Saturday, February 29, 2020
How an obscure Texan changed WWII and subsequent History
Back during WWII German, British, and American fighter aircraft were about on equal technological terms. A shift in aviation fuel usage changed the equation. While the British and Americans still used the same aircraft they gained a significant performance advantage over the German Luftwaffe by changing fuels. This is the story of 87 Octane fuel vs 100-130 Octane Aviation Fuel during WWII. The information behind this story comes from The British Society of Chemists and despite the age of the facts the details were classified until 2014. We are once again grateful to Capt. William Horn USN (ret) for drawing our attention to this story.
Apparently until 2014 the British Society of Chemists were puzzled by the German's continued use of 87 Octane aviation fuel after the British and Americans had switched to 100-140 octane with vastly improved performance. The German and British aircraft both used 87 Octane Gasoline in the first twenty four months of the war. The 87 octane fuel seemed to work for the German Daimler-Benz V-12 engine, The same fuel was at best marginal in the British Rolls-Royce Merlin XX engine. In the British aircraft the fuel created such troublesome issues as sticky valves and generated the need for frequent engine repairs. Then American aircraft began to enter British service in considerable numbers. The US aircraft did even more poorly than the British on 87 octane fuel. Something had to be done. Once again enter the Texans! This wasn't their first rodeo in the British war fueling game (See :THE SECRET OF SHERWOOD FOREST: HOW A BUNCH OF TEXANS AND OKIES BROUGHT MUCH NEEDED PETROLEUM TO WAR TORN ENGLAND IN WWII BY WAY OF SHERWOOD FOREST. )
Those of us who work on the US Gulf Coast occasionally pass a unique but aging white building a few miles west of Beaumont. The building is the old Sun Oil Refinery on Highway 90. This building should be on the National Register of Historic Places and there should be a monument out front to a guy you've never heard of; Tim Palucka, a chemist for Sun Oil in their South East Texas Refinery. He utilized a French system that mostly existed in technical writing to create an entirely new fuel technology. France was under the Nazi jack boot at the time, but fortunately for the war effort, the Nazis were more interested in looting France's art treasures than examining their technical literature.
Palucka started with a French formula for enhancing the octane of Gasoline, and then invented the the "Cracking Tower" so familiar to us in modern refineries and with the Cracking Tower produced 100 octane aviation Gasoline. Our aviators were ecstatic the Germans puzzled. Our spitfires fueled with 100 Octane gasoline were 34 miles per hour faster at 10,000 feet. The need to replace engines was cut in half.
The American Allison engines improved greatly with 100 Octane gasoline, but performance went through the roof when 130 octane gasoline came on line in 1944. The 130 Octane also improved the performance of our Radial Engine Bombers. The Axis Powers never caught on to the fact that we had re-invented gasoline. We wisely didn't share the news with the Russians. The old refinery should become at some point a WWII museum and Palucka deserves a monument. Once again the Texans showed the world how you can make things happen if you don't care who gets the credit. Now Tim Palucka is a name you should not forget.