The Golden Age of Aircraft Engines

The Chernikeeff brothers, Matthew and Paul, and the Rotec radial engine


What is round and made of metal, comes from Australia, and many aviation people enjoy it? A can of Fosters? Could be, but I’m thinking engines as in the Rotec radial engine. And if you haven’t seen one of these you are truly missing one of the most aesthetic looking aircraft engines that come with a high degree of performance and reliability that brings back the golden age of aircraft engines.

This article is not about a big manufacturing company but about the little shop that could and how it succeeded in supplying the aviation world with two radial engines.

Another set of brothers

Rotec Engineering Pty. Ltd. was established in the year 2000 but even before that the ground work was being laid down for this company. Just like the Wright brothers made a good team in aviation so did the Chernikeeff brothers, Matthew and Paul.

It started around 1997 when Paul’s first radial design seven-cylinder 350cc radial engine was made for his scale model aircraft which drew great interest from the Australian aviation community. The brothers were taken by surprise by all the attention and were asked to make a larger engine. Soon they were invited to the Caloolture air show in Queensland to display and run their radial engine. Well, every time they started it up they were flocked by people and soon were out of brochures about the engine.

Next was to try to find someone to fit one of their engines on for test flights. The process of ground testing and fine tuning with a series of dynamometer tests was completed and the next step was flying. Slepcev Aviation accepted this challenge and installed the R2800 on a specially modified Storch called the “Criquet” named after the French radial powered version of the Fieseler design. Mr. Slepcev was very valuable as he relayed important information back to Rotec Engineering for evaluation.

As mentioned, this is a small company with Matthew, a toolmaker by trade with an operational background in CNC (computer numerically control) machinist, and Paul, a qualified automotive electrician and a skilled machinist with a passion for radial engine design and construction. With the help of a qualified aeronautical engineer, Bill Whitney, this team is very capable of manufacturing some great radial engines. Round this out with an individual with a B.S.c. with honors’ combined with many years of business, their “Dad” Jim Chernikeeff brings another great component to the team that navigates the business.

The R2800 radial engine

The R2800 is the seven-cylinder radial engine that started this company and helps it expand and deliver the engines around the world. Dry weight of this engine is 224.4 pounds which produces 110 horsepower at 3,600 rpm via 3:2 planetary reduction gearbox.

It was only a matter of time until the aviation community desired another larger engine and Rotec was asked and looked upon to fill this need. So far, this company was trying hard to pay off bank loans. Exploring another engine was not in the cards at this time, but over the 2003 Christmas break Paul produced the first set of design drawings. Everyone at Rotec agreed this was viable but what about funding? As the word got out that Rotec was trying to build a nine-cylinder radial engine, some individuals committed to purchasing these engines, which helped in the decision making to move forward.

By Jan. 18, 2005 the Rotec R3600 went into production. Basically, this engine is the same as the R2800 with two more cylinders and 40 more horsepower making this engine perfect for a lot of builders that are building WWI aircraft like the Nieuport, Sopwith, Fokker DR1, aircraft like the Hatz, and people wanting a 150-hp radial vs. a 110-hp engine.

We mentioned before the horsepower and weight of the R2800 but let’s get into some other technical information.

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