…from reading David McCullough’s excellent work, “The Wright Brothers”:
In addition to all of the other fascinating details about the work of Orville and Wilbur, I learned something about the IC engine used by the brothers to power their Wright Flyer. Once they were ready to proceed from gliders to powered flight, they solicited bids from 6 automobile companies for an engine that would meet their specifications. Only one of those six companies even bothered to reply, and the engine that this company offered was far heavier than what the Wrights had specified.
So, although they had no experience whatsoever with IC engines, they decided to build their own engine, and it turned out to be an odd mixture of high-technology (for the time) and traditional technology. They obtained a large block of cast aluminum from the newly-formed Alcoa company, and with the help of a machinist in their bicycle shop, they proceeded to build their own engine from scratch! Their machinist did the actual work, but the brothers–sans any experience with IC engines–did the design work on the engine.
The block of aluminum was bored-out into 4 cylinders, each with a 4 inch stroke and a 4 inch bore. The engine had the typical “make or break” ignition of that period, and did not even have a carburetor. Instead the gravity-fed gasoline dripped into a chamber attached to the intake manifold where it mixed–sort of–with air before being drawn into the cylinders. They fashioned cast iron cylinder liners and piston rings, as well as a crankshaft and connecting rods made from unspecified materials.
That primitive fuel system proved to be a major problem, as the mixture turned out to be so rich that the bearings were destroyed, and the engine seized.
Within two months, they obtained a new block of aluminum from Alcoa and built an improved engine that was able to run w/o any problems. And, their engine weighed less than 200 lbs! There may have been other aluminum engines at the time, but I am not aware of them.
Those of you who have some background with aviation are sure to love this book, but I think that any motorhead would find it interesting.