Napier originally had a research station at the Park Royal 1 (PR1) site but was moved to a new home in Liverpool next door Napier’s East Lancs Road site. It was constructed over a period from 1947 to 1953 and took the name Napier Research Station (NRS) and was widely acknowledged at the time to be the finest aero engine development facility in the whole of Europe.
This large and well equipped part of the business was constructed by EE and Napier in order to provide a uniquely powerful test and development facility for the new axial compressors and turbines being designed into new aero gas turbines at the time. The intention was to install sufficiently high steam turbine-driving power to accomodate compressors up to any foreseeable size enabling them to be tested and analysed. This was for in-house use and customers.
The NRS had three main blocks; centrally placed were offices for administration, test unit design and research data analysis. To one side was a block containing the Gas Turbine Plant for development work, a machine shop and an instrumentation shop. In the block on the other side was a complete Yarrow Steam Turbine Compressor Plant removed from a Hunt Class Royal Navy Destroyer, with two 300 psi superheated steam turbine drives of 10,000 hp. These could be linked together to provide 20,000 hp at up to 20,000 rpm when required and capable of driving any compressor then envisaged under full flow rate conditions.
Most routine compressor testing was carried out on a 1500hp electrically driven rig at a reduced inlet pressure. This unit had been moved from PR1 and featured a facility called the dynamic cascade for separately testing individual or groups of compressor stages. All incoming air to the rigs passed through banks of electrostatic filters to avoid pollution problems. The turbine rig was equally impressive, consisting of electrically driven Reavel compressors with combustion chambers upstream of the test section. Exhausters could be fitted downstream in order to simulate performance at altitude. Up to 80,00hp could be absorbed by the regenerative dynamometer. With so much electrical power swilling around, close liaison with the local power station was essential and testing took place mostly overnight or at weekends. An airflow lab, instrument lab and all the usual workshop facilities supported these rigs. In all around 250 people were employed there. Many key staff such as Alan Nevard (Research Station Manager), Ron Morris (Chief Aerodynamicist) and ‘Bunny’ Upton had been transferred from London.
The Napier Research Station was managed by Napier Acton’s aerodynamic designer Alan Nevard for the entire 15 years of the Station’s existence. He worked as Technical Assistant for Alfred John Penn who was in charge of Napier’s gas turbine development. Never looked after the aerodynamic design of both axial compressors and turbines.
The site was used for testing and developing axial compressors for Napier Oryx and Napier Gazelle power units and also the 6,000bhp E125 Napier Nomad I engine design. Later the NRS was involved in the development of the Napier Eland ten-stage axial compressor and three stage turbine capable of 12,500 rpm. This was tested and calibrated ib the big 20,000 hp steam driven test unit at NRS Liverpool.
The NRS enabled the Napier Company to be at the forefront of high efficiency gas turbine and compressor development, not only for aero-engines but also for Napier turbo-blower testing and development to meet competition from Brown Boveri who were offering quieter-running units, higher efficiencies and higher pressure ratios. Detail changes in the intake geometry, impeller inducer and diffuser ring produced significant improvements to performance without incurring major redesign costs.
It also carried out sub-contract work for other companies. For example NRS carried out development work for De Havilland’s Gyron Junior engine compressor. Being a big engine, the power output of the NRS steam plant was fully stretched and great care was required to avoid a compressor surge which could be both sudden and extremely violent.
Opportunities were also seen to pick up R & D work for the infant civil nuclear power industry, particularly as English Electric had joined a consortium to tender for first round of commercial ‘magnox’ stations. A number of small contracts arrived mainly involving the design of specialist gas circulators, and some involving the use of gas-lubricated bearings.
By 1961 Rolls-Royce had achieved its aim of absorbing all the remaining UK aero engine manufacturers. This included Napiers aero engine interests and saw Napier Eland and Napier Gazelle development work wound up. NRS was kept going for another couple of years before Rolls decided that it was surplus to requirements.