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Battle of the engines: Piston vs. Turbine

Piston

Today, there is only one piston-powered unlimited hydroplane — Ed Cooper's U-3. It uses a turbocharged Allison engine developed for World War II fighter planes. The U-3 team builds most of its own engines, but it is estimated an engine like the one in the U-3 would cost $70,000-$80,000 to buy new. Allison engines run on methanol fuel and burn much more than a turbine. The U-3 burns 18 gallons of methanol a minute while the turbine burns 4.3 gallons of kerosene a minute. Allisons became widely used in power boats shortly after WWII — the first victory by a hydroplane using an Allison engine came in 1946 by the Miss Great Lakes in Washington, D.C. Along with the Rolls-Royce Griffins, they were the engine of choice from the 1950s through the mid-1980s. Their main disadvantage is their lack of dependability, largely because of all the parts involved. They are prone to breaking down. Also, since the piston engines are heavier, boats using them don't accelerate as well out of turns.

Turbine

Most of the turbine engines used by hydroplanes are Lycoming T-55 L-7 from Chinook helicopters built for the Vietnam War. There are said to be about 840 of them available, and they can be purchased for roughly $50,000. The biggest reason they became the motor of choice among hydroplane owners is their dependability. They have fewer parts than a piston engine, and many of the parts are welded together. One owner said he has used the same three engines for the past five years. They also weigh about half as much as piston engines, coming in at around 900 pounds. Turbine engines run on kerosene fuel and need much less than piston engines, saving on expense and weight of the boat. A turbine was first used in a hydroplane competitively in 1974. The first victory by a turbine boat came in the Pay 'N Pak in 1982 in Syracuse, N.Y. By the mid-1980s, they were being used regularly. Since the early 1990s, all but one boat has used turbine engines.

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Comment by Hydroplane Museum on December 5, 2016 at 9:48pm

Sorry to disappoint, but there is/was no underlying question here. Just presenting some facts and figures for those who might interesting in learning more...

Comment by Phil Lampman on December 5, 2016 at 4:51pm

Excellent concise and informative commentary, but one cannot read it without wondering what the question, if any, may have been. All too often, including many discussions on this forum, seem to focus on "The Noise" (presumably the thunder from the old Allisons and Merlins). I confess to being among one of "those".

Yet, missing thunder not withstanding, the fundamental issue would seem to be the seeming decline of Unlimited Hydroplane Racing. That's another topic that often frequents these pages. I do not admit to having the definitive answer to that issue, though there have been many suggestions. That's the beauty of this blog and it's always interesting to consider some of the "solutions" that are submitted.

Now I'm not trying to "hijack" this blog, but I will offer an appeal to those that think "Thunder" is the means by which Unlimited Racing can be resurrected. To that I can only respond that the racing with the turbines is arguably "better" in terms of competition than ever. Better reliability, no lack of horsepower and excitement.

The sport, people, is declining.Or would seem to be. I have no facts and data to back that up, Consider though that a few years ago, when the Blue Angels were unable to provide their air show at the Seafair Races. I will remember that with mixd emotions as I was able to park across the street from the pits on race day

Maybe it was the "thunder" (or lack thereof) from the FA-18's that made the difference....

Okay, flame suit on. This is a forum/blog isn;t it?

What was the question?

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