Older readers may remember flying aboard the last generation of piston-engine airliners such as the Douglas DC-6 and DC-7 or the various models of the Lockheed Super Constellation. These aircraft typically used turbocharged and/or supercharged piston engines, producing several thousand horsepower. For example, later models of the Super Constellation were equipped with Wright R-3350 18-cylinder radial engines fitted with turbo-compound (i.e. turbine-boosted) technology, as illustrated below.
Due to their large (and large number of) cylinders, and the pressurized injection of fuel and air at high power settings, their exhausts usually produced a lot of flame and sparks on take-off, as illustrated in this evening ascent of a Qantas Super Constellation at the Avalon air show in 2011. I recommend watching the video in full-screen mode.
It’s a spectacular view from the ground – and I’m here to tell you, it’s even more spectacular looking out at the shooting flames and sparks from inside the cabin! Unless you know what’s going on and realize that they’re quite normal, it can give you quite a fright!
I’ve flown in DC-3’s, -4’s, -6’s and -7’s (the latter just as ‘sparky’ as the Super Constellation, if not more so) in many parts of Africa. Modern jetliners may be faster, quieter and much more efficient, but there’s still a certain nostalgic magic in the old birds . . .