Last updated: 10/13/2008

 

Big, Old Lycoming Engines (The XR-7755, XH-2470, etc.)
(and a tribute to my late Dad)


R.J.Ribando, Copyright 1998, 2008 All Rights Reserved

This photo from early April 1929 and taken at the Williamsport Airport, commemorates the first aircraft flight using a Lycoming Aero Engine manufactured in Williamsport, PA. Most are Lycoming officials and include from the left: F.M.Bender, W.H.Beal (who went on to become project engineer for the Boeing 314 Flying Boat and then head of commercial airline sales at Boeing throughout the 1940's and 50's and later held a similar position at Douglas), L.B.Manning, E.L.Cord (whose conglomerate owned Lycoming, which produced engines for the Cord, Auburn and Duesenburg automobiles at the time), "Doc" Kinkade, J.H.McCormick, J.C.Kelley (pilot), E.M.Herrick, Val Cronstedt and L.Dickinson. Note the cigarettes next to a fueled aircraft! Thousands of the R-680 9-cylinder, radial engine powering this aircraft were produced by Lycoming during WWII. The picture is from the Feb. 18, 1990 Sunday Grit PLUS. You can see a beautifully restored R-680 at the Udvar-Hazy Museum at Dulles Airport.

My father began working at Lycoming right out of high school in 1926, but left six months after this photo was taken to begin study toward a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering at Penn State. When he graduated in 1933, the Depression was in full swing. He worked at Radiant Steel until America was gearing up for WW II, and at that time he was rehired at Lycoming, where he worked until retiring in 1973.

 

 

 

 

The Lycoming XH-2470 in its test cell. The twelve cylinder O-1230 was developed by Lycoming during the 1930's using $500,000 of its own funds. When its output was deemed insufficient, the engine was stacked and became the H-configured, 24-cylinder engine seen here in about 1940.  The XH-2470 flew in prototype form in the Vultee XP-54 . The Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration and Storage Facility in Suitland, MD has one XH-2470-7 in storage (along with hundreds of other vintage aircraft engines!).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red Maxwell and Paul Cervinsky taking a break - next to, at 5000 hp., the biggest reciprocating aircraft engine ever made. This maintenance stand (with the steps that Red is perched on removed) could easily be the same one seen in the recent Smithsonian photo below. Red's "Red Baron" headgear is reported to have been a personal fetish - not an OSHA requirement. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Experimental Engineering (where the engine was tested) staff poses with Lycoming XR-7755 sometime in 1946. Your correspondent's father is seen in the third row in the white shirt and tie, just to the left of the engine.

Row 1: Paul Butters, Phil Walkes, William Jopson, Jim Page, Ruth Moon Bruchlacher, Kay Wertman Metz, Mary Lib Cawkins, Lois Miller Lloyd, Dorothy Riddell, "Emy" Engler

Row 2: Warren Walters, Bill Lorimer, Charlie Bird, "Woody" Carson, Bucky Hessler, Oscar Woolever, Art Moyer, Alemose, Clarence Brooks, Clark, Andy Taylor, William "Red" Rathburn

Row 3: Roy Dockey, Bill Ribando, Charlie Motter, Gus Goyne, Lee Herman

For a group shot of the design team (including Clarence Wiegman, the chief engineer, who lived across the street from our family home) plus extensive specifications, click here.

 

Lycoming XR-7755 installed in its test cell. Your correspondent remembers how as a kid his father, on a quiet evening, could open a window and tell whether a 4 or 6-cylinder engine for which he was responsible was still running - in the test cells nearly two miles away. I can only imagine what this 36-cylinder behemoth sounded like!

With the cylinders four deep, air cooling was not an option, but providing liquid cooling to all 36 cylinders proved a plumbing challenge. PHOTOS OF THE THEN-NEARLY-COMPLETE X-7 RESTORATION!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here's what's on the other side of that wall in the previous photo - the dynamometer room. My father is seen between the two units. The 5000 hp. engines were gone by the time I was old enough to go into the plant with my Dad occasionally on a weekend, but you can imagine the impression these dynamometers, which were still there, would make on a 5 or 6 year old kid!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The XR-7755 was being developed to power what eventually became the Convair B-36 "Peacemaker" bomber. The B-36 was originally designed for attacks on Germany from the U.S. in the event that Britain fell to the Nazis, but the prototype did not fly until 1946 and the aircraft was not in service until 1948. As the only combat aircraft that could reach Soviet targets from U.S. bases, it became the mainstay of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) fleet in the early 1950's. Rather than selecting the 5000 hp Lycoming engine, the USAF chose to power the B-36 with 3500 hp P&W R-4360 radial engines. Underpowered even with six of them, later models were augmented with four GE J-47 gas turbine engines (as seen here), hence the phrase, "Six a-turnin', four a-burnin!" Four of the 385 that were produced survive; your correspondent has seen the one at the Air Force Museum, the one at Castle AFB (before it was moved there in pieces from the now-closed Chanute AFB) and rebuilt, and the one in Fort Worth.

 

 

 

The one surviving XR-7755 (of the two built) was recently restored at the old Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration and Storage Facility of the Smithsonian Institution in Suitland, MD. The inscription below it read: "Lycoming XR-7755-3 Engine - 1946. At the time this engine was developed, this liquid-cooled radial engine was the most powerful reciprocating aircraft power plant in the world. To achieve a design goal of high takeoff power and low fuel consumption for long range flights, it was equipped with 2-speed contra-rotating propellers and a unique mechanism for adjusting the valve timing and ignition timing while the engine was running. The XR-7755 was never tested in flight. Rating: 5000 hp at 2600 rpm."

At the new Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles Airport, the beautifully restored "X-7" is displayed a lot more prominently than it had been at Garber. In fact, it could be considered the star of the 30-35 "recips" on display there.

Lycoming oldtimers report that when they delivered the other engine to the program office at Wright-Patterson AFB, they were directed to "dump it on the ground." That engine is presumed to have been scrapped before making it into the AF museum's engine collection.



PHOTOS OF THE THEN-NEARLY-FINISHED XR-7755 RESTORATION!

 

 

 

 

(left) My father seen in test cell control room (probably in the 1950's) and with his slide rule near his right hand - ready for action! (How many calculators last for 70 years?!) To the general aviation community "Powered by Lycoming" means what it does today because of people like my father who designed, built or tested engines "as if you are going to fly it yourself!"

(right)  Centenarians think it’s pretty trendy to be "on the 'Net," so here's my mother boarding a Lockheed Constellation for Genoa, Italy in 1954. She was on her way to visit my father, who had been sent from Lycoming to help the Piaggio Company set up testing facilities and procedures for the Lycoming engines they were building under license. You can tell it's a "Connie" and not a "Super Connie" by the round windows.

 

 

One of the "perks" for Lycoming engineers was the possibility of a summer job for offspring who were in engineering school themselves. During the summer of 1965 I worked with the engineers testing a multi-fuel diesel engine (the other engines pictured here are "spark ignition" (Otto cycle)) under development for the U.S. Army's Gamma Goat articulated vehicle (the second part of this video). Most of the tests were done in the test cells within the plant, but occasionally I was allowed to go "on the road" with the technicians in a prototype vehicle. The tests were conducted on a recently-completed section of I-80 which was not yet open to the public. We were expressly forbidden from going off-road, but were still able to get our "jollies." The exhaust stack on the Gamma Goat was ideally located so that while driving to the Interstate, we could pull up next to a convertible (whose occupants were probably listening to the Beach Boys) and then, when the light changed, blanket its occupants in Diesel soot! The Gamma Goat went into very limited production. Its three cylinder engine was noisy, and the vehicle was a challenge to drive. A few are still in the hands of National Guard units and some serve in Australia and New Zealand.


Photos of the recent XR-7755 Restoration

 

Thermodynamics of the Otto (and other) Power Cycles


Aircraft Engine Historical Society


History of Presidential Flight

 


RJR home

 

Comments? Please e-mail me at: rjr at Virginia.edu.  A richly illustrated presentation based on this material (and much more) is available through the University of Virginia Faculty Senate Speakers Bureau.

 

References:

Berkowitz, Bruce D., "Monster Engines - Why the Roar of the Mighty Recips Was Silenced Forever," Air and Space/Smithsonian, Dec. 1997/January 1998, pp. 80-87.

White, Graham, "Allied Aircraft Piston Engines of World War II - History and Development of Frontline Aircraft Piston Engines Produced by Great Britain and the United States during World War II," Society of Automotive Engineers, Warrendale, PA, pp. 379-382.

Wilkenson, Paul H., "Aircraft Engines of the World - 1948," Paul H. Wilkenson, New York, (1948), pp. 72-73.

Dick, Ron and Patterson, Dan, "American Eagles - A History of the United States Air Force," Howell Press, Charlottesville, VA, pp. 264-265.

Genevro, George, "Power from the Past: The Largest Aircraft Piston Engine," Custom Planes, Feb. 1999, pp 60-61.

Underwood, Tony, Personal Communication, Dec. 13, 2000.

 

Kinney, Jeremy R., National Air and Space Museum, Personal Communication, Dec. 21, 2001.