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An ‘Ingenious Engineer’ cont.

B.J. Pilliner

Bernard came to the conclusion that another new boat was needed and ‘something of a compromise between ‘Ginger’ and ‘Frolic’ may be an advantage, still with a rear engine but short shaft and conventional prop.’ (rather than the flywheel) This thinking would result in an entirely new and innovative boat arriving in 1953, ‘Eega Beeva’.

The new hull was a radical departure being 42 inches long and instead of a rectangular box was all curves. The bottom was rounded in cross section with the sides curving up tightly to the deck line. As he suggested, Bernard set the engine further forward to allow a steeply inclined transom with a prop shaft exiting through a small rear planing step.

While virtually every other tethered hydroplane was now running with two large fixed sponsons at the front, Bernard continued with very shallow planes.

The ingenious part of the design was that these two planes were pivoted and connected to a lever controlled by the tension on the rear bridle and a third bridle itself attached to the middle of the rear bridle. With the boat at rest, the planes were down to give the hull lift on launching.

As the speed increased so the third bridle allowed the rear bridle to straighten out, working a system of levers and springs that raised the planes so that they were level with the bottom of the boat, so reducing the amount of lift from the hull.

Left: Boat at speed with sponsons raised fully

As in Frolic, the engine unit in Eega Beeva was also mounted horizontally. The pumps are mounted on the drive end of the motor  with the water pump one side of the reduction gear  and the fuel pump on the other. The single cylinder engine is notable in that it has a shuttle piston valve that controls both steam admission and exhaust, rather than a uniflow exhaust common on many other motors. The cylinder with the lid is the displacement lubricator that pumps steam oil directly to the piston valve, just under the steam inlet.

Drive to shuttle piston valve Steam inlet and exhaust to right Drive end showing pump reduction gear

‘Eega Beeva’ made its debut at St Alban’s Regatta where ‘his usual ingenuity and fine work’ were commented on in Model Engineer.The regatta report noted that the boat was ‘obviously very powerful, but suffering from the usual plague of flash steamers, cooling off after a few laps.’

‘Eega Beeva’ had both burners and boiler fully enclosed in a casing with an air intake at the front and exhaust at the rear giving a lovely smooth and streamlined outline to the boat, but was possibly the Achilles heel of the system. The fastest run of the season at 53.83mph was sufficient to win Bernard the ‘A’ steam class in the 1953 ME Speedboat Competition, his first success.

He would also retain the Crebbin Cup for a second year for the best performance by a flash steamer at the Grand Regatta.
Left: Mary flicking prop to start the engine

Fine tuning carried on through the 54 season with the new boat gradually becoming faster and faster, finishing 2nd in ‘A’ Class at the International Regatta where it was described as ‘a fearsome aquatic monster’.

The boat achieved its first outright success when it won the ‘A’ class at the Southampton Regatta with a speed of 59mph, beating all the IC engined boats in the process. ME commented "this was the best run by a flash steam boat for some time, and it was a wonderful spectacle.

Just a couple of weeks later at the Grand regatta at Victoria Park, ‘Eega Beeva’ and Bernard would create a ‘spectacle’ that would become an iconic image of tethered hydroplane racing. At just over 60mph the boat took off and Dennis Mattingley captured the exact moment that it was vertical to show the perfect underneath view of the hull and the three-legged bridle system. Although the hull and steam plant survived the somersault, the ‘sponsons were deranged sufficiently to prevent another run being made.’ The 58.77mph run recorded previously would win Bernard the ‘A’ steam class in the Model Engineer Speedboat Competition for the second year running.

Bernard and ‘Eega Beeva’ won the Crebbin Cup again in 1955, but he was attending fewer and fewer regattas as plans were afoot for a much bigger project, not connected to models in any way. He had previously set-up in partnership with two others, Messrs Davies and Palmer as DPP doing engineering/design work. As daughter Loraine recalls, 'For donkeys years every fire appliance you could find had a DPP hosereel assembly on the back, another Pilliner design.' Then, in 1957, Bernard and Mary set up their own company, Rational Automation, to develop and supply automated process machinery to the food production industry. Here he continued with his innovative ideas being awarded several more international patents specifically relating to the baking industry. Some years later they were joined by draughtsman Brian Partridge who would eventually become a partner in the company. In 1968 Bernard was awarded full membership of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

Loraine adds 'Rational Automation was an inspired name (my Dad's idea) and rational exactly describes the work he did.  He designed and built all kinds of machinery, most of it for the confectionery trade - I grew up wandering in and out of his workshop to see the latest 'mock-ups' and also went up to Jo Lyons with him to see the machines in action. They were fascinating and as kids we made ourselves sick on all the confectionery companies sent to Dad to try out his mock-ups.' The 'Muffin Case Denester' was of particular interest to OTW, being partial to these and their smaller cousin the cupcake. This machine would take individual preformed muffin cases from a stack and place them ready for filling. Bernard Pilliner's patents are all available to view online.

In 1970 Bernard decided to dust off ‘Eega Beeva’ and have another seasons racing. His old club, Southampton had largely gone over to radio control so he was put in touch with Jim Hampton and became a member of the Hampshire and South Coast Club  at the end of June, with the registration HS5. He hoped to have a few trial runs at the Ornamental Lake before travelling to other regattas, but the pole had been destroyed and removed making that impossible.

The twelve or so years absence seemed to have made no difference though, and at the Woburn lake he put in what were noted as ‘some very spectacular runs’.

At both the Grand and International Regattas Bernard finished 2nd in the ‘A’ Class, in the process regaining the Crebbin trophy that he last held in 1955. Remarkably, his run was nearly 10mph faster than that in 1955. Bernard and the boat were still competitive, but sadly this was not to be a happy return to the sport.

Bernard was very seriously ill, and it is believed this is what prompted him to run his boat for a ‘last season’. Certainly he was unable to attend as many regattas as he had planned, but it was a great shock to the model power boat fraternity when they heard of his sudden death at the end of 1970.

Right: Bernard at the Grand in 1970. Daughter Loraine, seated, was promoted to prop flicking duties on this occasion.

In the obituary by Peter Lambert, Chairman of the MPBA, he wrote, "Bernard was a man who had the respect of us all, his personality and sense of humour at the pond side always added to any regatta he attended. He was the perfect sportsman at all times. The hydroplane world will be the poorer for the loss of such a fine, knowledgeable and experienced engineer."

In one of his last commentaries, Edgar Westbury wrote of Bernard and the other flash steam competitors at the 1970 International, "I do not think that there are any more difficult problems in model engineering to be overcome, than in making a flash steam hydroplane perform satisfactorily." Bernard had so nearly achieved this, but his thinking and design ideas would inspire others to continue the quest, culminating in the great flash steam renaissance of the 1980s and 90s.

Rational Automation, the company that Bernard and Mary set up, continued after his death providing ‘Bernard’s innovative designs to most of the world’s leading bakeries.’ Loraine explained that 'The designs were so good that the company survived on Dad's work for decades after his death, simply by Brian modifying them, as he knew the machines really well by then.' In 1995 the company became part of the BSA- Regal Group.

‘Eega Beeva’, Bernard's last boat, has also survived and was donated to the Auckland Model Engineering Society in New Zealand where Tony Pilliner now lives. It was the society contacting OTW to say they had this boat that started off the whole venture.

Engine to the right of boiler casing Boat with sponsons in the fully down position Eega Beeva on display in the clubhouse

Eventually we were put in contact with Tony who very kindly provided us with an incredible archive of photographs relating to his late father’s activities and tethered hydroplanes in general. The story does not quite end there as in 1976; Bernard’s widow Mary had married his life long friend and fellow flash steam enthusiast Frank Jutton. Tony ‘volunteered’ his sister Loraine to talk to Frank and Mary to add a more personal perspective to this article. Happily, not only have they been able to do this, but have also provided us with a fascinating account of Frank’s involvement, enabling us to produce a second article detailing his long and remarkable career with tethered hydroplanes.

1947 ME Competition 1954 ME Competition 1946 Grand Regatta-Crebbin Trophy 1946 Grand Regatta-Wembley Trophy


Our sincere thanks go to Tony Pilliner, Loraine Batterbury, Frank and Mary Jutton, Jim Hampton, Rob Bamford, Dennis Mattingley,  Peter Hill, Laura Gardner, archivist of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and Greg Schofield, archivist at Guildford Grammar School.