The Simoon would never see the production line, but Wilson could not have known that yet. Rentschler, now unemployed, was armed only with an idea and the awareness that the people at Wright took their sweet time with new projects. He had with him a letter of introduction from James Cullen.
After his tour of the factory, Rentschler met with a group of men. At the time, there was nothing like a PowerPoint presentation. He simply began to talk, describing the Curtiss D, a horsepower engine considered the pinnacle of U.
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He proposed an air-cooled engine in a radial configuration that would equal the horsepower of the D but weigh less. All had pledged interest. Rentschler had spoken with the three men at Wright whom he most respected. He also confided in Andy Wilgoos, who was a gifted and intuitive designer, and Donald Brown, a third indispensable member of the Wright team. All three realized the world was changing quickly, and they wanted to be at the forefront of development.
Rentschler pitched Wilson on the need for the Navy to maintain competition among suppliers, an idea to which Wilson was already sensitive. Congress took every opportunity to sniff out antitrust violations in war contracts. Rentschler reminded Wilson and the Engine Section staff that Curtiss was wedded to liquid cooling and that Wright moved at a glacial pace. If that happened, the Navy could get stuck with a single supplier. Wilson recalled in his memoir that Moffett immediately grasped the importance of a new engine and a new competitor. Wilson did some quick arithmetic and realized the new engines would save money, so Moffett ordered him to scrap the notion of modifying old Liberty engines for Navy use.
A few days later, Rentschler got the phone call: He would have his engine. On the very next night, he met with Mead, who vowed to resign from Wright and start on the new engine project immediately. No, Rentschler urged; think it over for two weeks. During that time, Rentschler finalized the contract with Hartford, then gathered Wilgoos and Brown. By July they needed an extra hand, and Earle Ryder came on board, to be paid personally by Rentschler. The other ex-Wright employees had to wait until the team opened the facility at Hartford on August 3 to get their first paychecks. Mead had designed an earlier radial engine in which the usual arrangement was reversed: Instead of a solid, forged crank to which the large end of a two-piece master connecting rod would be attached by a bolted cap, the Wasp would use a two-piece crankshaft and a solid one-piece master rod; this strengthened the master rod enough to withstand as many revolutions per minute as the pistons could manage, and allowed for a lighter and stronger crankshaft.
The crankcase was forged as two halves, the split between them coinciding with the plane of the all-steel cylinders. Accessories were all grouped in the back, leaving the front of the engine clean. It was this concatenation of design features, none individually new but novel in combination, that created an engine of high power and low weight. More importantly, the engineers had happened upon a balance, whether they were aware of it or not, that would distribute the internal forces upon the working engine in such a way that each part was configured in the optimal way for the job it had to do.
It would be, in a word, dependable. It had come in at pounds, and the third time it was started up on the test stand, it delivered horsepower. To meet a challenge from board member Edward Deeds and win a holiday turkey each, the little group designed the first Wasp engine in less than a year and had it completely assembled by the deadline: Christmas day, In his portraits, even those taken at what should have been moments of triumph, Rentschler looks grim.
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But in his memoirs, his words are those of a happy man. These characteristics had never been previously achieved in an aviation engine. Continue or Give a Gift. Daily Planet. Flight Today. History of Flight. Virtual Space. Subscribe Current Issue. The Ford Trimotor was the first popular civil design to use then-new radial engines.
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