Tag Archives: Rolls-Royce RB.41

17–22 November 1946

Avro Lancastrian C.1 VH742 after installation of Rolls-Royce RB.41 Nene Mk.I gas turbine engines. The inboard Merlin engines have been shut down and their propellers feathered. (Royal Air Force)

17 November 1946: A modified Avro 691 Lancastrian C.1, VH742, under the command of Rolls-Royce’s chief test pilot, Captain Ronald Thomas Shepherd, O.B.E., flew from London Heathrow Airport (LHR) to Aéroport de Paris – Le Bourget (LBG) for 17th Salon de Aviation (Paris Air Show) with two Rolls-Royce RB.41 Nene Mk.I turbojet engines for propulsion. The airplane’s two Rolls-Royce Merlin V-12 piston engines were shut down, except for takeoff and landing, and their three-bladed propellers were feathered to reduce drag. It was the first-jet-powered passenger transport to fly from one country to another.

A contemporary aviation industry news article described the event:

The Nene-Lanc, Flies to Paris

THE flight of the Nene Lancaster from London to Paris last Monday, to play its part in connection with the exhibition, may be said to have marked a historic part in British aircraft development, for it constituted the first time that any jet-powered airliner had flown from one country to another. Moreover, since this particular aircraft has been flying fairly regularly since round about the time of the Radlett exhibition, the flight to Paris was no special performance, but merely one more public demonstration of its inherent reliability.

In the hands of Capt. R. T. Shepherd, chief test pilot for Rolls-Royce, the “Nene-Lanc” landed at Le Bourget at 10.58 a.m., G.M.T., after a 50-minute flight from London Airport, giving an average speed of 247.5 m.p.h. [398.3 kilometers per hour] Two passengers were carried in addition to the crew; they were Mr. Roy Chadwick, the Avro designer, and Mr. R. B. William Thompson, Chief Information Officer of the Ministry of Supply.

Capt. Shepherd said that he was very pleased with the aircraft’s performance and added that, but for having to circle Le Bourget Airport Twice before landing, the flight would have been completed in 43 minutes.

FLIGHT and AIRCRAFT ENGINEER, No. 1978. Vol. L., Thursday, November 21st, 1946 at Page 561, Column 2.

Five days later, VH742 flew back to England:

Return Trip

THE return of the Nene Lancastrian on Nov. 22nd, direct from Le Bourget to Heathrow, was made in only 49 min, including landing, actual flying time from point to point being 41 min—an average speed of 322 mp.h. [518.2 kilometers per hour] This remarkable performance was in spite a beam wind and the dead weight and drag of the two inboard Merlins, which are only used for takeoff and landing.

Passengers of the return trip included Mr. Roy Chadwick, chief designer and a director of A. V. Roe and Co., Air Comdre. Kirk and Air Comdre. Pike.

FLIGHT and AIRCRAFT ENGINEER, No. 1979., Vol. L., Thursday, November 28th, 1946 at Page 588, Column 1.

Avro Lancastrian (nene engine test bed). © IWM (ATP 14764B)
Avro Lancastrian C.1 VH742 with Rolls-Royce Nene engines. © IWM (ATP 14764B)

The Rolls-Royce RB.41 Nene engine first been run in October 1944. It  installed in a Lockheed YP-80A Shooting Star, 44-83027, and the engine was first flown 18 July 1945 with Rolls-Royce test pilot Wing Commander John Harvey Heyworth, A.F.C., in the cockpit. The Nene-powered P-80 had made approximately 30 test flights when it was damaged beyond repair at RAF Syerston, 6 December 1945. With test pilot Andy McDowall flying, a fractured fuel pipe caused the engine to flame out from fuel starvation. McDowall tried to glide to a landing but another airplane was on the runway. He touched down on the grass but the landing gears were pushed up through the Shooting Star’s wings.

The jet fighter had been too small to allow for adequate test equipment. A larger aircraft was needed. The R.A.F. assigned VH742 the role of test aircraft.

The new Lancastrian arrived at the Rolls-Royce Flight Test Establishment at Hucknall Aerodrome, Nottinghamshire, 30 October 1945. The modification was engineered and the airplane was modified. The Lanc’s two outboard Rolls-Royce Merlin V-12 engines were removed and two Nene Mk.I engines were installed in underslung nacelles. The wing flaps were shortened by 3 feet, 4 inches (1.016 meters) and the ailerons by 10 inches (0.254 meters) to provide clearance from the jet engines’ exhaust. Sheet steel was installed on the lower surfaces of the wings as protect against the heat.

Three fuel tanks were installed in each of the Lancastrian’s wings. The center tank contained gasoline for the Merlin engines, while the inner and outer tanks, plus two auxiliary tanks in the fuselage, carried kerosene for the jet engines. Fuel capacity was 760 gallons (2,877 liters) of gasoline and 2,420 gallons (9,161 liters) of kerosene.

In the Lancastrian’s cockpit, additional instruments were installed for the turbojets: tachometers reading from 0–20,000 r.p.m.; oil pressure gauges, 0–80 p.s.i.; exhaust gas temperature, 400˚–750 ˚C., and exhaust gas pressure.

The first flight of the modified VH742 took place 14 August 1946, with Ronnie Shepherd in the cockpit. Running on the jet engines alone, the airplane was extraordinarily quiet and vibration free. Like all early turbojets, the Nenes were slow to accelerate from low r.p.m. Test pilots had to use caution. Jim and Harvey Heyworth also flew VH742 during the last half of August.

RB.41 Nene. (Rolls-Royce)
RB.41 Nene. (Rolls-Royce)

The Rolls-Royce RB.41 Nene Mk.I was developed from the earlier RB.40 Derwent.¹ It was considerably larger and produced nearly double the thrust. It was a single-stage centrifugal-flow compressor/single-stage axial-flow turbine, rated at 5,000 pounds of thrust (22.24 kilonewtons) at 12,400 r.p.m. for takeoff.

A second Nene-powered Lancastrian was added to the test fleet at Hucknall the following year. Last Nene flight took place in August 1949.

VH742 had been ordered by the Royal Air Force during World War II as an Avro Type 683 Lancaster B. Mk.III, a very long range heavy bomber, and assigned identity markings PD194. With the end of World War II in Europe, orders for hundreds of Lancaster bombers were cancelled. The partially completed PD194 was modified on the assembly line as a Lancastrian C. Mk.I passenger transport and renumbered as VH742.

The Avro Type 691 Lancastrian was a four-engine civil transport based on the World War II very long range heavy bomber, the Avro Lancaster. The airliner was operated by a flight crew of four and carried one flight attendant. It could carry up to thirteen passengers. The Lancastrian was 76 feet, 10 inches (23.419 meters) long with a wingspan of 102 feet (31.090 meters) and overall height of 19 feet, 6 inches (5.944 meters). The empty weight was 30,220 pounds (13,707.6 kilograms) and gross weight was 65,000 pounds (29,483.5 kilograms).

The Lancastrian Mk.III was powered by four 1,648.9-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04 liter) liquid-cooled, supercharged, Rolls-Royce Merlin T24/2 single overhead camshaft (SOHC) 60° V-12 engines producing 1,650 horsepower and turning three bladed propellers.

The airplane a cruise speed of 245 miles per hour (394.3 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 315 miles per hour (506.9 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 25,500 feet (7,772 meters) and the range was 4,150 miles (6,679 kilometers).

Rolls-Royce test pilots (left to right) Wing Commander John Harvey Heyworth, AFC; Squadron Leader Alexander James Heyworth, DFC and Bar, FRAeS; Captain Ronald Thomas Shepherd, OBE; Wing Commander Andrew McDowall, DSO, AFC, DFM; and Herbert Clifford Rogers, OBE, DFC; with Merlin 632/ Avon-powered Avro Lancastrian C.2 VL970, circa 1949. Each one of these men served as Chief Test Pilot for Rolls-Royce. (Rolls-Royce)
Rolls-Royce test pilots (left to right) Wing Commander John Harvey Heyworth, A.F.C.; Squadron Leader Alexander James Heyworth, D.F.C. and Bar, FRAeS; Captain Ronald Thomas Shepherd, O.B.E.; Wing Commander Andrew McDowall, D.S.O., A.F.C., D.F.M.; and Herbert Clifford Rogers, O.B.E., D.F.C.; with Merlin 632/ Avon-powered Avro Lancastrian C.2 VL970, circa 1949. Each one of these men served as Chief Test Pilot for Rolls-Royce. (Rolls-Royce)

91 Avro Lancastrians were built, including modified Lancaster bombers. The transport variant first flew in 1943. In addition to the Royal Air Force, commercial Lancastrians were operated by British European Airways, British Overseas Airways Corporation and British South American Airways. The last one was retired in 1960.

Rolls-Royce built more than 1,100 RB.41 Nene engines. It was licensed for production by Pratt & Whitney as the J42. Forty Nenes were sold to the Soviet Union under the condition that they would not be used for military purposes. These were reverse-engineered and produced as the Klimov RD-45 which powered the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 fighter.

¹ While Rolls-Royce named its piston-driven aircraft engines after birds of prey, the turbojet engines were named for rivers.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 November 1947

Corky Meyer in the cockpit of the first Grumman XF9F-2 Panther, Bu. No. 122475, during the first flight, 21 November 1947. (U.S. Navy)
Corky Meyer in the cockpit of the first Grumman XF9F-2 Panther, Bu. No. 122475, during the first flight, 21 November 1947. (Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation)
Corwin H. ("Corky") Meyer
Corwin Henry Meyer, 1920–2011. (Grumman)

21 November 1947: Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation engineering test pilot Corwin Henry (“Corky”) Meyer took off from the company’s  airfield at Bethpage, Long Island, New York, in the first prototype XF9F-2 Panther, Bu. No. 122475. After the preliminary flight evaluation, Meyer landed the new jet fighter on a longer runway at Idlewild Airport. The Bethpage runway was only 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) long. As the first jet aircraft built by Grumman, it wasn’t known if the XF9F-2 could land on that short a runway.

Air & Space/Smithsonian magazine quoted Meyer as saying that the weather was “the foulest of any first flight in my experience.” He described the prototype’s handling qualities: “It handled like a J-3 Cub.” In an article for Flight Journal, Corky Meyer wrote: “I conducted a very satisfactory first flight of the 5,000-pound-thrust Rolls-Royce Nene-powered fighter on November 21, 1947.”

Grumman XF9F-2 prototype, photographed 20 November 1947. (Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation)

The XF9F-2 Panther was the first jet-powered aircraft to be built by Grumman, a major supplier of aircraft for the United States Navy. It was a single-seat, single-engine, day fighter, designed for operation on the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carriers. It was developed from a proposed four-engine XF9F-1 night fighter. Grumman planned to use the Rolls-Royce RB.41 Nene centrifugal-flow turbojet engine. With 5,000 pounds rated thrust at 12,400 r.p.m., the Nene was more powerful (and more reliable) than any engine manufactured by an American company.

The first prototype Grumman XF9F-2 Panther at Grumman's Plant 4, 1947. (Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation)
The first prototype Grumman XF9F-2 Panther at Grumman’s Plant 4, 1947. (Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation)

Originally it was planned that the Nene would be licensed for production to the Taylor Turbine Corporation as the J42-TT-2. No J42s were ready, so Taylor supplied Grumman with imported Rolls-Royce engines. The Navy had concerns about Taylor’s capability to produce engine in sufficient quantities and arranged for the J42 license to be sold to Pratt & Whitney.

Ensign Neil A. Armstrong, as wingman to Lieutenant (j.g.) Ernie Moore, is flying the second Grumman F9F-2 Panther, Bu. No. 125122 (marked S 116), assigned to VF-51, USS Essex (CV-9), 1951. (Naval Aviation Museum)
Ensign Neil A. Armstrong, as wingman to Lieutenant (j.g.) George Russell, is flying the second Grumman F9F-2 Panther, Bu. No. 125122 (marked S 116), assigned to VF-51, USS Essex (CV-9), 1951. (John Moore/Naval Museum of Naval Aviation)

The Panther was placed into production as the F9F-2. The F9F-2 was 37 feet, 5-3/8 inches (11.414 meters) long with a wingspan of 38 feet, 5⅜ inches (11.719 meters) long, with a wingspan of 38 feet, 0 inches (11.528 meters)—not including wing tanks. Its overall height was 11 feet, 4 inches (3.454 meters). The wings could be hydraulically folded to reduce the span for storage aboard ship. The Panther weighed 9,303 pounds (4,220 kilograms) empty, and had a gross weight of 19,494 pounds (8,842 kilograms.

Grumman F9F-5 Panther, Bu. No. 126034, of VF-781, catches an arresting cable when landing aboard USS Oriskany (CVA-34), 1952. (U.S. Navy)
Grumman F9F-5 Panther, Bu. No. 126034, of VF-781, catches an arresting cable when landing aboard USS Oriskany (CVA-34), 15 November 1952. (U.S. Navy)

The F9F-2 was powered by a Pratt & Whitney JT6 (J42-P-8) turbojet engine which produced 5,000 pounds of thrust (22.241 kilonewtons) at Sea Level, and 5,750 pounds (25.577 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The J42 was a license-built version of the Rolls-Royce Nene. The engine used a single-stage centrifugal-flow compressor, 9 combustion chambers and a single-stage axial-flow turbine. The J42-P-8 weighed 1,715 pounds (778 kilograms).

The Panther had a maximum speed of 575 miles per hour (925 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. Its service ceiling was 44,600 feet (13,594 meters), and the range was 1,353 miles (2,177 kilometers).

The Panther was armed with four M3 20 mm autocannon placed in the nose with 760 rounds of ammunition. It could carry up to 3,000 pounds (1,361 kilograms) of bombs or eight 5-inch (12.7 centimeters) rockets on four hardpoints under each wing.

Lt. Royce Williams, USN, points out battle damage to his Grumman F9F-5 Panther, aboard USS Oriskany (CVA-34), 18 November 1952. (U.S. Navy)
Lt. Royce Williams, USN, points out battle damage to his Grumman F9F-5 Panther, Bu. No. 125459, aboard USS Oriskany (CVA-34), 18 November 1952. (U.S. Navy via Flight Journal)

It was a very successful air-to-air and air-to-ground fighter during the Korean War. On 18 November 1952, Lieutenant Elmer Royce Williams, USN, flying an F9F-5 Panther, Bu. No. 125459, of VF-781 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany (CVA-34), shot down four of seven Soviet Air Force MiG 15 fighters which had launched from Vladivostok toward Task Force 77. His Panther sustained significant damage from enemy cannon shells. Though he safely returned to his carrier, the fighter, Number 106, was so badly damaged that it was pushed over the side. Lieutenant Royce was awarded the Silver Star for this action. No other pilot has ever shot down four MiG fighters during a single combat action.

This Grumman F9F-5 Panther aboard the USS Midway Museum, San Diego, California, is painted to represent Royce Williams' fighter. (USS Midway Museum)
This Grumman F9F-5 Panther aboard the USS Midway Museum, San Diego, California, is painted to represent Royce Williams’ fighter. (USS Midway Museum)

The F9F Panther was flown during the Korean War by such famed naval aviators as Ted Williams, and future astronauts John Glenn and Neil Armstrong.

Grumman built 1,358 F9F-2,-3,-4 and -5 Panthers and another 1,392 swept wing F9F-6, -7 and -8 Cougars. Panthers remained in service with the United States Navy until 1958, and Cougars until 1974.

The combat survivability of Grumman's fighters earne dteh factory the nickname of "The Grumman Iron Works". In this photograph, future NASA astronaut John H. Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, examines some of the 714 holes in his F9F Panther. (U.S. Navy)
The combat survivability of Grumman’s fighters earned the factory the nickname of “The Grumman Iron Works.” In this photograph, future NASA astronaut Major John H. Glenn, U.S. Marine Corps, the first American to orbit the Earth, examines some of the 714 holes in his F9F Panther. (U.S. Navy)

Corwin Henry (“Corky”) Meyer ¹ was born 14 April 1920 at Springfield, Illinois. He was the second of three children of Dr. John Gerhard Meyer, a physician and surgeon, and Betsy Arenia Corwin Meyer.

Corwin H. Meyer, 1938. (Capitoline)

At the age of 17 years, Corky Meyer learned to fly in the Civilian Pilot Training Program. (This was a federal government-funded program which provided 72 hours of ground school and 35–50 hours of flight training, intended to increase the number of pilots available for civilian aviation.)

Meyer attended Springfield High School, in Springfield. He was a member of the Senior Boys’ Council and the National Honor Society. Meyer graduated from high school in May 1938, then entered the University of Illinois. He studied at the at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1942–43.

Meyer was a pilot trainee for Pan American Airways before being employed as an engineering test pilot at the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation at Bethpage, New York.

A flight crew boards a Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bomber, circa early 1942. (Rudy Arnold Collection, Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum NASM-XRA-0780)

Meyer’s first project was testing newly-built TBF Avenger torpedo bombers. Later he was was a project test pilot for the F6F Hellcat, F8F Bearcat and F7F Tigercat. (Robert Leicester Hall made the first flights of these airplanes, but Corky Meyer was involved in flight testing of each of them early on.)

Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat, Bu. No. 26108, Long Island, New York, circa 1942. The pilot standing by the airplane may be Corky Meyer. (Rudy Arnold Collection, Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum NASM-XRA-0648)

Corwin H. Meyer married Miss Dorothy Marjorie Fyfield, 7 April 1945, at Huntington, New York. They would have a daughter, Sandra Louise Meyer, born in 1950, and two sons, John Fyfield Meyer and Peter Meyer.

Grumman F8F-2 Bearcat, Bu. No. 121718. The pilot may be Corky Meyer. (Grumman)

On 19 May 1952, Corky Meyer took the prototype variable-wing-sweep XF10F-1 Jaguar for its first flight at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

Grumman XF10F-1 Jaguar, 1952.

From 1952 to 1954, Meyer was head of Grumman’s flight operations at Edwards Air Force Base in California. In 1954, he became the first civilian airplane pilot to qualify for flight operations aboard U.S. Navy aircraft carriers, when he flew an F9F-6 Cougar to USS Lake Champlain (CVA-39). ²

Grumman XF9F-9 prototype, Bu. No. 138604. (Grumman)

Corky Meyer made the first flight of the XF9F-9 prototype, Bu. No. 138604, on 30 July 1954, and was able to approach mach 1 in level flight. The XF9F-9 was a completely redesigned F9F Cougar, which incorporated the “wasp-waist” in its area-ruled fuselage. The following year, this type would be redesignated the F11F Tiger.

In 1967, Meyer was appointed  vice president of Grumman, and in 1968, he was elected to the board of directors of the Grumman Aerospace Corporation. He became the senior  vice president of Grumman Aerospace in 1972. In 1974, Meyer became President of Grumman American Aviation Corp., Savannah, Georgia, a subsidiary which produced light civil airplanes, the Grumman AgCat, and the Gulfstream line of executive jets. Corwin Meyer retired from Grumman in 1978. He later served as chief executive officer of the Enstrom Helicopter Corporation and the Falcon Jet Corporation.

A Grumman C-20B Gulfstream III, 86-0200, in service with the 89th Airlift Wing, U.S. Air Force.
Corwin Henry Meyer

Meyer was an early member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots. In 1971, he was awarded SETP’s James H Doolittle Award for excellence in technical management or engineering achievement in aerospace technology. In 1999 the National Aeronautic Association selected him for its Elder Statesman Award.

Meyer was the author of Corky Meyer’s Flight Journal, an autobiography published in 2005, by Specialty Press, North Branch, Minnesota.

Corwin Henry Meyer died in Naples, Florida, 1 June 2011, at the age of 91 years.

¹ Lutheran Church birth and baptismal records give Meyer’s name as “Henry Corwin Meyer.”

² On 3 April 1991, TDiA’s author became the only civilian helicopter pilot (at that time, and who was not a former military pilot) to qualify to fly from U.S. Navy warships at sea. The Deck Landing Qualification (DLQ) flights were evaluated by instructors from Helicopter Antisubmarine (Light) Squadron (HSL-31) aboard USS Kincaide (DDG-965), a Spruance-class guided missile destroyer.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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