The first diesel powered engine was developed by the American Packard Motor Company of Detroit in 1928, thanks to a collaboration with the German aircraft engineer Hermann I. A. Dorner. Dorner was later to be a key figure in the development of Nazi Germany’s air force.
The first flight of the test plane took place in September 1928 and was so successful that Packard rushed the engine into production built plant during the first half of 1929 solely for the production of its diesel engine. The factory employed more than 600 men, and 500 engines a month were to have been manufactured by July 1929.
The Packard diesel aircraft engine of 1928 was designed to compete with the Wright J-5 “Whirlwind” which powered Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis” in 1927.
The aircraft engine was fuel efficient and allowed the designers to set a world record for the longest duration flight without refueling. Below is a picture of the test pilot:
The success of the new engine led to its adoption by many aircraft companies. Here is a gallery of some aircraft from the early history of aviation.
The new Packard aircraft engine was used in a number of airplanes designed by other aircraft companies.
These diesel powered airplanes proved to be an evolutionary dead end, soon superseded by more advanced models using high grade aviation fuel. However it is a real treat to see these early vintage airplanes when engineers and aviators were willing to experiment with new concepts, and when the primitive nature of the airplanes made it possible to create new shapes and concepts with far less cost and less creativity-stifling red tape than exists today.
This article was last updated on April 15, 2021