch of road between Berlin and Hamburg. At this point, Schienenzeppelin had traveled all over Germany and was shown to officials and simple onlookers in various cities. The last record, by the way, was broken only in 1954 (!) By the French electric locomotive Alstom CC 7121. And moreover, this record still remains unchallenged for railway vehicles using gasoline engines.

In 1932, Kruckenberg began to re-equip his car, trying to further optimize the aerodynamics and powertrain. True, the changes acted in the opposite way - Zeppelin did not “squeeze” more than 180 km / h. And a year later, officials of the Imperial Road chilled to the "toy" of Kruckenberg. First of all, Germany needed a high-speed locomotive of everyday use, capable of hauling trains, and not a record demonstration car. As a result, in 1933, the DRG Class SVT 877 diesel train, nicknamed the Flying Hamburger, entered the service. The composition of the "Hamburger" traveled the route Berlin - Hamburg with an average speed of 124 km / h, while it developed a maximum speed of about 160 km / h. For everyday needs, this was more than enough.

A year later, Kruckenberg rebuilt the Zeppelin for the last time, changing the engine to the Maybach GO5, and finally sold it to the Imperial Roads. Before the war, a unique carriage was cut into metal. The fact is that Zeppelin had many shortcomings. It was impossible to attach additional cars to it, and an open propeller was a considerable danger when launched at stations filled with people.

Helika and Helikron

If installing a propeller on a trolley makes at least some sense, then the use of such a mover in the automotive industry looks disastrously absurd. Nevertheless, such attempts are known.

In 1913, the French engineer Marcel Leigu presented to the public an amazing machine called Helica. It was three-wheeled, the body had a strange futuristic shape, and the propeller located in front was not burdened with any external protection. The two Heliki passengers were seated one after the other, and a V-twin engine hung over the roof of the car. The steering wheel controlled the rear wheel, which also created certain difficulties. By 1914, Leia was able to eliminate a number of technological shortcomings that did not allow the machine to be mass-produced: put protection on the propeller, equipped a more or less comfortable salon. The new model is called The Helicocycle. A few years later Leia switched to a four-wheeled scheme, propellers were used both four- and two-bladed. In total, from 1913 to 1931, a diligent Frenchman built about thirty aircraft, some of which he even managed to sell. All Heliks were slightly different from each other - for example, in 1927 a sports version was built, accelerating to 170 km / h.

To date, two Heliki have survived. The first (1921 release) is in the Paris Museum of Science and Technology, it is an open version with a four-blade propeller. Theoretically, it is capable of accelerating to 70 km / h. The second "Helika" is closed, with a two-blade propeller (though not a "native" one, it was replaced after the accident), and it is on the go. In 2003, she made a splash at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Her story is entertaining: the great-grandfather of its owner, Jean-Francois Buzanke, became in 1922 one of the rare buyers of Helika for private use - and the family carefully kept the car for 80 years. The machine is equipped with a two-cylinder ABC engine with a capacity of 1203 cm³, and in Goodwood it showed a speed of 96 km / h. Helika has its own fan club, in 2007 its members built an exact replica of the classic Helika of 1919 using preserved original details.

The second attempt to use the propeller in the automotive industry was Helikron, built in 1932 on the Rosengart chassis. True, nothing was known about who made it and why. A half-rotten car was found in 2000 and carefully restored, replacing the lost engine with a new one. As in Helik, Helikron is controlled by turning the rear wheels. Today Helikron is on the move, but its origin remains a mystery: most likely, this is a private development, created by an enthusiast in his garage.

Like aircars, "heliks" are not widespread. Noise, vibration, dangerous propulsion openness - all these shortcomings did not allow propellers to be used on land (with the exception of snowmobiles - but there is a completely different specificity). Still, the destiny of the propellers is heaven. Or at least the water element.

The article was published in the journal Popular Mechanics (No. 2, February 2012).


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