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Rolls-Royce Conway engine

An aircraft design needs some sort of propulsion and often the succes of the design is heavily dependent on the chosen engine type. For the VC10, Rolls-Royce was able to supply one of the first turbofan designs, the Conway.


Designed by Alan Arnold Griffith, the R.B.80 Conway design goes back to proposals from 1947, with the original experimental bypass engine using both Avon parts and segments from another experimental design. It evolved into a two-spool bypass turbofan engine labeled as the RCo.2 by the Ministry of Supply, but was only tested for a mere 133 hours as the intended user, the Vickers Valiant low-level Pathfinder, was cancelled. The RCo.5 did not fare much better, being designed for the still-born Vickers 1000 design. The design was saved by the Handley-Page Victor B.2 which used the RCo.11 version instead of the B.1's Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire engines.

A publicity photo of the Conway engine. This is a RCo.43 for the Super VC10.
Photo Rolls-Royce Ltd.

The civil market first encountered the Conway when the RCo.10 and later RCo.12 version was ordered to power TCA DC-8s and BOAC 707s, amongst other orders. Unfortunately, this segment of the market would later collapse when Pratt&Whitney countered with the JT-3D version of their DC-8/707 powerplant. As the first turbofan, the Conway offered a significant improvement over the pure turbojet designs, with a lower fuel burn, but the JT-3D went for a larger bypass ratio and trumped the Conway's numbers. Together with further development of the 707 airframe, it would lead to a more economical design for the airlines.


A Conway Mk.301 for a military VC10.
Photo J. Hieminga

For the VC10, Rolls-Royce evolved the Conway engine design into a 21,000 lb (94.1 kN) thrust engine by increasing the bypass to 60% alongside other revisions. It kept the, for that time revolutionary, internally air-cooled turbine blades and associated high exhaust gas temperature. This was the RCo.42 that would power the Standard VC10s, also referred to as the Conway 540.

The RAF's hybrid type 1106 version used a slightly different version that was labeled Mk.301, providing 21,800 lb (97.6 kN) thrust. Basically this was a Super VC10 engine with some small changes to comply with the RAF's demands.

For the Super VC10, the final development was the RCo.43 variant, which delivered 22,500 lb (100.1 kN) thrust. This version was also known as the Conway 550, with the EAA Super VC10s using Conway 550B engines.

Assembly of a Conway engine at the Rolls-Royce factory.
Photo BAE Systems / Brooklands Museum archives

The lefthand Conway engines as installed on a VC10. Note the stainless steel firewall between them.
Photo BAE Systems / Brooklands Museum archives

Preserved examples

Several Conway engines have been preserved. This goes back to the drawdown of the British Airways VC10 fleet, when BA apprentices prepared several ex-VC10 engines for display. I suspect that they mostly used RCo.42 engines for this purpose as all the RAF variants would continue to use RCo.43 engines, re-labeled to Mk.301 Conways. No doubt this list is incomplete, so let me know if I need to add one or more engine(s).

Location Notes Photo(s)
The Brooklands Museum, Weybridge. Sectioned engine that is electrically powered to show the inner workings.
Photo J. Hieminga
Discovery Museum, Newcastle upon Tyne. This engine was prepared for display in 1979, having flown 25,984 hours in BOAC/BA service.

Photo J. Hieminga

Photo J. Hieminga

East Midlands Aeropark, East Midlands Airport. Alongside XV108's front fuselage are both a Conway engine and a complete engine nacelle. This nacelle features convincing facings that replicate the look of two installed Conway engines.
Photo J. Hieminga
Farnborough Air Sciences Trust, Farnborough. Another sectioned Conway engine, appears to be an ex-RAF engine judging by the sign hanging over it.
Photo J. Hieminga
Museum of Flight, East Fortune. This engine is part of a larger display of engines, illustrating the development of piston and jet engines throughout the 20th century.
Photo J. Hieminga
Newark Air Museum, Newark. A Standard VC10 RCo.42 engine, prepared for display by BA apprentices in 1981 and presented to RAF Brize Norton. This engine was previously in the VC10 Schoolhouse at Brize, then went on display at the RAF Brize Norton Heritage Centre and moved to Newark in September 2020. Includes thrust reverser and can be electrically powered.

Photo J. Hieminga

Photo J. Hieminga


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