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Here's an idea I've been kicking around. During my time in the trenches - laboring for ol' Massa, so to speak ...and the wife and kids and the dog and the bank and .... you know ... the necessities of life - I worked in a very interesting job. Lycoming Division of (then) AVCO Corporation built gas turbine engines in Stratford, Connecticut. The plant had been occupied by Sikorsky in the flying boat days, and then by Curtiss Wright where they built airplane engines during WWII. Sikorsky had built a ramp to give them access to the Housatonic River with their amphibians. As you will see, the ramp played a part in our activities. I joined Lycoming in '63 to assist in field work on their Marine and Industrial group's gas turbines. We were the orphanage of the factory...ignored by top management when we wanted or needed something, but guaranteed to be the center of their focus if we did something they didn't like. Our group of guys and gals was really something. We were envied by some, reviled by others, and we didn't care because we had the best manager and the most interesting engine applications to work with in spite of the fact that we had nothing to do with helicopters. We put engines into hovercraft, hydrofoils, planing craft - and the industrial side of our group joined engines to compressors and other non-mobile machinery. But the marine guys loved what they did, and even today they get together for an occasional Christmas party or summer barbeque. I don't get to do that much because they're on the East Coast and here I am in Cal-y-forn-i-ay, but I'm with them in spirit.

Anyhow, I thought maybe folks would like to see a kind of resume of some of the projects I was involved in. This is not your annual Automotive Review or Los Angeles Car Show Special. These machines would scare the pants offa one o' them sissy Ferraris or Lamborghinis or Jaguars. Take a look and see if you agree.Click on the pics to get a closer view.



The unlovely LVW - a project of the United States Marine Corps and BuShips. It was the Landing Vehicle Wheeled. Designed for use in a nuclear war, it would provide a one-hour transport time for men and materiel from ships dispersed 35 miles off a beach head, and haul the 5-ton payload right up on the sand and down the highway, as needed, all at 35 miles an hour, surface permitting. The ships were so dispersed to preclude a single nuclear blast from wiping out an entire fleet. The wheels were attached to struts that rotated for retraction; that's why you see the wheels up in the air when the machine is in the water. The engine was rated at 1500 bhp, and provided power to all four wheels AND a pair of marine propellers. The cargo deck was an extemely wet place to ride, and in any kind of a sea, sitting in the cabin was like riding a Brahma bull, except the seats were softer. It once did 42mph in a FAC sea condition on the Potomac River. (FAC is a naval architect's technical term meaning Flat Ass Calm). It was designed and built by Borg Warner and the project was later taken over by Chrysler Corporation. Lycoming engine, of course. The two guys are a Chrysler tech rep and a U.S. Marine. Notice how the bow spray extends at nearly a 90 degree angle to the direction of travel... or 'direction of travail' I suppose you might say.

And this is Lycoming's LVH, or Landing Vehicle, Hydrofoil. Its mission was the same as that of the LVW, but it was given fully submerged hydrofoils. (Another hydrofoil was in the same program, but it was built by Food Machinery Corp [FMC] and had surface-piercing foils, which are simpler to control.) The wheels on our hydrofoil were mounted at the ends of struts like those of an airplane, only the retraction scheme required the struts be made shorter by pumping hydraulic fluid into the space below the strut's piston. This machine required an automatic height sensor/control, and there were all sorts of problems, mostly hydraulic leaks, and a unique condition in which air was unintentionally drawn down the outside of the front vertical struts supporting the foil, "venting" the foil, meaning that the foil stopped providing lift, and the vehicle would come crashing down, rolling to the side that was "venting" since that's where the lift was lacking. Hooo, boy. AND hydraulic leaks were constantly popping up, and sometimes the wheel struts wouldn't extend as they should, and when the machine staggered out of the Housatonic River on the ramp Sikorsky had built eons earlier, leaning tiredly toward the side of the partially retracted strut and pumping from its bilges great gouts of sea water mixed with the red hydraulic fluid that had been leaking from the control systems, it looked like some forlorn, wounded sea monster come ashore to die. The whining of the 900 or 1100 bhp gas turbine added to the effect. There were some wild stories about the sea trials of this machine. I was designing engine control systems but don't remember if I designed this one. I was a reluctant occasional observer/participant in the tests.

The last time I saw an LVH (there were two built) it was at a USMC museum in Rattlesnake Canyon at Camp Pendleton, California. It was in the company of a number of other vehicles and boats, but was leaning against the fence, looking lonely and disconsolate. Fitting, I thought.



This is the VT-1, a novel and practical hovercraft by our friends at Vosper Thorneycroft, in Hampshire, England. Designed for commercial venture, it was unlike most hovercraft in that it was propelled by two controllable pitch marine screws. Powered by two Lycoming gas turbines of 2000 bhp, each one drove one lift fan plus one marine propulsion drive. Three craft were built, and two of them were put into service between Malmo, Sweden, and Copenhagen, Denmark. The effort was unsuccessful because their competitor, a state-operated ferry system, simply dropped its fares below cost and relied on handouts from its government to survive. If you are familiar with hovercraft that are propelled by air propellers, you know how they can aim one way and go in another, depending upon the change of course and/or the direction of the wind. This machine ran as though on rails due to the stabilizing influence of the skegs and marine propellers. I was the project engineer for Lycoming.


During the Viet Nam war, various small craft designs were put to work in what was called "Riverine" warfare. Our navy decided to see what gas turbine power might do for such applications, and ordered three designs for three separate tasks. One was Assault, one was Command and Control and the third was an Armoured Troop Carrier. As I remember (could be wrong) one used Controllable Reversible Propellers (CRP) and the other two used waterjet pumps. The boats were built by Teledyne Sewart Seacraft in Louisiana. Broad-beamed and shallow draft with engines rated 900 and 1100 bhp (I don't remember which was what) and two shaftlines, they would scoot right along, but again I don't remember the figures. One of them successfully completed the USN standard shock tests, wherein various sizes of explosive charges were set off at varying (submerged) distances from the anchored boat. I designed the electrical control system (relay logic) for the engines.


The SES100A (Surface Effect Ship) was another US Navy project. It was supposed to develop much of the knowledge and experience necessary for the successful design of a 100-knot ship of some considerable displacement - 5000 tons, I think. Two designs were generated: one by Aerojet in Los Angeles and Tacoma, and the other by Bell, in New Orleans. The Aerojet boat had four four-thousand bhp Lycoming engines cross-connected through clutches to drive two waterjet pumps of 6000 hp each, and three 1000 hp lift fans. It had solid sidewalls which housed the intake ducting for the pumps, which were on the same deck with the engines. The original ram intakes for the pumps were later changed to "flush" inlets with variable geometry to preclude, or reduce, cavitation in the duct. One occasion for our upper management to show great disdain and disgust with our (my) faltering engineering capabilities came when cracks were found in the first stage compressor blade roots of a couple of engines. One V.P. asked me why I had decided to put gas turbines in such a terrible environment, and I responded, "Because my boss told me to." After all the theatrics had gone on for several months I learned that the same problem had been enountered months earlier in a helicopter application, that top management knew it, and all the hellraising was a charade. Madmen! After I'd left Lycoming and was working for another company, I was involved in tests of that same vessel, designing optical systems to observe/monitor/photograph the inlet tunnel cavitation, and rode that machine at 86 knots. I was Lycoming's Project Engineer (translated: Bagman).

This is the LCAC, the USNavy's Landing Craft Air Cushion, which has been used in several amphibious operations, notably Somalia, where Clinton and his Secretary of Defense, Les Aspin, refused to allow our troops to have tanks and armoured personnel carriers because it would look too aggressive. This machine could have delivered those tanks and APCs with no difficulty at all, and perhaps lives would have been saved, and perhaps the mission would have been successful. That aside, there were two vessels such as this designed and built in competition, again, one by Aerojet and the other by Bell. I was Lycoming's project engineer dealing with Aerojet. This machine reflects more of the Bell design. By the time production began on this boat, I was long gone from Lycoming. The Aerojet boat had four propulsion ducted fans, one on each corner of the hull, and they could be turned to direct thrust in any horizontal direction. I believe the LCAC has four 6000 bhp engines. Originally there were six engines of about 4000 bhp.

And here's my pride and joy. I had been working at a yard in Louisiana that built crewboats and patrol boats, and was aware that the Republic of China (Taiwan) was looking for a high-performance patrol boat design. Later, in Maryland, I became directly involved in the project, and was asked to supply estimates for technical support on-site, in Taiwan, for the detail design and building of the prototype boat. When we got the contract and no one else wanted to go, I took the job and went to Kaohsiung as a contractor to assist in the necessary "transfer of technology." The boat is the "FAB 75," a 75 foot Fast Attack Boat, capable of 40 knots maximum speed, and carrying surface to surface missiles with 17 mile range. It was frustrating and it was fun. I was there by myself for three months through the design period, and then went back for another 11 months, taking my wife and two youngest kids, until the first prototype completed sea trials. The engines were three MTU 12V331 diesels, each driving a fixed pitch super-cavitating prop through a reverse clutch. Tow tank tests had shown that it would indeed do 40kts with the power supplied (1341 bhp per engine) in a FAC sea condition. We actually timed over 38 kts although we never saw FAC, and the Chinese navy refused to allow for the sea condition. There's some sort of logic disconnect there that I've never managed to get a handle on. (A reminder: FAC = Flat Ass Calm). It is my understanding that they built fifty of these boats. And I got a large education.

Ahhh, yes, I almost forgot. This little honey is Lycoming's Marine Test Bed (MTB), designed and built for the purpose of testing engines and engine systems. As I recollect, it was about 40' long and almost as wide. No, not really, but it was not one of those slender racing hulls. It sat low in the water. According to one story I heard, when Luther Blount, of Rhode Island, was about to cut metal for construction, he discovered he had no steel of the gauge specified, so he used the next thicker. Or maybe it was intended to sit that low in the water. Anyhow, she was hell for stout, and kept her test crew warm and safe through several Connecticut winters. At the time she first went to sea there was a lot of discussion in the marine gas turbine industry about the fouling of the air path through the compressor with the sea salt that was left stuck to the blading after all the little airborne aerosol droplets of moisture evaporated. There was also controversy about how to remove the salt after it had accumulated to the point that engine operation was crippled or even impossible. Our guys found out that if you shut the engine down and then flushed the air path with sea water while cranking over with the starter, you could restore engine performance. It was the simplest solution offered by any of the experts. Many, many hours of engine operation were accumulated in this craft, proving the reliability and metalurgy of Lycoming engines. For a while the crew struggled with an electrical phenomenon involving a sneak ground path in the engine control system. It would appear on its own, causing weird and frustrating things to happen, and then disappear, again on its own. The crew began to speak of "Lord Nelson's Ghost." And then there was the time they ran aground in the Housatonic River....

...Many tales are told and some, like that one, are best left alone.


And then, going back a little farther, into the dim, dark pages of prehistory (that's the summer of 1943), I first got my feet wet, so to speak, on (in?) the Illinois River. Because of the war, there was a severe manpower shortage in the civilian world. The U.S.Army Corps of Engineers were so desperate for deckhands that they foolishly offered jobs to highschool boys, not realizing how worthless such dregs of society would be to an honest work effort. The boat was the Comanche, and it looked something like this one, which is the George M. Verity. At the right side of the picture you see a triangular doo-dad. This was one of the two "knees" that butted up against the 'tender' barge. It, in turn, was attached through chains and jacks to the boat. The barge carried a load of coal. There was a hinged plank that provided a path for wheelbarrows to pass from boat to barge and back again, and again and again... full of coal for the fire hole going one way and empty going the other. Those lucky deckhands got to push the wheelbarrows. Without that barge full of coal and the deckhands to move the coal to where it could be burned the boat could go nowhere. That was a neat summer job for a kid. My wife says, "You really have had some wonderful experiences, haven't you." And she's right.

About that summer aboard the Comanche - for reasons not explained to us deckhands, the boat didn't travel at night. When we were on a trip we'd tie up along the riverbank each night about suppertime. (Incidently, we had a wonderful cook! She turned out some of the best meals I've ever had.) To tie up, the Skipper would head for the bank and run the bow of the tender barge up on the mud. A couple of us kids would jump off, usually into stinking muck, with a line in our hands, and head for the trees. The Skipper would stand watching out the open windows of the pilot house, and he'd holler, "Go up to that big oak up there." We didn't know an oak from a willow, so we'd head for the largest tree we could see. Skipper: "No, not that one. Over farther." Seconds passed as we stumbled in what we hoped was the right direction. "No, not that way. The OTHER way." Change direction. Soon, "No, that big oak RIGHT IN FRONT of you. NO, NOT THAT ONE. THE OTHER ONE." And as we staggered from one tree to the next, and then to the next, mooring line dangling uselessly from our hands, we'd hear a faint, defeated, hopeless voice, "Ohhhhh, GODdamned DUMB DECKHANDS!!!"

Boat drawing is from Towboat Joes' r/c towboats http://www.dragg.net/jbrown. Go take a look!!

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I guess that about wraps it up. If you have any questions or comments about any of this, I'll be happy to consider them. I hope you enjoyed the tour.

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