Monday, October 26, 2015

Book Review: Turbojet History and Development 1930-1960 - Volume 2

Anthony L. Kay
Turbojet History and Development 1930-1960 - Volume 2
Wiltshire, UK: Crowood Press, 2007
Category: Aviation History

Rating: 4-Stars

Whereas the first volume in Anthony Kay's Turbjet History focused on jet engine development in the UK and Germany, the second volume covers developments in the U.S., Soviet Union, France, and elsewhere.

Again, this is a huge subject to try and cover, and the amount of detail that Kay can go into on U.S. jet engine development, for example, will naturally pale next to that provided by more dedicated texts such as James St. Peter's History of Aircraft Gas Turbine Engine Development in the United States.  It nonetheless accurately portrays the early days of jet engine development in both the United States, and the many would-be contenders that attempted - and often failed - to make a lasting impression in this hugely competitive market.

A couple points bear mentioning that stand out from this book.  The first, is the degree to which the early jet engine developers throughout the world relied heavily on the designs and technologies developed by the very first jet engine developers in the UK and Germany.  The earliest jet engine designs to be manufactured by both the United States and Soviet Union, for example, were engines developed by Rolls-Royce and subsequently built under license in the United States or duplicated by the Soviet Union.  The early development work in Germany, meanwhile, would go on to inform both U.S. and Soviet development of axial-flow compressors.

An excellent example of this flow of knowledge and experience is afforded by post-war developments in France.  At the end of World War II, Germany had multiple development houses pursing jet engine technologies and development.  The developers at BMW, however, were behind their counterparts at Junkers and Heinkel by the end of the war, and were consequently overlooked by U.S. and Soviet officials who combed through post-war Germany to recruit German engineers to work on their own post-war programs.  The French government was therefore able to recruit the jet engine development team from BMW to develop the Atar engine - the turbojet that would power French fighters and bombers throughout the 1950s and 1960s.  The continued success of France's Snecma, which exists to this day, would have been unthinkable without this early injection of jet engine experience.

The other element that stands out from Anthony Kay's work is the diverse pattern of jet engine development undertaken within the post-war Soviet Union.  While the very first Soviet jet fighter engines were direct duplicates of Rolls-Royce designs produced by Klimov, independent development work at Tumansky (much of it informed by German experience in axial-flow compressors) would eventually supercede the more limited stable of designs offered by Klimov.  Copying British designs allowed the Russians to get a head start on jet aviation.  But to develop a next generation of technology of their own required that the Soviet developers learn-out the design process themselves - the hard way, with all of the painful lessons that this entailed.

Taken together, Anthony Kay's book provides an important addition to the historical record on a subject that merits more attention that it is generally awarded.

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