By William Pearce
Around 1930, the United States Army Air Corps (AAC) was interested in a 1,000 hp (746 kW), liquid-cooled aircraft engine. Somehow, the AAC persuaded Pratt & Whitney (P&W) to develop an experimental engine at its own expense to meet this goal. The engine was the R-2060 Yellow Jacket, and it carried the P&W experimental engine designation X-31. The “Yellow Jacket” name followed the “Wasp” and “Hornet” engine lines from P&W.
While the R-2060 would be P&W’s first liquid-cooled engine, the company had experimented with liquid-cooled cylinders as early as 1928. In addition, many of P&W’s engineers had experience with liquid-cooled engines while working for other organizations—in particular, those workers who had helped develop liquid-cooled engines at Wright Aeronautical.
The R-2060 had a one-piece, cast aluminum, barrel-type crankcase. Attached radially around the crankcase at 72-degree intervals were five cylinder banks. The lowest (No. 3) cylinder bank was inverted and hung straight down from the crankcase. Each cylinder bank consisted of four individual cylinders arranged in a line. This configuration created a 20-cylinder inline-radial engine. Attached to the front of the crankcase was a propeller gear housing that contained a planetary bevel reduction gear. Mounted to the rear of the crankcase was the supercharger and accessory section.
The crankshaft had four throws and was supported by five main bearings. Mounted to each crankpin was a master connecting rod with four articulated connecting rods—a typical arrangement found in radial engines. Each individual cylinder was surrounded by a steel water jacket. Mounted atop each bank of cylinders was a housing that concealed a single overhead camshaft. The camshaft actuated the one intake valve and one exhaust valve in each cylinder. Each camshaft was driven from the front of the engine by a vertical shaft and bevel gears. Driven from the rear of each camshafts was a magneto that fired the two spark plugs in each cylinder for that cylinder bank. The spark plugs were installed horizontally into the combustion chamber and placed on each exposed side of the cylinder. The camshaft housing on the lower cylinder bank was deeper and served as an oil sump.
Air was drawn into the downdraft carburetor mounted at the rear of the engine. Fuel was added, and the mixture then passed into the supercharger, which was primarily used to mix the air and fuel rather than provide boost. The air and fuel flowed from the supercharger through five outlets—one between each cylinder bank. The outlets were cast integral with the crankcase. Attached to each outlet was an intake manifold that branched into two sections, with each section branching further into two additional sections. The four pipes were then connected to the four cylinders of the cylinder bank. The exhaust ports were on the opposite side of the cylinder bank.
Cooling water flowed from the radiator into two inlets on an annular manifold mounted around the rear of the engine. The manifold had five outlets, one for each cylinder bank. Water flowed from the annular manifold into a pipe that ran along each cylinder bank. Branching off from the pipe were connections for each cylinder, with the mounting point near the exhaust port. The water passed by the exhaust port and through the water jacket, exiting near the intake port. The water from each cylinder was collected in another pipe that led to a smaller annular manifold mounted around the front of the engine. Two water pumps driven at the front of the engine took water from the front manifold and returned it to the radiator.
The Pratt & Whitney R-2060 Yellow Jacket had a 5.1875 in (132 mm) bore and a 4.875 in (124 mm) stroke. Creating an oversquare (bore larger than the stroke) engine was not typical for P&W and was repeated only with the R-2000, which was derived from the R-1830 with minimal changes. However, the comparatively short stroke helped decrease the engine’s diameter. The R-2060 displaced 2,061 cu in (33.8 L) and was projected to produce 1,500 hp (1,119 kW) at 3,300 rpm. The Yellow Jacket was 68 in (1.73 m) long and 47 in (1.19 m) in diameter. The engine weighed 1,400 lb (635 kg).
Serious design work on the R-2060 was started in March 1931, and single-cylinder testing began in August of the same year. The engine was first run in July 1932, and issues were soon encountered with oil circulation and coolant leaks. Throughout the rest of 1932, P&W worked to solve the oiling issues, control excessive oil consumption, prevent hot spots in various cylinder banks, and eliminate cracks in the cylinder water jackets. On one of its last tests, the R-2060 achieved 1,116 hp (820 kW) at 2,500 rpm, but reaching 1,500 hp (1,119 kW) at 3,300 rpm was beyond what the engine could handle. A major redesign of the engine was needed, and the Yellow Jacket project was subsequently cancelled in early 1933 after accumulating just 46 hours of test running. Only one R-2060 engine was built.
Cancellation of the R-2060 allowed P&W to focus on the development of the air-cooled, two-row, 14-cylinder R-1830 Twin Wasp radial engine. The R-1830 became the most produced aircraft engine of all time, with 173,618 examples built. The sole R-2060 Yellow Jacket was preserved and is part of Pratt & Whitney’s Hangar Museum in East Hartford, Connecticut.
– The Liquid-Cooled Engines of Pratt & Whitney by Kimble D. McCutcheon (presentation at the 2006 Aircraft Engine Historical Society Convention)
– Development of Aircraft Engines and Fuels by Robert Schlaifer and S. D. Heron (1950)
– The Engines of Pratt & Whitney: A Technical History by Jack Connors (2009)