By William Pearce
In the spring of 1928, after not participating in the Schneider Trophy contest for several years, the French Ministère de l’Air* (Air Ministry) set its sights on the competition for 1929. Aircraft for the race were ordered from Bernard and Nieuport-Delage. To be competitive, a new engine of around 1,200 hp was needed. The Ministère de l’Air put out orders for such an engine to Gnome-Rhône, Hispano-Suiza, and Lorraine. Only Hispano-Suiza was up to the challenge and responded with a new engine, known as the 18R.
The 18-cylinder, liquid-cooled Hispano-Suiza 18R had three very wide cylinder banks that formed a “W” (or broad-arrow) engine. The monobloc, six-cylinder banks were spaced at 80 degrees and derived directly from the Hispano-Suiza 12Nb V-12 engine of 750 hp (560 kW). The cylinders retained the 5.91 in (150 mm) bore and 6.69 in (170 mm) stroke of the 12Nb, but the compression ratio was increased from 6.2:1 to 10:1. The 18R’s total displacement was 3,300 cu in (54.1 L). The two valves per cylinder were actuated by a single overhead camshaft driven at the rear of the 18R. Each cylinder had two spark plugs positioned perpendicular to the cylinder but on opposite sides from one another. The spark plugs were fired by magnetos at the rear of the engine.
The engine’s connecting rods were of the master/articulated type, with the master rod for the vertical cylinder bank and articulated rods for the side cylinder banks. To keep the engine light, the crankcase and other components were made of Elektron, a magnesium alloy developed in Germany during World War I. The 18R was available with or without a Farmen (bevel planetary) propeller gear reduction, which weighed 132 lb (60 kg). The engine’s overall weight was 1,190 lb (540 kg) without gear reduction and 1,323 (600 kg) with gear reduction. The engine was 64.7 in (1.64 m) long without gear reduction and 78.5 in (1.99 m) long with gear reduction. The 18R had a width of 52.4 in (1.33 m) and a height of 46.1 in (1.17 m).
The 18R had a planned output of 1,680 hp (1,253 kW) at 2,400 rpm. However, developmental issues delayed the engine, and neither it nor the aircraft it was to power were ready for the 1929 Schneider contest. The first 18R engine, a geared drive version, was delivered to Nieuport in October 1929, a month after the contest.
The Schneider contest racer from Nieuport-Delage was known as the NiD-450, and two were ordered. It was a low wing, wire-braced seaplane of conventional layout. When installed in the NiD-450, the 18R was limited to 1,200 hp (895 kW) at 2,000 rpm. For the NiD-450, the engine’s nine carburetors were placed between the cylinder banks. This limited the interference between the fairings for the side cylinder banks and the wing. Although the engine was installed and test-run in the NiD-450 in 1929, the aircraft did not undergo tests until February 1930. The first flight was made by Sadi Lecointe at the end of April. The NiD-450 was damaged in June when the engine cowling came free while in flight and struck the aircraft. Once repaired, the aircraft was damaged again in July when it crashed while taking off.
A further development of the NiD-450 built for possible use in the 1931 Schneider contest was the NiD-650. In fact, the second NiD-450 was finished as the first NiD-650, and the first NiD-450 was rebuilt and modified, becoming the second NiD-650. Still powered by the Hispano-Suiza 18R, the first NiD-650 was delivered on 11 February 1931. Lecointe made the first flight on 12 March, but the aircraft’s handling was not good. Modifications and test flights continued, but the aircraft crashed on 22 July. The pilot, Ferdinand Lesne, was not harmed. The second NiD-650 was flown on 31 August by Lecointe. The aircraft performance was less than what was needed for the Schneider contest, and there was not enough time for any improvement.
The Schneider contest racer from Bernard was known as the HV120. Two were built, and the HV120 had a layout similar to the NiD-450. The HV120 used a direct drive 18R engine and was ready for tests in early 1930, long after the 1929 contest. For the HV120, the carburetors for the engine’s lower cylinder banks were placed under the banks. This allowed the side cylinder banks to be faired into the wings. Antoine Paillard undertook the aircraft’s testing and made the first flight on 25 March 1930. The highest recorded speed for the HV120 was 317 mph (510 km/h), far below the competition. Modifications were made for the HV120’s possible use in the 1931 contest, but by this time, the aircraft was mainly used for flight training while newer racers were prepared. Unfortunately, the first HV120 was destroyed when it crashed on 30 August 1931, killing its pilot, Georges Bougault, who was the leader of the French Schneider team. The second HV120 was ready for flight, but little effort was made to prepare it for the Schneider contest.
The Hispano-Suiza 18R had absolutely no success with the Schneider Trophy contest. The engine was delayed, but there were many issues with the racing aircraft as well. In an attempt to recoup its loss and make something out of the 18R, Hispano-Suiza detuned the engine for commercial use. Known as the 18Sb, the engine had its compression returned to 6.2, was limited to 2,000 rpm, and had an aluminum crankcase. With the changes, the engine had a respectable max output of 1,125 hp (840 kW) and a normal output of 1,000 hp (745 kW). With gear reduction the engine was known as the 18Sbr and weighed 1,300 lb (590 kg). Without rear reduction the engine was known as the 18Sb and weighed 1,138 lb (516 kg). Other dimensions were the same as the 18R, except the 18Sb’s height was slightly reduced to 45.3 in (1.15 m).
Although many projects were proposed to use the 18Sb, few were actually built. One aircraft that probably should have remained a project was the Ford 14-AT (some say 14-A), the last of the Ford trimotors. Developed in relative secrecy, the blunt nosed Ford 14-A was an all metal monoplane built in 1932 by the Stout Metal Airplane Division of the Ford Motor Company. The aircraft had a wingspan of 110 ft (33.5 m), length of 80 ft (24.4 m), and was built to carry 40 passengers. Two 715 hp (533 kW) Hispano-Suiza 12Nc V-12 engines were buried in the wings, and a single 18Sbr W-18 was mounted on a pylon atop the aircraft.
The 14-AT tried numerous times to take flight, none of which brought success. Originally designed for Pratt & Whitney air-cooled radial engines (Henry Ford made the engine change), the heavy 14-AT would not leave the ground and was damaged in an attempt to pry it free from earth. Reportedly, Edsel Ford ordered the 14-AT quietly scrapped in 1933, without ever making a public appearance.
One Hispano-Suiza 18Sbr engine is preserved at the Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace (Air & Space Museum) in Le Bourget, France.
*Technically, France’s 1929 Schneider efforts were started by the Ministère de la Marine (Ministry of the Navy). The Ministère de l’Air was not established until October 1928 and subsequently took over the Schneider efforts and other aviation projects.
Schneider Trophy Seaplanes and Flying Boats by Ralph Pegram (2012)
Hispano Suiza in Aeronautics by Manuel Lage (2004)
Aerosphere 1939 by Glenn Angle (1940)
Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft 1931 – 1933 by C.G. Grey
Beyond the Model T: The Other Ventures of Henry Ford by Ford Bryan (1997)