Circular aeronautics tour spitefully to Chilbolton by George

Posted: April 13, 2014 by tchannon in History, Uncategorized

Tim writes: No apology for the headline

A little aside has led to a snippet leading to Chilbolton Observatory.


Credit Nimbus227
Rolls-Royce Griffon aero engine (Mk 57/58?) at the Midland Air Museum

The Talkshop moved onto the question of hydrocarbon formation deep inside the earth, from there I brought up manufacture from seawater and a usage harking back to WWII aircraft. A comment mentions the hydrocarbon formation via the German chemical industry, processes used today.

I led this off to the matter of aero-engines because for me technology is an interesting subject. The Rolls-Royce R[acing] engines were supercharged V12, parents to the famous WWII Merlin and the larger Griffon, pictured above in late form.

Wikipedia has to say

Relationship to the Griffon and Merlin]

According to Arthur Rubbra’s memoirs, a de-rated version of the R engine, known by the name Griffon at that time, was tested in 1933. This engine, R11, was used for “Moderately Supercharged Buzzard development” (which was not proceeded with until much later), and bore no direct relationship to the volume-produced Griffon of the 1940s.

At this power level a single engined aircraft is compromised by the large torque reaction from the propeller trying to rotate the aircraft. The good answer if weight and cost can be accepted is twin propellers contra-rotating, a special drive gearbox. This was developed and debugged over WWII.

The Supermarine Spitfire used the smaller but very similar Merlin. It is a small aircraft of lightweight construction. This was never intended for very high speed. Wing flexibility posed a limitation.

Enter the Supermarine Spiteful which first flew 1944



Note the large 5 blade propeller, Griffon engined. Wing planform is not the elliptic of the Spitfire, more conventional, whole thing akin to Mustang.

Wikipedia writes

By 1942, Supermarine designers had realised that the aerodynamics of the Spitfire’s wing at high Mach numbers might become a limiting factor in increasing the aircraft’s high-speed performance. The main problem was the aeroelasticity of the Spitfire’s wing; at high speeds the relatively light structure behind the strong leading edge torsion box would flex, changing the airflow and limiting the maximum safe diving speed to 480 mph

Let’s take a slight detour, engine cooling.



“In America, the North American P-51 Mustang would later adopt both the Merlin engine and the Meredith principle, first flying in 1940.”

This has echos of both turbojet and ramjet, the date just after the 1931 Schneider Trophy.

Back to the plot…

Spiteful sires Supermarine Attacker



“The design of the Attacker used the laminar flow straight-wings of the Supermarine Spiteful, a piston-engined fighter intended to replace the Supermarine Spitfire, and what became the Attacker was originally referred to as the “Jet Spiteful””

Successor to the Attacker was Supermarine Swift, swept wing fighter/interceptor which was not a successful but but briefly held the World speed record for production aircraft at 737 mph and the last British production aircraft to do so. The year was 1953.


The test pilot who also flew the Attacker was Mike Lithgow who later met a sad and infamous end.

Another Attacker test pilot was Les Colquhoun.

Flying an Attacker

On 23 May 1950, Vickers test pilot Les Colquhoun was flying the first production Attacker F.1 WA469; he was testing the effectiveness of the air brakes…

For a foolhardy decision and preserving the aircraft for examination he was award a George Medal.

Les Colquhoun. In May 1950 Colquhoun was flying an Attacker to test the effectiveness of the air brakes. On the third of two dives the outer portion of the starboard wing folded up and the ailerons became locked. Colquhoun decided not to eject and managed to do a high-speed landing at Chilbolton. He had saved the aircraft so the cause could be discovered.


CG-4a Gliders of the 442d Troop Carrier Group at Chilbolton airfield just before Operation Market Garden.

A rare colour photograph dated Sept 1944


WWII aerial image
Map OpenStreetMap


Post by Tim

  1. Sera says:

    My sister sold her Curtiss-Wright 19a (17a?) a few years back to a museum in Lakeland, Florida. It was the first all-metal aircraft built here in the states, sold to Bolivia, and then returned via cargo plane to an airbase in Florida (I was the poor bastard on the flightline who had to tie it down to a flatbed truck for hauling to Texas for restoration). It had the upgraded, more powerful engine and duel controls for intructors. Unfortunately, the more powerful engine made it susceptible to ground looping and even our friends (test pilots) were afraid that they might crash this antique built in the 1930’s. So now it sits, fully restored and airworthy, in a museum. Kinda sad, really.

    Funny how a bunch of goofballs racing seaplanes had such an effect on aviation. Even us ‘Yanks’ love the beauty (and sound) of that beast.


  2. Kon Dealer says:

    Slightly OT, but I’m into old style engineering too.
    My prized possession is 1962 Mark 2 Jaguar.
    Has the 3.4L XK engine – the first and best iteration of the 5 times Le Mans winning Jag C and
    D-Type engines.

    Really pumps out the pollution 🙂

  3. Steve C says:

    @Kon Dealer – You wanna pump out the pollution? Check this:

    Quite glorious. Beautifully written article, and pictures to induce absolute, raw desire. As for the engineering, it’s wonderful to know that Britain still has (one or two) people who can reach such heights.

  4. Sera says:

    @ Steve C:

    I remember seeing that on Top Gear- Americas favorite TV program. Is that a fake supercharger on the front? The article says that it is a Merlin without the supercharger…?

  5. Keith W. says:

    I feel it necessary to point out that the Griffon did in fact power a number of Spitfire models starting with the Mk XII in 1942 through to the final version the Mk 24 in 1946. The Mk XIV of 1943 represented a huge improvement over the Merlin powered variants having a top speed of around 445 mph.

    As for the Spitfire wing proving to be unsuitable for high speed this is in fact totally wrong. The Spitfire had the highest limiting Mach number of any of the WW2 fighters

    Aircraft Limiting Mach
    Spitfire MK IVX: 0.89
    Me-262 0.86
    P-51B: 0.84
    Gloster Meteor 0.83
    P-47N: 0.83
    F4U Corsair 0.73
    P-47C: 0.69
    P-38: 0.65

    Note the Spitfire Limit was imposed as at that speed the constant speed propellor fell
    off , the pilot managed to make an unpowered landing.

    The P-38 was MUCH less forgiving, getting above Mach 0.68 was usually
    fatal as the elevators became useless and the aircraft adopted a nose down attitude
    that resulted in a fatal crash unless the pilot could reduce speed.

  6. Steve C says:

    @Sera – The original article says it’s an additional oil reservoir/cooler, to help get rid of a *lot* of waste heat (which sounds eminently reasonable around an engine like that). Don’t follow Top Gear myself, but I’d have loved to have seen Clarkson’s face when he first set eyes on it. It must have taken him pretty close to total meltdown (as it did me!).

  7. tchannon says:

    Keith W, I’m in no position to disagree.

    I did know that some Spitfire variants did use the larger engine but the extent was I thought small.

  8. catweazle666 says:

    Nice pics.

    Speaking of Spitfires, there is a little-known Spitfire museum on Haverfordwest airfield, currently consisting only a selection of airframe and engine parts, but expanding all the time with a view to getting it all put together and flying eventually.

    Worth a visit if you’re in that neck of the woods.

  9. Sera says:

    @ Steve C:

    Found it…

    Give us Jeremy Clarkson and take back Piers Morgan.

    Thanks again.

  10. tgmccoy says:

    Here is the Wright R-3350 this is my own personal fave due to my DC-7 time,,,
    You don’t start it-you wake it up…

  11. Steve C says:

    @Sera – Mmm, nice. Would have been nicer to see a bit more of him chucking the Bentley round a few bends, though, just to listen to a bit more of that “Book of Revelations” exhaust (sound FX missing in the Telegraph’s ‘made for newsprint’ article). As a Scouse pal commented years ago (provide your own Liverpool accent), “If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing!”.

    FWIW, way back in the mid-70s, I saw “The Beast of Epsom”, which was a relatively normal-looking Rolls-Royce with a suspiciously stretched bonnet, which concealed (IIRC) an “ordinary” Spitfire engine (I lived not far from Epsom at the time). I’m delighted to say the guy drove it like a perfect gentleman, but then with that much grunt under your right foot you just don’t need to play silly boy racer games. I did hear, though, that he managed to get himself “wanted” by six different countries’ police forces across Europe in one day – there was a speed radar picture in one of the car mags showing the back end of a Rolls-Royce and a string of meaningless digits across the top … 😀

    And thanks to the Talkshop for making us think of these awesomely powerful and beautiful bits of the metalworker’s art. Perhaps not “cutting edge science”, but they certainly remind us what sort of kit we can turn out once the science turns into engineering.

    Sorry, we’re keeping Clarkson in our strategic armoury, he’s too useful for instantly demolishing greenie do-gooders. You can chuck Morgan in the Pond when you’ve done with him though, we don’t need him any more than you do. And thanks to you for the video.

  12. Steve C says:

    Afterthought – and of course there are some engines you just won’t ever see on the road, still less in the air …

    Click to access WorldsLargestInternalCombustionEngine.pdf

    Efficient, though. Wrap it up, I’ll take half a dozen.

  13. tchannon says:

    Touching ludicrous but rational things is as much fodder for the Talkshop then science, which actually I see as mostly useless. More about engineering. The old saw, in science they fly kites regardless of whether they are wrong, in engineering the bridge falls down, real world finds you out.

    Also the matter of perspective and allowing some crazyness, as good as humour for tripping sideways ideas.

    Newcomers won’t remember this and hear a small RR engine starting

  14. catweazle666 says:

    Pratt & Whitney R4360 – 4 banks of cylinders, Heaven knows how the rear rings get any cooling air.

    Here’s a fascinating piece on the development of the R-2800 crankshaft. The section on torsional vibration is particularly interesting.

    Click to access Development%20of%20the%20R-2800%20Crankshaft.pdf

  15. Steve C says:

    Yes, to a large degree a theory just feels like marks on paper or constructs in the mind, but it’s the practical implementation of the theory that sits there and looks at you, as much as to say “What about that, then?” and inviting reflection. It’s not only the big stuff, either.

    Look at some of the mechanics of a modern hard drive. Say it’s 1TB, which seems appropriate here. That’s a minimum of 1,000,000,000,000 bytes, or 8 times as many bits. Assuming it’s all on one side of one disc (which it probably will be – the manufacturer usually reserves one whole disc side for the drive’s own housekeeping, so using two sides for the data would add the cost of a whole extra physical disc), that’s 8 million million locatable magnetic dots in about a 1 inch strip round a disc the size of a 3.5″ floppy, with enough space between the circular tracks to allow them to be reliably identified. “Calculation of the dimensions is left as an exercise for the reader”!

    Imagine the quality control on the magnetic coating material, as the surface the coating is painted on has to be optically flat (before and after application), and the coating must be even enough for each of those bits to get just the same amount of “rust” as every other. The head, which has to read and write those tiny magnets, flies a micron or less above the surface, without ever touching it, on a cushion of surgically clean air as the disc spins at (usually) 7200 rpm under it, a servo locating the head precisely above the track to be read or written. As if that weren’t enough, the tracks are so closely spaced that the unavoidable mechanical rumble of the disc’s (already impressively precise) bearing results in them moving around semi-randomly from side to side by several-to-many times their spacing every revolution, so the head drive servo has to “take that out” in realtime to hold the head over just the one invisible track. Ye Gods.

    And the Far Eastern factories knock ’em out in shiploads, at a price which anyone can afford, and they work pretty much perfectly until mechanical old age sets in, producing or replacing exactly whichever of those millions of millions of bytes you ask ’em to in milliseconds from a standing start. When you stop and think about it, it makes the head spin darn near as fast as the disc.

    And that’s just now, what, 1 (human) generation into humanity’s Great Digital Revolution. As for the stats of CPUs and other big chips … (To add a bit of perspective, the old twozzer typing this learned his electronics skills on “firebottles”, a fair few of which had survived WWII. It’s been quite a journey.)

    (A practical note for the experimenter: If you strip down a dead hard drive, you get a nice pair of rare-earth magnets in the positioning servo at the back of the head mechanism. Hande with care, though, because they’ll really (and I mean really) make you regret it instantly if you let them pinch you. That’s a first hand “really”, in every sense.) :-O

  16. Gail Combs says:

    Sera says: @ April 14, 2014 at 6:52 am

    My sister sold her Curtiss-Wright 19a (17a?) a few years back to a museum in Lakeland, Florida…
    Dang, that almost makes the trip form N. C. to FL. worth making just to see that plane. It is only a nine hour road trip (600+ miles)

  17. Brian H says:

    The headline is incoherent.