Allison Engine Testing Stands

Keeping the Allies’ warbirds in the air

Allison Engine Testing Stands viewed from the south east. There are three main interpretive panels for the Testing Stands and a life-sized replica of engine and engineer.

Visitors to TradeCoast Central Heritage Park can view, imagine and even experience the sound of World War Two’s noisiest job, the testing of overhauled aircraft engines at Eagle Farm Airfield.

It was a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week activity. Engines were manoeuvred into position using a block-and-tackle which ran along a monorail, then mounted on stands high enough for propellers to spin at full speed. Control cabins, fitted out with testing equipment, dials and instruments, were occupied by engineers, each cabin servicing two adjacent engine stands. The freestanding concrete walls, or ‘blades’, separated the engine stands, providing protection to the workers.

The heritage-listed testing stands were built by the U.S. 81st Air Depot Group in November 1942. Two enclosed brick structures for indoor testing were added in 1943, then opening directly onto the level of the runways.

The Allison Engine Testing Stands form the eastern part of TradeCoast Central’s heritage trails, with the Convict Women’s Prison and Factory in the centre of the site and Hangar No.7 at the far south west corner of the site. A handy carpark, on Amy Johnson Place, is at the northern end of the site, between the Women’s Prison and the Allison Engine Testing Stands. Or you can park directly outside the Interpretive Centre located on level 1 of the main building on Backhouse Place. An Allison Engine is on display on the ground floor of the main building.

The pages in this section of our web site will give you a tantalising glimpse of the rich history of the Allison Engine Testing Stands and their part in the war effort. 

Discover the Allison Engine Testing Stands

Allison Aircraft Engines

A high-powered V-12 engine

The advantage of an in-line, liquid-cooled engine was its power and reliability, and its ability to be mounted in a slim fuselage. ‘No wider than a pilot’s shoulders’ was the catchphrase.

The Allison V-1710 V-12 engine design was extremely versatile, suiting many aircraft. A key feature was its ability to turn the output shaft clockwise or counter-clockwise. In the Lockheed P-38 Lightning, the two engines ran their drive shafts in opposite directions, creating this aircraft’s legendary stability.

The Allison V-1710 was the mainstay of Allied Air Forces in all but the European theater of war. The engines proved to be robust and “little affected by machine-gun fire”. In total, over 60 percent of the American pursuit aircraft operated during WWII were powered by the V-1710.

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Engine Rebuilding

Durability and longevity

Building the power plant for a warbird was only the beginning. Properly maintained, the Allison engine could run almost forever. Many engines are still running today, powering boats, stretch dragsters, tractors, or just on stands to be fired up at air shows. Many more are flying immaculately restored warbirds.

The superb engineering and design of the Allison engine gave it durability and longevity. During the war, RAAF managed to get an average 1,500 hours of flying time out of each Allison engine, three times that of the British designed Rolls-Royce Merlin. While the Rolls Royce Merlin engine had many more parts, took longer to overhaul and needed overhauls more often, comparisons are unfair as the Merlin had a two stage supercharger, allowing it to operate at the heights needed in the European theatre.

After overhaul, the engines were tested at the heritage-listed Testing Stands now part of TradeCoast Central Heritage Park.

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Engine testing

Noisiest War Job

At TradeCoast Central Heritage Park you can view the open-air reinforced concrete testing stands or blades, and the enclosed brick testing areas built for indoor work. At the time, airport roads and runways were level with the base of the buildings. This was “ground zero” of the war’s noisiest job, where powerful 12 cylinder, 28 litre Allison aircraft engines were tested at full speed, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Not all engines were running at the same time and there would be bizarre moments of quiet when all one would hear was the clinking of tools and the instructions of the engineers. But these respites, being so brief, would make the ensuing din even more unbearable.

The first testing stands were erected in October-November 1942 by members of the USAAF 81st Air Depot Group. By mid 1943 the testing stands were operating at full capacity. The Courier Mail reported on the operations of testing stands in August 1943 as “Noisiest War Job”. The Courier-Mail reporter wrote: “Yesterday I discovered Queensland’s noisiest war job as I watched the bench tests of powerful aero engines, reconditioned after service in warplanes in the South-West Pacific area. The din was terrific as a row of motors, mounted in open-air frames roared into life. The slip-stream from the huge three-bladed propellers whipped up a gale of hurricane force which sent a piece of heavy hardwood tumbling along the ground like a straw.”

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Brisbane USA

Brisbane’s ‘American invasion’

Between 1941 and 1945 more than one million Americans passed through Brisbane. They were soldiers, sailors and aircraft personnel at every rank, with all the support staff required by the world’s biggest and most expensive war effort. Brisbane residents, less than 330,000 at the start of World War II, were outnumbered more than three to one.

These were not quiet Americans. They were loud, cheerful, colourful and in charge of high-powered machines. Most important for Brisbane women, they were gallant, charming and loaded with cash. In July 1942 Brisbane became General MacArthur’s headquarters and the centre of military command of the South-West Pacific War. The American anthem played at all movie screenings and the Star Spangled Banner adorned city buildings. American troops and local women ‘mixed together as effortlessly as gin and tonic’, to quote historians Raymond Evans and Jacqui Donegan.

Australian men found the going tough, simmering tensions breaking out in some famous brawls including the Battle of Brisbane, when Americans could be seen ‘flying through the air’ between groups of inebriated Diggers.

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Postwar Airport

Eagle Farm Airport: Version 2.0

When the war ended and the Americans departed, they left behind the best and most modern airport in Australia. The Commonwealth wasted no time in utilising the Eagle Farm site for Brisbane and Queensland’s main airport, relegating Archerfield to light aircraft use. Australian National Airways (ANA) and Trans Australia Airlines (TAA) moved their operations to Eagle Farm.

Continuing improvements to post-war aircraft boosted civil aviation. From a post-war era when flying interstate (let alone overseas) was a rarity, as the 1950s morphed into the 1980s air travel became commonplace.

In the 1970s as commercial jumbo jets started to arrive, plans were already underway to move the airport to a vastly-expanded site to the north east. Cribb Island was reclaimed and over 900 residents relocated. Construction of the new Brisbane Airport began in 1980. It was opened in 1988 by Prime Minister Bob Hawke in time for Expo ’88. In 1995 the new International Terminal opened. It was expanded in 2009. As new suburbs emerged the original Eagle Farm airport changed, eventually becoming part of Australia Trade Coast, an industrial and commercial precinct servicing the city.

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