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Allison Engine Company

The Allison Engine Company has its roots in September 1904, when the Concentrated Acetylene Company was founded by James Allison, Percy C. 'Fred' Avery and Carl G. Fisher. Avery was the holder of the patent for the product. This company was the predecessor of the Prest-O-Lite Company, a manufacturer of acetylene headlights. An explosion at the acetylene gas works in downtown Indianapolis caused the company to relocate out of town, near the race track in Speedway, Indiana. Allison and Fisher raced automobiles at that track, each owning a race car team. This hobby resulted in Allison building a shop at the track in Speedway where he maintained his fleet of race cars. This shop became the site for Allison Plant #1. Fisher and Allison sold their interest in Prest-O-Lite to Union Carbide for $9,000,000.

Allison started as an engine and car "hot rodding" company servicing the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis. James Allison was the owner of the Indianapolis Speedway Team Company, a race car business in Indianapolis, Indiana. While it was originally known as the Indianapolis Speedway Team Company, its name changed numerous times, first to the Allison Speedway Team Company, then the Allison Experimental Company and last as the Allison Engineering Company before becoming a division of General Motors.

The company's only regular production item was a patented steel-backed lead bearing which was used in various high performance engines. It also built various drive shafts, extensions and gear chains for high power engines, on demand. Later its main business was the conversion of older Liberty engines to more powerful models, both for aircraft and marine use.

Allison needed a place where his race car engines could be modified and repaired. On January 1, 1917 Allison moved into a building at what in later years was to become the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Along with the move, Allison hired engineer Norman H. Gillman, from a competing race team as his Chief Engineer.

Allison moved to Florida to invest in real estate after the war, leaving Gillman in charge. Allison did not want the company to wither, so he asked Gillman to build a V-12 marine engine worthy of the Allison name. Gillman then proceeded to build an engine that relied on what was learned from building and modifying the Liberty engine.

Allison's company was sold to Captain Eddie Rickenbacker in 1927 for $700,000 after Allison moved to Florida. In 1929, shortly after the death of James Allison, the company was purchased by the Fisher brothers, who instructed it to use the cylinder design for a six-cylinder engine for a "family aircraft". Before work on this design had progressed very far, Fisher sold the company to General Motors, who owned it for most of its history, which ended development due to financial pressures of the Great Depression. Nevertheless Gilman pressed ahead with the cylinder design, building a "paper project" V-12 engine. The Army was once again uninterested, but instead suggested Allison try selling it to the United States Navy. The Navy agreed to fund development of A and B models to a very limited degree for its airships, until the crash of the USS Macon in 1935, when the Navy's need for a 1,000 hp (750 kW) engine disappeared.

The very first V-1710 was purchased by the US Navy as their GV-1710-2, and appears to have had an Allison serial of number 1, suggesting that they restarted numbering for the V-1710. The first V-1710 engine purchased by the USAAC was AAC 33-42, Allison SN 2, the XV-1710-1, while SN’s 3, 4, 5 were V-1710-4 engines for USN airships, followed by a batch of 11 Air Corps engines purchased with FY-1934 funds (34-4 through 34-14) that covered Allison serials 6 through 16. After these the production totaled over 70,000 V-1710s.

By this point the Army had become more interested in the design, and asked Allison to continue with a new "C" model. They had few funds of their own to invest, and Allison supported much of the development out of their own pocket. The V-1710-C first flew on 14 December 1936 in the Consolidated A-11A testbed. The V-1710-C6 successfully completed the Army 150 hour Type Test on 23 April 1937, at 1,000 hp (750 kW), the first engine of any type to do so. By this point all of the other Army engine projects had been cancelled or withdrawn, leaving the V-1710 as the only modern design available. It was soon found as the primary powerplant of the new generation of United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) fighters, the P-38 Lightning, P-39 Airacobra and P-40 Warhawk.

The Army had been leaning heavily towards exhaust-driven turbochargers instead of the more common mechanically driven superchargers, feeling that their added performance more than made up for the added complexity. Thus little effort was invested in equipping the V-1710 with a reasonable supercharger, and when placed in aircraft designs like the P-39 or P-40 which lacked the room for a turbo the engine suffered tremendously at higher altitudes. It was for this reason in particular that the V-1710 was later removed from the P-51 Mustang and replaced with the Rolls-Royce Merlin.

With the need for the V-1710 winding down at the end of the war, Allison found itself with a massive production infrastructure that was no longer needed. For this reason, in 1947, the Army decided to take General Electric's versions of Frank Whittle's jet engines and give them to Allison to produce instead. The main production model was GE's 4,000 lbf (18 kN) I-40, produced as the Allison J33. By the time production ended in 1955, Allison had produced over 7,000 J33s.

Allison also took over GE's axial flow engine design, becoming the Allison J35. The J35 was the primary powerplant for the F-84 Thunderjet and F-89 Scorpion, as well as appearing on numerous prototype designs. The J35 also finished production in 1955, by which point over 14,000 had been delivered.

Allison also started the development of a series of turboprop engines for the U.S. Navy, starting with the T38 and a "twinned" version as the T40. The Navy was interested only in the T40, but the complexities of the driveshaft arrangement doomed the engine and the project was eventually cancelled. Allison tried again with the T56, basically an enlarged T38 with the power of the T40, and was eventually rewarded when this engine was selected to power the C-130 Hercules.

Over the years a family of engines, based on the T56 basic configuration has been developed, culminating in the T406/Allison AE1107 turboshaft for the V-22 Osprey, the Allison AE2100 turboprop, used on newer models of the C-130 and the Allison/Rolls-Royce AE 3007 turbofan which propels many commuter aircraft, such as the Embraer ERJ 135 family.

One of Allison's most successful projects is the Model 250 turboshaft/turboprop engine family, which was started by the company in the early 60s, when helicopters started to be powered by turbine, rather than reciprocating, engines.

In the mid-1970s the Allison Division of General Motors Corporation in Detroit designed ceramic components into the Allison GT 404-4 truck engine. Allison continued to work with General Motors on development of ceramic-turbine powered engines until the early 1990s. During their work they were able to engineer fairly stable automobile engines that were capable of burning a variety of fuels including (but not limited to) gasoline, diesel, kerosene, alcohol, vegetable oil, and coal powder.

In the 1980s Allison collaborated with Pratt & Whitney on demonstrating the 578-DX propfan. Unlike the competing General Electric GE-36 UDF, the 578-DX was fairly conventional, having a reduction gearbox between the LP turbine and the propfan blades. Noise considerations, plus a significant reduction in the real cost of aviation fuel, brought the NASA funded program to a halt.


LHTEC (Light Helicopter Turbine Engine Company) is a joint venture between Rolls-Royce and Honeywell founded in 1985. The company was originally a partnership between the Allison Engine Company and AlliedSignal Aerospace . In 1995 Rolls-Royce acquired Allison, and AlliedSignal merged with Honeywell in 1999, and adopted its name.

In 1995, Allison tested a prototype lift fan for the Joint Strike Fighter Program and a LiftFan nozzle was tested in 1997 at NASA's Lewis facility. By 1997, a complete prototype had been demonstratedby the Rolls-Royce owned but American controlled Allison Advanced Development Company.

In 1992 GM tried to sell Allison to concentrate on repairing automobile market share. Rolls-Royce attempted to buy the company in 1993, but GM opted for a management buyout instead for $370 million.

In 1995 authorities approved (with restrictions on JSF) the purchase of Allison by Rolls-Royce to become a subsidiary. The price was $525 million. In the year 2000, some of these restrictions were alleviated, and in 2001 the US government chose the F-35 with Allison/RR technology.



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