Part 5

Stanley Hooker had first met Frank Whittle in 1940, at that time, he was working in the supercharger department of Rolls-Royce Aero engines. His work involved extracting every last bit of performance out of the Merlin engines fitted to the latest Spitfires. Certainly, the idea of Whittle's power plant attracted him, so he took the then Rolls-Royce chairman, Enest Hives, to see Rover's factory in Barnoldswick. When made aware of the supply problems with Rover, Hives asked Whittle to forward on all relative plans and soon, the Rolls-Royce factory in Derby were supplying all the parts he needed.

Little did they know at that time, that it was a meeting that would set the course of British Jet engine production right to this very day.

Within months, Rolls-Royce were building their own versions of Whittle's units and set about solving some of the many small issues that still remained.

With Whittle's fall into ill health and a move over to the United States in order to help at General Electric, Hooker and his team were able to commence an extensive independent development programme. Dart, Derwent and Nene power plants evolved, now with a thrust of some 5,500lbs being produced. Such was the advance of the technology under Hooker's leadership, that by 1948, Rolls-Royce decided existing piston engines had had their day and moved all future jet work to their main site in Derby. This reduced Hooker's role in the business and helped him make the decision to move on to Bristol.

With average thrust around the 5,000 lbs level at this point, to suddenly move to a company that had developed units that could almost double that performance was a fantastic leap in technology. What was then known as the BO1.1 (Bristol Olympus) was developing 9,140lbs when it first ran in May 1950, which was then incresaed to 9,500 by December of the same year. Now, some 3 years after the initial specification had been laid down, there was finally an engine capable of delivering the performance required and the team set about refining it ready for flight testing.

Meantime, over at Avro, work on the series of small one-third scale aircraft (designated 707's) were refining the aerodynamic properties required for the full sized aircraft.  A race would be on to get a suitable Bristol powerplant ready in time for first flight. This was not to be and by 30th September 1952, VX770 took off in the hands of Roly Falk flying solo, but by a strange quirk of fete, powered by the then ready Rolls-Royce Avon engine - developing some 6,500 lbs of thrust. Later, it was fitted with Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire engines developing 7,500lbs of thrust. (Just a few years later Siddeley would be merged with Bristol) so the obvious convergence and collaboration within the industry was already beginning. Rival companies actually worked hand in had to an extent, for the common good of delivering a product that was seen as vital to the defence of the country. The grit and determination witnessed through the war years was still very much alive.

Stunning image of the first full sized prototype Vulcan - VX770, although first flight took place without the planned Olympus engines.

It was now late 1952, when the Chief of the Air Staff advised that the three latest aircraft in the RAF would be part of the V-class, or later V-force – Valliant, Victor and Vulcan.

The second full sized Vulcan prototype VX777 was actually first to receive Olympus engines, designated Bristol Olympus 100 and first flew in September of 1953.

It would be late 1954, before the first prototype received its nominated engines, then called Olympus 101, producing 11,000 lbs of thrust. It seemed the wait had been worthwhile. This engine then went on to be retro-fitted to power the second prototype VX777, and the first 15 production B1's.

The association of Bristol Olympus and Vulcan would now develop very much together, as both engines and airframe received constant modifications during the latter years of the 1950's.

It was a double edged sword sometimes; increase the power and the aircraft would fly faster and higher, leading to required modifications of the wing, or increase the wings ability and effect better operation of the flight controls, you would then need a more powerful engine to extract the best performance. These years would be ones of constant refinement to achieve the best combination, which ultimately led to Phase 2 wings and then a complete size alteration to the final B.2 specification that we know in XH558.

By August 1957, the second prototype VX777 had a new thinner wing configuration known as the Phase 2C and was powered by Olympus 102 engines, now delivering 12,000lbs of thrust.

Development work at Bristol was certainly hectic and it would appear vast improvements were made every six months or so, when, with an improved turbine design and altered burners, the 102 soon became designated the Mk 104, finally being rated at 13,500 lbs when fitted to the Vulcan B1A aircraft.

Hooker meantime, had other interests outside on the Olympus programme and as early as 1952, had begun work with Folland on a small compact unit to deliver just 5,000 lbs - to power their new lightweight fighter to be called the Gnat. This allowed him the time to produce his own first completely original design using all the knowledge he and his team had acquired.

This engine was called the Orpheus. A later model of the engine was then used for experiments in vectored thrust, seen at the time as the next best thing in aircraft design.

Hooker managed to allow the turbine and compressor to bleed air downwards rather than the traditional through direction and with this innovative, yet simple concept, would create the basis of the Pegasus engine that would lead to the Hawker Siddeley Harrier - perhaps the last great sole British innovation in the history of powered flight.

Next week, Olympus development continues to power Vulcan Mk.2's, TSR2 and even Concorde, while we discuss the early days of afterburning, other uses of Olympus units and how the industry came full circle with a series of final acquisitions to where we are today.


A special additional feature will also be available next week on the latter career of Frank Whittle and the recognition he richly deserved from the industry his invention created.