I wondered about this claim which I saw on a small plaque as I passed through security at Bucharest’s Henri Coanda airport recently.

And sure enough, Henri Coanda made this claim about his indubitably novel aircraft design, the Coanda 1910.  He created a powerplant which coupled a piston engine to a compressor, then using the resulting flow to generate propulsion, in essence, creating a ducted fan.  Coanda_1910But his claim to have created the first jet didn’t appear until the mid-fifties, somewhat after the contributions of Hans van Ohain and Frank Whittle had become evident.  There was then some heated debate among the cognoscenti.  Finally the claim was deemed to fail because, among other reasons, he was not injecting fuel into the airflow for combustion.   According to the font of all wisdom, Wikipedia, there was some later alterations to drawings and patents – it all seems a bit forced really.

Which is a shame – because the 1910 design, viewed in context, was remarkable even without the extra claims.  And there’s certainly no doubt that Henri Coanda was a brilliant innovator and aeronautical engineer even if he didn’t build the world’s first jet. The Coanda effect, named for him, (the tendency for a fluid flow to ‘stick’ to a nearby surface) has found a range of applications from aircraft to Formula One to domestic fan designs.

 

(Image from Wikipedia)

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Johns Smeaton was perhaps the first person to conduct formalised and quantified product development trials.  Working in England in the mid 1700s, he worked first on water wheels to establish whether undershot or overshot wheels work better and what parameters need to beJohn_Smeaton optimised.  In addition to his development of full-scale industrial wheels he built a model wheel on which he conducted a series of tests in different configurations with standardised water flows, measuring performance.  He also theorised that losses due to turbulence and eddies should be avoided.

He then turned his attention to the Newcomen steam engine.  Again working through an exhaustive and carefully controlled series of tests he explored different operating parameters and practices, reaching several counter-intuitive conclusions.  His work showed how to double the performance of the engines in use at the time.  The Smeatonian Society, established later in his life, was a precursor to the Institution of Civil Engineers.

But his name has largely disappeared from those we recognise.  Is that because, despite his contribution to incremental innovation, he didn’t set an entirely new direction?  By my reckoning, if showing a 100% improvement in the performance of an established technology isn’t enough, maybe showing how to systematically drive incremental product and system development is certainly worthy of a mention among the great innovators.

 

Just one of thefascinating people brought to life in Donald Cardwell’s brilliant book “Turning Points in Western Technology”