Book Reviews 4
Hardbound, 213 pages.
Reviewed by Clayton Huben
This is a good book for those who are curious as to how a major US manufacturer of airplanes and engines during WW II came into being and then essentially disappeared in the post war years. The book begins by telling the history of Glen H. Curtiss and the Wright brothers and their early involvement in aviation. During this period they were bitter rivals, and surprisingly, the Wrights became more successful building engines and Curtiss was better known for his airplanes. The fortunes of both companies rose with WW I and then declined as surplus aircraft and engines flooded the market. The aviation industry again began to flourish during the late 1920s and the two companies merged on 27 June 1929. In 1929 6,034 military and commercial aircraft were produced. In October of that year the stock market crashed and it would be 10 years before the production levels of 1929 would again be seen. During the intervening years prior to WW II, Wright Aeronautical Corporation was saved from bankruptcy by its air-cooled radial engines. WW II changed everything and Curtiss-Wright was at its peak of power and prestige in 1943 although its management and engineering was over extended and barely able to keep up with production let alone new development. A series of poor management decisions following WW II led to its ultimate decline. In the words of one former employee, “Curtiss–Wright did five billion dollars worth of business during World War II and never recovered.”
The book is primarily concerned with the business and management aspects of the companies. Nevertheless, it does cover the products, both engines and airplanes, in terms of their timing, problems and competitive advantage. For example, the R-3350 played a major role in the ultimate failure of the company. After a troubled history starting with its inception in 1936 and the problems in the B-29 during WW II, it led to C-Ws president R.T. Hurley’s arrogant belief that it could compete with turbojets in the post war commercial airline fleets.
There are 16 photographs and nine charts dealing primarily with production and sales. This is a good read for anyone interested in either Curtiss-Wright or the first half century history of the reciprocating engine in the United States.
British Light Aeroplanes
Hardbound, approx 8" x 10", 656 pages
Reviewed by Richard Kamm
It always comes as a pleasant surprise to find a book that presents a subject in a new and better way. Such a book is British Light Aeroplanes, Their Evolution, Development and Perfection 1920-1940 by Arthur Ord-Hume. This book not only covers the British light airplanes produced between 1920 and 1940, but it also covers the light aircraft engines and small propellers produced during that period. Chapter 7 (28 pages) is titled “The Wayward Engine - Aviation's Weakest Link. Chapter 9 (16 pages) is titled “Chronology of British Light Aircraft & Engines - 1920-1940”. Chapter 12 (47 pages, 41 pages on engines and 6 pages on propellers) is “British Light Aircraft Engines and Propellers 1920-1940” with individual sections for each engine and propeller manufacturer. There is even a separate 4-page Index for Engine Manufacturers & Engines.
As you can see by the description, there are many illustrations of aircraft and engines throughout the book, yet this is not one of the current styles of text-less picture books. The pictures and illustrations in the book are in support of the extensive text. The greater part of most pages is text.
Also of interest in this book is the author's description of the double-dealings and financial shenanigans of some of the aircraft and engine manufacturers during that era.
It should be noted that the engine portion includes several engines, mostly converted motorcycle engines, which I could not find in any other book (including the 1939 Aerosphere). This is the first book I can think of that adequately covers both the aircraft and engines of a specific era and it should become a benchmark for future publications. Despite its cost (70 British pounds or approximately $120 US), I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the development of the light airplane and its engine.
Seven Decades of Progress
Reviewed by Gary Brossett
The book began as a research project in 1975, at the request of Gerhard Neumann, a prominent figure in General Electric’s history in the 60s and 70s. It chronicles GE’s Aircraft Engine Group from early turbosuperchargers, through America’s first turbojet, to modern high bypass turbofan engines. It is packed with engine photos and biographies of key historical figures in GE’s history.
The pictorial walk through GE’s engine history alone makes the book a keeper on any turbine engine enthusiast’s bookshelf. The book is filled with pages of outstanding photos, such as the X211 nuclear engine and GE1 demonstrator. The text explains the evolution of engine lines, such as the GE1, great grandfather of the modern F110 (F-16 fighter), F101 (B-1B bomber) and F118 (U-2 Reconnaissance aircraft) engines.
The text focuses on design, demo and production of engines at GE. Technical specifications are limited to thrust and power ratings.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Softbound, 136 pages
Reviewed by Graham White
Beatrice “Tilly” Shilling is a legend in Merlin lore. It was Ms. Shilling who overcame the serious negative “G” cutout problems with SU carburetor equipped Merlins. The tale has been told many times but briefly the SU carburetor was not equipped to handle negative “G” without first starving the engine for fuel and then over compensating and drowning the engine with an over rich mixture. The solution was disarmingly simple, a restrictor orifice fitted to the fuel supply line. In a way it’s too bad that Ms. Shilling’s reputation at the Royal Aircraft Establishment was based on this one, albeit major, accomplishment.
Prior to WWII she was an expert motor cycle rider who participated at the famous Brooklands speedway, basically a British equivalent to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Unfortunately but understandably, Brooklands was demolished during WWII as it stuck out like a sore thumb and would have made an ideal navigation reference point for German bombers. The book delves into the frustration Ms. Shilling suffered for not being promoted and blamed it on her sex. Reading between the lines I got the impression that, true, she lived in a very chauvinistic time when it was rare to have female physicists running the show. However, part of the blame should have rested with Ms. Shilling. As author Matthew Freudenberg astutely pointed out, she was not what would today be known as a “power dresser”, in fact she looked pretty awful. One interesting photograph in the book shows her consulting with Dan Gurney in 1967 when he was campaigning his All American Eagle Formula 1 racer. At the time his Harry Weslake designed V-12 was suffering overheating problems and Ms. Shilling was brought in as a consultant. In the photo she looked like a frumpy old British housewife with hand bag draped over her arm and yet despite this persona she was one of the most brilliant engineers of her time – fascinating.
Today, she would no doubt be regarded as politically incorrect. Exacerbating the situation for her was the fact she showed little respect for her superiors. I can certainly empathize with that attitude, however, the consequences are few or no promotions. One has to respect her single mindedness and independence because she must have surely realized that it cost her big time. If she had been a male and knew how to play the game there is no doubt she would have ended up running the RAE.
The book also explores her personal life, particularly her relationship with her husband and his WWII service as a Lancaster bomber pilot who completed 36 missions. Overall, I rate this book as an excellent read and well worth the money.