Boeing's Chase and Photo Airplanes

 Lockheed P-80/T-33

Bob Bogash

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On Friday, December 4, 2020, Boeing retired two of its long serving chase airplanes - Lockheed T-33s. I went to Boeing Field to watch their last flights (for Boeing Flight Test) and wrote an email covering the occasion to some of my pals.  Some responded with even more info and pix, so I decided to morph the email into a webpage.

  Max Welliver

Airplane manufacturers have long used chase planes to monitor test progress of experimental airplanes, take photographs and also conduct public relations and advertising photo flights.  I've been around the periphery of some of those airplanes used by Boeing in Seattle.  Doubtless, others were used - for sure in Wichita - and also by Boeing ancestor companies, so this is more like a ramble and not an in depth treatise.  When you get old, you ramble a lot.  If I get any more info of interest, I'll add it to the page.

My first data on Boeing chase planes comes from investigation work I did on the crash of the Boeing 307 Stratoliner Prototype near Alder, Washington on 18 May 1939.  The flight was a half-demo/half test for TWA and potential customer KLM.  The airplane went out of control and entered a flat spin while performing a stall with both engines out on one side.  During the spin/dive recovery, the airplane broke up in flight.  All 10 aboard were killed.  With no Voice or Flight Data Recorders, the pictures taken by the chase aircraft were important elements in the crash investigation.

This photo was taken with engines 3 and 4 shutdown just before the stall was attempted.  Note the rudder position.

Later on, in the early to mid-1950s, Boeing chartered Pan Am Stratocruisers, for P.R. photo flights.  I got these photos from Scott Carson, riding along as a kid with his dad, test pilot Kit Carson, and shows the PAA Strat with windows and hatches removed to allow clear shots by the Boeing photogs.

By 1963, when the 727 came along, Boeing was doing a similar charter operation, but with PNA (Pacific Northern Airlines) who used Lockheed Constellations.  These airplanes were used for the first flights of both the 727 (1963) and 737 (1967).  In these photos, from James Raisbeck, you can see the Connie parked at Renton airport as the first 727 taxies out onto the runway for its first takeoff (Feb 1963.)


and - first flight photos from the PNA Connie!

The Connie was also used for the First Flight of the 737 below (April 1967)

Later on, Boeing switched to using its own airplane, E2 - the second 727, - which was then used for photo work.

E2 - N72700

  Here's a photo taken in March 1969 from E2 of a Nordair 737 during a test flight over the Olympic Peninsula - I was aboard the 737 and could have taken some dandy pix of it (E2) - if only I had had my camera along.

When E2 was retired from flying, Boeing used E209, a 727-100 they bought second hand off Lufthansa; and also E5001, a 727-100C Universal airplane that had been used for flight testing and demo work.

At some point around 1974, Boeing acquired a North American F-86 (actually a license built Canadair version CL-13B Sabre Mk. 6 - one of 1815 Canadair-built) for chase and photo duties.  It was often flown by Paul Bennett ("Pablo") who had a great time in that airplane, much to the jealousy of other Boeing test pilots.  In 1991, after wing structural problems were found on inspection and deemed unrepairable, the F-86 was donated to the Museum of Flight - where it can be seen today, painted in original RCAF markings.

The Canadair airplane offered several advantages, with improved performance and a more powerful engine built by Orenda - details here:

  You can see the Saberjet here flying alongside the 747 Prototype.

During this time period, Boeing acquired no fewer than 4 Lockheed T-33s (T-Birds), again actually license built Canadair airplanes (they built 656.)  See story below. The interest in the Canadair airplanes likely sprung from their having alternate engines, that were more powerful and also more reliable (see Notes at the bottom.)  The T-33s were acquired over a period of time, and were used in assorted testing associated largely with the ALCM (Air Launched Cruise Missile) program, but later shuffled into the Boeing Commercial chase spot.

These were known - appropriately as Red Bird and Blue Bird

In 2006, Boeing stored one of their airplanes - Blue Bird - in one of the Museum's Everett hangars and I used the  opportunity to grab a few close-up shots.

The T-Birds offered many desirable features - they were rugged, reliable, simple and economical to operate; offered two seats (vs the single seat F-86), and had a large canopy with great visibility for both chase and photo work.  They also had a large nose compartment which made them able to carry lots of ancillary test equipment.

Somewhere along this journey, the T-33s became somewhat limiting due to speed; they are not very fast airplanes.  The 747 was faster and could hit nearly M 1.0 during dive testing.  So a Northrop T-38 Talon (N38FT) was added to the chase fleet.

I took these photos in 2002 at an Air Show in Moses Lake.  You can see my 737 Prototype (NASA 515) in the background.

They asked if I could bring my airplane over for the Air Show.  I said:  "SURE!"

Good thing NASA/Boeing/Museum/FAA didn't know......

Everyone knows I was always scrounging for helpers.
This was my Co-pilot - did a damn fine job!  Probably a Capt. over at Southwest or United now.....

Finally, in December 2020, after more than 40 years in faithful Boeing service, the 66 year old historic Lockheed fighter/trainers - were retired.  Originating as the XP-80, designed by famed Lockheed designer Kelly Johnson, the airplane type first flew in January 1944, after being designed, built, and flown in an astonishing 143 days - USAAF had demanded 180 days - in what became Kelly's famous Skunk Works.  (It could have flown in about a week's less time, except the first engine blew up during a ground test right before the first flight and a new engine had to be flown over from the UK.)  It became America's first operational jet fighter, serving in Europe before the end of the War (although not in air-to-air combat), and later in Korea (where 277 were lost in combat.)  P-80s were the first jet aircraft involved in dogfights kills between jet fighter aircraft - as both victor and victim of the MIG-15.

It went on to serve under numerous designations, by multiple Air Forces and also Naval services on board carriers, became a 2-seat trainer (T-33 - 6557 built -  flown by more than 20 different Air Forces, and for decades was the Western World's primary
military jet training airplane.)  The airplane was also built under license in Canada and Japan.  A total of 8272 airplanes are believed to have been constructed.

The P-80 was also the basis for the more advanced F-94, of which about 854 were built.

          Lockheed F-94

Kelly had been proposing a jet fighter to USAAF for years, having learned about compressibility problems when the P-38 started coming apart in dives.  He knew then that that was the end for propeller airplanes; but USAAF wasn't interested.  Then a funny thing happened -- Me-262s started showing up in the skies over Europe, initially during test flights (the 262 first flew in April 1941, and entered combat ops in July 1944, and by War's end was claimed to have shot down 542 Allied aircraft.)  "Hey, those guys can't do that, can they?"  Kelly got a call to come to Dayton ASAP.  He arrived back in Burbank with a contract to build a jet fighter, and to be quick about it.  At least that was his story - to his bosses, whom he had forgotten to tell (he played that game often.)  They had a fit, telling him (truthfully) that there were no people and no space for any more airplanes (Lockheed had swollen from 33 employees to 94,000, and were building P-38s (over 10,000), B-17s, Ventura's and Hudson's, and Connies.  They told him since he got himself in the pickle, he'd have to get out of it - by himself.  With a long face, he muttered "OK", and left with the biggest smile anyone had ever seen.  He'd been bugging his bosses for years to allow him to create a Boutique shop within the company to fast build cutting edge designs.  Now they had given him the License.

Having spent a lot of time building the Electra, P-38, Constellation, he had a pretty good idea where to find the good folks at the plant, and proceeded to steal them (his words) to man his new shop.  They took all the plywood panels from engine shipping crates and built a high wall enclosing an area in a corner of Burbank; it had no roof and eventually wound up with a circus tent type cover.  It became known as the Skonk Works (not Skunk) named after an Al Capp comic strip, because nobody knew what was going on inside.  And Kelly wasn't about to tell them!!!  (Allegedly, "the project was so secret that only five of the more than 130 people working on it knew that they were developing a jet aircraft.")

          After the War, Kelly filed a Patent for the airplane

They trucked the Prototype (Lulu Belle - another Al Capp comic strip character - and still extant - now in the Smithsonian) covered by tarps and with a phony wood propeller, out to Muroc Dry Lake (now Edwards AFB.)  Milo Burcham was the pilot; everybody from the Skunk Works was there from the janitor on up (as always,  with a Kelly first flight.)  The flight lasted 6 minutes since Milo couldn't get the gear up.  They adjusted a gear squat switch and he took off again for Nbr. 2.  The second flight lasted 20 minutes during which time he "climbed, stalled, rolled, zoomed, and buzzed the field."  In Milo's report, he stated "During the descent, I worked the speeds up slowly.  I reached a maximum of 490 indicated airspeed and everything felt good.  Cockpit was quiet.  Visibility is good.... I made a low pass across the field with full power, 9500 rpm, and reached 475 indicated airspeed.  After pulling up, I made a series of rolls, in both directions.  The airplane rolls extremely well and has a very fast rate of roll."


So, here's America's most advanced, secret airplane, and with about 15 minutes total air time, the pilot tears up the field at max power and airspeed, then does a vertical climb doing max rate rolls in both directions.  'Jes like today, eh???  Well, it's 76 years later and some of these airplanes are still working for their pay, so they must have done something right....



Shaking hands with Lockheed Test Pilot Tony LeVier before the first flight of the XP-80A - the second airplane built.
It was built in 138 days and the flight took place on June 10, 1944.  It was named the Gray Ghost.
On March 20, 1945, it's engine turbine wheel failed, cutting off the tail section; the pitchover then failed the wings.
Tony bailed out with great difficulty, almost killed, he broke his back, and wound up in hospital for about 8 months.
There were no ejection seats in those days.

  Gray Ghost returns to Burbank

Earlier, on 20 Oct 1944, Milo Burcham, pilot of the first flight, was killed when the engine flamed out on takeoff from Burbank.

Test Pilots - especially in earlier days - had a very dangerous occupation....

On Friday, December 4, 2020, both Boeing aircraft, registrations N109X and N416X, took off from their home base at Boeing Field for a formation farewell flight. The chaseplanes then flew to Paine Field for a salute to the local Boeing workers (flying right past my home in Hansville in the process!)   Thanks to a heads-up from Boeing Historian Mike Lombardi, me and the Missus flew down to BFI this morning in our RV-12, and were in position to record the event. 

  Max Welliver

Although both aircraft are usually referred to as T-33s, (actually T-Birds is what most call them), they are actually Canadian license built Canadair CL-30s (CT-133)(RCAF designation T-33AN Silverstar 3).  In an interesting quirk, Boeing's F-86 was also a license built Canadair machine.
  Canadair CT-133

N109X (construction number T33-298) was delivered to the RCAF as 21298 in 1954. It was retired in 1965 and became CF-SJZ. One year later the trainer became N109X registered to Aeronautical Specialties Inc, Long Beach (CA). N109X was acquired by the Boeing Equipment Holding Co, Seattle (WA) in 1976.


N416X (c/n T33-369) started its career in the RCAF too. Delivered in 1954 as 21369 it remained in service until November 1970. The aircraft was then sold on the civilian market and became N12416 in 1973. It had several owners before being acquired by the Boeing Equipment Holding Co, Seattle (WA) in 1980.


On 16 November 2000 the ownership of both aircraft was passed on to the Boeing Logistics Spares Inc, Seattle (WA). The T-33s have served as observation/camera platforms during a number of historic maiden flights.

In 2010, one of the aircraft followed the Boeing 787 prototype during its maiden flight. On 16 March 2018 the prototype Boeing 737 MAX-7 was escorted while the prototype of the Boeing 777-9 was followed during its maiden flight on 25 January 2020.

The T-33s are said to be replaced by TA-4 Skyhawks - an example shown here in a photo I took at Boeing Field in 2016.

The two T-Birds will be donated to two unidentified museums.

Man, I have a big trapline!

After sending out my emails, I got comments and more photos from some of my pals.  Here are a few nice pix from Tom Imrich, retired Boeing test pilot, showing the T-33s and T-38, chasing the 747-8 and other airplanes.

 In formation for take-off - First Flight 747-8

........and for landing

Following 3 pix from Tom Imrich - Co-pilot on FF

From the cockpit of the test airplane

T-38 in foreground and T-33 on the outside

Tom dug out some memorabilia from his logs and records - recounting his first T-Bird flight - way back in 1966, also his first jet flight:

Here's another one of my very memorable T-Bird flights... It was my first
nickel ride in a T33. With AF Capt. Jim Pettigrew.  checking my logbook... that Lockheed T-33A flight was actually on
5-27-1966  in AF35605,... with a J33 (4600# thrust).

I got 7 T&Ls, flying both at Hanscom (1) and Pease AFB (6), including a GCA,
and acro... with a cloverleaf, barrel roll, a stall, an Immelmann,... and
even an SFO.

We ran the bird out of fuel twice that day, once to Pease, then again after
refueling at Pease, on the way back home, before landing.

And... I was still only age 19 ...not 21!!!

What a day that was!

Geez, how do you get that kind of Luck????  Well, I did get to fly a P-40 - click here.  Take that, Tom!

Leon Robert is another pal - retired Boeing test pilot - and also a neighbor.  He wrote me the following:


N109X was purchased by the Boeing company in the 1970’s to support the development of the ALCM cruise missile guidance system. The large nose compartment was key to that capability. The airplane was used to fly low level test flights simulating missile profiles of less than 500 feet agl. The FAA waiver in those days was very simple. It read some thing like “approved for flight at speeds greater than 250 kias at altitudes below 10,000 feet msl, and for flight at altitudes less than 1000 ft agl in the NW region for the purpose of flight testing.” After the missile was itself in flight test, the airplane was used to fly the planned missile profile to ensure it was a safe profile. Since the terrain data was recorded during the airplane test, it also gave data to compare with the actual missile flight. Two anecdotes:  09 X-Ray was in Nashville flying tests over different terrain and vegetation when Mt St Helen’s blew its top. A week later, when I tried to come home, it had to short-stop in Billings due to a failed fuel boost pump. Even there, the ash was a problem. One of the strangest tests I ever flew on the Red-bird was for a INS issue. The engineers wanted a short flight with maximum excitation in two out of three axes. Their plan was to takeoff and fly true East. Then when clear of Seattle area traffic, they wanted a series of 4 G loops on that due East heading. Then on the last one, they wanted a 1/2 Cuban 8 that finished on a true West heading for the return.

N12416 (later N416X) was initially leased, then purchased a few years later. It was acquired in order to test the designator and seeker system for an anti-tank missile. This was a Boeing developed system that was able to self designate multiple tanks. The system was named MCGD, and consequently this T-33 was called Maggie. Although both airplanes were often called “red-bird” and “blue-bird” because of their primary color. The flight testing for Maggie usually consisted of low altitude “pop-up” bombing runs on tank-like objects. These might be leased garbage trucks at Ft Lewis, or actual National Guard tanks south of Boise. The fly-off with the competition occurred over a period of several months using the Eglin AFB ranges and targets. Boeing lost that competition, although the system worked well. While in Eglin, Boeing program officials briefed Jimmy Doolittle on this system. I was fortunate enough to meet him then.

After both programs ceased, the airplanes were almost sold, but then they became the slow flight chase birds when Boeing began using T-38’s for the medium and high speed photo chase.

Before the T-38, the F-86 was fully capable of flying both slow and fast chase points. The F-86 was aerodynamically capable of flying very high speed, but it was underpowered, so could not maintain those highest flutter end-point speeds except in a dive. It was retired due to a crack in the wing structure.

Bob - I don’t know if you want to use the info above. Feel free to use some or all or none, as you see fit. I wish I had known today was their last day. I was hired by Boeing in 1980 (from Flight Test Engineering) for the purpose of flying N109X ALCM test flights. My USN A-6 experience qualified me for the low altitude work that was required. They gave me a desk in the the production office, and then later let me fly as co-pilot on Production flights. 109X is how I became a Boeing test pilot.

Leon Robert

from Jim Musgrove - the story about the "other" two T-Birds!

Well I have wondered whether they would pull the plug this December on the Boeings “T-33” aircraft. It was planned two years ago. Or come up with a workaround to keep them flying. Boeing operated these aircraft longer than the USAF had them in the operational inventory. It was the Cost of Ejection Seat Rocket motors that foretold their retirement. Actually CT-133's built by Canadair. Boeing at one time had 3 operational CT-133's N109X, N416X, N490X. While  N109X, N416X were utilized in multiple programs in radar development as both emitter and targets, certification chase in both research and product development of  Boeing products, N490X was purchased directly from the Canadian Air Ministry to support the X-45 program and after completion of the program fell into disuse and finding no subsequent program that was willing to pay the utilization costs, eventually fell victim to expired ejection seat ordnance. Which was by both time and cost to acquire what drove a nail into its further flight. N490X was eventually removed from the federal register in order that it no longer show as an aircraft on the Boeing inventory and thus did not have to have its utilization tracked in daily reports. Besides N490X it is a little known fact that Boeing had an additional CT-133 making four aircraft in total; The last of which Boeing acquired through the purchase from the Canadian Armed Forces as a spare engine which Canadian pilots delivered via flying it to Boeing Field. At the delivery, the CT-133 which has never been a US registered aircraft or flown by Boeing was utilized by the Boeing maintenance team as an engine test bed. That aircraft was eventually ordered into storage to make more room in the WWII wooden hangar “Hangar One” at north Boeing Field Seattle where the aircraft were housed and maintained. The aircraft was disassembled, crated, and sent to Glasgow Montana for storage in the Boeing facility there with no engine installed. N490Xs disposition as of this time is unknown to me. As an unflyable aircraft it will have to be either disassembled stored or scrapped or possibly be donated to a museum.



from friend and Museum Docent Randy Getz - retired USAF and NWA

I’ve got about 300 hours in the old Lockheed racer. I think we have the last one built for the Air Force (1959) on display down at McChord Field.


from friend Ken Mist in Toronto:

Hello Bob.  Thanks for sharing this. I will always have a soft space for the T-33 (especially the Canadair CT-133).  I'm a life member of the Jet Aircraft Museum in nearby London who fly a CT-133 in the paint scheme of the famous Red Knight and as well have spent time as a safety briefer with Waterloo Warbirds for their "Mako Shark" (pictures attached).

My most memorable time with the T-Bird is as a backseater when we landed short at the Hamilton Air Show in 2012.  I can personally attest to how strong these old trainers are.

Will you be creating a web page to celebrate the retirement?  I'd love to share the story and your photos.

Blue skies!

Ken Mist


From friend Gerry White in New Mexico - retired USAF and NWA pilot:

Thanks for that Bob.. When I entered the AF flight training the T-33 was being phased out in favor of the T-38 but Craig AFB, where I was attending still had the T-33 as the primary training airplane. It was a somewhat difficult airplane to fly as the attitude indicator would precess and tumble when you pulled a few G’s and the radial flow engine had a fuel control unit that would overheat the engine. When you had to add power you had to concentrate on the EGT gauge while moving the throttle to try to keep it below 800 degrees. It was somewhat unstable also and you weren’t allowed to spin it as it had a tendency to tumble and that was unrecoverable.

I found out why the physical for entering pilot training had a restriction of sitting height of 36”. The first time I took the physical the attendant told me my sitting height was 36 1/2” and that would disqualify me so I managed to hunker down and got my sitting height to 36”. I found out why it had that restriction the first time I lowered the canopy and it hit my helmet. If I had to eject my helmet would be the first to hit the canopy and that would have been a bad thing.

I liked flying the T-33 as it had incredible visibility and it felt like it was a real fighter. Managed to get a little over 200 hours in it.

From Harry Sievers - noted aviation historian and photographer:

    MANY THANKS for this msg.  remember the T-Bird very

    well.  in USAF 1952-1956 and spent 2 years at Itazuke AFB,

    Fukuoka including last 8 months of Korean War.  was in

    Air Traffic Control and watched many T-Birds, including

    the RT-33 from my job in control tower.  they would "lead"

    a combat mission taking off for the first 90 miles across

    the water until they hit Korea, then return.  had a chance

    to ride on a local T-33 flight but it canceled at last minute.

    did get several rides in USN JD-1;s, (B-26) in cockpit, so

    did ride in combat aircraft.   also at JITA was unit of F-94

    from same family of F-80 aircraft.  they flew every day on

    intercept missions during war for unknown targets heading

    to Japan across China Sea.

    Keep up your GREAT reports, really enjoy them.



From my Bro, Tony T.

A beautiful airplane.  Like Kelley said, if it looks right it will fly right.


...from one who wanted to remain Anonymous:

More trivia (but I'm not going to put it in a public forum).  During 747-400F flutter testing when we did the high speed dive points, the T-38 piped in with something to the effect of  "I think we're supersonic".  Turns out the flight test pitot probe heat was miswired and there was no heat in flight.  the probe iced up and since we were flying to the cone airspeed.....  Yes, the -400F went (just) supersonic over eastern Montana.  Not one of FT Instrumentation's most glorious moments.

from Bernie Turner, Boeing engineer, regarding the F-86:

I was invited to go along as an observer on a 737 test flight to see how the gravel deflector ski worked on the nose gear.  I was seated just aft of the right wing root hooked up to the communications system so that I could hear what was going on and comment if necessay.  Paul Bennett brought the F-86 right up underneath the right wing of the 737 so he could take movies out of the side mounted camera, recording the position of the gravel ski as the nose gear cycled.  From a position right behind the wing root inside the 737 I was looking right down into the cockpit of the F-86, and I couldn't believe how close Paul had brought the F-86 up under the wing of the 737.  I felt like if I could reach out of the window I could almost touch the F-86.  I bet there wasn't more than 10 feet, if that much, between the two airplanes.  The gravel ski positioning system worked fine and Paul got some good pictures of the gear and ski as the nose gear cycled.  When the testing was over, Paul just dropped straight down some, rolled over onto his back and did a split S away from the 737.  What a view I got of a classic airplane.  I will never forget the sight of that airplane flying so near and then falling away in a split S.  What a sight for any airplane buff.

Seems like everytime I read one of your e-mails, old memories from both my Boeing and flying days as a light plane driver come rushing back.

Take care and keep bringing back those old memories.


Initially known as the P-80C, the trainer variant flew better than its single seat cousins. Powered by an Allison J33-35 single-shaft, turbojet engine with a thrust rating of 5,200 lbs, the improvements to the trainer meant it climbed faster, cruised better and overall was slightly faster than the fighter version. In May 1949, the designation for the aircraft was officially switched to T-33.

The RCAF’s introduction to the aircraft followed two years later, when the first of twenty Lockheed built T-33As were delivered on loan. The aircraft was designated by the RCAF as the Silver Star Mk 1. This first batch was followed by a second loan of ten more aircraft. On September 13, 1951, Canadair signed a license agreement with Lockheed to build T-33 aircraft for the RCAF.


I have received a lot of questions about engines - well, it's a long, long story!  Here's a little bit.

The XP-80 was designed and flew with the Frank Whittle derived UK engine, to be built under license in the U.S.  Several manufacturers were involved.  But actually, Kelly Johnson's intent was to power it with a much better Lockheed designed engine - an in-house axial (straight-through) design from Nate Price, in lieu of the British centrifugal flow design.  As hard as it is to believe but Lockheed actually had TWO geniuses on the payroll, for in addition to Kelly, Nate Price was there on the engine side.

Nate Price and his proposed axial flow turbojet engine for the XP-80 with Kelly Johnson

If it's hard to believe that Lockheed had two geniuses working, it's even harder to believe that the U.S.A. could win the War with the legal neanderthals working in Washington D.C.   For, at the same time the War Dept was urging Lockheed to work faster on developing their jet fighter, the Justice Dept was suing Lockheed for violation of anti-trust laws.  You see, this was a fallout of the Boeing anti-trust break-up in the early 1930s, when Boeing was forced to divest United Aircraft (Pratt & Whitney) and United Air Lines, and it became illegal for an airframe company to also manufacture aircraft engines.   As a part of the settlement with the Justice Dept., Lockheed agreed to sell all their engine design stuff - which they did.  They sold Rice's axial flow engine materials to a Burbank machine shop named Menasco (which became a major landing gear manufacturer), and all of the brilliant engine design work died a slow death.  As Shakespeare once famously wrote - "First thing, kill all the lawyers"!!!

The Canadair built version was powered by an up-rated Nene 10 engine licensed by Rolls Royce and supplied by Orenda Ltd. Once in production, the aircraft was designated T-33 Silver Star Mk 3. Initially, the RCAF ordered 576 aircraft, but eventually a total of 656 would be delivered between 1952 and 1959.

The Allison J-33 Engine

The J33 was originally developed by General Electric as a follow-on to their work with the designs of Frank Whittle during World War II. Their first engine was known as the General Electric I-A, but after major changes to adapt it to US production and to increase thrust, it started limited production as the I-16 in 1942, the 16 referring to its 1,600 lbf (7.1 kN) thrust. Full production started as the J31 when the United States Army Air Forces introduced common naming for all their engine projects.

Along with the I-16, GE also started work on an enlarged version, known as the I-40. As the name implied, the engine was designed to provide 4,000 lbf (18 kN). Apart from size, the main difference between I-16 and the I-40 was the combustion system: the I-16 had ten reverse-flow cans, whereas the I-40 had 14 straight-through combustors. The development cycle was remarkably rapid. Design work started in mid-1943 and the first prototype underwent static testing on 13 January 1944.

Rolls-Royce Nene Engine

The Nene was designed and built as a result of an early 1944 Air Ministry request for an engine of 4,200 lbf thrust, and an engine was schemed-out by Stanley Hooker and Adrian Lombard as the B.40. In the summer of 1944 Hooker visited the US and discovered that General Electric already had two engine types, an axial and a centrifugal, of 4,000 lbf thrust running. On returning to the UK Hooker decided to go for 5,000 lbf of thrust and, working with Lombard, Pearson and Morley, a complete redesign of the B.40 resulted in the B.41, later to be called the Nene.

The double-sided impeller was 28.8 inches in diameter, compared to 20.68 for the Derwent I, to produce an airflow of 80 lb/s, while the overall diameter of the engine was 49.5 inches. A scaled up Derwent of the same power would have had a 60-inch diameter. The compressor casing was based on Whittle's Type 16 W.2/500 compressor case which was more aerodynamically efficient than that on the Derwent but also eliminated cracking. Other design advances included nine new low pressure-drop/high efficiency combustion chambers developed by Lucas and a small impeller for rear bearing and turbine disc cooling. The first engine start was attempted on 27 October 1944. A number of snags delayed the run until nearly midnight, when with almost the entire day and night shift staff watching, an attempt was made to start the engine, without the inlet vanes, which had not yet been fitted. To everyone's dismay the engine refused to light - positioning the igniter was a trial-and-error affair at the time. On the next attempt, Denis Drew unscrewed the igniter and as the starter motor ran the engine up to speed, lit the engine with an oxy-acetylene torch. The engine was run up to 4,000 lbf and more, and a cheer went up around the assembled personnel. Upon Hooker's arrival next morning, and informed that the inlet vanes had been fitted during the night, Hooker was satisfied to see the thrust gauge needle registering 5,000 lbf, making the B.41 the most powerful jet engine in the world. Weight was around 1,600 lb.

The Nene was based on the "straight-through" version of the basic Whittle-style layout, with the flow going directly through the engine from front to rear, as opposed to a "reverse-flow" type, which reverses the direction of air flow through the combustor section so that the turbine stage can be mounted within the combustor section; this allows for a more compact engine, but increases the combustor pressure losses which has an adverse effect on engine performance. Less thrust is generated with the same fuel flow.

The Nene has a fascinating history, serving as the basis for derivative engines powering numerous airplanes in the UK, USA (F9F Grumman Panther), and Russia (MIG-15) - the Brits sold the Russians 20 engines with the stipulation they "not be used for military purposes" - the stupidity never ends.  It was license built in Canada by Orenda.  Much more info here:

Orenda Engine

See details on the CF-86 Orenda engine here:

Copyright 2020 Robert Bogash.  All Rights Reserved.
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