The story of a jet flight in 1910, just seven years after Kitty Hawk, may be too good to be true.
- By Frank H. Winter
- AirSpaceMag.com, December 06, 2010
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Another article on Coanda, in the March 1967 issue of Flying magazine, gives a precise date for this supposed flight: December 10, 1910. Could the date have been chosen to add authenticity to an unsubstantiated claim? A page-by-page search through the Paris newspaper Le Figaro for the entire month of December 1910 turns up no story about a flight or accident at Issy. Nor is there any mention in leading aviation journals of the day. Nothing. The only reference even closely related, in Flight, reports (under “Doings at Issy”) that in mid-December 1910 there was no flying due to bad weather.
So the claim of a jet flight in 1910 doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, or at the very least needs corroboration. But Coanda’s story doesn’t end there. After the Propulseur was displayed in Paris, he was approached by Grand Duke Cyril, first cousin of Tsar Nicholas II, to make a sled for the Russian royal family. After all, the engine could propel an “aeroplane, ship, motor car, etc.” Coanda built it immediately, with the help of a French boat manufacturer. Instead of a Clerget, he fitted it with a six-cylinder 30-HP Grégoire engine.
The sled had the same inverted flower-pot front, but the body was teardrop-shaped, with two recessed passenger seats at the rear and large snow runners underneath. The sled was exhibited at the Twelfth Automobile Salon of France, also at the Grand Palais, from December 3 to 18, 1910, and was written up in leading car magazines. It was about 13.5 ft long, and was steered with an automobile steering wheel. The accounts say the sled was baptized for Cyril by Russian Orthodox priests using an improvised altar, in a shed usually occupied by motor boats and workmen.
But like the airplane, the sled appears to have been propelled by air alone—not hot exhaust gases produced by combustion, as in a true jet. Motor World called it “more of a ‘wind waggon’ than a tractive vehicle.” No wonder a drawing of it shows two people sitting directly on top of what would have been the turbine’s exhaust exit! Indeed, the passengers would have been cooked instantly if the Propulseur was a real jet.
After spending time and money on his Turbo Propulseur, Coanda may well have discovered that the vehicle’s thrust was embarrassingly feeble for an airplane, and better suited to pushing a sled over ice. Even then, it’s not clear that Cyril’s sled ever worked. The Motor (London) said the inventor claimed it “will be capable of 60 mph.” But no record has been found of an actual run. The Motor only concluded that the sled was to be sent to Russia.
As for Coanda, he was no doubt a skilled aeronautical designer, and became a Romanian national hero (the airport in Bucharest is named after him). But it appears his Turbo-Propulseur may not have quite worked out the way he envisioned. We may never know for sure.
Frank H. Winter is a freelance writer. He was on the staff of the National Air and Space Museum from 1970 to 2007, serving as the Curator of Rocketry.