Background information

In-line engine = All the cylinders, i.e. 4, 6, 8 or 12 in number, were ranged in a single row in the engine block above the crankshaft that was driven by the reciprocating pistons. The airscrew (propeller) was fixed to one end of the crankshaft and was rotated by it.

V engine = Two rows of cylinders were arranged in a V shaped engine block set at an angle that on different models varied from 45 to 90 degrees and numbered from 6 to 12. The pistons drove the crankshaft that was located at the base of the V and the airscrew was fixed to the crankshaft and was rotated by it.

Radial engine = There was no crankshaft. The cylinders were arranged around the hub of the master-rod like the arms of a starfish. The pistons jointly drove the hub, and the airscrew, which was fixed to the hub, and was rotated by it.

Rotary engine = The cylinders with the pistons, and the entire engine block, rotated around a fixed crankshaft. The airscrew was fixed to the engine block and rotated with it. It had a very high power-to-weigh ratio and produced a pronounced gyroscopic effect that increasingly affected the handling of the aircraft the heavier and more powerful the engine was. Most modern pilots would look askance at having to deal with this potentially dangerous gyroscopic effect, and rotary engines went out of favour after the Great War.

A further disadvantage inherent in rotary engines was its need for additional lubrication - usually Castor Oil. The aviation fuel was mixed with air and fed into the engine via the crankshaft housing where it picked up any excess Castor Oil. The enriched mixture was fed into the cylinders for combustion. Unburnt Castor Oil was ejected from the engine exhaust. A cowling was usually fitted to contain this excess oil but inevitably both pilot and fuselage received a constant spray of it to the discomfort of the former. Hence the need for the famous fliers' muffler and goggles.

Introduction

War has long been known as the 'Mother of Invention' and the Great War proved the truth of this in a quite exceptional way. One of the areas of the most spectacular and rapid technical development was in the war planes, and in the engines that propelled them above the battlefields.

In 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright successfully achieved the vital equation essential for manned flight with their 12 horsepower (hp) engine of four in-line cylinders, i.e.

Weight of pilot + weight of aircraft + weight of engine and fuel.
= Less than
Aerodynamic lift of wing of aircraft and airframe design + propulsion power of engine.
=
Controlled manned flight.

The duration and speed of their flight was directly related to the capacity of their engine to drive the aircraft through the air in forward motion, the ability of the wings to provide the aerodynamic 'Lift' and the design of the airframe that allowed directional control.

Within 11 years of the Wright brothers' breakthrough, aviators were flying military aircraft above the Great War battlefields of France and Belgium as purposeful machines of war. Remarkably, these Great War aircraft were powered by petrol internal combustion engines of an astonishing range and variety.

Means of aircraft propulsion

The internal combustion engine was uniformly used in the Great War to turn the airscrew(s) that provided the thrust to force the aircraft through the air. Most airscrews were two bladed helices - usually carved from wood - and connected together at 180 degrees by a hub that attached them to the engine of the aircraft. They were based on the principle of the Achimedes Screw.

Exceptionally, four-bladed airscrews were widely used by the Royal Airforce Factory (RAF) on their light aircraft and less frequently by other manufacturers. However, they were more generally employed on larger aircraft such as bombers.

Contra-rotating propellers (two airscrews turning simultaneously in clockwise and anticlockwise directions on co-axial shafts) were not used in the Great War although they had been invented 40 years previously.

The pitch (or, more correctly, the effective pitch) of a airscrew blade is the distance that the blade moves forward in one revolution in air. This is determined by the 'angle of attack' of the airscrew - normally around 2 to 4 degrees - and in the Great War this angle was fixed by the manufacturer of the engine. The variable pitch propeller was not used on military aircraft until much later.

The faster the airscrew turns the higher speed that the aircraft is propelled through the air. Subject, of course, to wind resistance, or drag, created by the aerodynamics of the plane itself.

Aircraft engine systems employed in the Great War

Two engine systems were employed:

  • The Traction Engine
  • The Pusher Engine

The Traction Engine pulled the aircraft through the air. Accordingly, the airscrew and the engine were mounted on the front of the aircraft, and usually in front of the pilot. This reduced the forward vision of the pilot. It also meant that any forward firing gun had to be situated to fire outside of the arc of the airscrew, making aerial ballistics difficult to master. This problem was resolved in 1915 by the invention of the machine-gun interrupter gear. This device synchronised the timing of the firing of the bullets so each passed between the airscrew blades without hitting them. The synchronised interrupter gear was the key that made possible the genesis of the purpose built fighter aircraft that became such a critical factor in the air war of 1915-1918.

The Pusher Engine pushed the aircraft through the air. To achieve this, the engine and airscrew were mounted in the rear, usually behind the pilot. This arrangement gave the pilot and any observer an excellent forward view. It also meant that a machine gun(s) could be mounted on the very front of the aircraft giving a clear field of fire. The arrival of the interrupter gear largely cancelled out any limited advantage that pusher planes might have had, and they were phased out of the war.

On the heavier aircraft, such as the large bombers, one, two, or four engines were used to power multiple airscrews. A single engine mounted on the fuselage would have separate drive trains to two engines; or two or four separate engines could be mounted outboard of the fuselage either on the wing(s) or on a bi-plane, sandwiched between the wings. One of these heavier aircraft, the Handley Page V 1500, had two tractor and two pusher engines mounted in tandem.

A final means of propulsion was the glide. Here, an aircraft that had lost the power of its engine, whilst at sufficient altitude, could be flown in a controlled dive to provide a speed sufficient for the aircraft to glide to a soft landing on the ground. Of course, the aircraft had to be still structurally sound and air-worthy and a suitable landing site fortuitously located nearby.

Production of aircraft engines used in the Great War

The authoritative publication, Jane's Fighting Aircraft of World War I, lists a total of 65 national producers of aero-engines during the Great War. Inexplicably at least one, possibly more, manufactures was omitted e.g. Peugeot. The total listed national manufacturers by country are: 

Germany 18
Britain 17
USA 15
France 6
Italy 3
Austria 3
Holland 1
Denmark 1
Spain 1

From these companies the following engines were used in the corresponding national aircraft that went into service during the months of war in 1914 -18.

The supply of aero-engines to the principal new aircraft of the major airforces, 1914-1918.

Austria/Hungary

* = Number of cylinders.
** = Number of engines, 

Year Engine Power Airspeed Type
1915 Hiero, 6* in-line. 145hp. 128kph Lloyd C.II.
1915 Austro-Daimler, 6 in-line. 120hp. 109kph Aviatik B.II.
1916 Austro-Daimler, 6 in-line. 160hp. 140kph Hansa- Brandenburg C.I.
1916 Austro-Daimler, 6 in-line. 160hp. 137kph Lohner C.I.
1916 Benz Bz.III, 6 in-line. 150hp. 175kph Hansa- Brandenburg CC.
1916 Austro-Daimler, 6 in-line. 160hp. 187kph Hansa- Brandenburg D.I.
1917 Austro-Daimler, 6 in-line. 200hp. 185kph Aviatik D.I.
1918 Hiero, 6 in-line. 230hp. 177kph Phonix C.I.
1918 Hiero, 6 in-line. 230hp. 190kph Ufag C.I.
1918 Hiero, 6 in-line. 200hp. 180kph Phonix D.I.

Like the Austro-Hungarian aircraft manufacturers, the three national engine makers relied on German technology and stuck to the German philosophy of in-line engines totally eschewing both radial and rotary engines. The locally produced Hiero and Daimler engines were of high power and durability, although some problems with over-heating with the more powerful Daimler engines were never fully resolved.

France

* = Number of cylinders.
** = Number of engines,

Year Engine Power Airspeed Type
1914 Gnome A, 7* rotary. 70hp 106kph Blériot XI.
1914 Gnome A, 7 rotary. 80hp 100kph Farman HF.20.
1914 Gnome A, 7 rotary. 80hp 114kph Deperdussin TT.
1914 Gnome A, 7 rotary. 80hp 116kph R.E.P.N.
1914 Renault, V8*. 100hp 106kph Farman MF.11.
1914 Le Rhone 9*J, rotary. 110hp 165kph Morane-Saulnier N.
1914 Canton Unné, 9* radial. 120hp 120kph Voisin 3.
1914 Le Rhone 9J, rotary. 110hp 156kph Morane-Saulnier P.
1914 Canton-Unné, 9 radial. 130hp 109kph Breguet 1914.
1915 Le Rhone, 7 rotary. 80hp 146kph Morane-Saulnier BB.
1915 Canton Unné, 9 radial. 150hp 105kph Voisin 5.
1915 Anzani Star, 9 radial x 2**. 100hp 132kph Caudron G .4.
1915 Clerget 9B, rotary. 130hp 110kph F.B.A. C.
1915 Le Rhone, 7 rotary. 80hp 156kph Nieuport 11 (Bébé).
1915 Le Rhone 9J, rotary. 110hp 130kph Spad A.2.
1915 Clerget 9B, rotary. 130hp 155kph Nieuport 12.
1915 Renault, V8. 160hp 135kph Farman F.40.
1915 Renault, V8. 220hp 142kph Breguet Br. M.5.
1916 Le Rhone, 7 rotary x 2. 80hp 137kph Morane-Saulnier T.
1916 Hispano-Suiza, V8. 150hp 109kph Nieuport 14.
1916 Peugeot, 8 in-line. 220hp 132kph Voisin 8.
1916 Hispano-Suiza 8Aa, V8. 150hp 192kph Spad VII.
1916 Le Rhone 9J, rotary. 110hp 177kph Nieuport 17.
1916 Hispan-Suiza 8Aa,V8. 235hp 176kph Spad XI.
1917 Renault, V8. 190hp 152kph Dorand AR.1.
1917 Gnome N, 9 rotary. 160hp 208kph Morane Saulnier A.1.
1917 Le Rhone 9J, rotary. 110hp 183kph Hanriot HD.1.
1917 Lorraine-Dietrich x 2. 160hp 132kph Letord 4.
1917 Salmson, 9 radial. 160hp 130kph Salmson-Moineau S.M.1.
1917 Renault, V8. 265hp 135kph Paul Schmitt 7.
1917 Renault FCX, V12. 300hp 177kph Breguet 14 Br. B.2.
1917 Hispano-Suiza 8 Bec, V8. 235hp 222kph Spad XIII.
1917 Le Rhone 9Jb, rotary. 120hp 187kph Nieuport 27.
1917 Gnome N, 9 rotary. 160hp 196kph Nieuport 28.
1918 Lorraine-Dietrich, x 2. 250hp 151kph Farman F.50.
1918 Hispano-Suiza, V8. 300hp 237kph Nieuport 29.
1918 Canton-Unné 9, radial. 260hp 185kph Salmsom 2.
1918 Hispano-Suiza 8.B, V8 x 2. 220hp 183kph Caudron R.11.

In terms of commercial activity and innovation, France was indubitably at the forefront of military aviation when the Great War began. This momentum and domination continued throughout the early years of the war until British and German aviation industries got into their stride and surpassed French production. However, it was the French who mainly supplied the needs of both Belgium and Russia and met the early requirements of the Americans when they entered the War. Also in times of crisis the British also sought French help.

It will be seen that the majority of French Great War aircraft were fitted with aero-engines by the manufacturers: Gnome/Le Rhone; Renault, and Hispano-Suiza. Gnome/Le Rhone were rotary engines, whilst Renault and Hispano-Suiza were V-engines.

Uniquely, Canton-Unné radial engines were also widely used.

Many French engines were also supplied to other manufacturers of Allied aircraft: mainly under licence or produced by sister companies.

Germany

* = Number of cylinders.
** = Number of engines,

Year Engine Power Airspeed Type
1914 Mercedes, 6* in-line. 100hp 109kph Otto B
1914 Mercedes, 6 in-line. 100hp 103kph Etrich Taube (Albatross A).
1914 Mercedes, 6 in-line. 100hp 105kph Albatross B.II.
1914 Mercedes, 6 in-line. 100hp 120kph D.F.W. B.I.
1914 Mercedes, 6 in-line. 110hp ? A.E.G. B.II.
1915 Mercedes D.III, 6 in-line. 160hp 120kph Aviatix C.I.
1915 Benz II, 6 in-line x 3**. 150hp 130kph Siemens-Schuckert R.1.
1915 Mercedes, D.III, 6, in-line. 160hp 130kph L.V.G. C.II.
1915 Mercedes, D.III, 6, in-line. 160hp 132kph Albatross C.I.
1915 Mercedes, D.III, 6, in-line. 160hp 152kph Rumpler C.I.
1915 Oberursel, 9* rotary. 100hp 141kph Fokker E.III.
1915 Mercedes D.III, 6 in-line. 100hp 165kph L.F.G. Roland C.II.
1915 Benz, Bz.IV, 6 in-line. 220hp 135kph A.G.O. C.II.
1916 Mercedes D.III, 6 in-line. 160hp 140kph Albatross C.III.
1916 Mercedes D.III, 6 in-line. 160hp 161kph Albatross W.4.
1916 Mercedes D.IVa, 6 in-line. 260hp 166kph A.E.G. G.IV.
1916 Mercedes D.III, 6 in-line. 220hp 170kph Albatross C.V.
1916 Benz II, 6 in-line. 150hp 172kph Hansa- Brandenburg KDW.
1916 Mercedes D.III, 6 in-line x2. 150hp ? Albatross G.II.
1916 Mercedes D.II, 6 in-line. 120hp 145kph Halberstadt D.II.
1916 Mercedes D.III, 6 in-line. 160hp 175kph Albatross D.II
1916 Mercedes D.III, 6 in-line. 160hp 158kph A.E.G. C.IV
1916 Siemens-Halske, rotary. 110hp 175kph Siemens-Schuckert D. I.
1916 Benz Bz.IV, 6 in-line. 200hp 170kph Albatross C.VII.
1916 Mercedes D.III, in-line. 160hp 130kph Sablatnig S.F.2.
1916 Benz Bz.IV, 6 in-line. 200hp 155kph D.F.W. C.V.
1916 Mercedes D.III. in-line. 160hp 153kph Rumpler 6B.1.
1917 Mercedes D.IVa, 6 in-line. 260hp 176kph Albatross C.X.
1917 Mercedes D.VIa, 6 in-line x 2. 260hp 141kph Friedrichshafen G.III
1917 Mercedes D.VIa, 6 in-line x 2. 260hp 140kph Gotha G.V.
1917 Mercedes D..IVa, 6in-line x 4 260hp 135kph Zeppelin Starken R.VI.
1917 Mercedes D.IIIa, 6 in-line. 176hp 176kph Albatross D.III.
1917 Le Rhone 9J-Thulin, rotary. 110hp 165kph Fokker Dr.1
1917 Mercedes D.III, 6 in-line, 160hp 165kph Halberstadt CL.II.
1917 Benz Bz.III, 6 in-line. 180hp 161kph Hansa-Brandenburg W.12.
1917 Mercedes D.III, 6 in-line. 160hp 165kph Pfalz D.III.
1917 Mercedes D.III, 6 in-line. 160hp 169kph L.F.G. Roland D.II.
1917 Mercedes D.IIIa, 6 in-line. 180hp 187kph Albatross D.Va.
1917 Siemens-Halske Sh.III, rotary. 160hp 180kph Siemens-Schuckert D.III.
1917 Mercedes D.III, 6 in-line. 160hp 199kph Rumpler DI.
1917 Siemens-Halske Sh.III, rotary. 160hp 201kph Pfalz Dr.I.
1917 Mercedes D.IV, 6 in-line. 260hp 171kph Rumpler C.IV.
1917 Mercedes D.IV, 6 in-line. 200hp 125kph Sablatnig N.I.
1917 Benz Bz.IV, 6 in-line. 200hp 140kph Albatross J.I.
1918 Benz II, 6 in-line. 150hp 175kph Hansa-Brandenburg W.29.
1918 Benz Bz.IIIa, 6 in-line. 200hp 190kph L.G.V. C.VI.
1918 Argus, 6 in-line. 180hp 165kph Hannover CL.IIIA.
1918 Benz Bz.IIIa, 6 in-line. 200hp 183kph L.F.G. Roland D.VIb.
1918 BMW IIIa, 6 in-line. 185hp 186kph Junkers D.I
1918 Benz Bz.IV, 6 in-line. 220hp 170kph Halberstadt C.V.
1918 Mercedes D.III, 6 in-line. 160hp 189kph Fokker D.VII.
1918 Mercedes D.IIIa, 6 in-line.
180hp 169kph Junker CL.I.
1918 Mercedes D.IIIa, 6 in-line. 180hp 180kph Pfalz D.XII.
1918 Mercedes D.IVa, 6 in-line. 260hp 176kph Albatross C.XII.
1918 Oberursel UR.II, 9 rotary. 110hp 185kph Fokker D.VIII.
1918 BMW IIIa, 6 in-line. 185hp 201kph Dornier D.I.
1918 Siemens-Halske Sh. III, rotary. 160hp 190kph Albatross D.XI.
1918 Benz Bz.IV, 6 in-line. 200hp 155kph Junker J.I.

The German aviation industry got off to a slow start. However, their major source of engines for the entire Great War was almost exclusively the Mercedes-Daimler Company - the company had won national prizes for excellence of their aero-engines in 1911 and 1913. The figure of between 85 to 90% is quoted as the level of domination of the market by Mercedes. Benz and a few other manufacturers had a sizeable production but a relatively small overall output.

From the start the Germans chose the 6 cylinder in-line engine as their standard and this format proved to be both highly reliable and durable. A few rotary engines were used by the Germans, but nowhere near the scale of the deployment by the Allies. In all 48,537 aircraft were supplied with German engines of which something in excess of 40,000 were Mercedes.

Great Britain

* = Number of cylinders.
** = Number of engines, 

Year Engine Power Airspeed Type
1914 Gnome A, 7* rotary. 80hp 83mph Avro 504.A.
1914 RAF 1.a. V8*. 90hp 73mph R.A.F. BE 2.c.
1914 Gnome B.2, 9* rotary. 100hp 71mph Vickers FB.5.
1914 Beardmore, 6* in-line. 120hp 78mph R.A.F. RE.5.
1914 Gnome A, 7 rotary. 80hp 96mph Martinsyde S.1.
1914 Gnome A, 7 rotary. 80hp 96mph R.A.F. B.E.8.
1914 Gnome A, 7 rotary. 80hp 96mph R.A.F. S.E.2a.
1914 Gnome A, 7 rotary. 80hp 93mph Sopwith Tabloid.
1915 Gnome A, 7 rotary. 80hp 100mph Bristol Scout D.
1915 Beardmore/Green, 6 in line. 100/120hp 81mph R.A.F. F.E.2a.
1915 Beardmore, 6 in-line. 120hp 88mph Airco D.H.1A.
1915 R.A.F. 1a, V8.     90hp 90hp 88mph Armstrong Whitworth F.K.3.
1915 Beardmore, 6 in-line. 160hp 91mph R.A.F. F.E.2b.
1915 R.A.F. 4a, V12. 150hp 86mph R.A.F. RE.7.
1915 Sunbeam, V12,     240hp 240hp 88mph Short 184.
1916 Gnome B2, 9 rotary. 100hp 83mph Vickers F.B. 9.
1916 R.A.F.1a, V8. 90hp 83mph R.A.F. B.E.2e.
1916 Gnome B2, 9 rotary. 100hp 94mph Vickers F.B.12.
1916 Beardmore, 6 in-line. 120hp 81mph R.A.F. F.E.2c.
1916 R.A.F, 4a, V12. 150hp 102mph R.A.F. RE.8.
1916 Le Rhone 9J, rotary. 110hp 98mph Vickers F.B.19.
1916 Gnome B2, 9 rotary. 100hp 94mph R.A.F. FE.8
1916 Rolls Royce Eagle, V12. 250hp 94mph R.A.F. F.E.2d.
1916 R.A.F. 4a, V12. 150hp 103mph R.A.F. RE.8.
1916 Gnome B2, 9 rotary. 100hp 94mph Airco D.H.2.
1916 R.A.F. 4a, V12. 150hp 103mph R.A.F. BE.12.
1916 Clerget 9Z, rotary. 110hp 101mph Sopwith 1.1/2 Strutter.
1916 Le Rhone 9C, rotary. 90hp 112mph Sopwith Pup.
1916 Rolls Royce Eagle II, V12 x 2**. 250hp 96mph Handley-Page 0/100.
1916 Rolls Royce Eagle III, V12. 250hp 78mph Short Bomber.
1916 Beardmore, 6 in-line. 120hp 96mph Martinsyde G.100 (Elephant).
1916 Rolls Royce Falcon I, V12. 190hp 111mph Bristol F.2A.
1917 R.A.F.1a, V8. 90hp 66mph Airco D.H.6.
1917 Le Rhone 9J, rotary. 110hp 131mph Bristol M.1C.
1917 Hispano-Suiza, V8. 150hp 123mph R.A.F. S.E.5.
1917 Rolls Royce Eagle VIII, V12 x 2. 345hp 96mph Felixstowe F.2A.
1917 Rolls Royce Eagle VIII, V12 x 2. 360hp 98mph Handley-Page 0/400.
1917 Rolls Royce Falcon III, V12. 275hp 123mph Bristol F.2B.
1917 Wolsley W.40 Viper, V8. 200hp 139mph R.A.F. S.E.5a.
1917 Clerget 9B, rotary. 130hp 113mph Sopwith Triplane.
1917 Clerget 9B, rotary. 130hp 116mph Sopwith F.1 Camel.
1917 B.R.1, 9 rotary. 150hp 125mph Sopwith 2F.1 Camel.
1917 Beardmore, 6 in-line. 160hp 99mph Armstrong Whitworth F.K. 8.
1917 B.R.1, 9 rotary. 200hp 138mph Austin-Ball A.F.B.1.
1917 Clerget, 9B, rotary, 100/130hp 99mph Sopwith Baby.
1917 Rolls Royce Eagle VIII, V12. 375hp 144mph Airco D.H.4.
1917 Le Rhone 9J, rotary 110hp 103mph Airco D.H.5.
1917 Rolls Royce Eagle VIII, V12. 345hp 81mph Fairey F.17 Campania.
1917 Sunbeam Arab, V8. 200hp 104mph Sopwith T.1 Cuckoo.
1917 Rolls Royce Falcon III, V12, 200hp 130mph Martinsyde F.3.
1918 B.H.P., 6 in-line. 230hp 113mph Airco D.H.9.
1918 Le Rhone 9J, rotary. 110hp 91mph Avro 504.K.
1918 Hispano-Suiza 8.F,V8 300hp 133mph Martinsyde F.4,Buzzard.
1918 Rolls Royce Falcon II, V12 x2. 225hp 101mph Blackburn Kangaroo.
1918 Liberty, V12. 400hp 124mph Airco D.H.9A.
1918 Rolls Royce Eagle VIII, V12 x 4. 373hp 91mph Handley-Page V/1500.
1918 Bentley B.R.2, 9 rotary. 250hp 122mph Sopwith 7F.1 Snipe
1918 Rolls Royce Eagle VIII, V12 x 2. 360hp 103mph Vickers Vimy.
1918 A.B.C. Wasp I, 7 radial. 170hp 129mph B.A.T. Bantam Mk1.

The British aviation industry produced a large number of indigenous aircraft and engines to match. Other marques were produced under licence. Large numbers of rotary engines, mainly of French design, were used, e.g. in the highly successful Sopwith F.1 Camel. But only one radial entered service on the Western Front - the British Aerial Transport Company's B.A.T. Bantam, Mk. 1 - of which only 12 were constructed.

The Rolls Royce series of V engines, were extremely successful during the latter part of the War. And it is interesting to note how the output of the most powerful Rolls Royce engine used in the Great War - the Eagle VIII at 360hp- compared with that of the Merlin Mark III engine which powered both the Battle of Britain Mark IA Spitfire and Hurricane I, and delivered 1,030hp.

One British aircraft type was fitted with the new American Liberty engine in 1918 and, had the War continued into 1919, no doubt many more would have been supplied.

Italy

* = Number of cylinders.
** = Number of engines, 

Year Engine Power Airspeed Type
1914 Gnome A, 7* rotary. 80hp 125kph Macchi Parasol.
1914 Gnome A, 7* rotary. 80hp 130kph Caproni Ca.2.
1915 Isotta-Fraschini, 6* in-line. 150hp 110kph Macchi L.1.
1915 Isotta-Fraschini, 6 in-line. 160hp 160kph Macchi L.2.
1916 Isotta-Fraschini, 6 in-line. 160hp 145kph Macchi L.3.
1916 Fiat A12, 6 in-line. 260hp 120kph S.I.A S.P.2.
1917 Isotta-Fraschini, 6 in-line. 170hp 162kph Macchi M.8.
1917 Isotta-Fraschini V4.B, 6 in-line, 150hp 137kph Caproni Ca.3.x 3**.
1917 Fiat A12, 6 in-line. 260hp 187kph S.I.A. 7B.1.
1917 Fiat A12, 6 in-line. 300hp 162kph SAML S.2
1917 Isotta-Fraschini, 6 in-line. 170hp 142kph S.I.A.I. S.8.
1918 Isotta-Fraschini, 6 in-line. 250hp 207kph S.V.A.10.
1918 Fiat A.12 , double 6 in-line. 300hp 187kph Macchi 9.
1918 Isotta-Fraschini, 6 in-line x 3. 270hp 126kph Caproni Ca. 4.
1918 S.P.A. 6.A, 6 in-line. 220hp 220kph Ansoldo A.1.Balilla. (Hunter).
1918 Fiat A12, 6 in-line. 260hp 194kph Pomilio PE.
1918 Fiat A12, double 6 in-line, x 3. 300hp 152kph Caproni Ca.5
1918 S.P.A. 6.A, 6 in-line. 220hp 230kph Ansaldo S.V. A.5.  
1918 Isotta-Fraschini V6B, 6 in-line. 250hp 205kph Macchi M.5.
1918 S.P.A. 6A, 6 in-line. 220hp 219kph Ansaldo S.V. A.9
1918 Fiat A12, 6 in-line double. 300hp 175kph Fiat R.2.
1918 Fiat A14, V12*. 700hp 205kph S.I.A. 9.B

The construction of purely Italian aircraft for the Great War, only started around the time Italy entered the war in 1915. Up to then French Gnome rotary engines were used.

All three Italian aero-engine manufactures made contributions and uniformly followed the 6 in-line cylinder format except Fiat which produced a V12 engine in 1918. At 700hpthe Fiat A14, V12 was the most powerful aero-engine of the War.

In 1917 alone, 6,726 Italian engines were produced.

Russia.

* = Number of cylinders.
** = Number of engines,

Year Engine Power Airspeed Type
1915 Sunbeam, V6* x 4** 150hp 121kph Sikorsky Ilya Mourometz V
1916 Salmson, 9* radial 150hp 134kph Lebel 12
1917 Salmson, 9 radial 150hp 144kph Anatra DS

Russia had a weak aviation industry that was ultimately seriously affected by the disorganisation wreaked by the October Revolution in 1917. According, throughout the War it depended for its supply of engines from its European Allies, France and Britain.

United States of America.

* = Number of cylinders.

Year Engine Power Airspeed Type
1916 Curtiss OX5, V8* 90hp 76mph Curtiss JN. 4 (Jenny)
1917 Curtiss OXX2, V8 100hp 113mph Curtiss S. 3
1917 Curtiss OX6, V8 100hp 71mph Curtiss N. 9
1917 Le Rhone, 9* rotary 180hp 96mph Thomas-Morse S. 4
1918 Gnome N, 9* rotary 160hp 133mph Orenco B.
1918 Liberty 12A, V12 400hp 132mph Packard Le Pere-Lusac 11
1918 Le Rhone, 7 rotary 80hp 100mph Standard E-1
1918 Wright-Hispano H, V8 380hp 148mph Wright-Martin M.8
1918 Liberty 12A, V12 400hp  ? mph Bristol-Curtiss F.28
1918 Liberty 12A, V12 380hp 133mph Curtiss HA
1918 Liberty 12A, V12 x2** 400hp 88mph Curtiss H. 16
1918 Kirkham K12, V12 400hp 169mph Curtiss 18. T

The input of American planes and engines was relatively small during the Great War, although very large orders of American aircraft and engines were in the pipe-line at the time of the Armistice. Once the Americans arrived on the Western Front the interim was filled with exclusively French aircraft of the types Nieuport and Spad. The earlier American manufactured aircraft on the Western Front were fitted with rotary engines by Le Rhone.

The 1917 Liberty V12 engines were exceptionally powerful, delivering 400hp.

Conclusions

The further development of the aircraft engine that took place during the Great War was an incredible technical achievement, particularly so in France where an important part of the munitions infra-structure was in German occupied territory. Some of the more important technical innovations were made before the Great War began, but they greatly influenced the design of the engines that were developed during the Great War.

The number of engines produced for each type of aircraft obviously varied enormously. Some had extremely long runs, like the Gnome and Le Rhone rotaries and the Mercedes six cylinder in-lines. But others had quite short production runs as a result of curtailment by operational failure or the unanticipated rapid ending of the War.

As far as increased engine performance was concerned, a big factor was the improvement in metallurgy that amongst other advances produced aluminium alloys that hardened with age. An alloy of aluminium, copper, magnesium and magnesium was patented pre-War by the Germans as Duralumin, or Dural. The British discovered another alloy - aluminium, copper, nickel and magnesium - with similar strengthening properties, and called it 'Y Alloy'. These and other alloys provided engines with enhanced performance and durability characteristics, although the major developments with this technology only came at the end of the Great War and afterwards.

If one were to choose a small number of aero-engines which best chart this rapid development, perhaps a reasonable selection would be:

1. 1906: Antoinette, 50hp French

Although this French engine was designed long before the Great War, it had some original features that greatly affected the design of the Great War engines.

It was a robust eight-cylinder 'V' engine with the banks of four cylinders set at 90 degrees. It offered exceptional power for the time and refinements such as direct fuel injection.

2. 1909: Anzani, 25hp French.

Also a pre-war designed engine. Although lacking in power, it had design features that greatly influenced the early engines used in the war. It had three cylinders, was air-cooled, and was a semi-radial with automatic inlet and outlet valves.

2, 3. 1909: Gnome, 50hp French.

A completely revolutionary design of rotary engine with seven cylinders, air-cooled and a single valve per cylinder - the famous Monosoupape. The design was developed in ever more powerful versions throughout the Great War; particularly for use in Allied fighter aircraft. As the engine size and power increased, so did the gyroscopic effect of the rotating engine and inexperienced pilots did get into difficulties. More experienced pilots used the effect to their advantage to produce tighter turns in aerial combat.

3. 4. 1913: Le Rhone, 80hp French.

From the same stable as the Gnome, this was a revolutionary rotary engine of nine cylinders with good reliability, although the gyroscopic effect could, and did, cause difficulties in inexperienced hands. It was used throughout the war in many Allied aircraft types. It had outstanding engine torque (traction power) and a smooth running action.

5. 1915: Rolls Royce Eagle 360hp(and Falcon 280hp), British.

A huge V12 (angle = 60 degrees) water-cooled power-plant of impeccable performance, with a excellent mechanical balance and a superior power-to-weight ratio.

6. 1917: Mercedes, 180hp German.

Highly reliable and durable six cylinder vertical in-line water cooled engine. The chosen power-plant for many German aircraft types throughout the duration of the war.

7. 1917: Liberty, 400hp American

A wholly American government sponsored aero-engine - with the active co-operation of Britain, France and Italy - for which the highly standardised parts were made by every US motor car manufacturer. One of the most powerful aero-engines of the Great War it was a V12 (angle = 45 degrees) and water-cooled. Although a thousand Liberty engines were manufactured in the USA, it arrived too late on the front-line to have the significant effect expected of it.

The Liberty aero-engine was the first truly international model and had provision for four standardised versions with from four to twelve cylinders.

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