Airplane to Run on hydrogen from Air (Dec, 1929)

Airplane to Run on hydrogen from Air

Flying at a height of 25 to 30 miles, an airplane being planned by Professor Rondine, of the Department of Aeronautics at Leningrad University, Russia, is to take the hydrogen which exists at these altitudes and use it for fuel! Professor Rondine proposes to equip his plane with a compressor to catch the thin hydrogen laden air and condense it to a point where it becomes a good fuel.

  1. Charlene says: November 19, 20109:28 am

    And how much fuel is that compressor going to use?

  2. TimE says: November 19, 20109:42 am

    Oh man, where do you start on this one? It can’t be too far fetched to expect to routinely quadruple the altitude record. Pressurizing your cabin to an equivalent altitude of 20,000 feet probably would keep your passengers and crew reasonably conscious, especially if you trained sherpas to be your pilots. I suppose if you were spanning all of Russia it might even be worth climbing to 150,000 feet. Oh yeah, I see the problem here, the supercharger turns backwards!

    I predict this engine idea will be as successful as the Burnelli transport they’ve attached it to.

  3. Charlene says: November 19, 20109:54 am

    I expect the boys at Leningrad University concocted this crock of nonsense at the behest of Fearless Leader, or at least to convince Fearless Leader that they’d be better off in Leningrad than in the gulags.

  4. Mike says: November 19, 201012:27 pm

    “If we get some more funding we are sure we can make it work!”

  5. r peltier says: November 19, 201012:49 pm

    I’ve got a feeling that compressor would have to run several hundred thousand rpm at that altitude to find anything to compress! And it would probably be the biggest compressor ever built!
    Them Russians found some good stuff to smoke.

  6. Rick Auricchio says: November 19, 20103:48 pm

    The percentage of hydrogen in air is about 0.000055 percent. The percentage of methane, another usable fuel, is a whopping 0.000175 percent. (That’s about three times as much.) [Source:, “air components”]

    So they would have been a teeny bit less ridiculous had they considered extracting methane from air.

    It isn’t even worth getting into the aerodynamics of wings and propellers at those high altitudes.

  7. Christoph says: November 19, 20104:31 pm

    Probably the best way to scoop up all that hydrogen is by a Bussard ramjet. They’re pretty much in space anyway.

  8. Daniel Rutter says: November 19, 20106:42 pm

    No, no, they’d still be very much in the atmosphere, albeit a damn long way above the altitude attainable by air-breathing winged aircraft. 30 miles is about 48 kilometres, and the unmanned-balloon altitude record, set in 1972, stands at 51.8 km. I think a rocket-plane might have been able to make it to that altitude with 1929 technology, but I wouldn’t bet on any living passenger less durable than lichen still being alive when the plane touched down, most likely in the time-honoured barely-subsonic-lawn-dart configuration.

    But the idea of a prop plane of any sort being able to achieve well above twice the ceiling altitude of a Lockheed U-2 is, of course, totally ludicrous. I think scientists in 1929 would have been able to figure that out, too, if only by extrapolation of empirical measurement of air pressure and aircraft performance at different altitudes.

    The Soviet Union wasn’t exactly slavishly devoted to empiricism, though (q.v. the national disaster of Lysenkoism…). For every freaky thing that actually worked (Ekranoplans!), they had dozens of Glorious Achievements of the People’s Scientists that were total bunk.

  9. Cristian Raicu says: November 20, 20106:53 am

    Sure Prof. Rondine was kill by Stalin.

  10. Zeppflyer says: November 21, 20107:20 pm

    Whew.. Thanks TimE. I was starting to go nuts trying to rationalize the flow arrows on that compressor diagram. You’d think they’d’ve at least gotten something like that right!

    In (partial) defense of the idea, it is predicated on the atmosphere all the way up there being 10% hydrogen. Now, if that were the case (and you were actually able to get up there), it might be a bit more feasible.

    The question, of course, is; ‘Where did they get that number?’ Either someone just plain made it up or the observation balloon had its gas collector right next to a leak in the envelope.

  11. Jari says: November 22, 20102:43 pm

    And “Rondine” is Italian meaning Swallow. Let the Monty Python jokes commence.

  12. Toronto says: November 22, 20109:14 pm

    At least we’re fairly sure he’s a European Rondine.

  13. Terangeree says: July 17, 20118:13 pm

    But is he unladen?

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