Could Mystery Engine Be a Bourke Engine?

By Staff
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In the June/July 2016 issue of GEM, Flywheel Forum featured an engine of unknown origin. Actually, the photos showed what appeared to be two engines; one a radial and the other an opposed twin that looked more like a compressor than an engine, yet had a carburetor/mixer attached to it. Reader Magic Bill wrote in for the August/September 2016 issue suggesting the engines in question might be experimental engines following a unique design patented in 1939 by Russell Bourke.

Since then, we’ve received correspondence from reader John Cadwalader of Fresno, California, who tells us the engine(s) once belonged to his father. “My father acquired this engine in the late 1960s from the inventor, who was a machinist with teeny weenie airlines [TWA] in South San Francisco. He told us it was his first attempt at a perpetual motion engine that he designed and built. It ran, however [it] ran so hot it seized. The mixer was used to set the engine in motion, but I cannot remember anything else about how it ran, as I was only about 8 years old.” John went on to tell us that he sold the engine at auction in 2007.

So who was the machinist? John doesn’t know, but in his 1939 patent, Russell Bourke listed his residence as Petaluma, California. An online search turned up an article at discussing the Bourke engine, saying that Bourke (referenced in the article as Robert) taught engine maintenance at the U.S. Air Service Field at Kelly Field, Texas. That line of work lines up with John’s memory of acquiring the engines from a machinist working with TWA.

A check with the stewards of all things Bourke engine at turned up little extra information about Bourke himself. In response to a query to, a contact there, David, said it was doubtful the engines in question are related to the Bourke design. He suggested the opposed twin might be a compressor unit, yet that doesn’t explain what clearly appears to be a mixer attached to the twin. So far, mystery unsolved. 

Please send your questions and comments for Flywheel Forum to Gas Engine Magazine, 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609-1265 or email

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