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Sutcliffe's first boats were powered by what Sutcliffe described as a 'flash boiler'. It's rather like a 'pop pop' (aka 'toc toc') hot water circulation engine, but without the 'pop' noise. This method of propulsion was patented by Frederic Adolphus Lappin of Middlesborough in 1919. You can follow a link to the patent documentation
All boats used a small 'burner' which was filled with meths through a handle which doubled as a filling neck. The burner contained a small wick (approx 5/8" diamater) which could then be lit; the flame size could be adusted by pulling the wick up. The coiled pipe that runs through the hull needed to be 'primed' with water and then the burner could be carefully inserted into the hull, and in the case of the battleships, the 'lid' could be placed on the boat.
The boat would sit there and do nothing for a few seconds, and then the motor would start to 'pulse' water out of the tubes at the stern and propel the boat forward. This method of propulsion was beautifully simple, but it did have draw backs; the boat's progress across the pond was extremely sedate and they also got very hot! It is very unusual to find used examples of these boats without paint damage (often excesive) caused by heat and I'm sure many a young boy had memories of being burnt by these 'toys'!
When production of toy boats started in 1920 there was a certain degree of trial and error in the detail design of the first boats, but very soon there were five standard boats in the initial range. All had hot air 'motors', either with a single coil or a double coil (no faster!) They also had one more common feature; they all had a 'foot' soldered to the hull which acted as a stand for the was out of the water. This feature, borrowed from German toy boats from the 20's, was dropped on the later clockwork boats of the 1930's.
The 12" Battleship was the first boat to be produced in approx. 1920. Powered by a single coil 'engine', the boat would be produced for about 9 years with only very minor variations in colour and detail.
With a clockwork motor, the 12" Battleship would later become the iconic 'Valiant' and sail for another 10 years, right up to the 2nd World War.
Whilst these boats are rare in comparison to the later pre-war and post war boats, they are the most common of the 'hot air' boats; many thousands of these boats were probably made over the 9 year production run.
In most books or articles written about Sutclffe, it is suggested that the hot air boats were phased out in 1928, but the advert below suggests otherwise. Sutcliffe would have paid good money to place this add in the 1929 Christmas Issue of the Meccano Magazine; it's unlikely that thue would have done that if the boats had been out if production for over a year. That said, it would not have been long before clockwork lead the way; by Christmas 1930, clockwork, and even electric boats were being advertised!
The mighty 16" Battleship was the second boat to be produced in approx. 1921 and used many of the same parts of the 12" battleship. A 'stretched' version of the 12" boat, it had the same removable top sections and two extra gun turrets; one fore, and one aft. It was powered by a twin coil motor which in turn was heated by a burner with twin wicks. Alas the boat went no faster, but it did generate a large amount of heat!
The 16" battleship would later become the clockwork 'Nelson', though it would be reduced in 'height' when the transition was made in about 1930.
These boats were very expensive in thier day and are now very hard to find in any condition.
The 8" and 12" boats were introduced in the early 1920's to provide a cheaper and more affordable alternative to the expensive battleships. They much simpler with far fewer parts so were correspondingly cheaper to make.
Two sizes were made over the period of 1922 to 1929; both are now very difficult to find in any condtion, the 8" version being the rarest of the two.
The 16" hot air cabin cruiser was the last hot air boat to be added to the range; it filled a price gap between the smaller boats and the battleships.