Rotary engines of World War One

by William Morse. 64pp. 91/4 x 7 (Nelson & Saunders, Olney, Bucks. £5.95.)

The rotary aero-engine (redolent of the days when joy-rides in Avro 504s were the in thing and wartime Sopwith Pup and Camel fighters were flown amid an aura of burnt caster-oil) is a fascinating, but until recently neglected, engineering study. Now we have two books on the subject, of the same size and soft-cover format.

William Morse concentrates on describing the Gnome, Monosoupape, Le Rhone, Clerget and Bentley engines, whereas Andrew Nahum’s book, reviewed last month, ranges rather more widely. Like Nahum, Morse covers intriguing ground for students of engineering, with plenty of explanatory photographs and illustrations of these queer but beautifully constructed power-units, and of the aeroplanes in which they were used. I am reminded by these books that when I was interviewed for a job at the RAE, Farnborough, at the outbreak of WW2, the top-brass interviewers were puzzled and cross when confronted with something I had written for Popular Flying on the Gnome rotary. It soon dawned on me that their historical knowledge of aero-engines went no further back than radials with crankcases bolted to airframes! So, to them, my discourse on an engine in which the crankcase and cylinders flew round, and which had valves on its piston-crowns, seemed pure nonsense. Still, I got the job. . .

It is much a case of “you pays yer money and takes yer choice”; perhaps the dedicated will buy both books. They have been all too long in appearing, for those addicted to ic-engine history. WB