To use the words of Rolls-Royce; “Pride of place in any history of the Dart must, of course, be
given to the Vickers Viscount because, almost certainly, the engine would never have been
developed but for the requirements of this family of aircraft“.
The Rolls-Royce Dart on a TCA - Trans-Canada Airlines Viscount
Photo © Jim Bruce
The earliest record relating to the design and development of the Dart Turboprop is a technical
drawing dated April 4 1945, before the hostilities of World War Two had ended, and the dust had
settled, which was a very positive attitude for Rolls-Royce to take at that time.
Although the initial proposal for this engine originated at Barnoldswick, near Burnley in
Lancashire, Ernest W Hives a director of Rolls-Royce decided that the project should be mainly
based at Derby. Lord Hives became Managing Director in 1946 and Chairman in 1950 as Lord Hives
of Duffield and retired in January 1957, having seen the Viscount enter service and the Dart
become the most significant turboprop engine of its time and arguably of all time.
Initially it was proposed that the engine should develop 1000 shaft horsepower through a tractor
airscrew and be fitted to a new RAF training aircraft. Two aircraft types were proposed, the
Boulton Paul P.108 Balliol and the Avro Athena. Armstrong Siddeley was offering their Mamba
engine, which, later on also became a competitor on the Vickers-Armstrongs Viscount. The design
time of both engines soon slipped behind the airframe timescales and were dropped in favour of
existing piston engines such as the R-R Merlin.
The team of designers and draughtsmen were based in the Elton Road office block in Derby under
the leadership of Lionel Haworth who was an engineering graduate from the University of Cape
Town, South Africa. Prior to starting on the Dart, Lionel and his team had been involved with
the WR1 jet engine in 1941 followed by the RCa3, which was a three shaft axial flow jet engine.
This then led to the Clyde engine, for which the team were responsible for the reduction gearbox
and compressors during 1944. Lionel’s deputy was Ralph Shire senior who was an ex RAF apprentice
from Halton and had been transferred from the piston engine design office. The remainder of the
Dart team came from the Merlin Marine and Crecy design offices plus several fresh graduates such
as Roy Heathcote.
Initial detail drawings were issued to the production department on November 1 1945 and the
final build of the RB.53 prototype as it was originally designated was completed on July 10 1946
resulting in an incredibly short manufacture and build time for such a revolutionary engine. The
RB designation stood for R-R Barnoldswick.