Rolls-Royce interest in aviation dates back to 1907, when Charles Rolls tried unsuccessfully to persuade Royce and other directors of the company to design an engine suitable for an aircraft. However, when World War I broke out in August 1914, the company was at the forefront of the effort.
Though the directors at Rolls-Royce initially decided against production of aircraft engines, they began to produce fifty air-cooled V8 engines under license from Renault. Once the order from Renault was completed, Rolls-Royce developed their own engine, the twelve cylinder Eagle in 1915. Within a year the Eagle was followed by the six cylinder Hawk, an equally successful engine. By war's end Rolls developed two other engines, the 190 hp Falcon and the larger 675 hp Condor. Throughout the war, Rolls-Royce had difficulty meeting production quotas from the War Office. With the exception of the Brazil Straker, Rolls-Royce resisted the temptation to license foreign production of their aircraft, fearing the engines' quality and reliability would be compromised. Instead, they chose to increase the capacity of existing factories which proved to be a wise strategy. By the late 1920's, aircraft engines were the majority of Rolls-Royce's business.
Though Henry Royce died in 1933, his last design, the Merlin engine was highly successful. First flown in 1935, the Merlin was a development of the R engine, which had powered the record-breaking Supermarine S6B seaplane to a speed of nearly 400 mph in 1931. A supercharged V12 engine, the Merlin came into wide use powering a number of World War II aircraft to include the Hawker Hurricane, Supermarine Spitfire, De Havilland Mosquito, Vickers Wellington and the Avro Lancaster bomber. However, the engine had the greatest impact on a USAAF plane, the North American P-51 Mustang. The Merlin gave the P-51 a decided edge in speed over the axis fighters which opposed it and was produced under license by Packard in the United States. Some 160,000 units were manufactured with some Merlin's crossing over as power plants for military land vehicles.
In the post war world Rolls-Royce entered the jet age, which actually began during World War II through an exchange of production lines with Rover. Rolls-Royce made significant progress in both the design and production of gas turbine engines, the Dart and Tyne of particular importance. Both engines improved the transit time on short haul flights, with the Dart powering such aircraft as the AW 660 Argosy, Avro 748 and the Vickers Viscount. The larger Tyne engine powered the Breguet Atlantique, Transall C-160 and the Vickers Vanguard, as well as the SR.N4 hovercraft. Rolls-Royce jet engines powered the Hawker Siddeley Trident, BAC One-Eleven and Grumman Gulfstream II. Another turbojet, the Nene made Rolls-Royce famous in an unexpected way. In 1945 the Mig and Yakovlev design bureaus were instructed to produce jet fighters for the Soviet Air Force based on captured German designs. However, the German turbojets had short service lives and could not generate the necessary thrust for their next generation fighter designs. Surprisingly, Soviet engineers suggested acquiring the Rolls-Royce Nene centrifugal-flow compressor turbojets that could produce in excess of 5,000 lbs of thrust. But when Soviet designer Viktor Klimov visited Britain in 1946, the Labor government proved unexpectedly forthcoming, not grasping escalating Cold War tensions while attempting to pay Lend-Lease obligations to the United States. As a result, the United Kingdom sold dozens of Nene engines to the Soviets in 1946 and 1947, which gave the Soviet Union a leg up in early Cold War jet design.
Rolls-Royce has been a major player in aircraft engine history and has every intention to keep doing so well into the future. Rolls-Royce engines power the world's longest flights and some of the cheapest flights due to their low cost of operation. The world's longest flight, from Perth to London, is operated by Qantas on a Dreamliner using Rolls-Royce Trent engines. The east coast of the United States will soon be connected to Singapore via a nonstop flight by a Singapore Airlines A350 using the same engine, in addition to Dreamliner flights connecting the United States to Europe, proving the global reach of Rolls-Royce.