Linear thinking for a rotary engine?

Dick Gomez

Dick Gomez

Dick Gomez was a nice surprise. A VP of Zero Corporation that I had the opportunity to work with after his retirement. Sharp as a razor and as blunt as a board, but one fine engineer that had started his career just as WW-II broke out. So, being more valuable to the war effort as a design engineer involved with aircraft than a target on foot, his first assignment was to design a 750 hp, 9-cylinder radial engine for a 4-engine bomber.

As Dick told me the story, you could feel the anguish in his voice. His first job, ever. Large responsibilities and not a clue as to where he should start. Deciding what to do first had him pinned to the brick wall. Without a clear path to design an engine of this complexity, he was frozen with anxiety and indecision. Finally, an older manager took him under his wing and led him through the process.

9-Cyl Rotary

9-cyl rotary

If you know the target horsepower, and HP per cubic inch is a given, divide by the number of cylinders we have room for. With cylinder size you can design the piston and combustion head, leaving space for a valve-train, fuel-air delivery and exhaust. You only need to design one cylinder, ’cause the other 9 are patterned after the first! Then, spacing them out radially, you can determine the connecting rod length and the crank offset derived from the compression ratio for av-gas. Clean up a few details like crank-case and carburetion and you’ve blocked out a 750 hp single-row 9-cylinder Hornet!

The fuzzy front end was a frozen front end until Dick realized that the complexity of the problem overshadowed the chain of dependencies underlying the design of the individual components. Understanding the hierarchy within the assembly was his key to control of the design of each component. Awareness of relationships is fundamental to controlling the design of any complex system. And, not just within the system, but also within the organization managing the effort.

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