Milestones in Aviation: From the Collection of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Wed, Jan 24, 2018 at 9:30AM

By Seth Mayo, Curator of Astronomy
Embry-Riddle's Eco Eagle in flight over Daytona Beach, Fla., one of the world's first direct drive, hybrid gas/electric aircraft. Built and designed by students at Embry-Riddle's Eagle Flight Research Center, the aircraft would take off using a gas engine, and transition to an electric motor in cruise to obtain very hight efficiencies.
Image Credit: Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

When the Wright Brothers embarked on their inaugural flight from breezy Kill Devil Hills, four miles outside Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903, they relied upon the growing foundation of innovative technologies and engineering to make the long-sought, human dream of flight, a reality. In the 115-year span since that pivotal moment – a blink of an eye in human history terms – there have been leaps-and-bounds in our ability to conquer the skies, propelling ourselves to new heights as we have continued to push the boundaries of aeronautical development.

To explore these lofty achievements, our new temporary exhibition, Milestones in Aviation: From the Collection of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, highlights selected artifacts through the presentation of various propeller designs, an array of engine types, and even an entire next-generation aircraft, altogether representing many different decades and eras throughout aviation history.

This could not have been accomplished without the extensive collection on loan from the world-class institution, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. With its main campus right next door here in Daytona Beach, Embry-Riddle is the world’s oldest and largest, fully accredited university specializing in aviation and aerospace.

There have been many fruitful collaborations between Embry-Riddle and MOAS in the past: through their students volunteering during Museum events, professors giving thought-provoking lectures in the Planetarium, and in developing a three-dimensional poster exhibition of celestial objects with their Department of Physical Sciences.

The curation of the Milestones in Aviation exhibition is the most ambitious partnership yet to date, striving to expand upon the rich history of the aviation field that has made flight ubiquitous in everyday life. The artifacts on loan not only help tell an interesting aviation story, but also serve as a reminder of the influence that Embry-Riddle has on aviation advancement through their cutting-edge research and in training pilots, aviation maintenance technicians, engineers, and professionals working in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).

With Embry-Riddle’s fascinating collection, along with intricate scaled-down models of a multitude of aircraft on loan from local private collectors, Milestones in Aviation seeks to celebrate aviation in many different forms and media.


Powering Through the Air

At the turn of the 20th century, when Orville Wright daringly piloted the Wright Flyer while his brother, Wilbur, stood by to assist the takeoff, their achievement was in a powered, heavier-than-air sustained flight – even though it lasted a mere 12-seconds and traveled less than the wingspan of a modern Boeing 747. This kind of flight could only be made possible by a reliable engine.

Major aspects of this exhibit are found with the impressive aircraft engines on display. In aviation speak, this essential piece of an aircraft is also known as the powerplant, providing a source of propulsion.

These engines reside in Embry-Riddle’s Department of Aviation Maintenance Science. As a major component of Embry-Riddle’s educational breadth, the Department of Aviation Maintenance Science (AMS) offers degree programs and engages in the training of aircraft mechanics (through the FAA Airframe & Powerplant program) in maintaining the integrity of aircraft.

One of the largest engines to encounter in this exhibition is the Pratt and Whitney R2800 Double Wasp radial engine. This workhorse of a powerplant, developed in the 1930s, was configured in a circular fashion, whereby the actuating pistons – driven by combustion – radiated outward from a central crankshaft to rotate a propeller. The R2800 on loan is conveniently cutaway in key areas, exposing the underlying mechanical workings within.

Of note are the exposed pistons within their respective cylinders near the propeller section. Impressively, the R2800 boasts 18 of these cylinders, arranged in a twin-row configuration, with 9 cylinders radiating outward in each row. With the combined reciprocating nature of all 18 cylinders firing, the massive R2800 could produce anywhere from 1,500 to 2,800 horsepower, depending on the variant of the engine and its usage.   

Pratt and Whitney, an American aerospace company since 1925, built these engines in the late 1930s, eventually supporting well-known aircraft in World War II, like the F4U Corsair with their signature oddly shaped gull wing, the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, and the Grumman F6F Hellcat. In the 1940s, the R2800’s massive size and output were crucial in pushing single engine aircraft to surpass airspeed records of the time, reaching then blistering speeds of over 400 mph (348 knots).

The fact that radial engines could be built so large and air-cooled led to an increase in power-to-weight ratio – an important measurement of an aircraft's performance and efficiency. These came as a replacement for the earlier generation of the rotary type engine, where the entire powerplant spun with the propeller.

Although these engines became the dominant powerplant choice for aviation through the 1940s and beyond, radials were eventually phased out of production as newer and more efficient engines became available.  

While the R2800 radial engine took to the skies powering large aircraft all over the world, the Germans would be developing an entirely different type of engine-one that would drastically transform aircraft performance and capability.


The entire Junkers Jumo 004 turbojet engine, found on the world's first jet fighter, the German Messerschmitt Me 262.
This was one of the first axial-flow compressor engines that was mass-produced and installed on thousands of aircraft.
Two of these engines attached to the Me 262, making it the fastest aircraft in the latter part of World War II.
Image Credit: Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

On the gallery floor next to piston-driven engines, is the famous Junkers Jumo 004 turbojet engine. Considered to be the world’s first turbojet engine put into production and use, the 004 powered the first fighter jet, the German Messerschmitt Me 262.

As World War II was nearing a close, air combat was still dominated by piston-driven prop aircraft from both allied and axis powers. The Me 262 was one of a few exceptions, blazing through the skies at unprecedented airspeeds of over 530 mph (460 knots) with its twin 004 turbojet engines. This only became possible by the revolutionary design of the 004, utilizing what is called axial-flow compression – one of the first of its kind in the world.

Developed by the German engineer Hans von Ohain in the 1930s, this turbojet engine boasted higher efficiency and an increase in mass flow rate, allowing a shift into a much higher airspeed regime. Although Ohain was a pioneer in the turbojet development history, he shared this feat with the British engineer, Frank Whittle, who also independently developed this type of engine. In the end, Ohain’s 004 became the first turbojet to be mass-produced and successfully flown on thousands of aircraft.

For an axial flow compressor type of turbojet, air is brought in through an inlet and flows parallel to the axis of rotation. As air passes through the inlet, it first hits the compressor blades. The 004 on loan is completely cut in half, revealing this first stage of compressor blades that are painted in blue. As the name suggests, these blades compress the cold air coming inwards, and in doing so increases the pressure and temperature. The combustion chamber, painted in red, takes advantage of this “energized” air, which is mixed with fuel and burned. The resulting hot expanding gases drive the turbine blades that are also in red. The turbine is connected by a shaft to the compressor section, providing a continuous flow that is self-sustaining. Hot air leaving the turbine at the aft end of the engine leaves through a narrowing jet nozzle that provides the thrust for forward movement.

Two of these 004 engines found their way onto the design of the Me 262 aircraft, making it the fastest and potentially the most capable fighter during World War II. Even though the Me 262 had superiority over its prop driven counterparts, it arrived late to the war in 1944 and never made a significant impact for the Germans.

Although the turbojet engine helped with the war effort on the axis side, it eventually became a springboard of a technology that would bring aviation into the jet era worldwide. Turbojets such as the Jumo 004 eventually evolved into designs that could break the sound barrier, and its influence helped pave the way to turboprops and turbofans, in widespread use for future generations of aircraft. The jet age brought faster travel times, higher efficiency, and more reliability to all forms of air travel, completely reshaping transportation indefinitely.


Pioneers of the Past

Although the focus of Milestones in Aviation centers on technology development, the human element is the driving force behind the innovation.

Embry-Riddle’s University Archives celebrates this notion with carefully preserved artifacts that not only reflect the University’s history, but also aviation as a whole. As a vital repository for old documents, records, photographs, audio/video media, artwork, and memorabilia, the University Archives serves students, faculty, alumni, and the public.


James Howell Douglas, one of Embry-Riddle's first pilots in 1928, wore this leather flying helmet, goggles and scarf.
Douglas served as an airmail pilot and flight instructor. Image Credit: Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

The oldest pieces of the Archives collection, and prominently on display in the exhibit, are the flying helmet, scarf, and goggles of one of Embry-Riddle’s earliest pilots.

As hallmarks of pilot attire from an early aviation era, these signature pieces of clothing were a crucial part of protection from the harsh environment of being aloft. Before enclosures were commonplace, the earliest aircraft had open cockpits, exposing pilots to blisteringly cold temperatures and tremendous wind speeds.

These articles of pilot gear date back to 1928, and were worn by James Howell Douglas, who joined the Embry-Riddle company as an airmail pilot and flight instructor. Before his tenure at the Embry-Riddle company, Douglas served in World War I and spent time afterward in the National Guard, first as a mechanic, and eventually becoming a military pilot.  He was later promoted to 1st Lieutenant, where he supervised engineering, maintenance, and operations of the 105th Observation Squadron.

As one of Embry-Riddle’s first business ventures, it started the first regularly scheduled commercial airmail service between Cincinnati and Chicago on December 27, 1927.

Along with barnstormers, airmail pilots were a major part of the advancement of aviation as a growing profession and supporting the economic potential of aviation.


Lifting Off into the Future

Considering the past is always a useful exercise in recognizing how we got here today. Celebrating technology that pushes the boundaries of what is possible helps us foretell what exciting things are to come.

This is all the more true behind Embry-Riddle’s cutting-edge research and development facility, the Eagle Flight Research Center (EFRC). Affiliated with the Embry-Riddle’s College of Engineering, the EFRC supports a whole range of aerospace disciplines, utilizing the efforts of the University’s students at all levels.


Embry-Riddle's experimental Eco Eagle, pictured at the Daytona Beach Campus, is the world's first direct drive, hybrid gas/electric aircraft. This highly efficient aircraft is a result of a project by students and faculty completed in 2011 at the university's Eagle Flight Research Center. Image Credit: Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Embry-Riddle’s EFRC has many exciting successes to its name, but the one that forms the pièce de résistance of the exhibit is the Eco Eagle hybrid aircraft.

This will be, by far, the most attention-grabbing component of Milestones in Aviation since the entire aircraft sits in the exhibition space.

To say this is truly a one-of-its-kind aircraft is not a hyperbolic statement. The Eco Eagle is the world's first direct drive, hybrid gas/electric airplane. It was developed at Embry-Riddle's Eagle Flight Research Center with patents awarded in 2015 and 2016. Students and faculty participated in developing this revolutionary technology. 

Similar to a hybrid car commonly found on the road today, the Eco Eagle’s use of two different power systems allows it to attain very high efficiency at different phases of flight.

This innovative design is accomplished with both a 100 horsepower Rotax four-cylinder engine and a hyper-efficient 40 horsepower electric motor onboard. The use of both systems allows this aircraft to utilize the advantages currently found with gas and electric engines; it utilizes gas-type propulsion for the very power-hungry stages of takeoff and landing, and electric for the longer and less power consuming nature of cruise flight.

In addition to the hybrid powerplant design, the Eco Eagle’s ultra-light airframe and hugely important high lift-drag ratio contributes to its fuel-efficient status. The lift-drag ratio is a measurement of the lift generated, divided by the drag created as an aircraft moves through the air. With its massive 75-foot wingspan – in relation to the Eco Eagle’s small fuselage – allows it to attain a very high 50:1 lift-drag ratio. In comparison, modern airliners attain efficiencies from 15-20:1, while a typical trainer aircraft, like the Cessna 172, has around a 10:1 ratio.

The Eco Eagle’s wingspan is so large, that it could not fit into the Museum’s Ford Gallery in its entirety. Fortunately, the wings have been folded back into a triangular configuration to allow the aircraft to be staged inside.

As a major project for the EFRC, it took two years to design and construct the Eco Eagle by ERAU students and faculty. The aircraft was even submitted to a NASA competition in 2011, called the Green Flight Challenge, to test designs of some of the most efficiently engineered aircraft. As the only all-university led team, Embry-Riddle’s Eco Eagle was the only hybrid aircraft in the competition and rated among the top four aircraft out of fourteen challengers, many of which were built by major companies and institutions around the United States.

As more efficient motors are built, and lighter and higher capacity batteries become available, the Eco Eagle stands as an important milestone in a growing green aviation industry and is likened to the Wright Flyer – a launching point that will pave the way for future aircraft. 


A Team Effort

For this exhibit to become a reality, the MOAS team extends their utmost appreciation to the time and dedication spent by many faculty and staff at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. They not only aided in finding and securing the objects for display, but helped develop the story we wanted to tell and the vision for the kind of exhibit we hoped to curate. 

Most notable are the contributions by the University Archives, Marketing and Communications, Aviation Maintenance Sciences, the College of Engineering, and the Eagles Flight Research Center.

Come and enjoy the marvels of human flight through amazing technologies and artifacts in Milestones in Aviation, running through March 4, 2018.

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2024 Exhibit Sponsors
Sponsored in part by the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Arts and Culture, the Florida Council on Arts and Culture, and the National Endowment for the Arts.