The F a brutal machine

The F-1 rocket engine is still the most powerful liquid-fuelled engine ever built, although the Russian-designed RD-170 that came a generation later approaches its output with greater efficiency. The F-1 began as an Air Force programme in 1955, which NASA then nurtured for its bigger missions. It was ideal as an engine for a first-stage cluster in a huge booster owing to its prodigious power, but its gestation was as difficult as any in the Apollo/Saturn story. In operation, a single engine consumed 3 tonnes of kerosene and liquid oxygen every second and produced a force that could balance 680 tonnes of mass. It soon became obvious to its developers that simply scaling up the design of contemporary engines was not going to work. Injecting so much propellant into a huge 90-centimetre chamber often led to brutal combustion instability that destroyed engine after engine. It took nearly five years of trial and error for engineers at the Rocketdyne company to tame the F-l to the point where a small bomb could be ignited within its combustion chamber and the resultant instability would dampen itself out within half a second.

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