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Levers of Power: 1929

Levers of Power: 1929

December 30, 1929. "Dr. K.C. Dickinson, chief of the Heat and Power Division of the Bureau of Standards, and the control room of the new aircraft engine testing laboratory at Arlington, Virginia. Here all engines for use on licensed airplanes are to be tested. The control room and the room in which the engines are mounted are heavily reinforced with concrete to prevent flying engine parts striking the observers." Harris & Ewing Collection glass negative. View full size.


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Precisely so

I bet the ribbed drum right behind Mr. Dickinson's head is a similar rig to the fuel measuring device... it probably measures oil, but it might be for coolant. (The hoses and pipes to it are much greater diameter than the fuel lines.) It seems to have a sight glass and be sitting on some kind of scale. It wouldn't have been considered odd back then for an engine to use a certain amount of oil in normal operation. Coolant disappearing might have been of more concern, which makes me think that's what the drum is for.

A couple of the switches on the far right of the control stand seem to say "Scintilla". They made magnetos for aircraft for a long time; these switches probably control the magneto(s) on the engine under test. Later on, as Scintilla-Vertex, magnetos were popular on hot rods and race cars. Another company bought the rights to the Vertex name and they are still being manufactured today for race cars.

(A magneto does the same thing that the battery, ignition coil, points and distributor do in a car - deliver a high voltage spark to the right cylinder at the right time - but the magneto doesn't need a battery. Lots of early aircraft didn't really have a low voltage DC electrical system like a contemporary car or modern light aircraft does.)

The "off-low-med-hi" dials mounted under the desk look sort of like electric range controls. I wonder if maybe the test load was a generator, feeding stove elements.



You missed one.

On the top of the cabinet to the right is a pencil sharpener. We use those today as well.

All the Same Stuff

I just finished the design and implementation of a test cell for small aircraft jet engines - everything in that room is familiar, all these years later.

To the left are mercury manometers - pressures or vacuums on the tops of the columns displace the mercury, which is then read out on the rulers in between the columns - that's why atmospheric barometers read out in "inches of mercury" - the standard is 29.92 inches Hg at mean sea level.

The items that look like a "still" are the fuel tank and beneath it a balance with a marked glass jar to find the fuel consumption per hour. To the right of the jar is a balance weight. A gallon of avgas is about 6 pounds. The engine is run at a certain power level for say, an hour, then the amount of gas used can be easily determined. Of course today we use various types of remote flowmeters for this purpose.

The levers control the throttle, mixture, manifold pressure, etc. On the panel are the rest of the instruments to control and observe the various pressures and temperatures, the RPM, the magnetos (ignition), the dynamometer indicator to determine horsepower output and so forth.

Nowadays this is all done with little transducers interfaced into LabView running on WiFi networks (we did the last one all on a laptop) but there is no change to the basic concept: accurately measure engine parameters and performance, mind the environment (noise, emissions, etc.) and keep the Crew safe if the engine grenades during a run.

Been there; done that - BANG!! Makes an expensive mess.

Good move!

He's hidden a moonshine still in plain sight.

Early Riser

Looks like he just came into the room and is about to turn the heat on.

Avgas punk

I can so easily imagine some 21st century tinkerer spending many hours trying to network those gravity manometers with that $1 Sears pocket watch.

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