Grass Roots Power
Build It And They Will Come?
And while some of the biggest names in aviation engines serve up their version of the future for aircraft engines, a virtually unknown South Carolina company has its own ideas of what a high-horsepower piston engine should look like. And Nagel Engines' prototype is not like anything we've seen before. "Well, you can't make something you say is different and have it looking like everything else," is Will Nagel's homespun response to queries about the 444 Twelve, which he says gets 150 more horsepower for the same weight as a Lycoming TIO 540, costs less, lasts longer and is easier to fix and maintain. Nagel and his development team started with a clean sheet of paper on this design. For one, it's a horizontally opposed 12-cylinder mill (yes, 12) that runs (sort of) like a six. In regular engines, each cylinder fires in sequence but in the Nagel, each pair of opposed cylinders fires together. Nagel said the opposing detonations are a lot easier on the crankshaft, bearings and case because there's no sideways bending of the crank (and resulting stresses on the other parts) on the power stroke. He said the plethora of cylinders results in a small (3.5-inch) bore for each and that means it's happy on lower-octane fuel. While most of the engine is cast or machined aluminum, the cylinders are cast iron, ensuring longer life. Although it looks complex, Nagel claims the engine is designed for easy maintenance and serviceability. "The only thing you ever have to split the case for is the crankshaft," he said. The engine is turbocharged, runs at 4,000 rpm and uses a 2:1 gearbox for the final drive. It has run and is now set up on a dynamometer but no fuel or performance data are known. Nagel, who's 71, said the prototype took more than five years to develop and he hopes to live to see it certified. "I'd like to see some engine manufacturer get interested in it and sell them the technology," he said.