The Rolls Royce Merlin V12 aviation engine created so much thrust from the exhaust, engineers were able to angle the exhaust backwards to gain 10 mph in the Spitfire it powered.
In the early 1930s, Rolls-Royce started planning its future aero engine development programme and realised there was a need for an engine larger than their 21-litre (1,296 cu in) Kestrelwhich was being used with great success in a number of 1930s aircraft. Consequently, work was started on a new 1,100 hp (820 kW)-class design known as the PV-12, with PV standing for Private Venture, 12-cylinder, as the company received no government funding for work on the project. The PV-12 was first run on 15 October 1933 and first flew in a Hawker Hart biplane (serial number K3036) on 21 February 1935. The engine was originally designed to use the evaporative cooling system then in vogue. This proved unreliable and when supplies ofethylene glycol from the U.S. became available, the engine was adapted to use a conventional liquid cooling system. The Hart was subsequently delivered to Rolls-Royce where, as a Merlin testbed, it completed over 100 hours of flying with the Merlin C and E engines.
In 1935, the Air Ministry issued a specification, F10/35, for new fighter aircraft with a minimum airspeed of 310 mph (500 km/h). Fortunately, two designs had been developed: theSupermarine Spitfire and the Hawker Hurricane; the latter designed in response to another specification, F36/34. Both were designed around the PV-12 instead of the Kestrel, and were the only contemporary British fighters to have been so developed. Production contracts for both aircraft were placed in 1936, and development of the PV-12 was given top priority as well as government funding. Following the company convention of naming its piston aero engines after birds of prey, Rolls-Royce named the engine the Merlin after a small, Northern Hemisphere falcon (Falco columbarius).
Two more Rolls-Royce engines developed just prior to the war were added to the company’s range. The 700 hp (520 kW) Rolls-Royce Peregrine was an updated, superchargeddevelopment of their V-12 Kestrel design, while the 1,700 hp (1,300 kW) 42-litre (2,560 cu in) Rolls-Royce Vulture used four Kestrel-sized cylinder blocks fitted to a single crankcase and driving a common crankshaft, forming an X-24 layout. This was to be used in larger aircraft such as the Avro Manchester.
Although the Peregrine appeared to be a satisfactory design, it was never allowed to mature since Rolls-Royce’s priority was refining the Merlin. As a result, the Peregrine saw use in only two aircraft: the Westland Whirlwind fighter and one of the Gloster F.9/37 prototypes. The Vulture was fitted to the Avro Manchester bomber, but proved unreliable in service and the planned fighter using it – the Hawker Tornado – was cancelled as a result. With the Merlin itself soon pushing into the 1,500 hp (1,100 kW) range, the Peregrine and Vulture were both cancelled in 1943, and by mid-1943 the Merlin was supplemented in service by the larger Griffon. The Griffon incorporated several design improvements and ultimately superseded the Merlin.