Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Packard - Engines That Won the War

Packard Motors
Many Detroiters are familiar with massive 35 acre Packard plant on East Grand Boulevard. The 33,000,000 ft. facility opened in 1903 and was home to Packard Motors manufacturing through 1958.
In the 1920's Packard was the number one manufacturer of luxury automobiles in the United States with gross income exceeding $29 million in 1928. What has been forgotten has been Packard's substantial contribution to the Allies' efforts in World War II. Packard engines proved critical to the air war in the European theater.

Rolls Royce
Founded in 1906 the partnership of Rolls Royce began manufacturing automobiles in Derby, Derbyshire in 1907. By 1918 approximately half the aircraft engines used by the Allies in World War I had been made by Rolls-Royce. By the late 1920s, aero engines would make up most of Rolls-Royce's business. 
The company's tradition of manufacturing aircraft engines continues to the present day with The Rolls Royce Trent 800 engine powering Boeing's latest model, the 777.

The Merlin
Company founder Henry Royce's most powerful aircraft engine design began manufacture two years after his death In 1935. The 12 Cylinder supercharged Merlin was capable of propelling aircraft at speeds in excess of 400 MPH. Rolls Royce followed the convention of naming their propeller driven aero engines after birds of prey. The Merlin is a European falcon. The new engine would first see service in the Supermarine Spitfires and Hawker Hurricanes flown by the RAF.
After France's surrender in June of 1940, British convoys and shipping centers were under increased attack from the air. By August this method of warfare had spread to RAF airfields and aircraft factories.

Rolls Royce Merlin Line - 1942
As the Battle of Britain progressed, the Rolls Royce Merlin became vital to the British war effort. So much so that it became critical to find a secondary manufacturing line outside of the embattled United Kingdom. Rolls Royce engineers toured several U.S. manufacturers to assess their capabilities for adapting the Merlin to mass production processes.

In July of 1940 Henry Ford rescinded his son Edsel's initial offer to produce 6000 Merlin engines for the U.K.. An isolationist, Henry was insisting that he produce these engines his way and that they be used "only for Defense." 

The Packard V1650 Merlin
After the Ford deal fell apart, Roll Royce awarded a 130 Million Dollar (2.1 Billion in in 2011 dollars) U.S. contract to Packard Motors in September 1940. 
Packard licensed the Merlin engine from Rolls-Royce as the V-1650.  A liquid cooled, 27 Liter, 12 Cylinder, 1600 Horse Power, super-charged behemoth. Production at the East Grand Boulevard Plant began in August of 1941.

Packard - Rolls Royce Assembly  - Courtesy W.S.U.

    This undated Wayne State Archive photo notes Maj. James H. Doolittle inspecting what appears to be a landmark Packard Merlin engine. Considering Dolittle's rank at the time, this was likely the first Merlin (Sept. 1941).
In 1940 Doolittle was still a Major and assistant district supervisor of the Central Air Corps Procurement District in Indianapolis, Indiana and Detroit where he worked with large auto manufacturers on the conversion of their plants for production of planes. He was recalled to active duty in January of 1942 and promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.

Britain's newly appointed Ambassador traveled to the U.S. in January 1941. Here he is at Packard inspecting a Merlin on a test stand. (Photo Courtesy WSU)


Packard would ultimately produce just over 50,000 Merlin Engines.

50,000 Packard Merlin

The P-51 Mustang 
In the summer of 1940 the British government also went shopping in the U.S. for a new generation fighter air-frame. After having been awarded the contract, North American Aviation delivered their first P-51 Mustang prototype to England in September of 1941. This initial version of the Mustang, the P-51A, featured an Allison V-1710 power-plant. Unfortunately, its single stage supercharger proved unworthy at high altitudes and was difficult to maintain.

By late-1943 the Allison engines were replaced with the Spitfire proven Packard V-1650 Merlin engines and their new two-stage superchargers.  The two-stage supercharger afforded the P51-B Mustangs the high altitude performance necessary to escort allied bombers deep into the heart of Germany.
P51-B Mustangs could reach 437 MPH at 30,000 feet and run up to 7 hours with their additional wing mount "drop" tanks. GI's nicknamed the Mustang (ironically for Packard) "The Cadillac of the Skies" and their 42,000 ft. service ceiling dramatically increased their survival rate. This survival also insured the success of our bombers' missions and thus tipped the balance of European theater air superiority. By 1944 Air supremacy was won over the whole of Germany thanks in large part to Packard Motors of Detroit, Michigan.

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