Roush Aviation History
When I purchased my first P-51, SN# 44-74774, from Detroit local business owner Bob Byrne in October 1992, I embarked on a life-changing journey, the significance of which I could not have imagined at that time.
That event introduced me to a hither-to unknown subculture of aviation enthusiasts, business men, history buffs, patriots and national heroes that I would not otherwise have had contact with on a personal level. The resulting exchanges have yielded some of the richest friendships with some of the brightest, most patriotic and respected people I have ever known.
Additionally, through my curiosity and the application of my own three decades of internal combustion engine experience, I have become increasingly committed to the custodianship of the history, the technologies and the well being of the surviving and new hardware associated with the Rolls Royce Merlin, a 1650 cubic inch displacement, 60°, V-12 engine.
This engine was the undisputed reason the North American Aviation’s P-51 Mustang had the performance to defeat the German Luftwaffe in the skies over Western Europe between 1943 and 1945.
Looking specifically at the engine as it was operated and serviced in that time frame. It’s advantages were that it was reliable over short time frames (300 hours or less), it’s small cross section yielded an aircraft shape which afforded lower drag than with other engine configurations of the time, it made sea level horsepower above 30,000’, it was available in large quantities owing to Rolls Royce’s licensing agreement the Packard Motor Car Company, and it made possible a great range opportunity when matched with an aircraft like the P-51 Mustang which could carry almost 500 gallons of high lead content, high octane aviation fuel.
In 1992, when I purchased my first P-51, it was nearly fifty years after the conflict. The e Merlin by this time had been out of production for over three decades. Rolls Royce had reprioritized its attention and production facilities to the power plant requirements of modern jet aircraft. The Packard Motor Car Company had disappeared. The high lead content/high octane aviation gasoline was just a memory. The war time 300 hour service or overhaul period, achievable with no longer available all new war time components, was not sufficient for a modern civilian aircraft, even one with the historical significance of the Mustang. Just to point out a few of the difficulties for the Merlin currently.
So where did I go from here? To the experts of course, the respected and experienced, owner/operators, and the established and committed aviation A&Ps and IAs who had accepted the challenges of repairing and servicing the by now, very tired, surviving engines and their components. Note that I did not say “overhauling” the engine, since no “Repair Station” had been established with FAA approval and the log book entries were limited to an indication of service or repair. No Merlin engine, since the 1950’s, had been “overhauled” from a legitimate FAA regulatory point of view.
As one might expect, I did receive lots of advice as I asked questions to satisfy my early curiosities. Many of the questions I asked from people like Glenn Wegman, Rick Shanholtzer, Jack Hovey, Mike Nixon and Steve Hinton, received great insightful answers that put me on the right path. They have been valued resources for many perplexing questions I have had over the past twenty five years.
But unfortunately, some answers I received for some of my questions from un-named well meaning but misguided individuals operating, repairing or servicing the Merlin pointed me in the direction of blind paths with potentially disastrous outcomes which happily I did not pursue for long.
Some of the most outrageous answers to obvious questions were as follows:
Looking at these responses in reverse order twenty years later:
Which provides me the segue into a discussion of our Roush Aviation FAA Certificated Repair Station and what it can do for owners, operators, mechanics and technicians who share my love and respect for the modern day Merlin and recognize the responsibility we show for the safety of it’s pilots and passengers.