Rolls-Royce Kestrel XVI at the Royal Air Force Museum Cosford
Type Piston V-12 aero engine
Manufacturer Rolls-Royce Limited
First run Late 1926
Major applications Hawker Hart
Miles Master
Number built 4,750
Developed into Rolls-Royce Goshawk
Rolls-Royce Peregrine

The Kestrel or type F is a 21 litre (1,300 in³) 700 horsepower (520 kW) class V-12 aircraft engine from Rolls-Royce, their first cast-block engine and the pattern for most of their future piston-engine designs.[1] Used during the interwar period, it provided excellent service on a number of British fighters and bombers of the era, such as the Hawker Fury and Hawker Hart family, and the Handley Page Heyford. The engine also sold to international air forces, and it was even used to power prototypes of German military aircraft types that were later used during the Battle of Britain. Several Kestrel engines remain airworthy today.

Design and development


The Kestrel came about as a result of the excellent Curtiss D-12, one of the first truly successful cast-block engines. Earlier designs had used individually machined steel cylinders that were screwed onto a crankcase, whereas the cast-block design used a single block of aluminium that was machined to form cylinders. The result was both simpler to build as well as lighter and much stronger, requiring only an investment in new machining equipment.[2]

The D-12 was one of the most powerful engines of its era, and continued to exchange records with other contemporary high-power engines. No British company could offer anything like it, and when Fairey imported 50 of the type (renaming them as the Fairey Felix) the Air Ministry had enough and ordered Napier and Rolls-Royce to start work on cast-block engines of their own.

Arthur Rowledge, one of Napier's chief engineers and the designer of the Napier Lion engine, became fed up with management and left for Rolls.[3] In this one move any Napier design effort ended while Rolls' received a boost. Applying every known advance since the D-12 was introduced, Rowledge designed the new engine to use supercharging at all altitudes, allowing it to outperform naturally aspirated engines by as much as they were willing to increase the boost pressure.

Cooling system

One key advance in the Kestrel was the use of a pressurised cooling system. Water boils at 100 °C at standard atmospheric pressure, but this temperature decreases with altitude. Since the amount of heat carried out of the engine is a function of maximum coolant temperature and volume, and the coolant has to be kept below boiling point, an increasing amount of fluid had to be used, along with an increasingly large radiator to cool it. The solution was to pressurise the entire cooling system, thereby increasing the temperature at which it boils: not only does this prevent the decrease in cooling performance with altitude, it also increases the boiling point even at ground level. The Kestrel was built to maintain enough pressure to keep the boiling point at about 150 °C.[4]


Streamlined Kestrel installation of the Hawker Hind. The driving dog for a Hucks starter can be seen
Streamlined Kestrel installation of the Hawker Hind. The driving dog for a Hucks starter can be seen

The engine was first produced in 1927 at 450 hp (340 kW), which soon improved in the IB version to 525 hp (390 kW). This variant saw widespread use in the Hawker Hart family that was the mainstay of British air power during the early 1930s. However, it was not long before power output was increased dramatically; the V model provided 695 hp (520 kW) at 3,000 rpm with no basic change to the design, while the XVI used in the Miles Master delivered 670 hp (500 kW).

Messerschmitt also tested its first Messerschmitt Bf 109 V1 prototype, bearing German civilian registration D-IABI, with a Kestrel engine in 1935 as the German-designed intended engines were not yet ready. Junkers also used a Kestrel for the first prototype of the Ju 87 "Stuka" dive bomber. The Reich Air Ministry (RLM) acquired four Kestrel VI engines by trading Rolls-Royce a Heinkel He 70 Blitz as an engine testbed.[5]

Increased availability of higher octane aviation fuels in the late 1930s allowed the engine to be boosted to higher power levels without suffering from detonation, and the Kestrel eventually attained a power output of 720 hp (537 kW) in the XXX variant of 1940.[6]

Further developments of the Kestrel were the Goshawk and the Peregrine (and therefore the Vulture). In practice, development of the Peregrine and Vulture was troubled, and they were both cancelled with comparatively few built.


The Kestrel was produced in 40 distinct variants which can be divided into three main groups: normally aspirated, medium supercharged, and fully supercharged. One variant, the Kestrel VIII, was configured as a 'pusher engine' for the Short Singapore flying boat. Apart from supercharging, the variant differences centred on varying compression ratios and propeller reduction gearing.[7]


From Lumsden, the Kestrel may not be the main powerplant for these types.

Aircraft applications
The Kestrel powered Miles Master
The Kestrel powered Miles Master
Other applications


Several Rolls-Royce Kestrel engines remain in service, powering restored Hawker biplane types:

Engines on display

Preserved examples of the Rolls-Royce Kestrel engine are on public display at the:

Specifications (Kestrel V)

RR Kestrel VI with valve gear exposed
RR Kestrel VI with valve gear exposed

Data from Lumsden[12]

General characteristics



See also

Related development

Comparable engines

Related lists



  1. ^ Lumsden 2003, p.190.
  2. ^ Rubbra 1990, p.19.
  3. ^ Lumsden 2003, p.164.
  4. ^ Rubbra 1990, p.43.
  5. ^ This aircraft was instrumental in testing the Rolls-Royce PV-12, later to become the Rolls-Royce Merlin.
  6. ^ Lumsden 2003, p.196.
  7. ^ Lumsden 2003, pp.190-197.
  8. ^ Taylor 1974 p.232
  9. ^ James 1971 p.203
  10. ^ Grey 1972, p. 96c
  11. ^ The Shuttleworth Collection - Hawker Demon
  12. ^ Lumsden 2003, p.195.


  • Erfurth, Helmut. Junkers Ju 87 (Black Cross Volume 5). Bonn, Germany: Bernard & Graefe Verlag, 2004. ISBN 1-85780-186-5.
  • Grey, C.G. (1972). Jane's All the World's Aircraft 1938. London: David & Charles. ISBN 0-7153-5734-4.
  • Lumsden, Alec. British Piston Engines and their Aircraft. Marlborough, Wiltshire: Airlife Publishing, 2003. ISBN 1-85310-294-6.
  • Rubbra, A.A.Rolls-Royce Piston Aero Engines - A Designer Remembers. Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust. Historical Series no 16. 1990. ISBN 1-872922-00-7
  • Taylor, H.O. (1974). Fairey Aircraft since 1915. London: Putnam Publishing. ISBN 0-370-00065-X.
  • James, Derek N. (1971). Gloster Aircraft since 1917. London: Putnam Publishing. ISBN 0-370-00084-6.

Further reading