Wright Whirlwind

The Engine On Display

The Museum's Whirlwind came, not from an aeroplane, but from a medium tank, a "General Grant". Radial engines were popular as powerplants for tanks, because of their high power and robust design

Type / History

Type Air-cooled radial engine
Manufacturer Wright Aeronautical
Introduced 1923
Primary users USAF and Civilian

The Whirlwind was a very widely-used engine, having been powered famous aircraft like Charles Lindbegh's "Spirit of St Louis" in which he made the first solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, and in Charles Kingsford-Smith's Fokker Trimotor "Southern Cross".

Strictly, the Whirlwind was not one engine model, but a family of engines developed in sequence, starting with the R-540 and ending with the R-1200. Since the numbers here represent swept volume in cubic inches, a large growth in size can be seen to have accompanied the growth of this family.

The R-540 was a five-cylinder radial, and was first produced in 1929. It powered many light civil aircraft, like the Waco biplanes. Although it was the smallest of the family, it was not the first, that being the R-790 introduced in 1923. The version that powered the General Grant was the R-975.

Licenced copies of the Whirlwinds were also built by the Spanish Company Hispano-Suiza, and the Russian company Shetsov.


Cubic capacity: 3347 cu.in (54.56 L)
Maximum power: 2,200 HP (1,640 kW)
Weight: 2,670 lb (1,212 kg)