Somewhere on the Web there used to be an article on Space 1889/Steampunk 1920 "Aerodynes" or Heavier than air powered aerodynamic flyers. In our universe such vehicles are called Aeroplanes.
If you know where that original article is, let me know at phwestATgmailDOTcom
The following are some reflections on Aerodynes.
Aerodynes have two advantages over the other common flying machines of the Steampunk world.
The first is that they do not require liftwood or large volumes of hydrogen.
The second is that they can fly at much greater speeds and perform maneuvers that would be impossible for other types of flyer.
Most Steampunk Aerodynes will resemble the aircraft used during and before the First World War, though my personal feeling would be to go for the pre-1917 designs, so there will be a few light monoplanes and pusher models.
In World War One, single engine two-seater aircraft were in fact the most important aircraft type, their duties including:- Contact patrolling, observation, artillery spotting, reconnaissance, photography, bombing, trench strafing, spy dropping, escort and air superiority missions. Many two seaters were a match for the single seater fighters. Single seater planes were in fact called "Scouts" the term "Fighter" seems to have become common after the war.
Large multi-engined military Aerodynes are less likely to be encountered in the Steampunk world, but a few may be used as high speed passenger transports.
As early as 1913 aircraft had mounted weapons as heavy as 1lb QF and Hotchkiss guns.
These fired too slowly for dogfighting and were mainly used for ground attack. In Steampunk 1920, however, the Aerodyne has to share the air with Zeppelins and Liftwood warships, so Aerodynes with such heavy weapons may be more common. Aerodynes are also more likely to make use of rocket batteries, either mounted under their wings or on their wing struts.
This site has some very useful details of anti-zeppelin weapons and aircraft that did see actual use.
The planes of this era had very low stalling speeds (the rules in the Soldier's Companion give them an minimum speed of 3). A practical advantage of this was that planes could fly above the deck of a cruising steamship and be effectively hovering. Deckhands could grab hold of the plane's wings and pull it down to land it. In the Steampunk universe the same could be done on a Liftwood flyer.
Aeroplanes can also be launched from or "land on" Airships. For these the technique was slightly different and involved a hook and hoop apparatus. A hook on the top of the aeroplane engaged a hoop on the bottom of the airship. Some airships could withdraw a "caught" aeroplane up into a hanger space within the main body. Airships such as the USS Akron and Macon could carry four single seater planes.
One variant of aerodyne very likely to be found in the Steampunk world is the seaplane fighter. Capable of being flown from nearly any small stretch of water these are ideal for "policing the empire" in the remoter regions of the Earth or on Venus.
Two-seater single-engine designs are the type most likely to be encountered due to their versatility.
Seaplanes can be divided into floatplanes and flying boats. Flying boats resemble normal land aircraft but have floats instead of wheels. Examples include the Short 184, Sopwith Baby and German Hansa W.12 biplane and W.29 monoplane. The German aircraft had an inverted tailfin to give the observer a wider field of fire.
Flying boats resemble a boat hull with wings added. Examples include the Sopwith Bat, Hansa-Brandenburg CC and Italian Macchi aircraft. The single seat Macchi were often superior in performance to contemporary land-based fighters. Monoplane flying boat fighters include the Russian MI Engels and Italian SIAi S67. If a two-man flying boat the observer will probably occupy the forward position, as was done with the Vickers Gunbus.
Some aircraft are also fitted with wheels or skis, giving them capability to operate from land airfields too.
By the Author of the Scrapboard :
Attack, Avoid, Survive: Essential Principles of Self Defence
Available in Handy A5 and US Trade Formats.