Air Engines: The History, Science, and Reality of the Perfect Engine
5 ‘Modern Knowledge’ … and All That
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At the drafting stage, two options presented themselves for following on where Dr Finkelstein left off. The first was to attempt a seamless transition. This would have involved backtracking to somewhere in the mid-course of Philips' work and blending in the extra detail now available from sources such as Hargreaves (1991). In this case, there would, of course, have been no place for editorial comment. The alternative, based on the fact that the original account is complete in its own right as well as being something of a legend, was to leave it intact and to find an alternative way of bridging the gap.
The way the decision went will be self-evident, but the reason may not be. The Stirling engine unquestionably owes its renaissance of the 1930s to the Philips Research Laboratories. Early post-war accounts (e.g. that of de Brey et al. 1947) report improvements in power per swept volume in the ratio of 125:1, and in specific power of 50:1, attributing the gains to ‘. . modern knowledge about heat transfer, flow resistance etc.’. In context, ‘modern’ of course means contemporary with the Second World War. On the other hand, specific instances of the resulting insights are withheld.
If there is to be an objective assessment of the Stirling engine and its prospects, this must critically relate performance achieved to the technology available for design. Lacking specific information from the horse's mouth, the only course open is to construct an independent chronology of pertinent scientific steps. This fixes the start of modern developments considerably earlier than Philips' involvement, and at the point where the cycle was first the subject of scientific analysis.