More on Van Blerck and His Engines

By Staff
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End views of Van Blerck engine.
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Side view of Van Blerck Twelve-Cylinder Engine.

5120 Belcrest Ave. Bakersfield, California 93309-4705

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.

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