By William Pearce
Romanian Henri Marie Coandă is perhaps best known for observing the way a stream of fluid (such as air) is attracted to and will flow over a nearby surface. This component of fluid dynamics became known as the Coandă Effect. Coandă recognized this phenomenon while testing his first aircraft, built in 1910. This aircraft had a unique propulsion system that Coandă called a turbo-propulseur, and it is recognized as the first “jet” aircraft. A four-cylinder, 50 hp Clerget engine was used to power a rotary compressor that provided thrust. While there is some debate about the validity of the aircraft’s first and only flight and its subsequent destruction, the aircraft was certainly built to be propelled by a jet of fast-flowing air.
Coandă’s second aircraft was built in France and completed in 1911. It utilized some salvaged and spare parts from the 1910 aircraft. The 1911 aircraft was originally designed to use a turbo-propulseur, but it was finished with a conventional propeller. The aircraft’s engine arrangement, however, was not conventional.
The 1911 aircraft was a rather large monoplane with a parasol wing mounted above the cockpit. A small lifting surface with a nickel steel spar joined the two main landing gear which were each comprised of two tandem wheels. Each main gear wheel set was encased in a large fairing. A single vertical strut made of nickel steel extended above each gear fairing and supported the wing. The wings had a nickel steel spar and were covered by fabric. The aircraft’s roll control was achieved by wing warping. Coandă’s 1911 aircraft had a cruciform tail similar to that used on the 1910 aircraft. The fins of the tail formed an X, and each fin had a trailing control surface that acted as both a rudder and an elevator.
A rectangular support structure was formed by the upper and lower spar and the vertical struts above the wheels. The fuselage was suspended in this support structure by a series of brace wires and small struts. Additional wire bracing and struts supported the rest of the aircraft’s structure. Except for where the engines were mounted, the fuselage had a circular cross section that narrowed to a point at the tail. The front of the fuselage was covered by aluminum sheeting, the cockpit section was covered by plywood sheeting, and the rear of the aircraft was fabric-covered.
Perhaps the most unusual feature of Coandă’s 1911 monoplane was its engine installation and propeller drive. At the front of the aircraft were two Gnome 7 Gamma rotary engines. The seven-cylinder engines had a 5.1 in (130 mm) bore, a 4.7 in (120 mm) stroke, and a total displacement of 680 cu in (11.1 L). The 7 Gamma produced 70 hp (52 kW) at 1,200 rpm and weighed 194 lb (88 kg).
The engines were installed front-to-front with their crankshafts perpendicular to the aircraft’s fuselage. While the engines’ cylinders were exposed to the slipstream for cooling, the front of the engines were enclosed within the fuselage. Mounted between the engines was a gearbox that drove a propeller shaft. The propeller shaft extended to the front of the aircraft where it drove a four-blade propeller. The engines and gearbox were mounted to a steel frame. Coandă claimed that the aircraft could fly with just one engine operating.
Most likely, the engines turned in opposite directions relative to each other. While this arrangement would cancel out the gyroscopic effects of the rotary engines along the pitch axis, it would induce some tendency to roll, even if just slightly. Some sources indicate the engines were “handed” —they rotated the same direction relative to each other. In addition to the complications in making a rotary engine run “backward,” the “handed” engine configuration would create a noticeable pitch moment on the aircraft as the engines were throttled (blipped), but it would also alleviate any tendency for the aircraft to roll. However, an early sketch of the engine arrangement indicates “handed” engines were not installed, and that a simple beveled gear arrangement was used to transfer power from the engines to the propeller shaft. Additionally, the transfer gearbox did not appear to be of sufficient size to accommodate the differential gearing needed for a “handed” engine arrangement.
The 1911 Coandă monoplane had a wingspan of 53 ft 6 in (16.3 m) and a length of 41 ft (12.5 m). The aircraft had an empty weight of 1,036 lb (470 kg) and a maximum weight of 2,756 lb (1,250 kg). Two fuel tanks of around 30 gallons (115 L) each were housed in the center section of the wing. Reportedly, the aircraft could accommodate a pilot and two passengers. The estimated speed of the 1911 monoplane was 81 mph (130 km/h).
Coandă’s 1911 monoplane was tested in the Concours Militaire (Military Competition), held in Reims, France in late October 1911. Georges de Boutiny flew the aircraft, but it reportedly did not meet performance expectations. Later, wing extensions were added to the wheel fairings, turning the aircraft into a sesquiplane. Along with additional wire bracing, a vertical strut connected the end of the wing extension to the upper wing.
A Coandă aircraft catalog from 1911 offered both the monoplane and sesquiplane versions of the aircraft with either 50 hp (37 kW) Omega or 70 hp (52 kW) Gamma Gnome rotary engines. It appears that only the single prototype of the Coandă 1911 aircraft was built, and exactly what happened to it is not known. The 1911 aircraft faded into history, and Henri Coandă went on to build other aircraft and further explore fluid dynamics.
Note: Some claim that Coandă’s 1911 aircraft was the first twin-engine aircraft. However, at least four other twin-engine aircraft preceded it in flight: the Daimler Lutskoy No. 1 (flew 10 March 1910, or possibly earlier), Edward Andrew’s twin (flew early 1910), Roger Sommer’s twin (flew 27 September 1910), and the Queen Speed Monoplane (flew 10 July 1911).
– Henri Coandă and His Technical Work During 1906-1918 by Dan Antoniu, et al (2010)
– French Aeroplanes before the Great War by Leonard E. Opdycke (1999)
– Romanian Aeronautical Constructors 1905-1974 by Gudju, Iacibescu, and Ionescu (1974)
– Henri Coanda: The Facts by New Fluid Technology (4.3 MB pdf)
Actually, the first jet powered aircraft may have been small rocket powered bird models the Chinese claim to have made c1600. They had no vertical, and my fantasy is that they swooped around in entertaining manner as a result. This was shown in an official travelling exhibit about 30 years ago, but I can find no reference — I would like to build a replica and see how it flys. At the 1990 model rocketry World Championships I met the builder of the rocket model depicted in the Deutsches Museum. This was for a pre Great War model contest — the guy was trying to avoid torque to get a maximum straight line distance. I believe he won. I recall it as looking vaguely Coandaish. About 60 years ago, R.A.F. Flying review illustrated a delta wing! model rocket test around 1908. And Why is the flow from a propellor Not a jet?
Since writing the above, I have dipped into the relevant section of the great series on Chinese science and technology. Apparently around 1350 the Chinese had small rocket airplanes that launched rocket munitions. The range would have been very short and the aiming probably almost non existent, but maybe it scared the enemy half to death. (The earliest human sustained flight was probably via manned kite in ancient China.)