Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


IT WAS disquieting enough when a prop disappeared, as it did in the transition of Saab 21A to 21R (see Yet in the early days of aviation, there were also occurrences of the propeller and its engine appearing in the oddest places.

As early photographic evidence is rare, I will illustrate with examples of aeroplanes I constructed for Microsoft Flight Simulator. Visit for free downloads of these and many other craft.

The first example, the 1915 Spad A2, is one of my earlier construction efforts designed with Flight Simulator Flight Shop. Among this software’s challenges were limits on the number of parts and assemblies; thus my adoption of “Little Red Blockhead” as my minimalist aviator. The original model was designed for Microsoft Flight Simulator 5.1, circa 1997. Another simmer, Russ Rodgers, has kindly converted it to a later sim, making it functional with my FS9 version.

World War I fighter pilots had to contend with aiming the aeroplane to aim ordnance, yet somehow accomplish this without shooting the propeller to pieces. Some designers chose the pusher-prop layout, but this degraded efficiency of propulsion. Plated propeller blades were another interesting gambit.

Frenchman Louis Bechereau had a rather more bizarre approach. The Spad A2’s gunner rode ahead of the prop, a skimpy screen his only protection from it.

The Spad A2’s hapless gunner had a clear view ahead, though I doubt he was happy with his location.

The gunner’s pulpit could be swung forward and downward to give access to the aircraft’s 9-cylinder Le Rhone rotary. As a rotary, this was a radial engine that spun with the propeller, thus adding its own peculiarities to the aircraft’s flight dynamics. Like others with this engine configuration (notoriously, the Sopwith Camel), the A2 displayed markedly different maneuvering to the left or to the right.

The pilot’s view forward wasn’t particularly good either.

About 100 Spad A2s were manufactured. French pilots—and especially gunners—couldn’t be rid of the A2 quickly enough. Apparently being harder up for aeroplanes, the Russian Air Service kept theirs.

My second example of oddly placed propulsion, the Borel Monoplane, was a French observation craft with an unorthodox means of providing excellent views for its pilot and observer.

A flying magic trick: The Borel was an aviation version of sawing the lady in half.

A pusher-prop layout optimized observation. And, in lieu of twin booms as fitted to other pusher types, the Borel’s propeller seemingly cut the aircraft in two. This prop ran on a single boom that, together with added struts and rigging, supported the tail structure.

The Borel’s engine was a rotary, its radial cylinders spinning with the propeller.

Flight sim data: This model was built with GMax. The versatility of this more recent mini-cad-cam software is evident in comparing the Borel’s rendering with that of the FSFS Spad A2.

The last example is historically the earliest of the three: the 1912 Farman Biplane flown by J.L. Travers with Claude Grahame-White during the latter’s pre-WWI “Wake Up! England!” campaign.

Equipped with either floats or wheels, the Farman could use any smooth surface, land or water, for operation.

Its oddity as a pusher lies in the Farman’s placement of its rotary engine aft of the propeller. Could the engine have gained enhanced cooling in this location? As a tradeoff, it certainly would have affected the prop thrust.

Other aircraft of the period, the Bristol Boxkite, for example, shared this Farman’s odd engine/prop orientation.

Graham-White is said to have enjoyed night flights above the English countryside, the aeroplane suitably emblazoned with electric bulbs on the lower wing surface and fuselage.

The “Wake Up! England!” Farman is another GMax effort.

All in good fltsim fun. ds

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