Part II : 1950-1957

8. Suntan





[152] In the spring of 1956, Suntan engine activities at Pratt & Whitney were in full swing. Coar selected Richard C. Mulready, a bright young engineer, as his assistant. Liquid hydrogen handling tests began immediately with hydrogen obtained from the Cambridge Corporation in dewars. Associated with this activity were preparations for component and engine testing, including obtaining a supply of liquid hydrogen. With the help of Capt. Jay Brill, a hydrogen liquefier of 227-kilogram-per-day capacity wits purchased from Herrick L. Johnston and installed in the engine test area behind the [153] East Hartford plant. The test area was called the "Klondike" because of the cold Connecticut winters and well-ventilated test stands that were designed to prevent the accumulation of hydrogen. Coarand Mulready also began to round up all the gaseous hydrogen tube trailers they could find to supply the liquefier.24


The second activity, code named "Shamrock," began in April to convert a J-57 to burn hydrogen. The design was completed in May; thereafter, component testing and engine modifications ran concurrently. The hydrogen liquefier was ready in September, engine testing began in October. The test engineers were agreeably surprised by the ease of engine operation. They ran it at full power and throttled back so far that the air fan was revolving so slowly the individual blades could be counted. Under this latter condition, the throttle could be opened and the engine would quickly and smoothly accelerate to full power. They found that the temperature distribution was good and there were no major problems. Such satisfactory results came only after careful design studies, modifications, and component testing. Among these precursory activities were the development of a heat exchanger using air bled from the compressor to gasify the hydrogen, modifications to the J-57 electronic fuel control system, and development of an oil-lubricated, liquid-hydrogen pump. Figures 38 and 39 show a schematic of the modified J-57 and comparison with the standard model.


By the fall of 1957, the J-57 experiments demonstrated beyond question that a conventional turbojet could be readily adapted to use hydrogen. Such engines could have been used to meet Kelly Johnson's tight airplane development schedule, but modifying an existing turbojet could not optimize the advantages of hydrogen. The Pratt & Whitney engineers had realized this early in their studies, as had their counterparts in the Rex division of Garrett and the Air Force. The mainline Pratt & Whitney effort from the start focused on a design of a special hydrogen engine, and its design started in April 1956 with the first contract.25


Schematic of the Pratt & Whitncv Aircraft J-57 jet engine

Fig. 38. Schematic of the Pratt & Whitncv Aircraft J-57 jet engine modified to use liquid hydrogen as fuel, 1956. (Courtesy of Pratt & Whitney.)


2 Pratt & Whitney's J-57 jet engines utilizing different fuels

[154] Fig. 39. Comparison of Pratt & Whitney's J-57 with afterburner (about 6 1/4 meters long) and using hydrocarbon fuel (bottom) with the engine modified to use liquid hydrogen (top), 1956. (Courtesy of Pratt & Whitney.)