Land and air rotaries

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The reference in the February issue of Classic &Sportscar to Felix Wankel’s rotary engines and editor James Elliot’s comment that every time he drives a rotary it starts him off on the theme that the rotary engine should have been the future for all motorised transport, reminds me that I felt the same after driving the rather nice NSU Ro80, the jolly little NSU Sport and the rather less attractive Mazda RX-3 coupe of 1973.

It does seem very odd that we still have pistons which mercifully withstand going up and down at phenomenal speeds in spite of having to make two full stops per stroke, as well as valves which subject themselves to similar punishment, and bounce when excited.

This reminds me of an experience I had with rotary aero-engines, although these did have pistons and poppet valves. In 1940, having volunteered at Woolwich for military service but hearing nothing, I answered an advertisement in The Aeroplane for technical writers at Farnborough’s Air Publications Department. I went from London for the interview by Green Line coach (no petrol for A7s) taking with me a few magazines containing my humble aeroplane articles.

I was surprised when the board of its top(ish) brass who interviewed me, having asked to see anything I had written, began to whisper amongst themselves. They found a piece I had published on the Gnome, Clerget, Le Rhone and Bentley BR rotaries.

“Who was the fool who accepted this nonsense?” asked one gentleman, telling me engines were always bolted to the airframe. When he read of carbs feeding through the crankshaft and ofvalves in piston heads, he nearly exploded. They had never heard ofMonsieur Seguin’s wonderful designs, only of radial engines.

No need for this to impede the war effort, but I was surprised the more so as I got the job and was trapped in this ‘reserved occupation’ for the rest of the war.

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