The Birthplace of Powered Flight
Original Plane and built a smaller monoplane. It had a 3 metre (10 feet) wingspan with a wooden frame covered in silk. Its wing was 0.6 metres (2 feet) wide at its widest part tapering to a point at the tip with a rigid leading edge and a slightly curved upper surface.The model was powered by a tiny steam engine housed in the gondola below the wings. This engine, fired by a spirit lamp, had a cylinder with a diameter of 18 mm (¾ inch) and a stroke of 48 mm (2 inches).
Complete with water and fuel, the engine weighed about three kg (just under 6¾ lbs) and drove two large propellers which rotated in opposite directions to give the machine lateral stability.
The model was launched from a supporting inclined wire several yards long which ensured the machine started flying at a reasonable speed and in the right direction.
A description of that launch was written in 1892 by John’s son, Fred:
“The steam was successfully got up after a slight mishap; the machine started down the wire and upon reaching the point of self-detachment, gradually rose until it reached the further end of the room, striking a hole in the canvas placed to stop it.”
John Stringfellow’s achievement was recreated in the 1980s by the BBC for one of Adam Hart-Davis’s ‘Local Heroes’ programmes when a replica of Stringfellow’s aircraft powered by a small modern petrol engine was successfully flown in a lace mill in Chard, co-incidentally, also disused at the time.Stringfellow also demonstrated a steam-powered triplane at an exhibition arranged by the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain at the Crystal Palace, London, in 1868.
When he died in 1883 he left a modest summing up of his work in these words:
“Somebody must do better than I before we succeed with aerial navigation.”