Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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Charles Manly

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Charles Matthews Manly (1876-1927), former president of the SAE and one of America's foremost aircraft engine pioneers, contributed to the design and development of the radial piston engine.

His early academic achievements led to his appointment as chief assistant to Samuel Pierpont Langley, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, who was engaged in early aeronautic experiments and, in 1903, racing with the Wright brothers to demonstrate the first manned aeroplane. This was called the 'Great Aerodrome', a manned, powered, winged flying machine. Manly made major contributions to the development of the aircraft's revolutionary 52 hp petrol-fuelled water-cooled 5-cylinder radial engine, called the Manly-Balzer engine.

Manly was chosen to operate the Langley Large Aerodrome "A" and plans for the first flight, in October of 1903, were made. The flights failed and the project was dropped.

Easily the most advanced aeronautical engine in the world at the turn of the century, the so-called Manly-Balzer radial power-plant used in Langley's "Aerodrome" was almost 20 years ahead of its time in terms of specific-weight excellence.

After this aeronautical work, Manly diverted his talents into the design and production of variable-speed hydraulic drives, a field in which he held about 40 US patents.

During World War I, he first served as a consultant to the British War Office and then worked in various engineering and management positions at the Curtiss aircraft concern from late 1915 to early 1920. During this time, Manly became involved with the SAE, first in 1917 and 1918 developing aircraft standards, and ultimately serving as president in 1919.

He was involved in consulting automotive engineering activities until his death in 1927.

In 1929, Manly was posthumously awarded the Smithsonian's prestigious Langley medal for outstanding aeronautical achievements (previously awarded to the Wright brothers, Glenn Curtiss, and Charles Lindbergh).

In 1928, the SAE board of directors also honoured him by originating the Manly Memorial medal for best annual SAE paper on aeronautic power-plants, which is still awarded today

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