Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust
Historical Series Reviews - Page 04
An Account of Partnership
Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust
Reviewed by Graham White
Another book from the Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust Historical Series, this is one well worth buying and as always at a bargain basement price.
Major George Bulman played a crucial role in Britain’s embryonic aircraft engine development business. As a government employee, Bulman’s responsibilities included the determination of whether an aircraft power plant was fit for Royal Air Force service. His official title was Director of Engine Development and Production. Just from this brief title, it can be seen that Bulman’s responsibilities ranged far and wide.
This autobiography was written in the late 1960s but for various reasons was never published. It is thanks to M C Neale, one of Bulman’s successors, that this manuscript saw the light of day. And what a wonderful account it turned out to be.
To prepare the reader for what is in store, Neale wrote a lengthy and informative introduction. Although Neal’s writing style could be irritating due to “chopped-up” sentences and at times, an awkward grammar style, it is highly recommended and well worth the effort to read his intro.
At the onset of World War I, not surprisingly, the British had no organized aircraft engine capability, therefore this responsibility was thrust upon the government. It is during this embryonic stage that Bulman enters the picture and remains in engine development and production until his departure in 1942. During his tenure, Bulman rubbed shoulders with all the movers and shakers of British aviation including his close friend Frank Halford plus Ernest Hives, Rod Banks, Wilfrid Freeman, Winston Churchill, Dr. Roxbee Cox, Harry Ricardo, Roy Fedden and many other luminaries. His involvement with the Schneider Trophy races shed more light on this fascinating contest of national pride and honor. The story of the infamous head and bank change on the Rolls-Royce R the night before the 1929 race has been well documented. But the manner in which the head and bank assembly was changed has never been dealt with. Even Bulman’s text does not get into any details but a painting depicting the change occupies a full page of the book. Normally, when a bank is removed from a 60 degree V-12, the engine is rotated 30 degrees in order to remove the bank vertically. With the engine mounted in the aircraft, this 30 degree tilt becomes problematic. However, in a scene similar to, “if Mohammed will not go to the mountain then move the mountain to Mohammed,” the Rolls-Royce mechanics charged with replacing the problematic bank assembly tilted the entire Supermarine S6B the requisite 30 degrees. Fascinating stuff..!!!
As war clouds gathered in the mid to late 1930s, it was thanks to Bulman’s proactive approach to engine manufacturing that the British were somewhat prepared; or at least as prepared as one can be with such a calamitous event about to overtake the entire world. Thank goodness Bulman got the British car industry geared up for production of aircraft engines. And remember, as today, the top executives of the 1930s were an egocentric bunch to whom the term “team player” as it pertained to cooperating with their bitterest rivals was anathema. Nevertheless, Bulman managed to get them to pull together for the national good.
After reading Bulman’s account, it was obvious the war took a terrible toll on him, even though he didn’t always admit to such in the text. At times, a reader needs to read between the lines to understand the implied messages. One cannot help but admire his charity towards those who would stab him in the back or otherwise do him political harm. Having a top level government job clearly thrust him into the inevitable politics that came as part and parcel with the position. With one exception, he had nothing but praise for those he worked with and worked for. The one exception was Frank Whittle. Perhaps we will never get the whole truth on this sordid episode. But fact of the matter is, Whittle received a patent for the jet engine in 1930 handing the British a 10 year lead in gas turbine development. By the early 1940s the British were lagging behind the Germans due to ineptitude and a lack of appreciation of what this new technology was capable of. This tremendous lead was frittered away. Bulman has to take at least some responsibility for this sorry state of affairs, instead he blames Whittle and his difficult personality. All accounts seem to support the contention that Whittle was difficult to work with, nevertheless, when a world beating technology comes along it is incumbent upon those in power to exploit this new technology to the full regardless of the difficulties in dealing with “unique” personalities. The British missed the boat on this one–big time.
Bulman’s downfall appears to have been the result of protracted problems with the Napier Sabre. In all fairness, he was given a classic “Mission Impossible” with this complex and problematic engine. Exacerbating Bulman’s situation was the apparent lackadaisical attitude Napier executives demonstrated. No wonder the US turned down manufacturing rights to this complex nightmare. Perhaps Bulman’s close association with Halford, the Sabre’s creator, had a lot to do with his fall from grace. According to Bulman’s account, the Sabre was finally coming out of the woods and turning into a useful engine for RAF Typhoons when he was unceremoniously posted to a different position. Rod Banks replaced Bulman and received all the accolades for “fixing” the Sabre problems. I find it interesting to read Bulman’s account and compare it with Banks’ account – it’s almost as if we are reading about two different stories. Likewise, comparing Whittle’s biography shows a different spin on how events transpired. I don’t have a copy yet but it will be interesting to see how Freeman’s biography holds up in comparison.
It was somewhat surprising to see a number of errors in the book that could have easily been corrected in the editing stage. The photo of a Hispano Suiza V-8 shown upside down was a real blooper. An even more egregious error was the photo of government and industry big shots supposedly looking at a Napier Sabre. The photo actually shown was a Napier Dagger, a very different engine. Bulman leaves the reader with the impression that the Rolls-Royce Eagle 22 was an exact copy of the Napier Sabre. In fact the Eagle 22, although conceptually the same as the Sabre, was a totally different engine. Development of the two-stage Merlin is covered. These were 60 series Merlins but the text incorrectly describes the first two-stage Merlin as the Merlin XX. In fact, this latter engine was single stage engine.
Overall, this book represents a great read with all the intrigue and politicking that one could ever envision.
The Bombing of Rolls-Royce at Derby
Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust
Reviewed by Graham White
With yet another addition to the Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust Historical Series, it is now becoming a veritable collection. This book represents No 32.
Although not directly aircraft engine related, as its sub title; - with diversions, implies, the story manages to wrap enough aircraft material into the text to make it worthwhile reading. The concept of the book is to use various bombing raids on the Rolls-Royce manufacturing facility in Derby, England to describe the offensive and defensive equipment used. In this way, the reader can get a better understanding of the Zeppelins used to bombard England during World War I. Using the bombing of the Derby area as a backdrop, the authors went into great detail into the history the Zeppelin, its development, the Maybach engines that powered them, etc. Of course, the British would not and could not take this assault on their homeland unopposed so the book delves into the British fighters of the day. It could be argued the authors were diverging off the subject and this was either implied or; admitted to in the text.
Most of the book was devoted to a bombing raid by a Dornier Do217 twin engined medium bomber that dropped its bombs on the Rolls-Royce Derby factory in 1942. Nice anecdotes are offered into the strategy of barrage balloons and how effective or otherwise they were. Nice description of the BMW 801 radial engine that powered the Do217 is offered. However, this reviewer would like to make some comments regarding this engine. Although this myth has been perpetuated many times, the 801 was not based on a Pratt & Whitney design even though BMW built P&W R-1690s under license. The authors do a comparison of the 801 with some of its contemporaries such as the Merlin, Wright R-1820, Hercules, etc. But the one engine that bore the most resemblance to the 801 was omitted. That engine was the Wright R-2600. I make mention of this because in this reviewer’s opinion, the 801 was copied from the R-2600. Several facts support this; (i) they are the same configuration, i.e, 14 cylinder, two row air-cooled radials, (ii) they are of almost identical displacement, (iii) their conceptual design is identical, i.e, three piece crank, one piece master rods running in plan bearings and the crank is supported in rolling element bearings, but most telling of all is (iv) their crankcase design. Wright developed an unusual way to make their radial engine crankcases in the late 1930s; that of using forged steel. The 801 also used this unusual manufacturing method. Lastly, Wright’s top design engineer was German who still maintained contact with his German friends. Would it be a stretch to assume that he let the cat out of the bag regarding the forged steel crankcase? Incidentally, the forged steel process was not as heavy as one would think. Wright crankcases and presumably the BMW 801, used extraordinarily thin sections where the stresses were low. So overall, it weighed no more than a forged aluminum crankcase. Excellent insight is offered into the defensive measures taken by the Germans to protect their aircraft against cables from barrage balloons. Hard to imagine, but the Do217 that attacked Derby actually ran into a cable and lived to tell about it.
A couple of relatively minor errors crept in.
On page 45 it appears the authors got their years mixed up and 1938 is described as 1939.
The Do217 landing gear was described as “Its electrically operated ‘undercarriage’ was effective and reliable, though it could have been more robust – on take at full load it had a most unpleasant ‘shimmy’.” This implies that the main gear shimmied; in fact, it was in all likelihood the tail wheel that shimmied – a very common problem – and not just with German aircraft.
It’s a very specialized book that may not appeal to most of us on this side of the pond but like all their other books, this one represents an absolute bargain. This reviewer buys every R-RHT Historical Series as soon as it becomes available. You’d pay more for some magazines than you would for this book.
Pistons to Blades
ISBN 1 872922 23 6
Reviewed by Graham White
The Rover car company got a head start in the development of gas turbines when Frank Whittle was in the early development stages of his revolutionary engine. In 1943 the Wilks brothers of Rover met with Hives of Rolls-Royce to swap gas turbine development for all manufacturing rights to the Meteor tank engine. At this point it would appear that Rover was now out of the gas turbine field. Not so. Immediately after World War II Rover embarked upon small gas turbine development for automotive use, probably the first in the world to do so. By 1950 Rover had developed a 150hp turbine that was used to power a pedestrian P4 sedan highly modified into a two a seater. Pioneering new ground, all the problems that are now well known such as; cost, poor throttle response, poor fuel economy and developing heat exchangers, were just some of the hurdles to be overcome. This excellent book offers fascinating insight as to how these problems were first discovered and secondly overcome. Although it could be argued that some of these issues were never satisfactorily fixed – by Rover or any one else. Despite spending several decades dinking around with gas turbines, the market place was not ready. One gets the impression from reading the book that Rover came agonizingly close to making a marketing success of their small turbine engines but then found themselves falling short due to a number of factors including cost, fuel consumption or reliability. Every imaginable application was tried including cars, race cars, boats, trucks, fire pumps, trains, small aircraft and APUs for Vulcan bombers. Some of the foregoing offered a modicum of commercial success but the majority ended up being prototypes. I found it fascinating to read that the fire pump application was hand cranked, surely a first for a gas turbine..!!!
A small section is devoted to other companies that delved into automotive gas turbines such as Chrysler and Fiat.
Numerous photographs and cutaway line drawings are used to illustrate the book. This book is number 34 in the Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust series and therefore represents fabulous value for money. It’s a great read and well worth purchasing.
The Rolls-Royce Meteor
Softbound, 204 pages
Reviewed by Graham White
Number 35 in the Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust Series is yet another jewel of a book. These books still amaze for their value; for the price of an average magazine you get an authoritatively written tome. Most people are aware of the Merlin being converted for use as a tank power plant and the famous swap whereby Rolls-Royce gave Rover the tank engine business in exchange for Rolls-Royce acquiring Rover’s gas turbine business. This is the first detailed history of the Merlin conversion from the desperate days of WWII through the early 1960s when production of the Meteor ceased. The book delves into all the Meteor powered tanks and tank design including suspensions and transmissions. The little known Meteorite, a V-8 version of the Meteor is also covered. For the hard core gear head or tank history enthusiast this book is a must buy.
50 Years with Rolls-Royce
Softbound, 151 pages
Reviewed by Graham White
Number 36 in the Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust Series this book will make an excellent addition to any Rolls-Royce enthusiast’s collection. It is the autobiography of Donald Eyre, a prominent Rolls-Royce designer. Starting his career in the early 1920s, Eyre’s artistic and design capabilities were quickly recognized resulting in an assignment to work directly with Henry Royce in West Wittering. Little is known about the personality of Royce; sure anecdotes have been published showing him to be cantankerous and even bad tempered. Eyre’s recollection of him is very different—a sharp wit, good sense of humor and of course a workaholic. The book gives excellent insight into working with Royce and other Rolls-Royce luminaries such as Harvey-Bailey. After Royce’s death Eyre was assigned to another Rolls-Royce great, Dr. A. A. Griffith. Eyre was tasked with putting Griffith’s advanced ideas onto paper such as his high bypass gas turbine in 1940. Again, as with Royce, valuable insight is given to Griffith as a person rather than simply a brilliant physicist. Written over 30 years ago, it was interesting to note Eyre’s description of Hi-Fil, the material used for the early RB211 fan stage. It was this material that finally doomed the early development of this engine and ultimately led to Rolls-Royce’s bankruptcy in 1971.
Although the book is for the hard core Rolls-Royce aficionado, it makes for an excellent read.