Napier Deltic Opposed-Piston Diesel Engine (2023)

By William Pearce

In 1933, the British engineering firm D. Napier & Son (Napier) acquired licenses to produce the Junkers Jumo 204 and 205 aircraft engines. Napier sought to diversify and expand its aircraft engine business, and the company felt the two-stroke, opposed-piston, diesel engines would usher in an era of safe and fuel-efficient air travel. Napier made some modifications to the Jumo engines, but the internal components were mostly unchanged. The Jumo 204 was built as the Napier Culverin (E102), and the Jumo 205 was planned as the Napier Cutlass (E103). The Culverin was first run on 24 September 1934, but the engine garnered little interest and no orders. By 1936, after only seven Culverins were made and no Cutlasses, Napier halted further work on opposed-piston diesel aircraft engines. English Electric took over Napier in November 1942.

Napier Deltic Opposed-Piston Diesel Engine (1)

The Napier E130 three-cylinder test engine that validated the triangular engine arrangement. Each of the engine’s crankshafts had a flywheel on the drive end (left). The six intake chamber openings are visible on the free (non-drive) end (right). Note the vertical coolant pipes on top of the engine. (Napier/NPHT/IMechE images)

In 1944, the British Admiralty desired to increase the survivability of the Motor Torpedo Boat (MTB). One of the main issues was that MTBs used gasoline engines. Gasoline liquid is highly flammable, and gasoline vapor is highly explosive. MTB safety would be improved if a switch to diesel engines could be made. Diesel fuel has non-explosive characteristics and a much higher flashpoint than gasoline. However, at the time, there were no suitable diesel engines to power MTBs.

Around 1945, Napier and other companies submitted proposals to the Admiralty for a light-weight, powerful, and compact 18-cylinder diesel engine. Napier’s new engine carried the company designation E130, and the design was influenced by their experience with the Junkers Jumo diesel engines, their work on the Culverin and Cutlass, and analyses of other Jumo six-cylinder engines captured during World War II. However, there is no mention of the Junkers Jumo 223 contributing to Napier’s engine design. In early 1946, the Admiralty selected the Napier design and issued a developmental contract that covered the construction of one single-cylinder test engine, one three-cylinder test engine, and six prototype 18-cylinder engines.

Napier Deltic Opposed-Piston Diesel Engine (2)

Section drawing from the drive end of a Deltic engine. The air chamber surrounds the intake end of the cylinder, and the exhaust manifolds are mounted to the outer sides of the engine. Note the rotation of the crankshafts. (Napier/NPHT/IMechE image)

Napier’s liquid-cooled, two-stroke engine used opposed-pistons, a design feature that eliminated many parts, required no cylinder head, improved thermal efficiency, and resulted in more power for a given size and weight. In an opposed-piston engine, each cylinder has two pistons that move toward each other to form a single combustion space near the center of the cylinder. Ports in the cylinder wall that are covered and uncovered by the pistons bring in air and allow exhaust gases to escape. The most unusual aspect of Napier’s design was that the engine was formed as an inverted triangle, with a crankshaft at each corner. Because of its triangular structure, the name Deltic was selected in reference to the Greek letter Delta, and the 18-cylinder engine was known as the Deltic D18 (or just 18). The triangular design resulted in a compact engine with a very rigid structure.

(Video) The Legendary Napier Deltic - 88 Litre Opposed 2-Stroke Triangle Engine

Design work on the Napier Deltic started under Ben Barlow, George Murray, and Ernest Chatterton, Chief Engineer of the Piston Engine Division at Napier. The project was initially overseen by Henry Nelson, with Herbert Sammons taking over in 1949. The Deltic engine formed an equilateral triangle with each of its three cylinder banks angled at 60 degrees. Cast aluminum crankcase housings were at each corner of the triangle, with the lower crankcase incorporating an oil sump and also serving as the engine’s base. Each cast aluminum cylinder bank was sandwiched between two crankcases via through bolts. The monobloc cylinder banks were identical, as were the upper two crankcases. However, various ancillary components were installed according to the casting’s position on the complete engine.

Napier Deltic Opposed-Piston Diesel Engine (3)

The assembled cylinder banks and crankcases of an 18-cylinder Napier Deltic engine seen from the free end. Note the open space between the cylinder banks. The stadium (oval) ports are to the air chambers. The bushings visible in the upper crankcases, at the triangle’s corners, supported the shafts that drove the blower. (Napier/NPHT/IMechE image)

The forged-steel cylinder wet liners were open-ended and had a chrome-plated bore to reduce wear. Part of the bore was etched with small dimples to retain lubricating oil and reduce piston ring wear. The liner was approximately 32 in (813 mm) long and protruded some distance into the crankcases. The ends of the liner were notched to allow clearance for the swinging connecting rods. Near one end of the liner were 14 intake ports with a tangential entry to impart a swirling motion of the incoming air. The swirling air helped scavenge the cylinder through the nine exhaust ports near the other end of the liner. In each cylinder, one piston would cover and uncover the intake ports while the other piston would do the same for the exhaust ports. The exhaust ports were uncovered (opened) 34.5 degrees before the intake ports. Both sets of ports were uncovered (open) for 101.5 degrees, and the intake ports were uncovered (open) for 5.5 degrees after the exhaust ports were covered (closed). The placement of the intake and exhaust ports at opposite ends of the cylinder liner allowed for uniflow scavenging of the cylinder. The liners were shrink-fitted into the cylinder banks and secured by an annular nut on the intake side.

The two-piece pistons consisted of a cast aluminum outer body and a forged Y-alloy (nickel-aluminum alloy) inner member that held the wrist pin. The inner member was heat-shrunk to the outer piston body and secured by a large circlip. Oil flowed between the two pieces to cool the piston. Three compression rings were positioned just below the piston crown, and two oil scraper rings were located near the bottom of the piston skirt. The pistons were attached to fork-and-blade connecting rods, with the exhaust pistons mounted to the forked rods and the intake pistons mounted to the blade rods. The opposed pistons created a compression ratio of 17.5 to 1 (some sources say 15 to 1).

Napier Deltic Opposed-Piston Diesel Engine (4)

Napier Deltic engine assembly, with phasing gear housings being built up in the lower right. At left is a completed phasing gear housing; note the two idler gears connecting the lower crankshaft to the central output shaft. Toward the center are Deltics in various stages of assembly. A completed engine without its blower installed is in the upper right. Note the opening in the center of the engine. (Napier/NPHT/IMechE image)

A two-piece phasing gear housing at the drive end of the engine contained the gears that connected the crankshafts to the main output shaft. The main output shaft was usually located at the center of the engine, but different phasing gear housings allowed for different output shaft locations. Each crankshaft was coupled to its drive gear via a short, flexible quill shaft. When viewed from the free (non-drive) end of the engine, the upper two crankshafts rotated clockwise and were connected to the main output shaft via one idler gear. The lower crankshaft rotated counterclockwise and was connected to the main output shaft via two idler gears. The idler gears could be repositioned to reverse the rotation of the output shaft. Each crankshaft was supported in its crankcase by seven main bearings, and each main bearing cap was secured by four studs and two transverse bolts. The crankshafts were phased so that the exhaust piston in each cylinder led the intake piston by 20 degrees. The reverse rotation of the lower crankshaft, and the crankshaft phasing was devised by Herbert Penwarden from the Admiralty Engineering Laboratory.

Via a quill shaft and bevel gears, each crankshaft also drove a camshaft for the fuel injection pumps. The camshaft was located in a housing bolted to the outer side of each cylinder bank, near its center. Each camshaft operated six fuel injection pumps, and each pump fed fuel to two injectors per cylinder. The timing of the pumps changed depending on engine RPM. The upper two crankshafts drove separate flexible drive shafts for the blower (weak supercharger). The driveshafts were positioned at the upper, inner corners of the engine triangle. They led to the opposite end of the engine and powered a single-stage, double-sided centrifugal blower. The impeller was 15.5 in (394 mm) in diameter and rotated at 5.72 times crankshaft speed, creating 7.8 psi of boost (.53 bar). The pressurized air from the blower was fed into a chamber that extended through each cylinder bank and that surrounded the intake ports in the cylinder liner. Exhaust gases were collected via a water-cooled manifold that attached to the outer side of each cylinder bank. The lower crankshaft drove a flexible drive shaft to power the engine’s two oil and two water pumps.

(Video) Napier Deltic Engine

Napier Deltic Opposed-Piston Diesel Engine (5)

Basic sections of the Deltic (T18-37K) marine engine. From left to right are the blower section (turbo-blower in this case), D18-cylinder engine section, phasing gear housing, and the bi-directional gearbox. The Deltic was a powerful diesel engine for its size and weight. (Napier/NPHT/IMechE image)

When viewing the engine from the free end, the cylinder banks were designated as follows: left was Bank A; upper, horizontal was Bank B; and right was Bank C. The crankshafts were designated as follows: upper left was Crankshaft AB, upper right was Crankshaft BC, and lower was Crankshaft CA. The cylinder rows were numbered with Bank 1 at the free end, and subsequent banks were numbered consecutively with Bank 6 at the drive end. The Deltic D18’s firing order was Bank C cylinder 1 (C1), A6, B1, C5, A1, B5, C3, A5, B3, C4, A3, B4, C2, A4, B2, C6, A2, and B6.

The Napier Deltic had a 5.125 in (130 mm) bore and a 7.25 in (184 mm) stroke (x2). This gave each cylinder a displacement of 299 cu in (4.9 L), and the 18-cylinder engine displaced 5,384 cu in (88.2 L). The bare engine (without the bi-directional marine gearbox) had a maximum, 15-minute output of 2,730 hp (2,036 kW) at 2,000 rpm with a specific fuel consumption (sfc) of .380 lb/hp/hr (231 g/kW/h). The Deltic’s continuous rating was 2,035 hp (1,517 kW) at 1,700 rpm with a sfc of .364 lb/hp/hr (221 g/kW/h). With the bi-directional gearbox, the engine produced 2,500 hp (1,864 kW) at 2,000 rpm with a sfc of .415 lb/hp/hr (252 g/kW/h) and 1,875 hp (1,398 kW) at 1,700 rpm with a sfc of .395 lb/hp/hr (240 g/kW/h). The Deltic D18 was 105 in (2.67 m) long, 71.25 in (1.81 m) wide, and 80 in (2.03 m) tall. The bi-directional gearbox added another 36 in (.91 m). The engine weighed 8,860 lb (4,018 kg) without the bi-directional gearbox and 10,500 lb (4,763 kg) with it.

The single-cylinder test engine was designed from October to December 1946, with the three-cylinder engine following from January to May 1947. Testing of these engines started as soon as construction was completed. The three-cylinder engine represented just one row of a Deltic engine, but it demonstrated the validity of the components used in the triangular arrangement.

Napier Deltic Opposed-Piston Diesel Engine (6)

Free end of the 2,500 hp (1,864 kW) Deltic D18-1 (E130) prototype engine. Note the two intakes, one for each side of the double-sided blower. Each cylinder bank had two, large exhaust manifolds. The transverse bolts threaded into the main bearings can be seen on the side of the upper crankcase. (Napier/NPHT/IMechE image)

The first 18-cylinder Deltic Series I engine was assembled by March 1950. The engine was soon to be tested at Napier’s works in Acton, England; however, a cable broke as the engine was being mounted to the stand. It fell on the stand, damaging the engine and the test stand. Repairs were made, and engine began testing in April 1950. The 18-cylinder Deltic fired a cylinder every 20 degrees of crankshaft rotation, which resulted in smooth, nearly-constant output torque. Engine idle was around 600 rpm, and the Deltic demonstrated a gross mechanical efficiency of 85.5% at 2,000 rpm. In late 1951, two Deltics were installed in place of the three Mercedes-Benz MB 501 V-20 engines in a former German E-boat S-212 (redesignated Fast Patrol Boat P5212). By January 1952, the originally-contracted six Deltic D18 engines had been built. In 1953, an Admiralty 1,000-hr type test was completed and indicated the engine could run 2,000 hours between overhauls.

By 1954, Napier was offering a commercial version of the Deltic D18 Series I (E169). This was basically a de-rated engine. The commercial engine produced 1,900 hp (1,417 kW) at 1,500 rpm with a sfc of .363 lb/hp/hr (221 g/kW/h) and could operate for 5,000 hours between overhauls. In addition to a variety of marine applications, Deltic engines could also run power generation sets, water pumps, and be used to power traction motors for locomotives. Napier also built a nine-cylinder version with three banks of three cylinders. The Deltic 9 (E159/E165) displaced 2,692 cu in (44.1 L) and had a one-sided centrifugal blower but was otherwise of the same construction as the Deltic D18. It fired one cylinder for every 40 degrees of crankshaft rotation. Maximum output for the Deltic 9 was 1,250 hp (932 kW) at 2,000 rpm for the high-power version and 950 hp (708 kW) at 1,500 rpm for the commercial version. By late 1955, Deltic test and production engines had accumulated over 20,000 hours of operation.

(Video) Opposed Piston Diesel Engines Are Crazy Efficient

Napier Deltic Opposed-Piston Diesel Engine (7)

The 5,500 hp (4,101 kW) compound Deltic C18 (E185) engine was the most powerful piston engine Napier ever built. Although it is covered, the intake can be seen in the upper part of the phasing gear housing. Exhaust was routed through the three-stage turbine, which powered the eight-stage compressor inside the engine’s triangle. (Napier/NPHT/IMechE image)

In 1956, Napier built a compound diesel engine known as the Deltic C18 (E185). Serious development of the C18 occurred after the Napier Nomad II compound diesel aircraft engine was cancelled in 1955. The Deltic C18 had an eight-stage (some sources say 12-stage, which was the same number of stages as used in the Nomad II) axial compressor positioned inside the engine triangle. The compressor was driven by a three-stage turbine, which was powered by the engine’s exhaust gases. The turbine was positioned in the normal blower position on the free end of the engine. A new phasing gear housing was constructed with an opening that allowed air into the center of the engine triangle and served as the inlet for the compressor. The Deltic C18 produced 5,500 hp (4,101 kW) at 2,000 rpm. The engine was 124 in (3.15 m) long, 65 in (1.65 m) wide, and 77 in (1.96 m) tall. The C18 weighed approximately 10,700 lb (4,853 kg). The engine was tested in 1957, but only one experimental C18 was built. While undergoing power tests, the engine was intentionally pushed beyond its limits until a connecting rod failed at 5,600 hp (4,176 kW). The rod came through the crankcase, but the damage was never repaired due to the Navy’s increased focus on gas turbine engines.

By 1956, Napier had introduced some minor changes as the Series II Deltic engines, but one major change was the addition of a turbo-blower. These engines were known as turbo-blown, and they were designated as the Deltic T18 (E171/E239). Exhaust gases were collected and fed into an axial-flow turbine mounted behind the blower. The turbine wheel was 18.04 in (458 mm) in diameter and helped turn the blower via a geared shaft. The turbine wheel turned at .756 times the speed of the blower impeller. The blower was still driven by the upper crankshafts, but it now turned at 8.266 times crankshaft speed. The turbo-blower created 19 psi (1.31 bar) of boost. The piston was redesigned and consisted of three-pieces: a Hidural 5 (copper alloy) crown that screwed onto an aluminum skirt to form the outer body, and a Y-alloy (nickel-aluminum alloy) inner member that held the wrist pin. A third scraper ring was added to the piston skirt. The compression ratio was increased to 17.9 to 1, and the engine used one fuel injector per cylinder. The Deltic T18 had an output of 3,100 hp (2,312 kW) at 2,100 rpm and 2,400 hp (1,641 kW) at 1,800 rpm. SFC was .414 lb/hp/hr (252 g/kW/h) and .404 lb/hp/hr (246 g/kW/h) respectively. The engine was 118 in (3.00 m) long, 75 in (1.91 m) wide, and 84 in (2.13 m) tall. The T18 weighed around 13,630 lb (6,183 kg) with the bi-directional gearbox and 11,050 lb (5,012 kg) without it. The turbo-blown nine-cylinder Deltic T9 (E172/E198) produced 1,100 hp (820 kW) at 1,600 rpm.

Napier Deltic Opposed-Piston Diesel Engine (8)

The 3,100 hp (2,312 kW) turbo-blown Deltic T18-37K (E239) engine was most widely used in Motor Torpedo Boats. Note the exhaust manifolds leading to the turbine with its large intake at the rear of the engine. The short duct connecting the blower to the upper cylinder bank is visible. (Napier/NPHT/IMechE image)

More changes were incorporated into the Series III engines, which also introduced charge-cooling with the Deltic CT18 (E263) in 1966. For the CT18, a single drive shaft passed through the center of the engine to deliver power from the phasing gear housing to the turbo-blower. The shaft turned at 5.16 times crankshaft speed, and both the blower impeller and turbine wheel were mounted to the drive shaft. The single-sided blower impeller was relocated to behind the turbine wheel. A water-filled aftercooler was mounted before each opening of the engine’s three air compartments. The aftercooler dropped the charge temperature from 259° F (126° C) to 144° F (62°C). Pistons were again redesigned, with the Hidural 5 (copper alloy) crown bolting to the aluminum skirt. For the Deltic CT18, power increased to 3,700 hp (2,759 kw) at 2,100 rpm with a sfc of .403 lb/hp/hr (245 g/kW/h) and 2,750 hp (2,051 kW) at 1,800 rpm with a sfc of .395 lb/hp/hr (240 g/kW/h). By 1968, further development had increased the output to 4,000 hp (2,983 kW) at 2,100 rpm with a sfc of .401 lb/hp/hr (244 g/kW/h) and 3,000 hp (2,237 kW) at 1,800 rpm with a sfc of .399 lb/hp/hr (243 g/kW/h). The CT18 weighed 15,382 lb (6,977 kg) with its bi-directional gearbox.

As Napier declined in the late 1960s, English Electric moved Deltic production to the newly acquired Paxman Engine Division. The General Electric Company (GEC, not related to the US company General Electric / GE) purchased English Electric in 1968. What was once Napier basically closed in 1969. In 1975, GEC reformed Paxman Engine Division as Paxman Diesels Limited. Paxman continued to support Deltic engines, developing the CT18 to 4,140 hp (3,087 kW) in 1978 and reworking the mechanically-blown Deltic 9 for production as the D9-59K (E280) in the early 1980s. The D9-59K was constructed almost entirely with non-ferrous (non-magnetic) parts for mine-sweeper duties. In 2000, MAN acquired what used to be Paxman, and Rolls-Royce was awarded a contract to support Deltic engines in 2001. The contract was carried through until 2012, but it is not clear if the contract was extended beyond that year.

Napier Deltic Opposed-Piston Diesel Engine (9)

A 3,700 hp (2,759 kw) charge-cooled and turbo-blown Deltic CT18-42K (E263) engine. The turbine is located between the engine and the blower. Note the large, square aftercooler in the air duct between the blower and the engine. (Napier/NPHT/IMechE image)


Deltic engines powered a number of various MTBs, including the Royal Navy’s Dark-class (18 produced). Two 3,100 hp (2,312 kW) Deltic C18 turbo-blown engines powered each Nasty-class / Tjeld-class fast patrol boat (total of 49 built), which were designed in 1959 and put in service in 1960. These boats served with the navies of Norway, the United States, Greece, Germany, and Turkey. The boats had a top speed of 52 mph (83 km/h), and some were in service until the 1990s. Deltic engines powered Ton-class minesweepers (over 100 built) as well as the pulse generators for other minesweepers. Deltics were still being installed in new military boats during the 1980s, with the 1,180 hp (880 kW) Deltic T9-powered Hunt-class minesweepers (13 built) still in service. A few commercial vessels were also powered by Deltic engines—the largest installation was four 1,850 hp (1,380 kW) engines for the 513.5-ft (156.5-m) ore carrier Bahama King in 1958.

In 1955, two 1,650 hp (1,230 kW) Deltic D18-12 (E158) engines were used in the English Electric DP1, a prototype diesel-electric locomotive. The engines powered six English Electric EE829-1A traction motors that gave the locomotive 50,000 lbf (222.4 kN) of tractive effort. The DP1 proved successful, resulting in 22 British Rail Class 55 locomotives powered by Deltic D18-25 (E169) engines being built in the early 1960s. Called Deltics, these locomotives could exceed 110 mph (177 km/h) and were in service until the early 1980s. One 1,100 hp (919 kW) Deltic T9-29 (E172) engine was used in each of the smaller British Rail Class 23 locomotives, known as Baby Deltics. The engine powered four English Electric traction motors that gave the locomotive 47,000 lbf (209.1 kN) of tractive effort. The Baby Deltics entered service in 1959, but they were not as successful as their bigger counterparts due to shorter runs and frequent stops. All Baby Deltics were withdrawn from service by 1971.

Napier Deltic Opposed-Piston Diesel Engine (10)

Cutaway view of a Deltic CT-18 charge-cooled and turbo-blown engine. Note the shaft through the center of the engine that powered the turbo-blower from the phasing gear. (Napier/NPHT/IMechE image)

Other Deltic designs included a 735 hp (548 kW) inline six-cylinder (E164/E197) with one bank of six cylinders and a 1,420 hp (1,059 kW) 15-cylinder (E162) with three banks of five cylinders, but these engines were not built. A 24-cylinder square engine (E260) with four crankshafts and four banks of six cylinders was also designed for an output of 5,400 hp (4,027 kW). The square engine design had much more in common with the Deltic than the Jumo 223, but it was not constructed. Including the nine-cylinder version, over 600 Deltic engines were made. A number of Deltic engines survive. Some are still operational in preserved boats or locomotives, allowing the unusual roar of the triangular two-stroke Deltic to still be heard. Others engines are in various museums, and a few are privately owned.

Note: In some cases, the Napier E number is one example of the type, with additional E numbers existing for similar engines with different configurations (marine vs rail applications). Around 100 E numbers were assigned to various Deltic designs.

Napier Deltic Opposed-Piston Diesel Engine (11)

(Video) Deltic start up

A 1,250 hp (932 kW) turbo-blown nine-cylinder Deltic T9-33 (E198) under test at Napier’s factory in Acton. The engine was similar to those used in the Baby Deltic Locomotives. Note the low position of the output shaft. (Napier/NPHT/IMechE image)

– “The Napier Deltic Diesel Engine” by Ernest Chatterton, SAE Transactions Vol 64 (1956)
Opposed Piston Engines by Jean-Pierre Pirault and Martin Flint (2010)
Course Notes on the Deltic Engine Type T18-37K by D. Napier & Son Ltd. (December 1967)
– “Development of the Napier Deltic Charge Cooled Engine” by R. P. Taylor and C. H. Davison, Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers Vol 183 (1968–69)
By Precision Into Power by Alan Vessey (2007)
Napier Powered by Alan Vessey (1997)


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