Curiosities from 150 years of The Engineer archive

With a fully loaded weight of 30 tons, an overall length of 73ft, and three sets of wings the Tarrant Triplane was, briefly, the world’s largest aircraft.

Developed by WG Tarrant, who designed and built the Tarrant Hut and other hutting accommodation, the monstrous six-engined 3,000bhp plane was being developed as a bomber, although according to the article it also had great commercial promise — ‘a hundred passengers or an equivalent amount of goods could be comfortably housed within the machine.’

At the time of the article, one of these machines was being tuned up at Farnborough in preparation for its first flight, while the other was in the early stages of assembly.

Made entirely of wood, one of the aircraft’s most distinctive features was its fuselage — ‘it is made up of a series of braced main rings, with lighter rings spaced between, the whole being connected together by a series of longerons running the whole length of the body,’ wrote The Engineer.

The aircraft was also fitted with six Napier ‘lion’ engines, each capable of developing 507bhp. According to the article, starting devices in the cockpit meant that not all the engines needed to be running at once, ‘it is possible to have any two of the six engines stopped…to allow them to cool and rest.’

But just days after the article, the plane came to an untimely and tragic end. Moments before taking off on its maiden flight the aircraft pitched forward on to its nose and was destroyed, killing its two pilots.

A couple of weeks later, in a rather spurious defence of the design, the Engineer argued that as the aircraft crashed at the moment it was about to take off, it is not possible to criticise the aerodynamic design. ‘the disaster in no way reflects upon the soundness of the principal constructional feature involved in its design,’ argued the magazine.

Despite this, later analysis has suggested that the upper engines were so far above the fuselage that they actually forced the nose down. Indeed, if the aircraft had succeeded in getting off the ground, it’s likely that it would have been constantly trying to nosedive.