Steam Plane

Rossa‘s two recent postings on the Tornado and Fred Dibnah set me thinking about the golden age of steam when everything was steam powered. (Most of our electricity is still generated by steam but that’s another story.)

But first, by way of an intro, some music:

When I first heard this I thought it was another typical piece of whimsy from John Hartford.

Steam trains, steam rollers, steam ships I knew about. Even a few steam cars in the early days of motoring and, more recently, I’ve heard of steam bicycles but a steam plane? It seemed highly unlikely; how would it carry enough water for example? Water is rather heavy and it would need a very powerful aircraft to lift such a weight off the ground but then I came across this and this:

On 20th April 1933 William Besler took off from Oakland Airport, California in a steam driven aircraft which he and his brother George had designed andbuilt. It was the result of three years of work and secret experimentation in a machine shop in Emeryville, California.

“This blue machine, with William Besler at the controls, sped down the runway and climbed into the air without a sound except the low whine of the propeller and the hum of wind through the wires. Swinging back over the field at 200 feet, the pilot shouted ‘Hello!’ and heard the answering callsfrom spectators below.”

I had never heard of a steam plane before I came across that page on the web So I wondered if there might be film of it somewhere and I found some here:


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5 comments for “Steam Plane

  1. Rossa
    September 27, 2010 at 20:22

    Great post JD.

    I used to have a set of steam rollers for my hair but that’s the only contribution I have to make to this history of the science of steam.

  2. September 27, 2010 at 20:30

    I wish I had the hair to put them in.

  3. September 27, 2010 at 21:30

    and Jerry Douglas on dobro.

    Great post, JD

  4. JD
    September 27, 2010 at 22:34

    steamrollers on your hair?
    did I read that correctly?

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