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Steam Aviation - Besler Aero
Oakland/Emeryville, Ca. 1933


The Besler brothers

                  The Besler Steam Airplane

William Besler in front of the Airspeed 2000.

The steam powered Airspeed 2000
in Flight

Besler aero engine

Engine layout as published
in "Luftwissen"
Germany 1941.

General Layout


  See the 1933 movie =>


A Travel Air 2000 biplane made the world's first piloted flight under steam power over Oakland, California, on 12 April 1933. The strangest feature of the flight was its relative silence; spectators on the ground could hear the pilot when he called to them from mid-air. The aircraft, piloted by William Besler, had been fitted with a two-cylinder, 150 hp reciprocating engine.

An important contribution to its design was made by Nathan C. Price, a former Doble Steam Motors engineer. Price was working on high pressure compact engines for rail and road transport; the purpose of the flight was to obtain publicity for this work. Following its unexpectedly favourable reception Price went to Boeing and worked on various aviation projects, but Boeing dropped the idea of a steam aero engine in 1936. Price later worked for Lockheed where his experience with developing compact burners for steam boilers helped to design Lockheed's first jet engine.


"Steam is is not the right engine for aircraft. Most steam enthusiasts cannot separate engineering fact from dreams and fantasy".

Bill did this for only one reason, as he explained to me: "What would you do if you now owned the patents for the lightest, most efficient and most powerful steam engine system yet known, and wanted to make it publicly known in the most dramatic fashion?"  

Sure, put one in an airplane and fly it.

..... James Crank

The advantages of the "Besler System" that were claimed at the time included the elimination of audible noise and destructive vibration; greater efficiency at low engine speeds and also at high altitudes where lower air temperatures assisted condensation; reduced likelihood of engine failure; reduced maintenance costs; reduced fuel costs, since fuel oil was used in place of petrol; reduced fire hazard since the fuel was less volatile and operating temperatures were lower; and a lack of need for radio shielding.

For capacities in excess of 1000 horse power a turbine captures the energy released by the expansion of steam more efficiently than a piston. Thus, the steam reciprocating engine turned out to be unsuitable for scaling up to the needs of large aircraft.


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