Monday, March 1, 2010


A Travel Air 2000 biplane made the world's first piloted flight under steam power over Oakland, California, on 12 April 1933. The strangest feature of the flight was its relative silence; spectators on the ground could hear the pilot when he called to them from mid-air. The aircraft, piloted by William Besler, had been fitted with a two-cylinder, 150 hp reciprocating engine.

An important contribution to its design was made by Nathan C. Price, a former Doble Steam Motors engineer. Price was working on high pressure compact engines for rail and road transport; the purpose of the flight was to obtain publicity for this work.

Following its unexpectedly favorable reception Price went to Boeing and worked on various aviation projects, but Boeing dropped the idea of a steam airplane engine in 1936. Price later worked for Lockheed where his experience with developing compact burners for steam boilers helped to design Lockheed's first jet engine.

The advantages of the "Besler System" that were claimed at the time included the elimination of audible noise and destructive vibration; greater efficiency at low engine speeds and also at high altitudes where lower air temperatures assisted condensation; reduced likelihood of engine failure; reduced maintenance costs; reduced fuel costs, since fuel oil was used in place of petrol; reduced fire hazard
since the fuel was less volatile and operating temperatures were lower; and a lack of need for radio shielding.

For capacities in excess of 1000 horse power a turbine captures the energy released by the expansion of steam more efficiently than a piston. Thus, the steam reciprocating engine turned out to be unsuitable for scaling up to the needs of large aircraft.


  1. The problem with steam powered aircraft is the horsepower to weight ratio. The current gas turbine jet engine has the highest horsepower to weight ratio which is why its use in today's aircraft is so ubiquitous.

  2. Greetings STORMBRINGER!

    I have found very interesting information in this well done column made by you. The true fact of the matter is that I ignored this affair. However, I am glad to know is, after all, I wonder how many concerning and interesting stuff we still ignore. I respectfully wanted to let you know that I had a great time reading this masterpiece.


  3. nice video! this is so unique

  4. 's nice to see the video of the first steam airplane and determine the qualities of reciprocating engine. Years after the flight of the first steamed airplane, various company are into large aircraft. Large aircraft are most likely noisy unlike the first reciprocal engine. Much to this, they are using danfoss controls,
    Armstrong steam traps and the like in their engines. Airplanes nowadays needed a complex steam parts and radiator in order to fly miles.