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The swept wing aeroplane—á lá 1912

13 March 2021


JW Dunne D.8 model in the London Science Museum—©2018 Joseph May/Slipstream Photography

J.W. Dunne designed a highly stable aircraft during a time when aircraft and stability were not terms normally used in the same breath. Dunne originally worked at Great Britain’s Army Balloon Factory (precursor to Farnborough—England’s center of aviation science and engineering). Forming the Blair Atholl Aeroplane Syndicate, Dunne began aircraft design in earnest. Ultimately creating the D.8 for stability in flight. A wing swept of 32° made it distinct as well as eliminating the requirement (and weight) of a tail structure. Wing camber increased away from the fuselage while incidence decreased with the wingtips washing out. Distance between the wings also reduced outboard. This was not a simple box kite-like design with its subtle though effective aerodynamic design details yielding excellent longitudinal stability. Power to drive the propeller was originally produced by a direct drive 4-cylinder 60 hp water cooled engine manufactured by the Green Engine Co. Subsequently, the Gnome rotary engine replaced the Green while providing 20 additional hp. This model is displayed in the London Science Museum which has a compete aviation museum unto itself.

Burgess Dunne Hydroaeroplane (compared to the Dunne D.8 note the floats as well as better enclosed cockpit)—Florida Memory image

Starling Burgess, a man with an unusual name as well as brilliance and ability—educated at Harvard, no less. His work included designing with Buckminister Fuller a three wheel car and one of his aircraft was flown, and wrecked, by Henry “Hap” Arnold before he became a huge influence in aviation. Burgess came to contract, in concert with Glenn Curtiss, with the Wright Brothers to build their aircraft under license (at a $1000 per aircraft at the time or about $25,000 in today’s dollar value) as he was particularly impressed with Wilbur Wright. He soon applied his engineering foresight by incorporating over two dozen improvements to the Wright B model, primarily for better performance as well as safety. Soon design and business forces separated Burgess and Curtiss from the Wrights. Burgess then shifted to his individual work, with the aid of former Wright Bros. employees, and became interested in Dunne’s swept wing design adapting it to become a well-flying hydroaeroplane—as seaplanes were called back in the day. Both he and Curtiss thought seaplanes and floatplanes had many advantages, especially considering airfields were in their infancy at the time. By 1914 his Burgess-Dunne hydroaeroplane flew in spectacular fashion with its ability to take off hands free of the controls as well as the ablilty to easily climb and dive with precision. Absolutely remarkable for the time. Flying so well that the Burgess Dunne was awarded the Collier Trophy in 1915! The onset of World War I brought an end to its success due to its stability, ironically, since it possessed a low potential as either a fighter or a bomber.


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