Knudsen Will Standardize Engines
To Help Accelerate Production

Washington (Aviation Bureau): Standardization upon a few types of engines for military and training airplanes for the Army and Navy and the Allies is the first step in the program of the administration to drive airplane production to a level of 50,000 planes a year (the simultaneously announced objective of a 50,000-plane air force is not to be taken seriously while the Allies are in the market, as the relatively small purchases in the appropriation bills reveal).

Eventually standardization will be extended to airplanes, but for the present all activities are centered upon engines, since airplane manufacturers are still well below capacity.

The job of supervising this program was entrusted first to Secretary of the Treasury Morgenthau, who had been handling liaison between the military and the Allied Purchasing Commission. A few weeks later, when the Defense Commission was formed, the job was transferred to William S Knudsen, chairman of General Motors and specialist on production for the commission.

During Morgenthau's brief regime a procedure was established and a staff appointed, both of which Knudsen took over intact. Heading the staff is Dr George J Mead, former chief engineer of Wright and of Pratt & Whitney and recently vice-chairman in charge of power of NACA; assisting Mead is Edward S Taylor of MIT.

The procedure was to obtain for the government from all engine manufacturers licenses to manufacture their engines, with authority to sub-license any desired manufacturer. This was quickly completed. Next step is to pick out two or three engine types in each horsepower range, on which manufacturers will standardize. Mead, working closely with military technicians and with engineer aides of the Allied Purchasing Commission, is doing this job.

The next step, deciding what firms shall make what engines, will be under the immediate direction of Capt S Kraus, Navy aircraft procurement officer. It is probable that Pratt & Whitney and Wright will be asked to confine themselves to big engines, letting other firms handle the smaller stuff.

In the selection of combat type engines (over 1,000 hp), the objective is two radial types and two liquid-cooled types. As to the radials, this means a Wright design and a Pratt & Whitney design. The liquid-cooled engine is more of a problem. Allison division of General Motors, sole American producer of this type, is experiencing difficulty getting into volume production, turning out 40 to 80 units a month, reportedly, as compared with 400 for Wright.

One attempt to get around this situation is acquisition from the British Government of rights to the Rolls Royce Merlin engine — a 12-cylinder V engine, liquid cooled and developing about 1,100 hp. Redesigned for mass production and perhaps assigned to an auto firm for manufacture, the Merlin would provide a companion to the Allison.

This excerpt is taken from the "Aviation Manufacturing" column in the July, 1940, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 39, no 7, p 82.