Category Archives: Aircraft Engines

Isotta Fraschini Asso 750 front

Isotta Fraschini W-18 Aircraft and Marine Engines

By William Pearce

In late 1924, the Italian firm Isotta Fraschini responded to a Ministero dell’Aeronautica (Italian Air Ministry) request for a 500 hp (373 kW) aircraft engine by designing the liquid-cooled, V-12 Asso 500. Designed by Giustino Cattaneo, the Asso 500 proved successful and was used by Cattaneo as the basis for a line of Asso (Ace) engines developed in 1927. Ranging from a 250 hp (186 kW) inline-six to a 750 hp (559 kW) W-18, the initial Asso engines shared common designs and common parts wherever possible.

Isotta Fraschini Asso 750 front

The direct drive Isotta Fraschini Asso 750 was the first in a series of 18-cylinder engines that would ultimately be switched to marine use and stay in some form of production for over 90 years.

The Isotta Fraschini Asso 750 W-18 engine consisted of three six-cylinder banks mounted to a two-piece crankcase. The center cylinder bank was in the vertical position, and the two other cylinder banks were spaced at 40 degrees from the center bank. The cylinder bank spacing reduced the 18-cylinder engine’s frontal area to just slightly more than a V-12.

The Asso 750’s crankcase was split horizontally at the crankshaft and was cast from Elektron, a magnesium alloy. A shallow pan covered the bottom of the crankcase. The six-throw crankshaft was supported by eight main bearings. On each crankshaft throw was a master rod that serviced the center cylinder bank. Articulating rods for the other two cylinder banks were mounted on each side of the master rod. A double row ball bearing acted as a thrust bearing on the propeller shaft and enabled the engine to be installed as either a pusher or tractor.

The individual cylinders were forged from carbon steel and had a steel water jacket that was welded on. The cylinders had a closed top with openings for the valves. The monobloc cylinder head was mounted to the top of the cylinders, with one cylinder head serving each bank of cylinders. The cylinder compression ratio was 5.7 to 1. The cylinder head was made from cast aluminum and held the two intake and two exhaust valves for each cylinder. The valves were actuated by dual overhead camshafts, with one camshaft controlling the intake valves and the other camshaft controlling the exhaust valves (except for the center bank). A single lobe on the camshaft acted on a rocker and opened the two corresponding valves for that cylinder. The camshafts for each cylinder bank were driven at the rear of the cylinder head. One camshaft of the cylinder bank was driven via beveled gears by a vertical drive shaft, and the second camshaft was geared to the other driven camshaft. The valve cover casting was made from Elektron.

Isotta Fraschini Asso 750 RC35 crankcase

The cylinder row, upper crankcase, and cylinder head (inverted) of an Asso 750 RC35 with gear reduction. The direct drive Asso 750 was similar except for the shape of the front (right side) of the crankcase. Note the closed top cylinders. The small holes between the studs in the cylinder top were water passageways that communicated with ports on the cylinder head.

Three carburetors were mounted to the outer side of each outer cylinder bank. The intake and exhaust ports of the outer cylinder banks were on the same side. The intake and exhaust ports of the center cylinder bank were rather unusual. When viewed from the rear, the exhaust ports for the rear three cylinders of the center bank were on the right, and the intake ports were on the left. The front three cylinders were the opposite, with their exhaust ports on the left and their intake ports on the right. This configuration gave the cylinders for the center bank crossflow heads, but it also meant that each camshaft controlled half of the intake valves and half of the exhaust valves. A manifold attached to the inner side of the left cylinder bank collected the air/fuel mixture that had flowed through passageways in the left cylinder head and delivered the charge to the rear three cylinders of the center bank. The right cylinder bank had the same provisions but delivered the mixture to the front three cylinders of the center bank. Presumably, the 40-degree cylinder bank angle did not allow enough room to accommodate carburetors for the middle cylinder bank.

The two spark plugs in each cylinder were fired by two magnetos positioned at the rear of the engine and driven by the camshaft drive. From the rear of the engine, the firing order was 1 Left, 6 Center, 1 Right, 5L, 2C, 5R, 3L, 4C, 3R, 6L, 1C, 6R, 2L, 5C, 2R, 4L, 3C, and 4R. A water pump positioned below the magnetos circulated water into a manifold along the base of each cylinder bank. The manifold distributed water into the water jacket for each individual cylinder. The water flowed up through the water jacket and into the cylinder head. Another manifold took the water from each cylinder head to the radiator for cooling. Starting the Asso 750 was achieved with an air starter.

Motore Isotta Fraschini Asso 750

Two views of the direct drive Asso 750 displayed at the Museo nazionale della scienza e della tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci in Milan. Note the three exhaust stacks visible on the center cylinder bank. The front image of the engine illustrates the lack of space between the cylinder banks, which were set at 40 degrees. (Alessandro Nassiri images via Wikimedia Commons)

The Isotta Fraschini Asso 750 had a bore of 5.51 in (140 mm), a stroke of 6.69 in (170 mm), and a total displacement of 2,875 cu in (47.1 L). The original, direct drive Asso 750 produced 750 hp (599 kW) at 1,600 rpm, and weighed 1,279 lb (580 kg). An improved version of the Asso 750 was soon built that produced 830 hp (619 kW) at 1,700 rpm and 900 hp (671 kW) at 1,900 rpm. This engine weighed 1,389 lb (630 kg). The direct drive Asso 750 was 81 in (2.06 m) long, 40 in (1.02 m) wide, and 42 in (1.07 m) tall.

A version of the Asso 750 with a spur gear reduction for the propeller was developed and was sometimes referred to as the Asso 850 R. Available gear reductions were .667 and .581, and the gear reduction resulted in the crankshaft having only seven main bearings. The Asso 850 R produced 850 hp (634 kW) at 1,950 rpm, and weighed 1,455 lb (660 kg). This engine was also further refined and given the more permanent designation of Asso 750 R. The 750 R had a .658 gear reduction. The engine produced 850 hp (634 kW) at 1,800 rpm and 930 hp (694 kW) at 1,900 rpm. The Asso 750 R was 83 in (2.12 m) long and weighed 1,603 lb (727 kg).

Isotta Fraschini Asso 750 rc35 front

Front view of the Asso 750 RC35. The gear reduction required new upper and lower crankcase halves and a new crankshaft, but the other components were interchangeable with the direct drive engine.

Around 1933 the Asso 750 R engine was updated to incorporate a supercharger. The new engine was designated Asso 750 RC35. The “R” in the engine’s designation meant that it had gear reduction (Riduttore de giri); the “C” meant that it was supercharged (Compressore); and the “35” stood for the engine’s critical altitude in hectometers (as in 3,500 meters). The engine’s water pump was moved to a new mount that extended below the oil pan. The supercharger was mounted between the water pump and the magnetos, which were moved to a slightly higher location. The supercharger was meant to maintain sea level power up to a higher altitude, and it provided .29 psi (.02 bar) of boost up to 11,483 ft (3,500 m). The Asso 750 RC35 produced 870 hp (649 kW) at 1,850 rpm at 11,483 ft (3,500 m). The engine was 87 in (2.20 m) long, 41 in (1.03 m) wide, 48 in (1.21 m) tall, and weighed 1,724 lb (782 kg).

In 1928, Isotta Fraschini designed a larger, more powerful engine that had both its bore and stroke increased by .39 in (10 mm) over that of the Asso 750. The larger engine was developed especially for the Macchi M.67 Schneider Trophy racer. The M.67’s engine was initially designated Asso 750 M (for Macchi) but was also commonly referred to as the Asso 2-800. The “2” designation was most likely applied because the engine was a “second generation” and differed greatly from the original Asso 750 design.

Isotta Fraschini Asso 750 rc35 rear

The single-speed supercharger on the Asso 750 RC35 is illustrated in this rear view. Note the relocated and new mounting point for the water pump. The supercharger forced-fed air to the engine’s six carburetors.

The Asso 2-800 had a bore of 5.91 in (150 mm), a stroke of 7.09 in (180 mm), and a total displacement of 3,434 cu in (57.3 L). The engine used new crossflow cylinder heads and a new crankcase. The cylinder heads had intake ports on one side and exhaust ports on the other. Air intakes for the engine were positioned behind the M.67’s spinner, with one intake on the left side for the left cylinder bank and two intakes on the right side for the center and right cylinder banks. Ducts delivered the air to special carburetors positioned between the cylinder banks. The modified engine also had a higher compression ratio and used special fuels. Under perfect conditions, the special Asso 2-800 engine produced up to 1,800 hp (1,342 kW), but it was rarely able to achieve that output. An output of 1,400 hp (1,044 kW) was more typical and still impressive. At speed, the Asso 2-800 in the M.67 reportedly made a roar like no other engine.

Isotta Fraschini made a commercial version of the larger engine, designated Asso 1000. With the same bore, stroke, and displacement as the Asso 2-800, the Asso 1000 is often cited as the engine powering the M.67. However, the Asso 1000 retained the same configuration and architecture as the Asso 750, except the Asso 1000 had a compression ratio of 5.3 to 1. Development of the Asso 1000 trailed slightly behind that of the Asso 750.

The direct drive Isotta Fraschini Asso 1000 produced 1,000 hp (746 kW) at 1,600 rpm and 1,100 hp (820 kW) at 1,800 rpm. The engine was 86 in (2.19 m) long, 42 in (1.06 m) wide, and 44 in (1.12 m) tall. The Asso 1000 weighed 1,764 lb (800 kg). Like with the original Asso 750, a gear reduction version was designed. This engine was sometimes designated as the Asso 1200 R. The gear reduction speeds available were .667 and .581. The Asso 1200 R produced 1,200 hp (895 kW) at 1,950 rpm and weighed 2,116 lb (960 kg).

Isotta Fraschini Asso 1000

The Isotta Fraschini Asso 1000 was very similar to the Asso 750. Note the intake manifolds between the cylinder banks, each taking the air/fuel mixture from one of the outer banks and feeding half of the center bank.

The Asso 750 and Asso 1000 engines were used in a variety of aircraft, but most of the aircraft were either prototypes or had a low production count. For the Asso 750, its most famous applications were the single engine Caproni Ca.111 reconnaissance aircraft (over 150 built) and the twin engine Savoia-Marchetti S.55 double-hulled flying boat. Over 200 S.55s were built, but only the S.55X variant was powered by the Asso 750. Twenty-five S.55X aircraft were built, and in 1933, 24 S.55X aircraft made a historic formation flight from Orbetello, Italy to Chicago, Illinois. The Asso 750 powered many aircraft to numerous payload and distance records. Six direct-drive Asso 1000 engines were used to power the Caproni Ca.90 bomber, which was the world’s largest landplane when it first flew in October 1929. The Ca.90 set six payload records on 22 February 1930.

Although not a complete success in aircraft, the Asso 1000 found its way into marine use as the Isotta Fraschini ASM 180, 181, 183 and 184 engines. ASM was originally written as “As M” and stood for Asso Marini (Ace Marine). The marine engines had water-cooled exhaust pipes and a reversing gearbox coupled to the propeller shaft. The Isotta Fraschini marine engines were used in torpedo boats before, during, and after World War II by Italy, Sweden, and Britain.

Isotta Fraschini ASM 184

The Isotta Fraschini ASM 184 engine with its large, water-cooled exhaust manifolds and drive gearbox. Note that the center bank only has its rear (left) cylinders feeding into the visible exhaust manifold. One of the two centrifugal superchargers can be seen at the rear of the engine. The engine is on display at the Museo Nicolis in Villafranca di Verona. (Stefano Pasini image)

The ASM 180 and 181 were developed around 1933, and produced 900 hp (671 kW) at 1,800 rpm. Refinement of the ASM 181 led to the ASM 183, which produced 1,150 hp (858 kW) at 2,000 rpm. Development of the ASM 184 started around 1940; it was a version of the ASM 183 that featured twin centrifugal superchargers mounted to the rear of the engine. The ASM 184 engine produced 1,500 hp (1,119 kW) at 2,000 rpm. Around 1950, production of the ASM 184 was continued by Costruzione Revisione Motori (CRM) as the CRM 184. In the mid-1950s, the engine was modified with fuel injection into the supercharger compressors and became the CRM 185. The CRM 185 produced 1,800 hp (1,342 kW) at 2,200 rpm.

CRM continued development of the W-18 platform and created a diesel version of the engine. Designated 18 D, the engine retained the same bore, stroke, and basic configuration as the Asso 1000 and earlier ASM engines. However, the 18 D was made of cast iron, had revised cylinder heads, and had a compression ratio of 14 to 1. The revised cylinder head was much taller and incorporated extra space between the valve springs and the valve heads. The valve stems were elongated, and a pre-combustion chamber was positioned between the valve stems and occupied the extra space in the head. Some versions of the engine have a fuel injection pump consisting of three six-cylinder distributors driven from the rear of the engine, while other versions have a common rail fuel system.

CRM 18 D engines

Four CRM 18 D engines, which can trace their heritage back to the Asso 1000. The three engines on the left use mechanical fuel injection with three distribution pumps. The engine on the right has a common fuel rail. Note the three turbochargers at the front of each engine. (CRM Motori image)

The exhaust gases for each bank were collected and fed through a turbocharger at the front of the engine (some models had just two turbochargers). Pressurized air from the turbochargers passed through an aftercooler and was then fed into two induction manifolds. Each of the manifolds had three outlets. The front and rear outlets were connected to the outer cylinder bank, and the middle outlet was connected to the center bank. For the center bank, induction air for the rear three cylinders was provided by the left manifold, and the front three cylinder received their air from the right manifold.

Various versions of the 18 D were designed, the most powerful being the 18 D BR3-B. The BR3-B had a maximum output of 2,367 hp (1,765 kW) at 2,300 rpm and a continuous output of 2,052 hp (1,530 kW) at 2,180 rpm. The engine had a specific fuel consumption of .365 lb/hp/hr (222 g/kW/h). The BR3-B was 96 in (2.45 m) long, 54 in (1.37 m) wide, 57 in (1.44 m) tall, and weighed 4,740 lb (2,150 kg) without the drive gearbox. CRM, now known as CRM Motori Marini, continues to market 18 D engines.

Isotta Fraschini Asso L180

Other than having a W-18 layout, the Isotta Fraschini L.180 did not share much in common with the Asso 750 or 1000. However, the two-outlet supercharger suggests a similar induction system to the earlier engines. Note the gear reduction’s hollow propeller shaft and the mounts for a cannon atop the engine.

In the late 1930s, Isotta Fraschini revived the W-18 layout with an entirely new aircraft engine known as the Asso L.180 (or military designation L.180 IRCC45). The Asso L.180 was an inverted W-18 (sometimes referred to as an M-18) that featured supercharging and a propeller gear reduction. The engine’s layout and construction were similar to that of the earlier W-18 engines. One source states the cylinder banks were spaced at 45 degrees. With nine power pulses for each crankshaft revolution, this is off from the ideal of having cylinders fire at 40-degree intervals (like the earlier W-18 engines) and may be a misprint. The crankshaft was supported by seven main bearings in a one-piece aluminum crankcase. The spur gear reduction turned at .66 crankshaft speed and had a hollow propeller shaft to allow an engine-mounted cannon to fire through the propeller hub. The single-speed supercharger turned at 10 times crankshaft speed.

The Isotta Fraschini L.180 had a 5.75 in (146 mm) bore and a 6.30 in (160 mm) stroke. The engine displaced 2,942 cu in (48.2 L) and had a compression ratio of 6.4 to 1. The L.180 had a takeoff rating of 1,500 hp (1,119 kW) at 2,360 rpm, a maximum output of 1,690 hp (1,260 kW) at 2,475 rpm at 14,764 ft (4,500 m), and a cruising output of 1,000 hp (746 kW) at 1,900 rpm at 14,764 ft (4,500 m). It is doubtful that the L.180 proceeded much beyond the mockup phase.

A number of Isotta Fraschini aircraft and marine engines are preserved in various museums and private collections. Some marine engines are still in operation, and the German tractor pulling group Team Twister uses a modified Isotta Fraschini W-18 engine in its Dabelju tractor.

Dabelju IF W-18 57L

The modified Isotta Fraschini W-18 in Team Twister’s Dabelju. The engine’s heads have been modified to have individual intake and exhaust ports. These crossflow heads are similar in concept to the heads used on the Macchi M.67’s engine. (screenshot of Johannes Meuleners Youtube video)

Isotta Fraschini Aviation (undated catalog, circa 1930)
Isotta Fraschini Aviation (1929)
Isotta Fraschini Aviazione (undated catalog, circa 1931)
Istruzioni per l’uso del motore Isotta-Fraschini Tipo Asso 750 (1931)
Istruzioni per l’uso del motore Isotta-Fraschini Tipo Asso 750 R (1934)
Istruzioni per l’uso del motore Isotta-Fraschini Tipo Asso 750 RC 35 (1936)
Istruzioni per l’uso del motore Isotta-Fraschini Tipo Asso 1000 (1929)
Aeronuatica Militare Museo Storico Catalogo Motori by Oscar Marchi (1980)
Aircraft Engines of the World 1941 by Paul H. Wilkinson (1941)
Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft 1931 by C. G. Grey (1931)

daimler-mercedes d vi back

Daimler-Mercedes D VI W-18 Aircraft Engine

By William Pearce

By 1915, the Germans had begun to experiment with very large aircraft known as Riesenflugzeug (giant aircraft). These aircraft had been developed from the G-class bombers and are often referred to as R-planes. In 1916, the potential of such an aircraft to carry heavy bombloads into enemy territory was recognized, and the deficiencies of airships that had been developed to serve in that same role was apparent. Efforts were undertaken to increase R-plane production and withdraw airships from long-range bomber missions.

mercedes (2)

The preserved Daimler-Mercedes D VI W-18 engine. The individual cylinders on each bank were linked by a common overhead camshaft housing. Note the water-jacketed copper intake manifolds. (Evžen Všetečka image via

To promote the development of larger and more capable R-planes, larger and more powerful aircraft engines were needed. As early as 1915, the Idflieg (Inspektion der Fliegertruppen or Inspectorate of Flying Troops) had encouraged various German engine manufacturers to develop large aircraft engines capable of 500 hp (375 kW). These engines were known as Class VI engines and would be used to power R-planes. Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft (Daimler) was one of the companies that worked to build a large Class VI aircraft engine.

Daimler’s design was known as the D VI, but it is also referred to as the Mercedes D VI or Daimler-Mercedes D VI. Daimler often used the Mercedes name for many of its products. The D VI engine utilized the basic cylinder from the 180 hp (134 kW) Daimler-Mercedes D IIIa engine and incorporated features from the 260 hp (194 kW) D IVa engine. Both of those engines were six-cylinder inlines. However, the D VI had three rows of six-cylinders, creating a W-18 engine. The center cylinder row was vertical, and the left and right rows were angled 40 degrees from the center row.

mercedes (3)

Front view of the D VI illustrates the water pump mounted directly in front of the center cylinder bank. Note the direct drive crankshaft. (Evžen Všetečka image via

The D VI engine used individual steel cylinders with one intake and one exhaust valve. The valves of each cylinder row were actuated by a single overhead camshaft driven from the rear of the engine via a vertical shaft. The camshaft acted upon rocker arms that protruded from the camshaft housing above each cylinder to the exposed cylinder valves. A water jacket made of pressed steel was welded to the cylinder. Each piston was made of a forged-steel head screwed and welded onto a cast iron skirt. The cylinder’s compression ratio was 4.7 to 1.

Each cylinder was attached to the two-piece steel crankcase via four studs. Most likely, the studs for the center cylinder row extended into the bottom half of the crankcase and helped secure the two crankcase halves. The crankshaft was supported by seven main bearings and was connected directly to the propeller. A water pump was driven by the crankshaft at the front of the engine. At the rear of the engine, a vertical shaft extending from the crankshaft drove a magneto for each cylinder bank and an oil pump. Each of the cylinders had two spark plugs.

Induction air was drawn into an air chamber inside the crankcase where it was warmed. The air then passed through two water-jacketed pipes cast integral with the lower crankcase half at the rear of the engine. The two pipes split into three inline carburetors, each feeding one cylinder bank via an intake manifold. The intake manifold was made of copper and was water-jacketed. The left cylinder bank had its intake manifold positioned on the right side. The center and right cylinder banks had their intake manifolds positioned on the left side. The exhaust was expelled from each cylinder via an individual stack on the side opposite the intake.

daimler-mercedes d vi back

Rear view of the D VI shows the engine’s induction stemming from the lower crankcase housing and feeding into the three carburetors.

The D VI had a 5.51 in (140 mm) bore and a 6.30 in (160 mm) stroke. The engine’s total displacement was 2,705 cu in (44.3 L). The D VI produced 513 hp (382 kW) at 1,440 rpm for takeoff and had a maximum continuous output of 493 hp (368 kW) at 1,400 rpm. Specific fuel consumption was .477 lb/hp/hr (290 g/kW/h). The engine weighed 1,636 lb (742 kg).

The Daimler D VI engine was first run in 1916. However, development of the D IIIa and D IVa engines took priority, causing the D VI to lag behind. The D VI passed a certification test in December 1918, but World War I was over by that time, and such and engine was no longer needed. Military restrictions imposed on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles most likely influenced the abandonment of the D VI engine, and no further work was undertaken.

The sole surviving D VI engine has been preserved and is on display at the Flugausstellung L.+ P. Junior museum in Hermeskeil, Germany.

mercedes (1)

The D VI engine had mounts cast integral with the upper crankcase, but the engine was never installed in any aircraft. Note the pedestal pads onto which the cylinders were mounted. (Evžen Všetečka image via

Flugmotoren und Strahltriebwerke by Kyrill von Gersdorff, et. al. (2007)
Report on the 180 H.P. Mercedes Aero Engine by the Ministry of Munitions Technical Department—Aircraft Production (March 1918)
Report on the 260-H.P. Mercedes Aero Engine by the Technical Information Section of the Air Board (July 1917)

Thomas X-8 engine

Thomas / Leyland X-8 Aircraft Engine

By William Pearce

John Godfrey Parry Thomas was a British engineer and was widely known as Parry Thomas. During World War I, Thomas was a member of the Munitions Invention Board and was brought on as the chief engineer at Leyland Motors in 1917 to help the firm develop an aircraft engine.

Allan Ferguson had been working at Leyland on the design of the aircraft engine. The engine Ferguson had designed was a 450 hp (336 kW), water-cooled W-18 with banks set at 40 degrees. Each bank consisted of two three-cylinder blocks, and there were plans to make a W-9 engine with just three banks of three cylinders. Long pushrods extended from camshafts in the crankcase between the cylinder banks to the top of the cylinders to actuate the overhead valves. Thomas felt that the W-18 engine would not be successful and proposed his own design, which won the approval of Leyland management.

Thomas X-8 engine

The Thomas (Leyland) X-8 engine was made from aluminum and had many interesting features. At the rear of the engine, the handle is attached to a dynamo for starting. Just above the dynamo is the crankshaft-driven water pump. The engine’s carburetors are mounted on either side of the water pump. Note the integral passageways leading from the carburetor to the cylinders. The oil sump tank is positioned in the lower engine Vee.

Assisted by Fred Sumner and Reid Railton, Thomas’ engine design was an X-8 with cylinder banks spaced at 90 degrees. Each cylinder bank consisted of two paired cylinders. The cylinder banks were cast integral with the aluminum crankcase, and nickel-chrome cylinder wet liners were heat-shrunk into the cylinder banks. An aluminum cylinder head was attached to each cylinder bank via eight bolts. A propeller gear reduction was incorporated into the engine. The gear reduction used bevel gears and reduced the propeller speed to .50 times crankshaft speed. The gear reduction kept the propeller position in line with the crankshaft.

A single overhead camshaft operated the two intake and two exhaust valves for each cylinder. The camshaft was driven via a vertical shaft at the rear of the engine. The valves were closed by leaf springs. Via adjustable screws, one end of a leaf spring was attached to an intake valve while the other end of the spring was attached to an exhaust valve. The springs were allowed to articulate at their mounting point so that as one valve was opened, additional tension was applied to the closed valve for an even tighter seal.

Two carburetors were positioned at the rear of the engine, with each carburetor providing the air/fuel mixture for one side of the engine. Each carburetor was mounted to an integral intake passageway in the crankcase, with four individual ducts branching off from the passageway. Each duct connected one cylinder to the intake passageway. Exhaust was expelled from the upper and lower engine Vees. Each cylinder had two spark plugs fired by either a magneto or battery ignition.

A water pump driven at the rear of the engine by the crankshaft circulated water through the engine at around 48 gpm (182 L). The coolant flowed into the cylinder banks and around the exhaust ports to keep the exhaust valves cool. A pipe system enabled water to flow through the hollow crankshaft at 10 gpm (36 L), cooling the three main bearings and two connecting rod bearings. The water also cooled the oil that flowed through the crankshaft and to the bearings. To further cool the oil, the water and oil flowed into the propeller gear reduction, where the oil passed along the finned outer side of the water-cooled propeller shaft.

Thomas leaf spring valves

While not of the X-8 engine, this drawing does depict the leaf spring valves, similar to the setup used in the X-8 engine. The leaf spring (5) held the valves (3 and 4) closed. Lobes (11) on the camshaft (12) acted on the rockers (9 and 10) to open the valves. The leaf spring mount (8) could move up and down to add tension on the closed valve for a tighter seal. (GB patent 216,607, granted 5 June 1924)

Attached to each of the crankshaft’s two crankpins was a master connecting rod, and three articulated rods were attached to each master rod. The crankshaft had both of its crankpins inline, which meant that the pistons for one cylinder bank would both be at top dead center at the same time. One source states that the crankpins were in the same phase, meaning the two cylinders of the same bank would be on the same stroke, essentially making the X-8 engine operate like two synchronized X-4 engines. This was reportedly done to prevent any rocking motion created by the front X-4 firing followed by a rear X-4-cylinder firing 90 degrees later. However, a different source says the cylinders were phased 360 degrees apart, which would make more sense. While the pistons of one cylinder bank were both at top dead center, one cylinder was starting the intake stroke while the other was starting the power stroke. The 360-degree phasing would create a rather smooth firing order, such as bank 1 front cylinder (1F), bank 2 rear cylinder (2R), 3F, 4R, 1R, 2F, 3R, and 4F. However, the engine’s true firing order is not known.

A dry-sump lubrication system was used. Oil from the engine was collected in a one gallon (4.5 L) tank mounted in the lower engine Vee. The oil was then returned to a main oil tank of approximately eight gallons (32 L) installed in the aircraft. For starting, the X-8 engine used an electric starter motor or a hand-cranked dynamo. The engine incorporated an interrupter gear for firing guns through the propeller arc.

The X-8 engine had a 6.0 in (152 mm) bore and a 4.5 in (114 mm) stroke. The engine displaced 1,018 cu in (16.7 L) and produced 300 hp (224 kW) at 2,500 rpm and 10,000 ft (3,048 m). Maximum engine speed was around 3,500 rpm. The X-8 engine weighed around 500 lb (227 kg). For the time, 500 lb (227 kg) was remarkably light for a 300 hp (224 kW) engine. The X-8 was noted as being very compact, but a list of engine dimensions has not been found.

Thomas X-8 drawing

Patent drawing of the X-8’s crankshaft with its inline crankpins. The water pump (4) housed the crankshaft-driven impeller (9). Water was pumped through an inlet (11), through a passageway (10), and into the pipe built-up in the hollow crankshaft. The water then flowed through the propeller shaft (36) to cool oil in an adjacent passageway (45).

The design of the Thomas X-8 was completed in December 1917 and submitted to the Air Ministry. Thomas initiated an extensive part-testing program that resulted in the creation of numerous test fixtures. In conjunction with the test-fixtures, A single-cylinder test engine was built and tested in 1918. The single-cylinder produced 37 hp (28 kW) at 2,500 rpm and 53 hp (40 kW) at 3,700 rpm. These outputs equated to 296 hp (221 kW) and 424 hp (316 kW) respectively for the complete eight-cylinder engine. However, the piston in the single-cylinder engine failed after five minutes of running between 3,500 and 3,700 rpm.

A complete X-8 engine was built and run for the first time in August 1918. Compression ratios of 5.8 and 6.3 were used on the single-cylinder engine, but the compression ratio of the complete engine has not been found. Reportedly, the engine was hastily assembled because government inspectors wanted the test two weeks earlier than planned. The X-8 engine’s lightly-built crankcase deformed and closed in the crankshaft bearing clearance, resulting in the engine seizing after a few hours of running.

With the end of World War I on 11 November 1918, further work on the Thomas X-8 engine was abandoned. A number of features from the aircraft engine were later used on the Leyland automotive straight-eight engine developed in 1920. Thomas went on to become a legend at the Brooklands Raceway, campaign one of the first aero-engined Land Speed Record (LSR) monster cars, and set a flying-mile (1.6 km) LSR of 170.624 mph (274.593 km/h) on 28 April 1926. Thomas tragically died in a crash attempting another LSR on 3 March 1927. His death marked the first time a driver was killed while in direct pursuit of a LSR.

Parry Thomas at Brooklands Getty

Thomas behind the wheel of his Leyland-Thomas racer at Brooklands on 4 October 1926. (Getty image)

“AIR: Parry Thomas’s Aero-Engine” by William Boddy, Motor Sport (February 1995)
“The Life Story of Parry-Thomas” by Fred Sumner, Motor Sport (November 1941)
“Internal Combustion Engine,” US patent 1,346,280 by John Godfrey Parry Thomas (granted 13 July 1920)
Reid Railton: Man of Speed by Karl Ludvigsen (2018)
Parry Thomas by Hugh Tours (1959)

Mathis Vega 42 front

Mathis Vega 42-Cylinder Aircraft Engine

By William Pearce

Émile E. C. Mathis was a French automobile dealer who began manufacturing cars under his own name in 1910. Mathis was based in Strasbourg, which was part of Germany at the time. The Mathis automobile began to achieve success just before World War I. After the start of the war, Émile was conscripted into the German Army. Because of his knowledge of automobiles, the Germans sent Émile on a mission to Switzerland to purchase trucks and other supplies. Émile was given a substantial amount of money for the transaction, and he took the opportunity to desert the Germany Army and keep the funds. When Germany was defeated, Émile returned to his automobile company in Strasbourg, which was then in French territory near the German border, and resumed production.

Mathis Vega 42 front

The high-performance, 42-cylinder Mathis Vega aircraft engine. Note the camshaft-driven distributors attached to the front of each cylinder bank.

In 1937, the Mathis company began designing aircraft engines. A new company division, the Société Mathis Aviation (Mathis Aviation Company), was founded with offices in Paris and factories in Strasbourg and Gennevilliers. These were mostly the same facilities as the automobile business, with auto development out of Strasbourg and aircraft engine development centered in Gennevilliers, near Paris. Raymond Georges was the technical director in charge of the aircraft engines. The Mathis company started their involvement in aircraft engines with the rather ambitious Vega.

The Mathis Vega was a 42-cylinder inline radial aircraft engine. The liquid-cooled engine had seven cylinder banks, each with six cylinders. The cylinder banks had an integral cylinder head and were made from aluminum. Steel cylinder barrels were screwed into the cylinder bank. Each cylinder had one intake valve and one sodium-cooled exhaust valve. A single overhead camshaft actuated the valves for each cylinder bank. The camshafts were driven from the front of the engine. Camshaft-driven distributors mounted to the front of each cylinder bank fired the two spark plugs in each cylinder. The spark plugs were positioned on opposite sides of the cylinder. The two-piece crankcase was made from aluminum.

Mathis Vega 42 side

The Vega was a relatively compact engine. Note the exhaust port spacing on the cylinder banks. Presumably, different exhaust manifolds would be designed based on how the engine was installed in an aircraft.

At the front of the engine was a planetary gear reduction that turned the propeller shaft at .42 times crankshaft speed. At the rear of the engine was a single-speed and single-stage supercharger that turned at 5.53 times crankshaft speed. A single, two-barrel, downdraft carburetor fed fuel into the supercharger. Seven intake manifolds extended from the supercharger housing to feed the air/fuel mixture to the left side of each cylinder bank. Individual exhaust stacks were mounted to the right side of each cylinder bank. Attached to the back of the supercharger housing was a coolant water pump with seven outlets, one for each cylinder bank.

The Vega had a 4.92 in (125 mm) bore and a 4.53 in (115 mm) stroke. The 42-cylinder engine displaced 3,617 cu in (59.3 L) and had a compression ratio of 6.5. The Vega was 42.1 in (1.07 m) in diameter and 59.8 in (1.52 m) long. The first Vega was known as the 42A, and the engine was first run in 1938. The 42A produced 2,300 hp (1,715 kW) at 3,000 rpm and weighed 2,756 lb (1,250 kg). Reportedly, two examples were built as well as a full-scale model. It is not clear how much testing was undertaken, but some sources indicate the engine was flown 100 hours in a test bed during 1939. Unfortunately, details of the engine’s testing and the aircraft in which it was fitted have not been found.

An improved version, the 42B, was under development when the Germans invaded in May 1940. The Vega engine program was evacuated from Gennevilliers and hidden in the Pyrenees mountains in southern France for the duration of the war. Believing that the Germans would not have forgotten his desertion and miss-appropriation of funds during World War I, Émile fled to the United States in 1940. Émile offered the Vega engine to the US Military in October 1942, but no action was taken.

Mathis Vega 42 rear

Rear view of the Vega displays the intake manifolds, single carburetor, and the seven-outlet water pump. On paper, the Vega was a light and powerful engine, but no details have been found regarding its reliability.

After World War II, Émile returned to France, and work resumed on the Vega engine. The 42B was updated as the 42E (42E00). In all likelihood, the 42B and the 42E were the same engine; an example was exhibited in Paris, France in 1945. The Vega 42E produced 2,800 hp (2,088 kW) at 3,200 rpm with 8.5 psi (.59 bar) of boost for takeoff. The engine was rated for 2,300 hp (1,715 kW) at 3,000 rpm at 6,562 ft (2,000 m) and 1,700 hp (1,268 kW) at 2,500 rpm at 13,123 ft (4,000 m). The engine weighed 2,601 lb (1,180 kg).

The design of an enlarged Vega engine was initiated in 1942. Originally designated 42D, the larger engine was later renamed Vesta. The 42-cylinder Vesta was equipped with a two-speed supercharger that rotated 3.6 times crankshaft speed in low gear and 5.7 times crankshaft speed in high gear. The engine had a .44 gear reduction and utilized direct fuel injection. The Vesta had a 6.22 in (158 mm) bore, a 5.71 in (145 mm) stroke, and a displacement of 7,287 cu in (119.4 L). The engine had a takeoff rating of 5,000 hp (3,728 kW) at 2,800 rpm with 8.5 psi (.59 bar) of boost and a normal rating of over 4,000 hp (2,983 kW). The Vesta was 52.0 in (1.32 m) in diameter and weighed 4,519 lb (2,050 kg).

Like many other large engines built toward the end of World War II, the Vega failed to find an application, and the Vesta was never built. Mathis continued work on aircraft engines and produced a number of different air-cooled engines for general aviation. The design of these smaller engines was initiated during the war, and every attempt was made to maximize the number of interchangeable parts between the smaller engines. Some of the material for the smaller engines was liberated “scrap” provided by the Germans and intended for German projects. However, the general aviation engines were not made in great numbers, and production ceased in the early 1950s. No parts of the Vega engines are known to have survived.

Mathis Vega 42 R Georges

Raymond Georges overlooks the Vega engine mounted on a test stand in 1939. The pipes above the Vega are taking hot water from the engine.

Les Moteurs a Pistons Aeronautiques Francais Tome 2 by Alfred Bodemer and Robert Laugier (1987)
Aircraft Engines of the World 1946 by Paul H. Wilkinson (1946)
L’aviation Francaise de Bombardement et de Renseignement (1918/1940) by Raymond Danel and Jean Cuny (1980)
“The Mathis 42E 00” Flight (6 September 1945)

Studebaker’s XH-9350 and Their Involvement with Other Aircraft Engines

By William Pearce

Before the United States entered World War II, the Army Air Corps conceptualized a large aircraft engine for which fuel efficiency was the paramount concern. It was believed that such an engine could power bombers from North America to attack targets in Europe, a tactic that would be needed if the United Kingdom were to fall. This engine project was known as MX-232, and Studebaker was tasked with its development. After years of testing and development, the MX-232 program produced the Studebaker XH-9350 engine design.

Although a complete XH-9350 engine was not built, Studebaker’s XH-9350 and Their Involvement with Other Aircraft Engines details the development of the MX-232 program and the XH-9350 design. In addition, the book covers Studebaker’s work with other aircraft engines: the power plant for the Waterman Arrowbile, their licensed production of the Wright R-1820 radial engine during World War II, and their licensed production of the General Electric J47 jet engine during the Korean War.


1. Studebaker History
2. Waldo Waterman and the Arrowbile
3. Studebaker-Built Wright R-1820 Cyclone
4. XH-9350 in Context
5. XH-9350 in Development
6. XH-9350 in Perspective
7. Studebaker-Built GE J47 Turbojet
Appendix: MX-232 / XH-9350 Documents

$19.99 USD
8.5 in x 11 in
214 pages (222 total page count)
Over 185 images, drawings, and tables, and over 75,000 words
ISBN 978-0-9850353-1-0

Studebaker’s XH-9350 and Their Involvement with Other Aircraft Engines is available at If you wish to purchase the book with a check, please contact us for arrangements.

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