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Up-Close and Personal With the Two Most Famous Engines of World War II
Military aircraft museums are some of the coolest places a petrolhead can go and visit. But every iconic warplane has an equally memorable engine that powers it. Visitors to the American Air Power Museum at Republic Airport in Farmingdale, New York, are privileged enough to get up close and personal with two of the most famous piston engines of any warbird in history.

Up-Close and Personal With the Two Most Famous Engines of World War II

It's all too easy to get caught up in the sheer beauty of all the flying-condition examples of famous warbirds on display in the single hangar facility that once was the home factory for the P-47 Thunderbolt and the A-10 Warthog.

But please, don't skip over the museum's extensive aircraft engine exhibits. As many as a dozen different engines ranging from radial piston engines to big V12s and jet turbines sit in the museum. Either on public display or behind closed doors undergoing restoration and repairs.

Of any two engines on display, there's just no beating the name recognition of the Rolls-Royce Merlin liquid-cooled V12 and the Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp radial engine. More iconic and memorable warplanes came equipped with these two engines than perhaps any other engine on earth. On the Double Wasp side, the 18 cylinder engine powered greats like the Vought F4U Corsair, Grumman F6F Hellcat, and the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. On the other hand, the Merlin-powered the De Haviland Mosquito, Supermarine Spitfire, and of course, the North American P-51 Mustang.

In past times, the Merlin and the Double Wasp were military secrets that the Axis powers were keen to learn and understand the mechanics behind. Seven decades later, they've become iconic bits and pieces of world history. Their service contributed directly to an Allied victory in Europe and the Pacific all those years ago. To see both engines up close and in the flesh is a treat indeed. Especially for younger fans of war video games, many of which contain aircraft powered by the Merlin and Double Wasp.

According to the American Airpower Museum, the Merlin generated a power output anywhere between 1,000 and 2,000 horsepower depending on the variant. The R-2800 Double Wasp was rated as high as 2,000 horsepower on takeoff and even more in some variants. The Merlin takes up a staggering 1,647 cubic inches (26,989 cc or 27 liters). But in terms of sheer size, the Double Wasp has the Merlin beat, taking up a scarcely believable 2,804 cubic inches (45,960cc or 45.96 liters).

During the Second World War, these engines would come to aircraft manufacturers either mostly or fully assembled to be directly bolted into aircraft as quickly as possible. Almost 150,000 Merlin engines were manufactured for a variety of different uses. Ranging from military to civilian air travel and even a couple of examples retrofitted into cars.

So too was the Double Wasp, seeing more than 125,000 units produced. It's safe to say that without these two engines, the war may have had a very different outcome. Museum staff is more than eager to point out how the basic principles that make the gasoline engine in your car operate also apply to the Merlin, Double Wasp, or any other piston engine used during the war.

Ask politely, and museum staff may even show you a set of spark plugs that were recently removed from their Double Wasp example if you don't believe it follows the same principles as a hatchback. The left-side valve cover has been removed on the Merlin side, revealing internals ostensibly the same in function as a gasoline-powered automobile.

Apart from the enormous two-staged forced induction system protruding out of the side. This system was the precursor to all modern supercharging systems. It allowed fighters like the P-51D Mustang and late model Spitfires to fly higher and faster than many Axis aircraft. It also had the unforeseen benefit of laying the foundation for the forced-induction craze of the present day, so best put some respect on the name, even if you think vintage aircraft are lame.


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