James Allison

Image used with permission from the National Aviation Hall of Fame

James Allison

James Allison was 2 when his family moved to Indianapolis in 1874. Years later, he developed a lasting friendship with Indianapolis entrepreneur Carl Fisher. Together they started several companies, including the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Company where Mr. Allison developed race cars. Notably he hired Eddie Rickenbacker as a team driver before Rickenbacker became a WWI fighter pilot and leader of the famous 94th Aero Squadron.

At the onset of WWI, Allison formed the Allison Experimental Company which built the first Liberty V-12 aircraft motors widely used in military planes. His Indianapolis plant came to make the master models and tooling for the four companies which together built some 20,000 Liberty V-12s.  

Allison engineers made early contributions to increased reliability of early piston engines by developing the “Steel Backed Bronze Bearing,” which dramatically increased piston engine life. The bearing was used in the Wright engine powering Charles Lindberg’s 33 1/2 hour solo Atlantic crossing and, eventually by every Allied WWII aircraft-engine manufacturer. Those same engineers developed propeller reduction gear boxes to turn larger propellers and thus increase the range and load capability of Navy aircraft. 

Beyond engine parts, one Allison Company notable and historic achievements was the development of the legendary, 1,000 horsepower V-1710 aircraft engine. Over 70,000 V-1710 engines would be used in WWII-era aircraft, including the P-38 Lightning, P39 Airacobra, P-40 Tomahawk, P-51 Mustang and the P-82 Twin Mustang fighters.

After Jim’s untimely passing in 1928, the Allison company was acquired by his former driver and friend, Eddie Rickenbacker and, subsequently, by General Motors. The company, which now operates as Allison Transmission and Rolls-Royce Corporation, continues to have a significant impact on aviation history through engines and aircraft applications.

For his extraordinary achievement and service to aviation, Indiana, the nation and the world, James Allison is inducted into the Indiana Aviation Hall of Fame the 8th day of July 2020.