Maxim's flying machine on its launch track, 1894.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim (1840-1916) designed and built this flying machine in 1893-1894. He had previously found fame by inventing the machine gun. This was the largest aeroplane to lift off briefly from the ground in the 19th century, having a 104-foot wingspan and weighing 8000 lbs. Powered by two 180 hp steam engines to drive propellers, the biplane was launched from a broad gauge railway track. Maxim did numerous trials on this aeroplane at Baldwin's Park, Bexleyheath, Kent, and this photograph probably shows it on its final test run on 31st July 1894. Later that day, the aeroplane briefly took to the air before crashing.