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In the September 1993 issue of GEM appeared 'The Career of Joseph Van Blerck' by the late Max F. Homfeld. This excellent article ended with a request from Mr. Homfeld for further information about Van Blerck and his engines. Recently, while seeking information about an obscure little engine in Glenn D. Angle's, Airplane Engine Encyclopedia, Otterbein Press, Dayton, Ohio 1921, 1 ran across the Van Blerck airplane engine of 1914-1915.
According to Mr. Angle, 'The Van Blerck Engine Company of Monroe, Michigan, constructed experimentally, two types of airplane engines during 1914 and 1915. The cylinders were separately machined from steel forgings and fitted with spun-copper water jackets; single inlet and exhaust valves, situated in the cylinder head, being operated by means of push rods and rockers. The crankcase was of steel construction, opposite cylinders in the Vee being staggered so as to permit the use of side by side connecting rods. The connecting rods had tubular sections, and the pistons were made from cast iron. Lubrication was of the pressure-feed type.
'The eight-cylinder water-cooled Vee type of 4.5 inch bore, 5.5 inch stroke, and 699.76 cubic inch total displacement, was rated 135 HP at 1600 RPM. The weight was said to be 420 lbs., or 3.11 lbs. per rated HP. The mixture was supplied by two carburetors, and the ignition by two four-spark magnetos.
'A twelve-cylinder water-cooled Vee type, employing the same cylinders and having a total displacement of 1049.64 cubic inch, was said to develop 185 HP at 1400 RPM and 200 HP at 1600 RPM. The same general form of construction was employed throughout. The ignition was supplied by two twelve cylinder magnetos, and the weight was claimed to be 600 lbs., or 3 lbs. per rated HP at 1600 RPM.'
Mr. Angle is not too clear in his description of the ignition system of the Vee-eight, but since the cylinder construction was the same in both engines, we can assume that there were two spark plugs per cylinder. Not mentioned in the description, but apparent in the illustration, is the completely open valve gear push-rods, rockers, valve springs, etc. In this and other features, Joe Van Blerck's airplane engine design was roughly equal to the products of many other small manufacturers hoping to cash in on the almost unlimited demand engendered by WW-1, triggered in Sarajevo in June, 1914.
Unfortunately for Joe, the Van Blerck engine at 200 horsepower and 600 lbs. (3 lbs. per horsepower) was miles behind the best of the rotaries at 2 lbs. per horsepower. And, the rotaries were soon to be overtaken by the Hispano-Suiza Vee-eight and others at 300 horsepower and 2.3 lbs. per horsepower. In addition to all this the British and French were not interested in still another unproven airplane engine they wanted someone to build engines to their design and in quantity.
Throughout his life, as delineated by Max Homfeld, Joe Van Blerck demonstrated an uncanny ability to land sticky side up and we can bet that he did not let the fact that his airplane engines didn't get off the ground spoil his day. Barring the possibility of self-destruction on the test stand, these two experimental engines were probably equipped with reverse gear and installed in a boat for a customer more interested in exclusivity than proven dependability!
For readers interested in aircraft engines from the beginning to 1920, Glenn Angle's Encyclopedia, cited above, is an excellent source. For those interested in following the story up to WW-2, Glen D. Angle's Aerosphere 1939, Aircraft Publications, New York, New York 1940 is essentially an update of the Encyclopedia. Both of these volumes were obtained through the ILL Interlibrary Loan System.