Part 6

As early as 1952, Bristol had already considered the effects of reheat, or afterburning to the Olympus range. This is when fuel is introduced to the exhaust gasses setting off a reaction and therefore, considerable additional thrust.

It was after an agreement with an American company, Solar Aircraft in San Diego, that early ‘bolt-ons’ were fitted to Mk 101 and 102 Olympus engines.

By 1959, Bristol had merged with Armstrong Siddeley Motors to form Bristol Siddeley Engines Limted (BSEL) whilst the build up to Vulcan B.2 specification was in full swing.

Later models of Vulcan production aircraft were fitted with Olympus 301 engines, which benefitted from an additional stage on the LP compressor and generated as much as 21,000lbs of thrust. It was this engine that was to lay the foundations for a bold new type of aircraft designated TSR-2 (Tactical Strike and Reconnaissance), that was first specified to Bristol in 1962. By 1964, the BSEL Olympus Mk 302 engines with reheat were being rated at over 30,000lbs of thrust. A massive three fold engine power enhancement in the space of just 10 years.

Olympus 320 as fitted to TSR-2, and the later development from this, the Olympus 593 fitted to Concorde

It was this engine that was developped two years later with help from Snecma Motors in France, as part of the Concorde programme. However, with Rolls Royce finally taking over Bristol in 1966, it was designated the Rolls-Royce/Snecma Olympus 593 by the time the public became fully aware of the Concorde powerplant. Later versions of this engine developed just over 38,000lbs of thrust and so, the constant development of power ahead of the fuel efficient specifications of today, had continued apace.

With a radical change in commercial aircraft design and the introduction of the Boeing 707 as the first real transatlantic airliner with mass market appeal, the package holiday industry was born. With the environmental issues that had affected Concorde, it was time for all engine manufacturers and airlines themselves, to look at far smaller, more fuel efficient and cleaner engine technology. The Olympus range had played its part in perhaps the most radical and productive period of engine technology. It was now the birth of a new era, one in which Rolls-Royce could play a significant and leading role.


Olympus powers on today:

Three Vulcan aircraft run under Olympus power today. XH558 being the only airwoirthy example running 201 engines with 17,000lbs of static thrust, while her sister and ex Vulcan Display Flight aircraft XL426 is now stationed at Southend and has just undergone engine trials.

One other, XM655, has 301 series engines, which are slightly larger and produce greater thrust. Indeed at 21,000 lbs, the team that look after her rightly claim to have ‘the most powerful’ Vulcan alive today.

Because of their additional power, Vulcans with 301 engines were one of the criteria laid down when selecting aircraft for the Falklands raids that took place nearly 30 years ago.

Our flight crews regularly excercise evacuation techniques in XM655 and undertake the fast taxi trials that form part of keeping the aircraft in the best possible ground running condition and in so doing, keep current ‘on type’ - especially important when XH558 is undergoing major maintenance as she is now.

For more details on XM655 see:

As well as powering 3 active Vulcan aircraft, variants of the Olympus remain in service as both a marine and industrial gas turbines, although their build is totally different to aviation applications.

The British Aircraft Corporation went on to form what became nationailsed British Aerospace, now BAE Sytems, while what was Bristol Engines, now Rolls-Royce, still maintain a presence at Filton near Bristol, mainly servicing the needs of the Airbus consortium.

At the time of writing, although the companies will remain on site, Filton airfield itself is under threat of closure by the end of 2012.

Sadly, having been the birthplace of many important and exciting aviation projects related to Bristol, Olympus and Concorde, it is another chapter of British aviation history that is coming to a close.

We are grateful to this contribution from one of our supporters, Mike Hahn, who recently sent in this short observation of his time working on Olympus engines.

While still at school I attended an Air Day at RAF Colerne and a Vulcan was part of the display - it came in quite quietly, then, when half way down the runway, it opened the throttles wide and stood on its tail. This was mighty impressive and probably a contributory factor to me becoming a Bristol Siddeley Engines Limited (BSEL) apprentice from 1963.

Just prior to that, BSEL had a Vulcan for flight testing (this was B1 XA894) of the TSR2 engine but during ground running on Filton aerodrome the TSR2 engine blew up and that Vulcan was burnt out (no one was hurt, but BAC lost a brand new fire engine!). Later, another TSR2 engine blew up and wrecked one of the company's test beds - not repaired until required for RB199 testing many years later.


Early in my apprenticeship, I spent a few weeks at the Olympus 301 re-build facility on Whitchurch aerodrome (the other side of Bristol from Filton) where engines were re-assembled by fitters paid piece work rates. The arguments this created!!

If a job was timed at less than 7 times the time it could actually be done in (thus giving them 600% bonus) they wouldn't start it. If a pair of fitters practiced doing part of assembly more slowly they would ask the rate fixers to re-time that bit. The crafty rate fixers would then time the whole build and knock some time off resulting in the hapless pair who asked for the re-time being "sent to Coventry" by the other fitters.

In between the arguments, I've never seen people work like it, turning out 28 re-built engines a month. They told me, proudly, that 101 and 201 re-build - which had been moved to the Coventry factory with the same number of fitters but paid a day rate - never turned out more than 6 engines a month.

Vulcan XA903 was the replacement used first for flight testing the Concorde engine and, as an apprentice, I did some instrumentation work on it. When finished with Concorde engine testing it was sent to Marshall's at Cambridge to have an RB199 nacelle fitted and a much needed respray!


The two pictures below were taken by the company photographic department and one of the managers in the electronics department had a print of each on his office wall. When he retired he gave them to me. Mike Hahn

XA903 testing the Concorde engine with a forward mounted spray bar.

XA903 with under slung RB.199 engine fitted. This would be the engine used in Tornado fighters.

If you have enjoyed this brief overview of the Olympus family, then please do consider a small donation here to support the last airworthy Avro Vulcan. Thank you.

Images used are copyright free or used with owner's permission. Images this page courtesy of the letter author and Rolls-Royce.


Entire 'Birth of The Jet Age' article researched, written, edited and © Ian Homer/VTST