Wills’s Aviation Card #52 – “Maxim” Biplane, 1910.

Card #52.jpgHistory Behind The Card: “Maxim” Biplane, 1910.
Card #52 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills’, Aviation series 1911, Capstan Navy Cut

  • Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim, February 5, 1840, Sangerville, Maine, United States of America – November 24, 1916, London, Great Britain. 

First things first: I have written about Sir Hiram Maxim twice previously in this blog.

The first time was to present an 1892 Cosmopolitan magazine article (Cosmo was a different type of magazine in the 19th century) written by Maxim about the trials and tribulations about heavier-than-air flight… a problem he tackled with much zeal back in 1890. I had purchased the seven-page article via E-Bay. I think I paid $7 for it. You can read it in its entirety HERE.

Maxim’s near success at flight some 13 years before the Wright Brother’s is the stuff everyone should know about… and you can read what Wills’s Card #30 had to say about that experiment, along with my usual blurbage – read HERE.


Hiram Maxim standing in front of his 1910 Biplane. Hiram’s brother is named Hudson, as is my son. Coincidence.

As such, I am NOT going to repeat his personal history through 1894. We’ll continue from the construction of the Maxim Bi-Plane Test Rig… a testing that was never meant for an aeroplane to actually fly – just to test the aerodynamics involved.

His overall results showed that as of 1890, if a lighter and more powerful engine could be built, heavier-than-air flight could be accomplished.

Maxim knew it was possible… just that technology was limiting the event from occurring at that moment.

Now… Maxim needed to be patient and wait for technology to catch up to his aviation ideas.

To kill time and to bring in some money while furthering attention on flight, Maxim designed and built an amusement park ride at Earl’s Court Exhibition in 1904.

Earl’s Court Exhibition Center first opened in 1887, closing down in December 13, 2014. It was an exhibition, conference and events venue in London, England.

Anyhow, the amusement ride Maxim created was based on the Maxim Bi-Plane Test Rig he had built years earlier in 1890.

It had a large spinning frame holding captive cars… and as it spun, the cars were swung outward as though they were flying.

The original concept Maxim had for this was to have added a form of aileron and wings so that the rider could control their flight with a bit of up and down movement, but it was deemed unsafe.

As soon as that happened, Maxim basically excused himself from the project calling it “simply a glorified merry-go-round” – which it was.

Now Maxim wasn’t just a one-man amusement ride builder, he created a company for it… and for the life of me, I can’t determine its name… not really important as far as aviation goes, but perhaps anyone who knows something about amusement park history can lend a hand.

Also in 1904… which seems to have been when the amusement park ride fetish was tickling Maxim, he and his company created more rides of various looks at The Crystal Palace, Southport, Blackpool and New Brighton. The rides were all similar to his “glorified merry-go-round”, and helped him make a profit on the overall amusement park ride concept.

From what I understand, the Blackpool ride still operates 112 years later, and is Europe’s oldest operating amusement park ride. Known as The Flying Machines, it looks pretty much exactly like it did in 1904. It’s full name is: “Sir Hiram Maxim’s Captive Flying Machines“.

So… what else did Maxim do for fun? Well, as the inventor of the Maxim Gun, the first recoil-operated machine gun in 1883, it would appear as though he liked weapons.


So… in 1884, he started up an arms manufacturing company known as the Maxim Gun Company. … receiving financial backing from Edward Vickers to build and sell the machine gun.


The Maxim Machine Gun – drawings

That company merged later with Swedish Nordenfeldt Company in 1888, and became part of the Barrow Shipbuilding Company that was purchased by Vickers Corporation in 1897, and formed as Vickers, Son & Maxim. Maxim was a director at this company.

Regarding Vickers… in 1911, the Vickers, Son & Maxim company name was changed to Vickers Limited and expanded its operations into aircraft manufacture by the formation of Vickers Ltd (Aviation Department).

Vickers brand aircraft were produced from 1911 to until 1965, when BAC (British Aircraft Corporation) ended the name.

Back to the machine gun company… Maxim et al improved upon his original Maxim Machine Gun design, it becoming the Vickers Machine Gun… the standard British machine gun, with versions of it being used by both sides during The Great War (WWI).

Maxim retired in 1911 (hence the company name change as noted three paragraphs previous)… his last years of life affected by deafness brought on by constant exposure to the noise of his machine guns being fired.


So… let’s step back a bit… The Wills’s #52 card depicts a Maxim Biplane.

I found a two-part article on the Maxim Biplane in Flight magazine from April 30 and May 7, 1910, replete with images. Aside from the pompous introduction that bogs itself down with larger than life words, it is written in an understandable manner by Sir Hiram Maxim himself, as he describes why the plane was constructed as it was:

From Flight magazine April 30, 1910:


Front view of the Maxim biplane, showing the dihedral angle formed between the central section and -the arched outer sections.

The Maxim Biplane.
It is given to few pioneers as early in the field as Sir Hiram Maxim was with his original experiments in Baldwyns Park to have an opportunity of again devoting themselves to practical work of the same description at a time when success is already a foregone conclusion along recognized lines. Yet Sir Hiram Maxim, who built his first machine at a time when it was impossible to achieve success owing to the absence of the modern petrol engine, has lived to see the conquest of the air by others and to again take an active part in the development of flight by the construction of another large machine. An account of the leading features of this machine, written by Sir Hiram Maxim himself, has already appeared in this volume of Flight, p.136, and we are now able to supplement that description with a very complete set of photographs and sketches, which give a very clear idea of the leading features of this interesting machine.


Rear view of the Maxim biplane, showing the disposition of the three propellers. The small propeller runs in the wake of the principal masses.

Some Leading Features
The machine is a large biplane and is characterized by the unusual form of dihedral angle exhibited and in the disposition of the main planes, and also by the use of a fore and aft control, which is obtained by the interconnection of a biplane tail with a biplane elevator. The main planes are constructed in three sections. The central section has a straight edge, but the outer sections are arched and form dihedral angles with the central section. This disposition of the planes is made for the purpose of introducing a factor of natural stability. The  central section carries the engine and the  pilot’s seat, both being located on the lower deck, so that the centre of gravity is considerably below the centre of lifting effect.

Maxim 1910 J.jpg

The Maxim Biplane.—Plan and elevation to scale.

The elevator and the tail are both pivoted to the extremities of two tubular spars that  run fore and aft the whole length of the machine. These spars constitute the main members of the framework and are a very important feature of the design. They also carry the propellers and thus save the weight  of dependent brackets for this purpose.
They are built up in three lengths, the central portion being steel and the two outer members being  aluminium. The latter are stayed by diagonal struts to the lower deck of the main planes, and are not, therefore, subjected to any appreciably direct bending strain.


Detail view of the chassis suspension on the Maxim biplane.

Materials of Construction.
The greater part of the framework of the machine has been made of a fine quality American yellow pine, but there is a limited amount of tubular metal work, and a little hard wood is also used in places. A pair of tubular steel struts are situated in the centre of the main-planes on either side of the engine, and these members have been employed as water pipes to communicate with the radiator, which lies below the upper deck.


View of the chassis of the Maxim biplane, showing the landing wheels and fenders. The shock is resisted by pneumatic springs.

The machine is mounted upon a pair of pneumatic-shod wheels, which are independently attached to the frame, and together afford a very wide track. Each wheel is mounted on a short axle held by a massive wooden fork, which is hinged to the frame,  and attached to
a pneumatic spring. Jutting out from the fork is a bow-shaped member of  ash forming a fender, which is intended as a protection to the more important parts of  the machine in the event of accident.


View showing the construction of the framework of the main planes of the Maxim biplane.

The tail is supported upon a pair of light wheels mounted on castors that are interconnected with the rudder mechanism, so that the machine can be steered upon terra firma at  low speeds, when the rudder itself would have but a feeble effect. Immediately beneath the lower deck of the main-planes is an inclined board serving as the support to the petrol-tank, and a protection to the central propeller. It has been so arranged as to afford  some lifting effort.


Sketches showing details of the strut-joints, tie-strips, and wire guides on the Maxim biplane.

Strip Steel Ties.
An important and interesting feature of the  framework is the bracing of the various lattice-girder members by diagonal ties of strip steel instead of wire.


Sectional sketch of a rib in the main decks of the Maxim biplane.

These ties are set edge on to the direction of flight. The main planes have been surfaced with a rubber-proofed Japanese silk, which Sir Hiram Maxim had specially woven for the purpose.


Photograph of Sir Hiram Maxim at the wheel of his biplane, illustrating the control mechanism.

It is exceedingly light and very strong for its weight It is stretched very tightly over the framework of the main planes, and in order to maintain uniform curvature of surface under varying conditions of pressure, the lower surface of each deck is provided with a vent hole so located as to maintain equilibrium of the static pressures inside and outside the deck. The exact position of this air vent has an important bearing on its utility; for the particular camber employed on this machine the vents are situated about a quarter of the chord from the trailing edge. The vent holes are about 2 ins. in diameter, and have been covered with fine gauze in order to prevent flies being blown into the cavity.


Side view of the Maxim biplane, showing very clearly the arrangement of the two principal fore and aft spars that carry the elevator, tail and propellers.

(To be concluded)

From May 7, 1910 of Flight magazine:
Three Propellers.


View illustrating the rope drive to the propellers on the Maxim biplane.

One of the most important features of the machines is the system of using three propellers. Two if the propellers are mounted on the main spars of the frame, while the third, which is  much smaller in diameters is direct driven by the engine.


Photograph of one of the propellers for the Maxim biplane, with Sir Hiram Maxim standing alongside, which gives some idea of the size of these screws. The trussing of the very thin blades to the tubular sleeve is a special feature of the design.

The larger screw revolve in opposite directions, and are driven by ropes. The right-hand screw, viewed from behind, rotates in the same direction as the central screw; the other propeller, which has a reverse direction of rotation, has therefore, a finer pitch and a higher velocity than its mate in order to compensate for the gyroscopic effect of the central screw. The propellers are two-bladed, and exceedingly thin and light for their size; in fact, the blades are so thin that they would bend if unsupported, and they have, therefore, been trussed by strip steel ties, which anchor their extremities to a tubular extension of the body. These strips of steel are so arranged that their surfaces have approximately the same pitch as the screw itself, it being intended thereby to minimise as far as possible the loss caused by their rotation through the air. It will be observed, on reference to one of our photographs, which shows a propeller separately, that the tubular extension at the boss affords a remarkably long bearing surface for the support of the propeller upon its shaft.
The pulley for driving the propeller is fastened direct to the blades by steel brackets and also similarly to a pair of wooden stumps that project from the boss at right angles to the blades. It is thus supported at four points. The groove in which the rope runs is cogged to give an effective grip.


Sketch illustrating the arrangement of the jockey-pulleys, which are used to tighten the rope drive of the propellers on the Maxim biplane.

The Rope Drive.
The rope drive of the propellers is an interesting and original feature of the Maxim system, and much care has been taken in the construction of the ropes, which are woven on a special machine designed and erected at the Crayford works. The ropes are endless and are made of a very fine tough thread, such as is used by bootmakers for certain purposes in connection with their trade. The adjustment of the rope is effected by jockey pulleys, and the surface of the rope is prepared with the best quality beeswax.


Views (above and below) of the Maxim engine on the Maxim biplane. The cylinders are made of steel, and have detachable heads and detachable German silver water-jackets. The vertical water-pipe on the extreme left forms a main strut in the framework of the machine.

A very important consideration to be borne in mind regarding the arrangement of the three propellers on the Maxim biplane is their disposition in respect to the principal masses represented by the various members of the machine itself.


Views of the elevator and tall on the Maxim biplane. The tails, which carries the rudder, acts in unison with the elevator.

It will be observed, for instance, that the pilot, the engine, and the central screw are arranged in tandem; in fact, the central screw has been provided solely in order to recover some of the energy from the wake of this mass. This is a particularly interesting point, because the value of the wake is by no means accepted as an appreciable quantity by the majority of flight engineers, and this very definite verdict on the part of Sir Hiram Maxim should at least bring the matter into prominence.


Photograph illustrating the arrangement of seats on the Maxim biplane. On the left is T. Jackson, who assisted Sir Hiram Maxim in the construction of his original machine, and was a passenger thereon during its accidental free flight on Baldwyn’s park.

No marine engineer would ever think of putting a screw in front of a ship; indeed it can be theoretically proved that with any wake whatsoever a boat can be propelled for less power than it can be towed. Deductions from water experiments do not apply to air in the same degree, but they undoubtedly afford useful information that should not be neglected. At the present time constructional considerations have more to do with locating the position of a propeller on a flying machine than anything else, but engineering fails to accomplish its purpose if constructional difficulties are allowed to limit design in  such matters of fundamental importance.


Diagrammatic sketch illustrating the connections in the control of the Maxim biplane. The elevator and tail work in unison, being interconnected by cross wires. The chassis wheels and the rudder also work in unison. The main planes are warped by a pedal.

Whether others will think it worth while to follow Sir Hiram Maxim’s example of providing an additional propeller to work in the wake of the principal mass, naturally very much depends on the success of this particular machine.


Sketch illustrating the steering wheel and elevator-lever on the Maxim biplane.

The Engine.
The engine on the Maxim biplane, like the machine itself, has been designed by Sir Hiram Maxim. It has four separate steel cylinders with detachable heads and water-jackets; the former being made of steel, and the latter of German silver. Long steel bolts passing into the crank-chamber hold the cylinder-heads in place. The valves are all overhead, and are operated by an overhead cam-shaft, which is skew-gear driven from the crank-shaft. A belt from the rear end of the cam-shaft drives a clockwork mechanism employed for operating the lubricating system. The oil reservoir contains a spring-loaded plunger-pump, which is raised and liberated four times a minute. The force of the pump exerts a pressure of about 120 lbs. per sq. in. on the oil, and all the principal bearings.


View of the gyroscopic control mechanism constructed for attachment to the Maxim biplane after the preliminary tests.

A transverse skew-gear driven shaft in front of the engine drives the magneto and the water-pump. The cylinder-heads are water cooled as well as the walls, and the cooling water passes through a radiator mounted on the upper deck of the main-planes. One of the hollow steel struts that support the upper deck is employed to convey the water to the radiator.
The carburetor on the Maxim engine is very noticeable on account of its large size, and it is also of somewhat peculiar construction, being mainly remarkable for the very large capacity of the mixing-chamber that contains the throttle-valve. The object of this chamber is to thoroughly mix the gas in large quantities before it is admitted to the cylinders. Part of the mixing-chamber is warmed by an arrangement of water pipes.

The Control.
The control of the Maxim biplane involves the manipulation of the elevator, tail, and rudder, and also the warping of the wings. These operations are effected by a steering wheel riding upon a pivoted lever, and by a pivoted cross-bar under foot control. The interconnections are shown diagrammatically in an accompanying sketch. The elevator and the tail are interconnected by cross wires so that they work in unison, and the elevator is directly connected to the pivoted lever by a system of links, so as to be operated by a to-and-fro movement of the lever. The rudder, which is carried by the tail, is operated by a rotary motion of the steering wheel upon the pivoted lever as an axis.


General view of the aerodrome at Crayford where the Maxim biplane is to be tested on a circular track by running it on a lead attached to the wind tower in the centre.

The warping of the planes is accomplished by means of the pedal. A feature of the warping system is that the planes are warped in one direction by the wires, and in the other direction by springs.
A minor detail in the control mechanism to which it is necessary to draw attention is the method of mounting the steering wheel upon the pivoted lever. The steering wheel is mounted on a sleeve fitted with a jaw-clutch that engages with a corresponding member on the rod. The rudder is thus locked in any desired position by this device, and it is necessary to force the steering wheel downwards against the action of a spring in order to rotate it. There is also a split collar on the steering wheel sleeve into which a handle bar can be screwed if the pilot prefers such a device to a steering wheel. Some of our photographs show the machine with the handle bar in place. It is made in halves and the split collar is automatically clipped in place by screwing the halves of the handle bar together.


Mr. James Radley flying at Brooklands Aviation Grounds at dusk on Wednesday of last week over one of the London and South-Western trains.

It is Sir Hiram Maxim’s intention, when the preliminary experiments have been brought to a satisfactory conclusion, to fit gyroscopic control. The gyroscopic mechanism has already been  constructed for this purpose. The gyroscope, which consists of a spinning fly-wheel, is contained in a cylindrical casing, and it is designed to operate, through a relay mechanism, a cylinder containing a piston to which an operating rod is attached. Some very ingenious mechanical details have been introduced in the construction of this piece of apparatus.


Okay – that’s pretty cool… so… what happened to the plane? Why is it just a mere footnote in the annals of history?

Here’s what The Advertiser (of Adelaide, South Australia) has to say about the Maxim Biplane in its March 30, 1910 newspaper edition – page 6 (http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/5250218). I have added the metric conversions in brackets.

This is one month earlier than what Flight had published…

The first details of the aeroplane invented and made by Sir Hiram Maxim, have been communicated by him to the “Evening Standard,” London. , The machine, which is a biplane, 44 ft. (13.41 meters) between the extreme points of the planes, is at present at the Vickers-Maxim works at Crayford, near Dartford, England. The 4-cylinder, 80-h.p. engine, which is Sir Hiram’s, own design, weighs 220 lb (99.9 kilograms), and its carburetor furnishes a supply of gas correct and uniform density. The engine petrol tank and driver are grouped at an unusually low point in the machine, on the inventors theory, is that the centre of gravity should be much below the lifting part. Two passengers, as well as the driver, can be carried. There are three screws and three rudders. There are horizontal rudders fore and aft and vertical rudder, all of the balance type. The framework of the plane is of American wood covered by a specially treated silk, of which 250 square yards (209 square meters) have beep used. The struts or braces in the machine are partly of light steel oval tubing and partly American pine, also oval in shape. An interesting feature of the preliminary trials is the fact that wires, running from a steel mast 139 feet (42.37 meters) high, will be attached to the aeroplane so that the flights will be captive ones.

Again with the captive flights?

Maybe it just couldn’t do what they wanted it to do… and maybe they couldn’t interest a buyer…

What’s interesting, is the amount of ink and paper Flight magazine provided to Sir Hiram Maxim.

It’s all well and good to do so when the project is a success, but when it’s not…

Hiram Maxim Biplane 1909.jpg

Hiram Maxim at the controls of his Maxim Biplane in 1909. He designed it in 1908, built it in 1909, and continued to work on it in 1910… but it was a failure.

So… since Maxim was 71-years-old when he “retired” from Vickers, Son & Maxim, you might wonder why he quickly decided to become part of the 1911 company: Grahame-White, Blériot, and Maxim Company.

Maxim was the head of the company: Grahame-White and Blériot were two well-known pioneers of aviation, and all three put in a total of £200,000 of capital.

What they wanted to create, was a military plane that could scout and/or drop a single 230 kilogram (500-pound) bomb.

Unfortunately, Maxim’s health began to deteriorate… and he had financial problems with other business ventures… and so failed to put as much time into this aeroplane endeavor as he might have liked.

hiram-maxim-graveMaxim died in London on November 24, 1916, and is buried in West Norwood Cemetery. His grave is among his wife and grandson.


About mreman47

Andrew was born in London, UK, raised in Toronto, Canada, and cavorted in Ohtawara, Japan for three years. He is married, has a son and a cat. He has over 35,000 comic books and a plethora of pioneer aviation-related tobacco and sports cards and likes to build LEGO dioramas. He has written and been an editor for various industrial magazines, has scripted comic books, ghost-written blogs for business sectors galore, and hates writing in the 3rd person. He also hates having to write this crap that no one will ever read. He works on his Pioneers Of Aviation - a cool blog on early fliers - even though it takes him so much time to do. He also wants to do more writing - for money, though. Help him out so he can stop talking in the 3rd person.
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3 Responses to Wills’s Aviation Card #52 – “Maxim” Biplane, 1910.

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