Edgar T Westbury

aka Artificer, Exactus, and Kinemette

December 30 1896, May 3 1970.

By Ron Chernich

Edgar T Westbury is rightly considered a pioneer of model and small internal combustion engine design. While his work is more commonly known in England and her "colonies" (Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, etc), his designs have been build in countless numbers the world over. Although "ETW" is renown for his IC designs, he wrote and published prolifically on steam power, nautical design, model engineering, and other allied topics. In this page, I'd like to present an over-view of his work and encourage model engineers to examine his designs and ideas.

Born into what have been described as humble circumstances, ETW received primary level education, supplemented by evening classes. He joined the Royal Navy in 1915 as a 2nd class Stoker. Serving throughout the First World War, he was demobilized in 1922 with the rank of Chief Petty Officer and a mustering of Engine Room Artificer--a qualification that we assume he was proud to wear given that a good proportion of his writings on general model engineering were later published under the pseudonym Artificer.

Following two years as a consulting engineer, he rejoined the services in a civilian capacity, this time the RAF, as a laboratory assistant at the famed Cranwell training base. It was during this time that, in 1925, his first work was published in the Model Engineer. This was not an engine but a dividing attachment for the lathe. It was quickly followed by a design for a sensitive drilling machine that became a favourite with readers. Also during 1925, he designed the powerplant for a "model" Comper Swift and established his credentials in what would become his signature endeavour. The "model" was build by apprentices, but was not permitted to fly by the authorities--perhaps because it was half-scale, spanning 13 feet, and intended for free-flight!

However, the engine--first of his "Atom" series--was a success and the following years saw numerous articles appearing in the ME relating to model petrol engines, carburation, lubrication, ignition systems etc. His original Atom was followed by the Atom Mk II, Mk III, and ultimately the Atom Minor. In 1932 he had teamed with another English pioneer of model aviation, Colonel (the Captain) WE Bowden, modifying a Wall two-stroke to power Bowden's "Kanga" free-flight bi-plane. This model established a world record for power duration models. The Kanga was a large model, requiring considerable experience and skill to trim, but his Atom Minor design brought sizes down to a scale manageable by the average modeller. So just as Ohlsson, Calkin, Brown and others were doing in the USA at around this time, ETW and Bowden introduced IC powered free flight to the "other" English speaking countries.

1932 also marked ETW's appointment to staff at the Model Engineer as technical assistant to then managing editor, Percival Marshall, becoming Technical Editor in 1945. Marshall's publishing company would also publish many of ETW's books, along with those of his contemporary, Lawerence H Sparey. In the intervening period, his output in the ME was prodigious, hardly diminishing during World War II, although at one point, ETW did apologise for the temporary absence of this regular Petrol Engine Topics series due to, as he put it, the unexpected arrival of "..a certain Teutonic model aeroplane.." In other words, he was the target of a V1 flying bomb!

Even though he had an interest in powered model flight, his prime focus for IC engine development was model boats, specifically, tethered hydroplanes for which the ME had competition classes and conducted annual trials. This was a popular pre- and post-war hobby governed by the Model Power Boating Association (MPBA) for whom Westbury served as Honorary Secretary from 1933 through 1948, then as Chairman, and finally President, serving in this capacity for another 14 years. His boat Golly served as test-bed for many of his engine innovations and experiments, details of which were chronicled in the ME.

ETW was certainly diverse. In 1941, he designed a twin cylinder IC engine for a 3-1/2" gauge locomotive, the "1831". This design featured an innovative variable friction drive. A similar drive was applied to his 1937 design for an IC driven model Road Roller, also published in the ME. Neither did he neglect steam power, with the on-going debate within the MPBA regarding merits of four-stroke vs two-stroke vs flash steam, with flash steam powering many winners. Later, ETW would design a 3 cylinder radial steam engine, the Royal Cygnet, a derivation of which would go into production in an air driven hand drill, clearly indicating the capability of the design for high-speed operation. Other steam designs included his 1955 "Double Tangey" horizontal mill engine, duly serialized for over a year in the pages of the ME. Visit the ETW Steam and Stirling Designs page to see a list of his work in this field.

His IC designs run almost the complete gambit. The only notable exclusion is a small, single cylinder compression ignition design. In fact, as far as I'm aware, his only published compression ignition engine was the delightful 1949 Ladybird twin cylinder, in-line side-port. However his other designs run full spectrum from small single cylinder two-strokes, to four cylinder, water cooled, four-strokes with nearly everything in between. All were for spark ignition, although the ME did publish changes to the Atom Minor Mk II to increase the compression ratio for glow-plug ignition. Layouts were as diverse, including a flat, "boxer" twin, the Craftsman Special, a "farm" type, the Centaur, and numerous air and water cooled four-strokes.

Enumeration here of his IC designs would be tedious, and better left to my usual individual treatments. Instead, I've tabled his IC designs in an IC Engine List. This gives the characteristics of each engine, linked where possible to additional articles on the individual engines. This is not straight forward as he had a habit of presenting a design embedded within a long-running series of a general nature. For example, the "Wombat" appeared within a series on Two-stroke Engines that itself appeared as part of his regular Petrol Engine Topics series of columns. All very easy to read and hard to catalog. Over time, I'd like to give similar treatment to his other writings and designs.

ETW remained prolific up until his end, at the age of 75, following a short illness. His final series in the ME, perhaps most appropriately, on Model Marine Propeller Design, began in ME volume 136, number 3392 of 1-14 May 1970. By the time the final part in the series was published in issue number 3397 of 17-31 July 1970, the author credit had sadly changed to "the late Edgar T Westbury". Tributes to ETW, his work and contributions pouring into the ME from his many admirers and devotees, appearing in "Smoke Rings" (the letters to the editor column), with a special tribute by Prof Dennis Chaddock--designer of the Quorn and collaborator with ETW as far back as 1936--appearing in the special Christmas issue for 1970. By all indication, ETW was tireless in preparing long and detailed responses to letters sent to him through ME, often including drawings and other material. His legacy is his designs, his books, a number of which are still available in reprint form from TEE Publishing, and back issues of the ME itself. That his designs remain favourites today among home-constructors is adequate testimony. Now, where can I get a set of castings for that damned Road Roller...

Back in the Salad Days of Model Engineer magazine, when editors and staff actually had time to do plenty of model engineering and write about it, one of its joys was Edgar T Westbury. A prolific model engineer who also wrote more than 1800 articles, he was responsible for many popular designs, especially in the field of I/C engines. So it was great to see a collection of engines built by the great man displayed by the SMEE at the London Model Engineering Exhibition in 2016. 
As a young man Westbury served in the Royal Navy during World War I and went on to work for the RAF in the 1920s, and start to design model engines - the Atom was the first to be used in a model aeroplane. During World War II he developed a number of small petrol engine generators for military use, but is best remembered as a major contributor to Model Engineer magazine. He is also believed to have been the inspiration for Neville Shute’s novel, Trustee From the Toolroom.
We can do no better than to show pictures of his engines now in the SMEE’s care, and include the eulogy to ETW published some time back by the late Ron Chernich of Model Engine News website fame. 


Dolphin 10cc prototype

Crossman twin

Sealion 30cc
Atom Minor 6cc

Cherub twin

Channel Island Special

Apex Minor

Seagull twin