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What other engine would have a book written entitled "Sigh For A Merlin"?


The Boeing Museum of Flight once offered rides in a Merlin-powered P-51. I was first in line that day, and was smiling for a week afterwards.

From the book:

"One day I happened to be chatting near my home with an RAF Wing Commander (retired) now dressed in dark grey slacks and Norfolk jacket. Suddenly out of the blue and on its way to Coningsby was a fighter of the Battle of Britain Flight right over our heads.

We both stopped talking and looked up--the crisp steady note of the old Merlin as joyous a sound as ever it was all those years ago. The ex-Wing Commander said absolutely nothing-- then he sighed. It was such a poignant sigh. I felt it must have invoked so many memories of the days when the Wing Commander was young, daring and vigorous and like a Knight of the Crusade had leapt onto the Spitfire and its Merlin to ride into the pages of history.

The silence was still uninterrupted. Thoughts and memories began to flicker through my mind. I remembered crashing badly and the terrifying sound of things being torn apart; closing my eyes as the ruptured earth flung pieces of metal over my crouching head; the peculiar smell of oil, petrol and glycol and damp earth hanging in my nostrils. Then the panic as I struggled out of parachute, harness and shattered cockpit--and then the silence. An almost deathly silence. As I prayed a word of thanks over the crumpled wreckage and the large black mass buried in the soft ground--once a powerful, gleaming engine--I heard this sigh. It may have been a pressure-relief valve, or glycol, or oil on hot metal, but in the emotion of the moment it became a sound I shall always remember. What better epitaph to a wonderful machine and a magnificent engine than to call my book Sigh for a Merlin?"

There's another passage in that book that this article might help explain: IIRC, there came a time when Henshaw and his fellow test pilots experienced some life-threatening engine failures of the Spitfires that they were testing, at one point forcing him to make a crash landing in an urban area (perhaps the Wednesfield crash of 7/18/1942 mentioned in his Wikipedia entry? And is that perhaps the incident mentioned in the last paragraph of your quote?) The cause was traced to something like a small change in the order in which the engines were assembled. That the British-built engines were hand-crafted seems to make this less surprising.

I would guess that, being hand-built, it would be trickier to keep them well-maintained, and require a particularly well-trained and skilled corps of artificers. The article does not get into it, but I wonder if there were differences in reliability between the Packard- and Rolls-Royce- built Merlins?

It was the skewgear (drive shafts) for the magnetos which were failing. They had a few go out before they traced down the problem. I love the sound of a Merlin.

I agree that Merlin powered planes do sound lovely, but there is also something about the Vulcan howl that is impressive (and a bit disturbing).

Mind you - in both cases recordings really don't do them justice.

I agree. Recordings not only don't do them justice, they don't have any similarity at all to how they sound. I recall standing in a field and a P-51 went by overhead, at minimum altitude and full throttle. If one hasn't heard that, one can never understand :-)

I must admit that I'd rather like to hear a BRM V16 as well...

Agreed on the Vulcan - having watched XH558's final flight, a low-altitude slow climb opening the throttles to max, the way the Olympus engines split the atmosphere behind the aircraft isn't just something you hear, it's something you feel. Definitely can't capture it on a recording. The fact that it set off about 20 car alarms at once is testament to its power!

I've heard the Vulcan fly a few times and it sounds as if the very air itself is screaming in complaint not the plane.

That's because it is. The Vulcan howl is "just" a resonance of air in the engine intakes. When it howls you know it's passing 90% throttle. :)

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