Museum offers inside look at Rolls-Royce, Allison engines

Destination a fun stop on way to AOPA’s Indianapolis Fly-In

May 21, 2014

As the operator advances the throttle, the Allison J35 turbojet engine’s whir turns to a roar when the afterburner ignites, producing a fuel flow that would empty a car’s gas tank in 22 seconds. Operators need no previous experience to make this cross section of the turbojet sing. It’s an interactive display at the Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust, Allison Branch museum, designed to educate and entertain.

The museum’s engines—including the World War I-era Allison Liberty; the rare Allison X-4520 in which 24 cylinders form an X; and the Rolls-Royce AE series on the Lockheed C130J Hercules, Cessna Citation X, and Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey—have been rebuilt by volunteers with a level of precision that demonstrates how aircraft engines run “like a flying Swiss watch,” according to David Newill, president of the Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust, Allison Branch, and director of market research and analysis for Rolls-Royce Defense. Newill and other Roll-Royce employees and retirees volunteer their time to offer free guided tours of the museum, giving visitors an inside look at what went in to producing and restoring the engines.

“We’ve used the most modern technology on our oldest engine,” he said of the Liberty. The distributors and spark advance were 3-D printed to complete the engine’s restoration. The Liberty engine, built in the early 1920s, is credited with changing the future of Allison.

Allison’s V1710 and Rolls-Royce’s Merlin are on display for history buffs to debate the merits of the two engines, produced in the 1930s. Producing 1,000 horsepower, the V1710 was tested on an Army Consolidated A-11, then the Curtiss-Wright XP-37 and Bell XFM-1. The Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, Bell P-39 Airacobra, and Lockheed P-38 Lightning, and North American P-51 Mustang used the V1710 engine. The first Rolls-Royce Merlin engines, also producing 1,000 horsepower, are best known for powering Hawker Hurricanes and the Supermarine Spitfires. A more powerful version of the Merlin later powered the P-51 Mustang.

The museum also notes Allison’s role in the space race. Allison built the fuel and oxidizer tanks for the Apollo command module and lunar excursion module for the moon landing.

Present-day engines on display include the Rolls-Royce RR300 turboshaft engine for Robinson’s R66 and the Model 250 series turboshaft engines installed on certain Bell and Hughes models.

Entertaining for the whole family, the museum offers interactive displays for children as well as technical descriptions for engineers and easy-to-understand comparisons for those who aren’t. Based at the Indianapolis Rolls-Royce facility 20 miles from Indianapolis Regional Airport, the museum offers free one-hour public tours from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays. The address is 2601 West Raymond St., Indianapolis, IN 46241.