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Book Reviews

Books about aircraft engines are not confined strictly to collectors' dusty shelves. New ones are being published all the time. Many of these books, both old and new are reviewed in this section.

Please note that the opinions expressed herein are those of the reviewers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Aircraft Engine Historical Society. If you have a different impression of a book, send us a review!

Reinenting the Propeller
Aeronautical Specialty and the Triumph of the Modern Airplane
by Jeremy R. Kinney

Hardbound, 6.3" x 9.4" x 1.1", 393 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1-107142-862
Cambridge University Press (2017)

Recommended Retail Price: $120.00
Discounts available through the Publisher and Amazon.com

25 b/w illustrations, 4 tables

Reviewed by Kimble D. McCutcheon - 1 May 2017

This book has nearly everything a propulsion book ought to have. It covers visionaries, inventors and manufacturers that developed and produced modern propellers, and explores the propeller's impact upon the world.

Kinney introduces us to Frank W. Caldwell, who as the civilian head of the U.S. Army Air Service Engineering Division Propeller Unit, shaped the future of American propeller development. Caldwell's WWI experience had convinced him that wood was not a suitable material for increasingly higher aircraft power and speed. Under his leadership, the world's first dedicated propeller whirl testing facility was built at McCook Field, near Dayton, Ohio. Here, propeller specialists could spin large propellers to destruction at speeds far higher than they would ever see in service. This promoted the investigation of propeller materials, construction and mechanisms.

The NACA conducted civilian propeller research. William F. Durand and Everett P. Leslie at Stanford University, and Fred E. Weick at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory developed theoretical propeller performance models that were correlated to wind tunnel test data. NACA opened its full size Propeller Research Tunnel at Langley in 1927 under Weick's direction. In addition to its important role in verifying propeller theory, the Propeller Tunnel also facilitated development of the NACA cowling and the integration of the propeller, cowling and nacelle into aircraft wings and fuselages.

Propeller construction evolved from fixed-pitch to ground-adjustable to variable-pitch to constant speed. Materials evolved from wood to solid aluminum to hollow steel, and finally, in the 21st century, to carbon fiber/Kevlar composites. Each of these had its promoters and detractors. Kinney covers the people and major U.S. (Hamilton Standard, Curtiss Electric, Aeroproducts), British (de Havilland, Rotol) and German (VDM) companies that supplied large propellers.

Kinney also explores the surprising reluctance of the American and British aircraft industries to embrace variable-pitch and constant-speed propellers, primarily due to concern over increased weight and complexity. The tide turned in the U.S. when aircraft capable of coast-to-coast air service needed to operate from high-altitude airports and continue to climb if one engine failed; this led to nearly universal adoption of constant-speed propellers for U.S. airlines in the mid-1930s. The British were much slower to install constant-speed propellers, and only after witnessing poor performance of British aircraft against German aircraft with VDM constant-speed propellers did Fighter Command embark on a crash program to install propeller governors. In just 44 days about 300 Spitfires underwent 15 to 20 hour retrofit procedures, making them competitive with Bf 109s just in time for the Battle of Britain.

Propellers took a back seat to jet propulsion after WWII, but despite the popularity and efficiency of turbofans, propellers still fill important niches in general aviation, specialty military and civilian transport aircraft.

This is a book that is hard to put down. It relates the rich history of a specialized technology in an interesting and engaging manner. It is so meticulously documented that the notes alone are worth the book's price. Essays on sources acquaint the reader with archives and other information repositories that could facilitate further research, and an extensive index helps to rapidly locate technologies, organizations and people. Kinney's book excels on many levels and is a welcome addition to this reviewer's library.

AEHS Members: Please sign into the Member’s Bulletin Board for announcements about special discounts available through February 2018.

Jim Allison’s Machine Shop: The First 30 Years
by John M. Leonard

Hardbound , 11.2" x 8.6" x 0.7", 260 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1-872922-492
Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust (2016)
Available through Amazon.com

Recommended Retail Price: US $40.00

235 pictures/diagrams, black and white

Reviewed by Kimble D. McCutcheon - 8 December 2016

John Leonard's exploration of the Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust, Allison Branch archives has led to another intriguing look into Allison history. While his last book, The Allison Engine Catalog, presented brief descriptions of Allison engines and products, and covered the period of 1915 - 2007, this one provides a substantially deeper treatment of the early years, 1915 - 1945.

Leonard begins with coverage of Jim Allison's personal life, interests and business ventures. He continues with biographical sketches of Jim's friends, business partners and key employees.

Next, Leonard devotes 39 pages to the history and evolution of the many Allison buildings built mostly in and around the town of Speedway, Indiana. Speedway was the brainchild of Carl Fisher, who, along with Jim Allison and others, had founded the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1906. Allison was also an investor in the town of Speedway, which provided housing for his employees. Leonard's coverage of the Allison Plants includes numerous maps and photographs.

Several key Allison development projects and products are covered in depth. These include Allison steel-backed bearings, Liberty engines and modifications, marine engines, the X-4520 (an air-cooled X-24 developed in conjunction with the U.S. Army Air Service Engineering Division), and an airship diesel.

Leonard devotes 24 pages to new Allison V-1710 material that has come to light since the publication of Dan Whitney's Vee's for Victory! This includes drawings, photographs, supercharger development concepts and performance charts. Similarly, new material is presented on the Allison V-3420. Leonard also covers Allison gearboxes, gearbox concepts, and many engine concepts that never entered production. Finally early Allison-built turbojets and turboprops are summarized.

This is not only an easy-to-read technical history, but also is a useful reference. I heartily recommend it to anyone interested in Allison history or the development of engines.

Westinghouse J46 Axial Turbojet Family
Development History and Technical Profiles

by Paul J. Christiansen

Softbound, 8.5" x 11.0" x 0.7", 286 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0-692764-556
Bleeg Publishing LLC (2016)

Recommended Retail Price: $47.95

77 illustrations, black and white

Reviewed by Kimble D. McCutcheon - 26 Nov 2016

Paul Christiansen continues his excellent series on Westinghouse gas turbines in his latest book, which covers the J46 family. This is an in-depth account of how the Westinghouse Aviation Gas Turbine division attempted to bridge the gap between the U.S. Navy’s ever-changing requirements and the emerging technologies that might have met them.

The J46 was expected to have been a relatively straightforward development of the Westinghouse J34. However, the integration of an afterburner and all-new electronic control system, coupled with the Navy’s predilection for changing requirements and plans to use the J46 in a number of very different airframes, proved to be more than Westinghouse could accomplish within the aggressive schedule. Several aircraft projects that were to have used the J46 were cancelled and the Vought F7U-3, the only J46-powered aircraft to enter production, had a short service life, partially due to engine issues.

Christiansen begins with a review of the J34 program, which produced many developments and improvements that were central to the J46 program. He then describes elements of the J34-WE-22 and -38 that were to have been shared with the XJ46-WE-2 and ultimately covers procurement and development of the XJ46-WE-2 and -4. Three chapters cover XJ46 and J46-WE-8/A/B and -12/A/B development, production and service. Other chapters chronicle J46-WE-18 and XJ46-WE-1, -3, -5 and -7 development, J46 flight testing, and J46 improvement/growth programs. Christiansen’s Analysis and Conclusions chapter reiterates how the Navy’s indecision and focus on superfluous details added to the technical problems both the J46 and F7U-3 programs faced. Appendices provide engine ratings and specifications, operating limits, a (long) list of YJ46-WE-8A field service problems, and a list of surviving J46 examples.

With 925 citations from 204 sources (nearly all primary), this book, like its predecessor, provides valuable insight into early U.S. gas turbine development. Christiansen is hinting that a book on the early Westinghouse engines (19A, 19B, 9.5A, 9.5B, and 19XB2A, which became the J30) is in the works; this I shall anxiously await.

AEHS Members can get Westinghouse J46 Axial Turbojet Family at a 20% discount by using the discount code from the Members’ Bulletin Board. The book is also available from Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

The Focke-Wulf Ta 152
by Thomas H. Hitchcock

Hardbound, 9.2" x 12.1" x 1.0", 208 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0-914144-533
Eagle Editions Ltd. (2012)

Recommended Retail Price: US $75.00

Pictures and Diagrams (see review)

Reviewed by Tom Fey - 6 Jul 2016

Thomas Hitchcock has produced a fantastic, large format, high paper quality, three pound, 208 page book about the German Ta 152 high altitude fighters developed late in WWII. The research and documentation are peerless, including 51 original Focke-Wulf drawings of the airframe and sub-assemblies, 29 photographs of the several types of engines used or proposed for the Ta 152 series of aircraft, and 21 engine drawings. There are four appendices detailing 1) camouflage and markings, 2) production, 3) specifications, weights, performance and equipment, and 4) pilot operating instructions.

Hitchcock has acquired first person descriptions of flying and fighting in the Ta 152, and masterfully traces its complicated development and its ultimate, limited entry into combat during the spring of 1945. There are also period and modern color photographs of the lone surviving Ta 152H-0 held unrestored in the collection of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. With 180 photographs overall, 40 color photographs, 36 color illustrations, and 19 tables and charts, there is something for everybody, especially the technically-minded devotees of the Aircraft Engine Historical Society. I cannot say enough about the depth of subject detail, astounding research, excellence and clarity of writing, and physical quality of the book itself. At 36 cents per page, it seems expensive, but in my opinion, it is a bargain.

Arsenal of Democracy
The American Automobile Industry in World War II

by Charles K. Hyde

Hardbound, 7.2" x 10" x 0.8", 264 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0814339-510
Wayne State University Press (1 October 2013)

Recommended Retail Price: $39.95

34 illustrations

Reviewed by Carl Kuhns - 17 Jun 2016

This book details the role that Detroit’s automobile manufacturers played in World War II materiel production. The auto companies made aircraft engines, propellers, complete aircraft, aircraft components, tracked vehicles, wheeled vehicles, and munitions. Being an aircraft engine enthusiast, I was particularly interested in the sections concerning aircraft engines and propellers.

Wright Aeronautical Corporation licensed two auto companies to make two models of their engines. The Studebaker Corporation produced the R-1820 for the B-17 and Dodge-Chicago manufactured the R-3350 for the B-29.

Pratt & Whitney licensed its engines to the following automobile companies: Ford (R-2800); Buick (R-1830); Chevrolet (R-1830, R-2800); Nash-Kelvinator (R-2800). Allison, a General Motors division, made aircraft engines before and during the war. Packard Motor Car Company built the Rolls-Royce Merlin liquid cooled V-12 engines.

The most impressive production was auto maker Nash-Kelvinator’s production of 158,134 Hamilton Standard propellers.

Also mentioned in Arsenal of Democracy were the manufacture of complete aircraft by three auto companies. Ford built B-24s at the Willow Run, Michigan and Waco-designed wood gliders in Iron Mountain, Michigan. Eastern Aircraft, a division of the General Motors Corporation, built Grumman Avenger torpedo bombers and Wildcat Fighters. Nash-Kelvinator completed 262 Sikorsky R-6 helicopters.

I was interested to read about two men who played a prominent role in World War II war production. William S. Knudsen had a long career as an auto industry executive, first with Ford and later with General Motors. He resigned his position as president of General Motors in 1940. Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed him as Director of War Production. Albert Kahn was the foremost American industrial architect from the 1900s to the 1940s. Kahn’s architectural firm designed the massive 6,430,000 square foot floor space Dodge-Chicago B-29 engine plant. Albert Kahn also designed the Willow Run B-24 plant. It consisted of an L-shaped building with 4,734,617 square feet of floor space. Interesting enough, both Kahn and Knudsen were immigrants to America. Knudsen was born in Denmark; Kahn was born in Germany.

I did notice some misinformation in the section concerning Buick-built Pratt & Whitney engines. The author states that Buick built Pratt & Whitney R-2800s for the C-54 cargo plane. I have never seen any other reference that anything but Pratt & Whitney R-2000s powered C-54s.

The History of an Airscrew Company
1937 - 1960
by Bruce Stait

Hardbound, 9.3" x 6.2" x 0.9", 180 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0951681503
Alan Sutton Publishing; 1st edition (1990)

Available from Abe Books, Amazon.com and Other Used Book Dealers

20 Pages Black and White Images

Reviewed by Tom Fey - 21 Jan 2015

Rotol was established in 1937 by the drive of Sir Roy Fedden of the Bristol Aeroplane Company. Fedden managed to convince Lord Hives of Rolls-Royce that it was imperative to establish a propeller company to compete with de Havilland as well as the American manufacturers Hamilton-Standard and Curtiss. Bristol and Rolls-Royce each contributed money and personnel to the endeavor, which was born at a time when standardization of the propeller/engine interface was being discussed. The great debate of hardwood versus magnesium versus aluminum (aluminium to the Brits) versus steel versus compressed wood composite propeller blades was raging. Engine horsepower along with aircraft performance was accelerating, and war clouds were gathering.

Stait develops wonderful personalities in his story, especially the imperial, but right-man-at-the-right-time for the job, Rotol Comptroller R. H. Coverly. The process of weaning Rotol off subsidies of money and the cherry picking of skilled manpower from the parent companies is discussed, and fascinating details of wages, mistakes, communists, the war, expansion, competition, and dealing with the British Ministries is all told in a wonderfully British manner. As time and technology progressed, additional product lines are discussed and launched with variable success. The pain of the immediate post-war adjustment to production and employment, the advent of the turboprop engine, the "limited" future of the propeller in the coming jet age, and corporate mergers are presented in a well-organized and pleasantly detailed manner.

The history of Rotol as penned by Dowty retiree Bruce Stait is an outstanding work full of personal insight, excellent research, refreshing technical detail, and a multitude of stories and anecdotes captured by the author from Rotol employees themselves. The book has 20 pages of black and white photographs and eight welcome appendices which include rates of pay, cost of propellers, the Rotol propeller numbering system, wood blade markings and construction details, and propeller design.

Readers with an interest in propellers will undoubtedly enjoy this history, but the richness in detail of both the times and the Rotol employees will delight readers with an interest in the 1937-1960 period of British history.


Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust Historical Series

No 2. The Merlin in Perspective - the combat years
No 15. Olympus: the inside story
No 16. Rolls Royce Piston Aero Engines – a designer remembers
No 18. The Rolls-Royce Dart - pioneering turboprop
No 19. The Merlin 100 Series - the ultimate military development
No 21. The Rolls-Royce Crecy
No 26. Fedden
No 28. Boxkite to Jet
No 29. Rolls-Royce on The Front Lines - The life and times of a Service Engineer
No 30. The Rolls-Royce Tay Engine and the BAC One-Eleven
No 31. An Account of Partnership - Industry, Government and the Aero Engine
No 32. The Bombing of Rolls-Royce at Derby
No 34. Pistons to Blades
No 35. The Rolls-Royce Meteor
No 36. 50 Years with Rolls-Royce
No 39. Parkside: Armstrong Siddeley to Rolls-Royce 1939-1994
No 41. Overhaul of Merlin Engines in India and the USSR
No 43. Eagle: Henry Royce’s First Aero Engine
No 46. Rolls-Royce and the Halifax
No 47. The History of the Rolls-Royce RB211 Turbofan Engine
Hucknall – the Rolls-Royce Flight Test Establishment


Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust Technical and Special Series

No 1. Rolls-Royce and the Rateau Patents
No 2. The Vital Spark - the development of aero-engine sparking plugs
No 3. The Performance of a Supercharged Aero Engine
No 4. Flow Matching the Stages of Axial Compressors
No 5. Fast Jets - the history of reheat development at Derby
No 7. Rocket Development with Liquid Propellants
No 9. The Allison Engine Catalog - 1915-2007
No 10. The Rolls-Royce Spey
Special. Sectioned drawings of Piston Aero Engines
Special: Alex Moulton: Bristol to Bradford-on-Avon---a lifetime in engineering


More Reviews

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A Pictorial A to Z of Vintage and Classic Model Airplane Engines
Beast - The Top Secret Ilmor-Penske Engine
Beautiful Engines: Treasures of the Internal Combustion Century
British Light Aeroplanes
By Precision Into Power: A Bicentennial Record of D. Napier & Son
Classic Racing Engines
Dependable Engines
Deutsch Triebwerke
Douglas Light Aero Engines
Early Russian Jet Engines and Russian Piston Aero Engines
El motor de la aviación (De la "A" a la "Z")
The Electra Story
The Engines of Pratt & Whitney
Frank Whittle: Invention of the Jet
German Jet Engine and Gas Turbine Development 1930-1945
Hans von Ohain
History of the Liberty Engine
The Knife and Fork Man: The Life and Work of Charles Benjamin Redrup
Luftwaffe Secret Projects
The Magic of a Name THE ROLLS-ROYCE STORY: The First 40 Years
The Magic of a Name THE ROLLS-ROYCE STORY Part Two: The Power Behind the Jets
Master Motor Builders
Me262 Volume One
Negative Gravity
Wolseley Radial Aero Engines: Lord Nuffield’s Thwarted Venture
Pioneer Mechanics in Aviation
Piston Aero Engines — 3D CAD Images & Animations
Power To Fly: An Engineer’s Life
R-4360: Pratt & Whitney’s Major Miracle
The Race for Hitlerís X-Planes
Rocketbelt Pilot’s Manual
The Romance of Engines
Seven Decades of Progress
Starting Something Big
Tank Aero Engines
Turbojet History and Development 1930-1960 Volumes 1 and 2
The V-12 Engine
Westinghouse J40 Axial Turbojet Family


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