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Image of

Aerial Steam Carriage

As a publisher of Illustrated Letter Papers J.Shury & Co of
16 Charterhouse Street specialised in finely drawn pictures of significant London sites and buildings during the 1840's. All the stranger therefore to find this example depicting a flight of fancy captioned an 'Aerial Steam Carriage'

This contraption was actually patented in 1842 by William Samuel Henson, and is the earliest recorded combination of a fixed wing aircraft with a propeller drive. This particular machine never even left the drawing board, but Henson persevered in partnership with John Stringfellow to build and test improved designs until 1848. None of these prototypes were capable of sustained manned flight as the 25 horsepower steam engines they deployed were underpowered and overweight. It is also doubtful that the celebrated French pioneer Clement Ader achieved more than a low hop in 1890 with his bat-winged, steam-powered plane.

However, the many experimental attempts at flight in the latter half of the 19th century helped clarify the principles required in the design of control flaps and fixed wings. In December 1903 the Wright brothers adapted a petrol engine to power their biplane glider and managed to fly a properly verified distance of 260 metres on the beach at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

Keith B. Smith



This regular feature shows special items from members’ own collections. Submissions by email should include a scan of the item.