A tale of two engines, or four, or even six: The STAL Skuten, Dovern and Glan

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An example of the Swedish STAL Skuten turbojet engine on display, under guard, in Stockholm, Sweden. Anon., “Production – First Swedish Turbojet Revealed.” Aviation Week, 27 March 1950, 36.

Yours truly is running out of ideas on how to start each new issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee. Any ideas, my reading friend? No? Sigh. Hello, then, and welcome yadda yadda yadda.

If I may be permitted to quote one of the giants in the 2013 fantasy adventure motion picture Jack the Giant Slayer, it’s good to be back.

At first glance, the photograph I chose as a source of enlightenment did not / does not seem all that sexy. It is, after all, a jet engine. How banal. This being said (typed?), said engine was / is part of a greater story that may prove of interest to you. If not, well, too bad so sad. I enjoyed writing this text.

As your truly is wont to do in situations such as these, in other words when all I have to start with is a photograph with a caption, I will now quote said caption in its entirety:

First Swedish-designed jet engine, designed by Svenska Turbinfabriks [Aktiebolaget Ljungström] (STAL), [Finspång], was exhibited under guard in Stockholm recently. Still classified a military secret, the new engine has axial-flow compressor and six combustion chambers. Called the Skuten, it has a rated thrust of only (1 450 kilogrammes) 3,200 lb., and may not be a production type but instead serve in development of future engines of greater output. The manufacturer is a leading Swedish builder of electric and marine turbines.

This quote having set some basis for what is to follow, let us move on.

Our story began, in Sweden, in 1908 with the founding of, no, you did not guess it this time, not STAL but Aktiebolaget Ljungström Ångturbin, which sold turbine patents rather than build turbines. STAL actually came into being in 1913. This manufacturer of steam turbines, for industrial and / or marine use, did quite well thank you very much and exported its wares to countries as far apart as the United Kingdom, South Africa and Japan.

The Swedish industrial / electrical giant Allmänn Svenska Elektriska Aktiebolaget (ASEA) took over STAL in 1916, and… What is it, my reading friend? You do not give a rodent’s rear end about ASEA? Well, you might want to. And lies a tale.

A fascinating project began in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1976. That year, the director of engineering and quality control at Transair Limited, a fairly large Canadian regional air carrier, left his job. Now president of Kristiansen Cycle Engines Limited (KCE), Håkon Henrik “Hoke / Hoken” Kristiansen, wanted to devote all his time to an unconventional piston engine whose prototype had just been completed.

This aeronautical engineer of Norwegian origin actually proposed an engine that did not use the combustion cycles proposed by the Germans Nikolaus August Otto and Rudolf Christian Karl Diesel around 1876 and 1895, 2 cycles used by virtually all of the non-electrical automobiles we see every day. Compact, economical, light and versatile, the K-Cycle engine had it all and this especially since it appeared shortly after the 1973-74 oil crisis. According to Kristiansen, “it will be particularly attractive for aviation purposes, and especially for light aircraft.”

The first K-Cycle engine ran on a test bench in the Department of Mechanical Engineering of the University of Manitoba in November 1976. Presented to the media in May 1977, it aroused great interest in the automotive industry. Representatives of North American, European and Asian companies travel to Winnipeg. KCE obtained at least 2 grants from the Manitoba government. The National Research Council of Canada invested in the project. Private investors did the same.

In the spring of 1978, the company moved into a building owned by a major Canadian brewer, Molson Industies Limited, today’s Molson Coors Brewing Company. And yes, my reading friend, the latter was mentioned in a pair of April 2019 issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee.

In early 1979, an industrial giant mentioned in an August 2019 issue of that same publication, Mitsubishi Jidōsha Kōgyō Kabushiki Kaisha, became the Japanese representative of the small Canadian company. A bit later, a major American aircraft engine manufacturer sent a team to Winnipeg. In the fall, KCE installed a second, much improved, engine in an automobile which circulated in Winnipeg for several months. A third prototype replaced it at an undetermined date. It should be noted that an Italian automaker tested a diesel version of the K-Cycle engine.

Around 1980-81, the team of the public affairs television program Marketplace, broadcasted by the state radio and television broadcaster Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), asked KCE to check the efficiency of a carburetor developed during the 1930s by Manitoban / Canadian Charles Nelson Pogue. Indeed, defenders of this invention had been claiming for years that it allowed an automobile to cover a distance of 100 kilometres with only 1.2 litre of gasoline (240 miles/Imperial gallon / 200 miles/American gallon) - a rather astonishing performance. A series of trials revealed, however, that the Pogue carburetor did not improve by much the fuel consumption of an automobile.

And yes, my insistent reading friend, the CBC was mentioned many times in our you know what since September 2018.

Meanwhile, weeks, then months went by. It took longer than expected to develop a production version of the K-Cycle engine. The sources of funding dried up one after the other. In late 1981, KCE was forced to obtain loans from the Business Development Bank of Canada. These sums allowed it to stay afloat, but nothing more. The Manitoba government and some suppliers, increasingly nervous, wanted to be reimbursed. Kristiansen’s hopes that a major American automaker would manufacture his engine under license vanished into this air. ASEA, yes, yes, ASEA, for its part, renounced to apply the technology of the K-Cycle to develop electric generators. The Business Development Bank of Canada placed KCE in receivership in November 1983. It was the end of a beautiful dream. End of digression.

In 1928, STAL’s chief engineer, Alf James Rudolf Lysholm, began to look into the possibility of designing another type of turbine, besides the aforementioned steam turbines. Gas turbines might after all offer new business opportunities. A famous Swedish weapons manufacturer began to build some gas turbines for STAL in 1932. In 1934, Bofors Aktiebolaget even built a small turbojet engine. Plagued with serious problems, this engine was abandoned in 1935.

Lysholm followed suit, in 1935 or 1936, with a second turbojet engine design, a rather odd one actually, that seemingly did not go beyond the drawing stage. In 1936, he came up with the idea of driving a gas turbine with the exhaust gases of an aircraft’s piston engine. A prototype of this engine was tested in flight during the summer of 1942, using an aircraft of the Swedish air force, or Flygvapnet. The idea did not show enough promise to warrant much in the way of additional work.

By then of course, the Second World War had been raging for quite some time. Sweden remained neutral. Unable to obtain in foreign lands the high performance aircraft it needed to defend the country, the Flygvapnet had to turn to the local aircraft industry. As a result, Sweden acquired a surprisingly large amount of knowledge and experience in aircraft design despite the small size of its population.

More or less aware of the research conducted in Germany, the United Kingdom and / or the United States during the Second World War, the Flygvapnet initiated a jet engine research and development program in 1944. Indeed, its commander decreed as early as 1945 that all new fighter airplanes operated by this service would be fitted with jet engines. The Flygvapnet, or some other government organisation, thus signed contracts with a pair of firms, in 1945 from the looks of it: Svenska Flygmotor Aktiebolaget (SFA), which now had among its people the aforementioned Lysholm, and STAL. Each team of engineer was to develop a turbojet engine, which they did. Both SFA and STAL tested their designs, on the ground, after the end of the Second World War.

And yes, my observant reading friend, the turbojet engine developed by STAL was the Skuten, the very engine visible in the photograph at the beginning of this article. This relatively small engine was tested in 1947.

By then, SFA had been / was about to be given the task of producing a proven British turbojet engine for use on the first Swedish-designed jet-powered fighter plane, the SAAB J 21R. The same engine was also used on a British machine ordered in much greater numbers, the de Havilland Vampire, known in Sweden as the J 28, and… What is it, my reading friend? Yes, you are indeed quite right. There is a Vampire in the majestic collection of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, in Ottawa, Ontario, and the acronym SAAB stood / stands for Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget.

What about STAL and the Skuten, you ask? Well, it looks as if STAL and the Flygvapnet decided fairly on not to put it in production. The Skuten was simply not powerful enough. It did, however, provide the foundation upon which a far more powerful turbojet engine, the Dovern, was developed. Indeed, both SFA and STAL once again worked on 2 separate engines in the hope of obtaining a production order to power a new combat aircraft destined for the Flygvapnet. As admirable as this approach may have been, it meant that both firms had to compete for government funding, limited funding in fact, which slowed down the process.

In mid-1949, a lack of money forced the Flygvapnet to concentrate all its resources on the more promising design, the Dovern. Soon after, SFA was ordered to cooperate with its rival in the development of this engine and of later designs – a bitter pill to swallow. It was also around that time that the Dovern was chosen to power a single engined 2-seat all-weather attack aircraft, later known as the A 32 Lansen, then under development by SAAB.

It looks as if the Dovern ran for the first time, on a test stand, in February 1950. By July 1952, the inevitable problems encountered during its design had been solved. An example of the new engine was flight tested around that time, using a suitably modified Avro Lancaster. Before long, STAL was able to inform the Flygvapnet that series production of the Dovern could be launched at its leisure. By then, 10 to 15 so engines had been completed. Would you believe that the Dovern was in the same league as American, British and / or Soviet turbojet engines of the time? 

Better yet, the Dovern was not the only arrow in STAL’s quiver. Indeed, since 1949-50, the firm was more and more involved in the design of a far more powerful turbojet engine, the Glan, which, or so it hoped, was to power a highly advanced supersonic single-engined single-seat all-weather fighter aircraft, later known as the J 35 Draken, then under development by SAAB. By 1952, STAL had begun to manufacture components of the new engine.

And yes, my reading friend, there is a Lancaster heavy bomber in the incomparable collection of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum.

To the surprise of a great many observers, the prototype of the aforementioned Lansen was powered by a Rolls-Royce Avon engine when it flew for the first time, in November 1952. That same month, an announcement came out to the effect that production examples of the Lansen would be powered by said Avon, all examples of which to be produced by SFA. Development of the Dovern was hereby terminated. Neither the Flygvapnet nor the Swedish government provided an official explanation for this decision. And yes, development of the Glan was terminated as well. In fact, what came to an end in November 1952 was the very idea of producing jet engines designed in Sweden.

Numerous people within the Swedish aeronautical community were appalled by the cancellation of what appeared to be a promising engine. Said decision, they said, meant that both SAAB and the Flygvapnet would remain dependent on engines developed outside the country.

So, would you be interested in speculating as to why the Dovern was cancelled? Yes? Wunderbar! I go first.

It has been suggested that budgetary constraints played a part in the decision; designing a jet engine was / is (will be?) after all an expensive proposition. It has also been suggested that Rolls-Royce Limited, a well-known British firm mentioned in April 2018, August 2018 and February 2019 issues of our you know what, was willing to sell the production rights for the Avon, a very good engine indeed, at a very good price.

Mind you, it has also been suggested that a Cold War military confrontation and diplomatic crisis which began in June 1952 might have played a slight part in the decision. Please note that this series of event involved several fatalities.

In June 1952, a Douglas Tp 79 transport plane of the Flygvapnet, in other words a Douglas DC-3 type aircraft, vanished without a trace with 8 people on board while flying over international waters, in the Baltic Sea, during a navigation training flight. Three days later, a Consolidated Tp 47 search and rescue flying boat or amphibian of the Flygvapnet, in other words a Consolidated PBY / Catalina type aircraft, looking for the missing Tp 79 was shot down by Soviet fighter aircraft, Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-15s from the looks of it, while flying over international waters, in the Baltic Sea. The Tp 47 made an emergency landing near a West German freighter and its 5 crew members were rescued.

It was now assumed that that Soviet fighter aircraft had also shot down the Tp 79, something the Soviet government strenuously denied, and this even though an inflatable raft belonging to the Tp 79 found adrift in the Baltic Sea showed indications of air attack. Understandably enough, there was much outrage in Sweden and in many other Western countries. There was also much concern within the Swedish government regarding the intentions of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Tensions were high in Europe and a vicious war was raging in the Korean peninsula. Modernising the equipment of the Flygvapnet became more important than ever. The aforementioned Lansen was a key element of this modernisation. Its service introduction could suffer no delay. As good as the Dovern turbojet engine might have become when fully developed, the Avon seemed to be a safer alternative – and one that could be delivered sooner at a lesser cost. By the way, the Flygvapnet began to receive its Lansens in December 1955.

In 1956, Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev, the unsavoury first secretary of the central committee of the Kommunisticheskaya Partiya Sovetskogo Soyuza, in other words the Communist party of the USSR, admitted to the Swedish Prime Minister that the USSR was responsible for the death of the crew of the Tp 79. This information, he said, was to be kept secret, however – and it was.

Incidentally, there is a DC-3 as well as a PBY / Catalina type aircraft, namely a Canso, not to mention a Polish-made MiG-15, or Lim-2, in the exceptional collection of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum.

In 1991, after the dissolution of the USSR, the pressure exerted by the families of the people who had died in June 1952 finally paid off. The Swedish government admitted that the Tp 79 was not carrying out a navigation training flight when it vanished. It was in fact gathering radio and radar intelligence for the country’s radio defence establishment, or Försvarets Radioanstalt. The equipment used to spy on the USSR by the aircraft’s crew was provided by the British and / or American governments. The flight itself was undertaken on behalf of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) – a clear breach of neutrality on the part of Sweden.

Yours truly wonders if the Swedish government acted in this manner on this own volition or under pressure / threat, more or less veiled, on the part of NATO. Hello, Mr. Big Brother.

A Russian officer admitted, also in 1991, that he had given the order to shoot down the Tp 79. 

You will remember that Khrushchev was mentioned in February, March and September 2019 issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee. But back to our story.

You may be pleased to hear that STAL survived the November 1952 announcement. Indeed, the Glan was reborn from its ashes, so to speak, in the form of the STAL / ABB / Alstom GT35 industrial gas turbine, which was produced in some numbers, from 1956 onward, and exported to several countries. The much improved Siemens SGT500 was developed much later (around 2000?). It too was produced in some numbers and exported to several countries. It looks as if the SGT500 was still in production in the early 2010s. Some of these turbines were used to power a least a few ships.

And yes, Alstom Société anonyme, the French multinational rail transport firm behind the Citadis Spirit light rail vehicle developed for the Ottawa-Carleton Transportation Commission, the public transit agency of Canada’s capital, was mentioned in a January 2020 issue of our you know what. Dare I mention that said Citadis Spirit was / is still not working as it should at the end of the winter of 2019-20? Oh joy.

The Draken also survived the November 1952 announcement. A prototype powered by a British-made Avon flew in October 1955. Deliveries of the first of the production aircraft, which were powered by Avons made under licence by SFA, to a Flygvapnet unit, took place in 1960.

What is sadly interesting about the saga of the Skuten, Dovern and Glan are the parallels one can trace between them and a trio of engines developed in Canada during the 1940s and 1950s.

Around May 1946, engineers from the Crown corporation Turbo Research Limited in Leaside, a suburb of Toronto, Ontario, completed the development of the first Canadian turbojet engine, the TR-4. This work continued under the direction of A.V. Roe Canada Limited (Avro Canada) of Malton, Ontario, the latter having acquired the assets of Turbo Research around May 1946, forming then a Gas Turbine Division. Avro Canada, a subsidiary of the British aeronautical giant Hawker Siddeley Group Limited, was mentioned in many / several issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee since March 2018. And yes, the design of the TR-4, known as the Chinook from the summer 1947 onward, began during the Second World War.

Avro Canada did not plan to produce this relatively underpowered engine, however. The fabrication of 3 prototypes of the Chinook would, however, allow it to acquire practical experience in jet engine design. A first engine ran on a test bench in March 1948.

It should be noted that the superb collection of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum includes 2 Chinooks.

You may be pleased to learn that yours truly is considering the possibility of pontificating on the Chinook at a later date – if you’re as good as gold.

Towards the end of the summer of 1946, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) asked the Gas Turbine Division of Avro Canada to design a turbojet for the new long-range night / all-weather fighter, the future Avro Canada CF-100 Canuck, on which the Aircraft Division of the same company was working. The new engine would need to be as powerful as any other engine then under development in the United States or the United Kingdom. The challenge was big. Development of the TR-5 turbojet engine, known as the Orenda from the summer of 1947 onward, began in September 1946.

The first Orenda ran to a test bench in February 1949. Two Orenda took to the air in July 1950 aboard a flying test bed. You obviously know that said test bed was a Lancaster. Obviously.

Did you nonetheless know that the first prototype of the Canuck flew in January in 1950 using 2 Avons? Small world, isn’t it? The first Canuck powered by Orendas flew in June 1951. An interim version of the Canuck, built in a big hurry because of the Korean War, went into service in small numbers in 1952. The first real production version of the aircraft arrived in RCAF squadrons the following year. And yes, you are absolutely right, the collection of Aviation and Canada Space Museum includes a Canuck. And yes again, this collection is one of the wonders of the world.

Between 1952 and 1958, the RCAF and the air forces of 4 friendly / allied countries (Belgium, Colombia, South Africa and West Germany) received no less than 3 825 Orendas. This engine was / is one of the best turbojet engines of the 1950s.

It was also in the 1950s that the saga of one of the most powerful and advanced jet engines of the time began. In 1952, the RCAF and the Aircraft Division of Avro Canada began discussions to develop a supersonic successor to the Canuck, which was not yet in service. Engineers at the Ontario firm planned to use a foreign-designed turbojet engine manufactured under license in Canada. Although well aware of the excellent performance of the Orenda, they did not think they could justify the costs of developing a new Canadian engine for the aircraft later known as the Avro CF-105 Arrow.

The Aircraft Division of Avro Canada therefore chose a Rolls-Royce turbojet engine that was being developed. The British engine manufacturer being unable to meet the deadlines proposed by the Gas Turbine Division of that same firm, the Aircraft Division abandoned it in favour of a turbojet engine on which the Wright Aeronautical Division of Curtiss-Wright Corporation was working. Said turbojet engine being as yet somewhat unready, its main sponsor, the United States Air Force, cut the funding to the project. The Canadian supersonic all-weather fighter project was once again without an engine.

It was then that a private project, launched around September 1953 by the Gas Turbine Division of Avro Canada, became very important. The prototype of the PS-13 turbojet engine ran on test bench in December 1954. It seemed very promising. In the spring of 1956, the Department of Defence Production and Orenda Engines Limited, a new company name officially adopted in January 1955, signed a contract for the development of the PS-13. In fact, this engine had just been chosen to power the production versions of the Arrow. The new Orenda Engines turbojet engine, named Iroquois in June 1956, was one of the most powerful and advanced of the time. And yes, this is worth repeating.

In February 1959, shortly before the first flight of an Iroquois-powered Arrow, the Canadian government cancelled the development of the aircraft and its engine. The production tools and most of the Iroquois completed by this date were sent to the scrapyard. The cancellation of the Iroquois put an end to Canada’s hopes of becoming a major player in the small world of high power jet engines.

It should be noted that the sublime collection of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum includes an Iroquois as well as parts of at least 2 Arrows.

A rather interesting phase in the history of Orenda Engines began in early 1959, perhaps after the cancellation of the Iroquois and the Arrow, with the decision to develop industrial gas turbines derived from the Orenda turbojet engine. Preliminary discussions with potential customers revealed that they were interested in 2 main types of equipment: a heavy-duty gas turbine to force gas or oil into pipelines and another, aero-derived, to produce electricity in situations of maximum load.

A Canadian firm established by federal law, TransCanada PipeLines Limited, today’s TransCanada Corporation, ordered the first OT-2 heavy-duty gas turbine in 1962. This equipment entered service in October at a pumping station in northwestern Ontario. The National Research Council, for its part, receives the first OT-3 aero-derived gas turbine. This equipment turned the fan of one of the wind tunnels in Ottawa. The first OT-3 to produce electricity went into service in December 1963. Over the years, the Orenda Division of Hawker Siddeley Canada Limited, 2 new company names adopted in 1961 and 1962, produced approximately 30 OT-2s and 90 OT-3s for Canadian and foreign customers. These equipments were the first industrial gas turbines designed and produced in Canada.

In 1960, the Department of National Defence began a modernisation program for the Pinetree line, 1 of the 3 elements of the alert network set up by the United States and Canada to detect possible attacks by Soviet bombers equipped with (thermo)nuclear weapons. (Hello and thank you, Doctor Strangelove. We learned to stop worrying and love the bomb. Sorry.) Some of the new radar stations, say I, were to have their own power generation systems based on the use of gas turbines. Four companies, 2 Canadian and 2 British, submitted proposals. Orenda Engines offered a derivative of the OT-2 called the OT-5. It was awarded an order in August 1961. The 18 systems were installed in 1962-63. In following years, the company delivered OT-5s to other users, for a total of 55 units.

It should be noted that the Pinetree line OT-5s were coupled to a heat recovery unit powered by their exhaust gases – a Canadian first in cogeneration and one of the first applications of its kind in the world.

Given the significance and importance of the OT-2, OT-3 and OT-5, may I be permitted to suggest that a sister / brother institution of the olympian Canada Aviation and Space Museum, the Canada Science and Technology Museum of Ottawa, could consider the possibility of looking into the possibility of acquiring an example of each of these gas turbines?

To conclude, my reading friend, do you think there were / are interesting parallels between the Skuten, Dovern and Glan and the Chinook, Orenda and Iroquois? Just sayin’

And yes, Dr. Strangelove or : How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb was / is a movie classic and ferocious satire from 1964 mentioned in a January 2019 issue of our you know very well what. You’re welcome.

Take care of yourself, my reading friend.

Ta ta for now.

Author(s)
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Rénald Fortier