Saturday, August 23, 2008

ROCKET CYCLES! #2: Archibald Low

Record-breaking, while a logical use of a rocket-assisted motorcycle, isn't the only possible venue... in the 1940's 'Professor' A.M. Low thought speedway racing in England could use a little boost, and arranged a demonstration at Wembley track, with 90,000 people watching.

British motorcycle racer Bill Kitchen (see photo - looking bemused) was protected by a steel shield over the top of the rocket bodies; the speedway JAP motorcycle used four solid-core rockets, angled downwards (to prevent lift-off, no doubt). Kitchen used switches on the handlebars to ignite the candles, and said 'acceleration was absolutely terrific' when the rockets lit off.

Archibald Montgomery Low was a pioneer of rocket exploration, and is considered the father of radio guidance systems for rockets, planes, and torpedoes. He was a fascinating character; in 1904, when he was 16 years old, he invented the first 'pre-selector' gearbox. In 1914, he invented an early form of television (which he called TeleVista, or 'seeing by wireless'). In 1917, during WW1, he created an aerial drone plane for the Royal Flying Corps, which was radio controlled and intended as a guided bomb - during this experiment he also built the first electric/gyroscopic plane control system. Also in 1917, he created a radio-controlled rocket. In 1916, he published a book, 'The Two Stroke Engine, a Manual of the Coming Form of Internal Combustion Engine'...which I've ordered - it's still in print... try for a new reprint, or an original. He authored something like 40 other books on technical matters, and a few sci-fi titles and held nearly 100 patents.Professor Archibald Montgomery Low

While the British military authorities thought him something of a crank, the Germans realized how dangerous his inventions could be... so after trying twice to kill him (first using an assassin with a gun, then a strychnine-laced cigarette), they used his research during the 1930's to create their 'V' bombs.

In the 1920's, one of Low's projects which came to commercial fruition was a scooter, built by the Low Engineering Company, with funding from Sir Harry Norman (no relation to Norman motorcycles); several patents from around 1922/3 indicate that the scooter would have had a monocoque chassis of pressed steel panels (as shown, from his patent application of 1923, and looking remarkably like the Ascot-Pullin motorcycle of the 1928), possibly with 'sprung wheels'... I'm still looking for some photos.

Low was a Brooklands habitue in the 20's, and gave a 'Professor Low' cup for a 3-wheeler handicap race on July 29, 1922. He was Chairman of the ACU for 24 years.... certainly a fellow who deserves a bit more attention, or maybe a feature length film starring Russel Crowe... I'll add more information as I find it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

An Ascot-Pullin 500photo is at