The rotary solenoid is an electromechanical device used to rotate a ratcheting mechanism when power is applied. These were used in the 1950s for rotary snap-switch automation in electromechanical controls. Repeated actuation of the rotary solenoid advances the snap-switch forward one position. Two rotary actuators on opposite ends of the rotary snap-switch shaft, can advance or reverse the switch position.
The rotary solenoid has a similar appearance to a linear solenoid, except that the core is mounted in the center of a large flat disk, with two or three inclined grooves cut into the underside of the disk. These grooves align with slots on the solenoid body, with ball bearings in the grooves.
When the solenoid is activated, the core is drawn into the coil, and the disk rotates on the ball bearings in the grooves as it moves towards the coil body. When power is removed, a spring on the disk rotates it back to its starting position, also pulling the core out of the coil.
The rotary solenoid was invented in 1944 by George H. Leland, of Dayton, Ohio, to provide a more reliable and shock/vibration tolerant release mechanism for air-dropped bombs. Previously used linear (axial) solenoids were prone to inadvertent releases. U.S. Patent number 2,496,880 describes the electromagnet and inclined raceways that are the basis of the invention. Leland's engineer, Earl W. Kerman, was instrumental in developing a compatible bomb release shackle that incorporated the rotary solenoid. Bomb shackles of this type are found in a B-29 aircraft fuselage on display at the National Museum of the USAF in Dayton, Ohio. Solenoids of this variety continue to be used in countless modern applications, and are still manufactured under Leland's original brand "Ledex", now owned by Johnson Electric.