A Texas WWII Gasoline Story You Probably Never Heard

  Captain, Nancy Aldrich

But, thanks to long-time FASF member and retired United Air Lines Captain, Nancy Aldrich, a loyal Texan, and regular aviation author, we have this fascinating and little-known story of how an East Texas refinery – and one of its sharper engineers, Tim Palucka – helped change the war’s outcome – in our favor – by his use of an obscure French patent on gasoline refining.

Without further ado, here’s the tale:

87 Octane Aviation Gasoline vs 100 130 Octane Aviation Gasoline in WWII

(This is a declassified article by the British Society of Chemists (Declassified in 2014) )
“It has always puzzled me as to why the German Luftwaffe kept on using 87 Octane Aviation Gasoline while the Americans and British used 100 Octane Gasoline in their Spitfire Fighters and Americans used 130 Octane in our P-51 and other fighters.  (see both aircraft below)

                                            P-51 Mustang leads Spitfire in close formation flight

This morning I discovered the reason!

It seems that the German and British aircraft both used 87 Octane Gasoline in the first two years of the war. While that was fairly satisfactory in the German  Daimler-Benz V-12 engine, It was marginal in the British Rolls-Royce Merlin XX engine in British aircraft. It fouled the spark-plugs, caused valves to stick, And made frequent engine repair problems.

                                                                       P-51 Fighter in Flight

Then came lend-lease, and American aircraft began to enter British service in great numbers. If British engines hated 87 Octane gasoline, American, General Motors Built, Allison 1710 engines loathed and despised it.

                                             ME 109 Messerschmitts escorting Nazi Heinkel Bombers

                                                                             B-17E Flying Fortress

SUNOCO officials pour the billionth gallon of high octane aviation fuel produced during world war II

Something had to be done!
Along came an American named Tim Palucka, a chemist for Sun Oil (SUNOCO) in their South East Texas Refinery.
Never heard of him? Small wonder, very few people have. He took a French formula for enhancing the octane of Gasoline, and invented the “Cracking Tower” and produced 100 octane aviation Gasoline.
This discovery led to great joy among our English Cousins and great distress among the Germans. A Spitfire fueled with 100 Octane gasoline was 34 miles per hour faster at 10,000 feet.
The need to replace engines went from every 500 hours of operation to every 1,000 hours. Which reduced the cost of British aircraft by 300  Pounds Sterling. Even more, when used in 4 engine bombers.
The Germans couldn’t believe it when Spitfires that couldn’t catch them a year ago started shooting their ME-109 E and G models right out of the sky.
Of course, the matter had to be kept secret. If the Germans found out that it was a French Invention, They’d simply copy the original French patents. If any of you have ever wondered what they were doing in that 3 story white brick building in front of the Sun Oil Refinery on Old Highway 90, that was it.
They were re-inventing gasoline.
The American Allison engines improved remarkably with 100 Octane gasoline but did much better when 130 octane gasoline came along in 1944. The 130 Octane also improved the Radial Engined Bombers we produced.
The Germans and Japanese never snapped to the fact that we had re-invented gasoline. Neither did our “Friends” the Russians.
100,000 Americans died in the skies over Europe.  Lord only knows what that number would have been without “Super-Gasoline”. And it all was invented just a few miles west of Beaumont, and we never knew a thing about it.”
Aha – – – but there’s much more to this story than just recited above.  In 1935, 6 years before Pearl Harbor and his country’s entry into WWII, Jimmy Doolittle, had retired from the Army and was working for the Shell Oil Company.  He saw the need for a higher octane fuel if we should enter another war.  So, click here, for more on the important role he played in the fuel octane race, which is not mentioned in the opening story above.

2 thoughts on “A Texas WWII Gasoline Story You Probably Never Heard

  1. Robert R. Hannan

    This story doesn’t go far enough. During the Quiet War (1939-1940) British fighters were dropping out of the skies over occupied France in droves due to “frozen engines.” Rolls Royce was desperately searching the free world for someone who could produce a ball bearing which would hold up in its high-performance Merlin aircraft engines. Automotive engineers at Cadillac Motor Car Division/General Motor came to the rescue in solving the problem. When the Battle of Britain began in earnest June 1940, the Luftwaffe encountered a much different fighter than it previously had over France.

    Reply
    1. FASFRIC Post author

      Thanks for that new information, Mr. Hannan! Never heard that bit of WWII/Spitfire history before. It’s still my favorite airplane from that big fracas. Something about the aesthetics that seems unique . . . especially when in flight, with its awkward gear obscured in the wheel wells. I cherish an inspiring in-action painting of the Spitfire by our Brit Advisor, UK Aviation aficionado and aviation artist, Peter Westacott (who painted the “Jenny’s over Columbus” on our home page). He had the privilege of actually flying it! Thanks again for the new piece of aviation history . . . would be glad to have any other similar aviation tidbits you might have, too.

      Reply

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