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Ralph Denning interviewed by Thomas Lean

Denning, Ralph, 1925- (speaker, male; interviewee)
2012-02-06, 2012-02-21- 2012-03-20, 2012-04-17


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  • Title:
    Ralph Denning interviewed by Thomas Lean
  • Contributor: Denning, Ralph, 1925-; Lean, Thomas
  • Other Titles:
    Collection title: An Oral History of British Science

  • Rights: British Library
  • Description:
    Track 1 [56:53][Interview One: 6 February 2012] Born Cardiff 17 December 1925, Ralph Murch, family connections to Murch; English grandparents who migrated to Cardiff in 19th century coal rush; father's work in patent fuel industry; details of patent fuel's use by Scott of Antarctic; parents born in Cardiff, attending Canton High School; origins of Denning family around Frome-Radstock and family name according to book by judge Denning; mother, Palmer family from Bristol. [03:05] Remarks on family: mother, kind, painter; father, sports man, rugby, tennis, gambler; large family, many aunts and uncles; parents named Rowena and Herbert William; mother a gentle soul, artistic, formerly teacher; life in Cardiff, wartime bombing; growing up in countryside on outskirts of Cardiff, outdoor pursuits. [07:10] Remarks on: self as a child, worked hard at school, sporty. [07:45 pause] Remarks on: playing squash, running, rugby; father good rugby player; father's experience as First World War gunner; father's work as patent fuel works manager for Gueret, Llewelyn and Merrett, then Powell Duffryn, then the Coal Board; father's outgoing personality; family card games at Christmas. [10:55] Comments on childhood hobbies: making model Spitfires out of balsa wood during war and designing flying models from scratch; visiting Empire Air Days in 1930s at Pengam Moors airfield; joining Air Training Corps [ATC] school squadron, becoming senior NCO; aircraft at Empire Air Days, Puss Moth; ATC activities, rifles, navigation, Morse code, course at Cranwell; considering joining air force, learning to fly postwar, solo in an Auster; wartime atmosphere of interest in aeroplanes, akin to later generations' interest in computing; engineering hobbies as child, casting lead models, wood work; schooling division into arts and science. [18:20] Remarks on Canton High School: good school, good teachers; anecdote about future boss disguising fact he had a degree when applying to work at Armstrong-Whitworth, changing importance of degree education; discipline from teachers; anecdotes about tricks played on teachers; wartime access to guns leading to a school friend shooting a policeman. [22:00] Remarks on: seeing Bristol burning in war; bombing of Cardiff; home damaged by bomb detonation; description of home; tennis courts and First War tank in Victoria Park; boyhood excitement over war; holidays at Kenfig, mines and oil along coast; mother not enjoying war; appeals of hands on activities to him, woodworking, parents putting up with him; anecdote about exploding test tube at home. [27:30] Remarks on: father's interest in sport; mother's paintings; RD recent interest in painting; parents attending church; RD feelings on religion, conflict between science and religion; RD Christened and confirmed in Llandaff Cathedral; reading cosmology in school, Eddington; evening classes in philosophy at Bristol with Stephen Korner; recollections on Eddington, red shift, RD puzzled by Einstein, daughter studying Cosmology at Durham. [33:20]

    Track 1 [cont' from 33:20] Remarks on learning about engineering: Parsons steam turbines at University; learning about aerodynamics at London; aeronautics at college then engines with Stanley Hooker; linking industry with experience from Ministry of aircraft production; science in school; interest in art in retirement, painting Gargantua hotel in Chinon; school science lessons, anecdotes about class helping master with geometry and interfering with biology master's tadpole tank, practical chemistry experiments, playing tricks on masters with explosive nitro-iodine. [39:50] Remarks on university: good marks in school science leading to two year short course; people being directed to war work, such as mining; description of Cardiff University, engineers located in old buildings; wartime university courses; feelings about going to university; subjects on mechanical engineering course, steam engines, stressing, structures, strength of materials; enjoying fluid mechanics, later studying aerodynamics with small wind tunnel; [45:55] description of classes, much copying from blackboard; homework; description of practical workshop class activities; thoughts on career direction, call to London for interview in Thames House; [49:55] university lecturers, steam turbine expert, contrast to later experiences in engine design; student life, parties at School of Domestic Science; Cardiff University society for past engineering students meetings at Gregynog; university friends, Omri Davies who later worked at Rolls Royce Derby; no university society memberships; student union facilities; lack of aeroplanes in university syllabus, few lecturers in subject, later efforts by Roy Fedden in setting up Cranfield College.

    Track 2 [1:01:12] Remarks on childhood: sister Christine; family life as a youth, making own toys and amusements, family gatherings, darts, cards; current hobbies; outdoors activities in childhood, birdsnesting, parents allowing him much freedom, cutting trees down for bonfires; 1930's police reactions to apple scrumping; anecdote about being fined for cycling without lights on return from acting in a play; [07:15] holidays with extended family, Campbells steamer from Cardiff around Bristol channel; anecdote about a car buried in mud at Weston-super-Mare; fishing with uncle, staying in Bungalow on Pyle and Kenfig golf course, trips to Sker rocks, Margam Beach; mushrooming; anecdote about drinking in a pub on holiday after hours; parent's reactions to RD going to university, mother's teaching education. [11:50] Remarks on: career choices after university made by Ministry of Labour. Comments on 1943 vacation spent working at de Havilland Hatfield: description of factory; anecdote about working too hard RD installing Merlin engines in Mosquitoes; description of making bomb doors in wood detail shop; methods of making Mosquito from wood; description of installing engines onto planes; [18:40] limited training at Hatfield; working with RAF corporal; kind treatment from Hatfield staff, women in wood detail shop; tools and tool shops; value of experience in learning how to fit aeroplane together. [22:10] Remarks on: university funding; school fees. [23:00] Story about interview for Ministry Aircraft Production [MAP] with Clifford Moore, staring work on 2 August 1945. [24:25] Remarks on early work at MAP optimising performance of Canberra bomber: disagreements with designer WE Petter; unknown German work on wing design; high aspect straight wing limiting Mach number; postwar bomber design considerations; disagreements with aircraft companies; anecdote about prewar discussions between ministry and de Havilland over high speed unarmed bomber, the Mosqutio and details of arrangement between Wilfrid Freeman and Lord Portal for control of Air Ministry. [30:55] Remarks on: anecdote about operational research pioneer Henry Tizard's arguments with Frederick Lindemann at Churchill's cabinet meetings; limited exposure to senior civil servants, learning more about subject later. [34:15] Remarks on working at MAP: living in Clapham Common; working in Thames House South, built prewar by ICI; description of office, working on bombers and transports next, to Handel Davies' fighter department; details of Handel Davies' career at Farnborough and British Aerospace, anecdote about meeting him later in Chippenham; anecdote about N.E.Rowe Director of Technical Development; RD bosses, helicopter expert 'Loopy' Liptrot, and deputy Clifford Moore; history of helicopters and Cierva autogyro. [39:05]

    Track 2 [cont' from 39:05] Remarks on: others working around big table in office, C.P. O’Dowd, Vernon Naylor and Andrew Mitchell, formerly of Farnborough where he worked with structuralists AR Collar and Walter Tie; flat hierarchy; description of work estimating performance of aeroplanes; Petter's design of Canberra wings after Welkin experience; definition of wing aspect ratio; meeting Petter's subordinates Freddy Page and Ray Creasey; differences in opinion between MAP and Petter over Canberra design; advantages of swept wings; history of swept wing concept, Farnborough chief aerodynamicists Glowart and Douglas missing Adolf Busemann filing patents in Germany. [46:40] Remarks on life working for MAP: temporary civil servants longer hours than permanent civil servants; living in Clapham Common; £205 salary; interesting collection of people at lodging house, including Imperial student Frank Roe, who RD later encountered as manager of Warton aircraft factory; story about of RD later work testing Olympus on a high altitude Canberra flown by Walter Gibb, whilst RD worked for Stanley Hooker [52:20] Remarks on: life in boarding house in 15 Lavender Gardens; anecdote about alleged haunting of lodgings at Hatfield by Nell Gwyn; anecdote about the name of Mrs Ashby's lodging house. [54:10] Remarks on work at MAP office: arriving promptly to avoid cut off; morning coffee at Lyons coffee house on Horseferry Road; lunches at various Westminster canteens; anecdote about glass cutter salesman and strongman at Strutton Ground; walking around Westminster; working Saturday mornings; office activities, comparing tabulations of aircraft data such as those for Brabazon committee; Brabazon committee aircraft, Avro jet airliner, Comet, Armstrong Whitworth Apollo powered Armstrong-Siddeley Mamba, Dove, Vickers Viscount, derby manager Lord Hives.

    Track 3 [15:30] Remarks on doing performance calculations: RD returning from Germany with long slide rule; description of using slide rule; description of estimating performance of aircraft, aerodynamic data sheets produced by Royal Aeronautical Society and Farnborough; outline of early career c. 1945-47; later use of Curta calculators and Brunsviga's at Bristol. [05:40] Comparison of pleasant working conditions in MAP office in London and uncomfortable conditions in offices at Number 2 factory. [06:55] Remarks on: secrecy of work at MAP; surprise at his sudden appearance at heart of military procurement; criticisms of postwar procurement, Brabazon 1 airliner, Lancastrian, Britannia, not meeting wants of airlines they were designed for or the international market; feelings of frustration at poor procurement decisions; [11:00] RD work on Concorde noise with NGTE [National Gas Turbine Establishment]; differing priorities of nationalised industries and government causing problems in procurement; British Eagle airline's aircraft procurement; RD appalled by procurement decisions. Story about considering becoming a permanent civil servant, before discovering he would be sent to the Watford Road Research Laboratory.

    Track 4 [Interview Two: 21 February 2012] [36:54] Story about being sent to visit facilities in Germany 1946: Arriving at Millbank around end of war; Clifford Moore sending RD to Germany to void postwar redundancies in civil service; preparation, military rank; flying out from Farnborough, after almost missing plane; customs at Blackbush; flight in Hudson. [03:50] Comments on Operation Surgeon mission to Germany: description of location of Volkenrode institute in Brunswick; camouflaged installations in woods fooling RAF in war; hunting hares on airfield; establishment for aerodynamics, engines and projectiles; accommodation in V2 building; driving around airfield in former German ambassador to Britain's car; purpose of Operation Surgeon to cut out German technology and return to British research establishments; Russians nearby; [09:50] visits to Berlin with WJ Stern; conditions in Berlin; formal relations with Russians; description of civil servant WJ Stern, early disbeliever of jet engines. [14:35] Further remarks on Volkenrode: RAF support; anecdote about mess hi-jinx; facilities, low speed and high-Mach number wind tunnels; large wind tunnel, used to test V1 pulse jet motor; use of tunnels to test submarines, adapted to correct Froude number; impressions of scale of German facilities compared to British; rapid absorption of German knowledge by UK and USA. [21:15] Remarks on background of Operation Surgeon: Sir Roy Fedden, designer of successful pre-war Jupiter engine, fall out with Bristol over knighthood and Stafford Cripps appointing him special technical adviser to MAP; Fedden's visit to postwar Germany; run by intelligence services; aims of acquiring prototype aeroplanes, helping German scientists write up work, translate research, dismantle and remove facilities. [25:40] Remarks on RD activities in Germany, editing translations of documents from Germans, visits to Berlin with WJ Stern to collect things; removing engines to Cranfield, such as Wankel and Lutz engines; German research conditions and extent of work on jet engines; German description to put advanced aircraft to ill use; German aircraft wrecks on airfields; running of German test facilities; US removal of Munich facilities to Tullahoma, along with personnel such as Gerhard Neumann and Hans von Ohain; RD meeting Frank Whittle at Bristol, when he was visiting Stanley Hooker and later in USA; [33:40] Whittle's favour for centrifugal compressor compressors, encouraging use in Spey successor; differences between development of axial and centrifugal compressors, necessity of buried installations for centrifugal compressor engines.

    Track 5 [48:18] Remarks on Germany: working with German scientists, such as Küchemann and Busemann, to produce technical papers; Buseman's later career in Sweden working on Saab Tunnan, superseeded by Draken; poor state of UK wind tunnels postwar; relations between British and German scientists; rapid progress of German wartime jet and rocket aircraft research; [06:10] submarine tests of wind tunnel; RD impressions of German jet engines, compared to British efforts and limitations of scientific civil service; current limitations of British defence policy, retirement of Harriers; advanced nature of German jet research; [09:10] life in Volkenrode, weekend entertainments around Bad Harzburg, Goslar, Hartz Mountains; limited contact with German population; working arrangements with German scientists; spacious accommodation; Boeing aerodynamicists George Schairer and von Kármán's previous visit to Volkenrode when it was overun by American army, impact on American B-47 and F-86 aircraft development; visits from Americans and United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration [UNRRA]. [15:25] Remarks on: nearby Russian border at Helmstedt, low level flights along Mittelland Canal; roaming bands on Allied investigators; anecdote about RD being sent out to collect a guidance expert to prevent his capture by the Russians; precautions over secrecy of work, parents limited knowledge of his work; RD bartering cigarettes for Rolleiflex and Voigtländer cameras in Germany; generous cigarette and alcohol supplies to the mess; food in the mess in Germany; anecdote about injury at a mess game; RD buying slide rule and cameras with cigarettes; Deutsch Mark and German currency changes; poor quality of life for German civilians postwar, displaced persons. [23:45] Remarks on colleagues in Germany: Martin Cox from RAE, who married German secretary; wind tunnel operator Ralph Maltby, from Farnborough [26:00] Remarks on: RD not appreciating all that he was seeing in Germany at the time, long term significance of German work for aeronautics, such as V2 rocket as Scud missile; development of solid state electronics since war, large avionics of TSR2; RD specialism in performance aerodynamics in Germany; return from Germany in March 1946; RD leaving civil service rather join Road Research laboratory; RD work on Canberra and arrival of brochures V-bombers and Short Insurance bomber when he returned; RD duties at RDT1 calculating performance of aeroplanes at MAP; [32:30] RD amazement at Vulcan bomber, compared to Victor and Valiant; Barry Haines and Dietrich Küchemann's work on delta wing of Vulcan; RD keeping in touch with Barry Haines, who later lead Aeronautical Research Association; advance of new swept wing designs over Canberra, designed by Petter of Westland who had his own ideas for wing aspect ratio; RD work on testing Olympus engine on Canberra at Bristol; specification of Canberra and long service career; [38:50] extent of knowledge that new bomber designs would be carrying atom bomb; RD thoughts on use of atom bomb; letter from Stanley Hooker offering RD a job; after David Needs suggested him. [42:45] Remarks on RD return to Cardiff university to complete his degree: conditions at Cardiff, drawing offices, fire watching in war; course content, taking in various engineering topics; RD enjoying mathematics; RD friend mentioning him to Stanley Hooker at Bristol, who offered him a job; RD desire to return to work in aviation, lack of interest in some subjects; benefits of returning to university.

    Track 6 [57:09] Remarks on early work at Bristol in 1949: meeting friend Reg Gray; Reg Gray's background, including brother Tom awarded posthumous VC and another killed on HMS Courageous; description of Reg Gray; RD being assigned to installation department; Canberra altitude record. [03:40] Remarks on trying to sell Proteus turboprop in USA: economic considerations against re-engining older aircraft; description of Proteus and previous Theseus engines, icing problems; use of Proteus in Britannia, flow problems resolved by Bristol at Patchway; use of wool tufts to show flow over wing; [08:20] RD work on conical spinner for propellers, influence of RAE report by John Seddon, RD becoming friends with Seddon; details of work of installation department as liaison between engine and aircraft companies, potential interface problems, intake development; links between aircraft and engine companies, RD sharing student accomodation with later Warton manager; [13:40] working with English Electric, Bristol, Supermarine, Vickers, Blackburn at Brough, de Havilland; complicated engine installation issues on Concorde; [16:45] differences between aircraft companies; visiting aircraft companies across Europe and USA, such as Fokker, Macchi, Piaggio, Marcel Dassault, Sud Aviation, Breguet, Boeing, Douglas; RD friendship with Boeing's supersonic transport [SST] developer Walter Swan; further details on selling Proteus to US companies, estimating aircraft performance, RD visiting USA in 1950s. [21:25] Comments on RD meeting wife in 1956 in Montreal: RD's wife job as Bristol Canada's manager; RD's wife's military family, including Cornwall-Jones of Churchill’s war cabinet. [24:53] Remarks on: impressions of USA, food, breakfast; comparisons of 1950s austerity Britain and USA; RD rejecting joining brain drain. [26:40] Comments on working at Bristol in 1950s: technical offices in overheated factory; Whittle House offices; description of technical offices; anecdote about paper covered desks; computing facilities, thermionic valve computers, slide rules, Curta machines, mainframe computer; anecdote about RD not getting a PC in the 1980s, [32:00 loud sneeze] despite being responsible for computing; specialists running mainframe; differences made by computing, rapid produced brochures. [34:20] Comments on development of engine design programs: bottom up process putting engineering rules into software; Bristol advance on Derby, need to keep software secret; use of program to develop comparisons. [38:55] Story about development of RJ500 engine: developments for Boeing 737, lank of funds after RR Bankruptcy in 1971, RD and Stanley Hooker visiting Japan to form consortium to develop RJ500 engine, potential use in Airbus A320 leading to Pratt and Whitney collaboration on V2500; subsequent split of civil and military work at Derby and Bristol. [44:00] Comments on: Stanley Hooker, technically ruthless but nice with people, easy to work with; Pierre Young, half French, engine director of Concorde, hard nut in technical matters, good companion, RD flat mate, enjoyed staying at best hotels such as Hotel George Cinq, company policy of first class travel; [48:50] Gordon Lewis, compressor expert, aerodynamics of Theseus and blades of Proteus, preliminary Olympus designs; RD long career as project engineer; multiple RR project offices. [51:35] Remarks on working at Bristol: RD visiting other companies much; Stratocruiser flights to USA, luxury on flights; rough conditions in shadow factory; interests in job, aviation interest of day, comparable to later interest in computing of children; attraction to aeroplanes.

    Track 7 [43:49] [Interview Three: 20 March 2012] Remarks on interaction with overseas companies: trying to sell civil version of Olympus engine to Americans, in competition with Rolls-Royce; military funding for civil engines; commercial meetings in Boeing, Douglas, Convair; RD visiting uncle, a US Army Colonel and friend of Douglas McArthur, in USA; anecdote about uncle's immigration status; favourable American attitudes to British engines; Derby winning more business; [06:10] interaction with Pratt & Whitney [P&W] but not General Electric [GE]; later attempted collaboration with GE; RD interaction with French SNECMA on Concorde Engines in 1960s; history of SNECMA; interaction with Turbomeca; Curtis Wright's problems building modified Bristol engine. [10:45] Remarks on: attitudes toward jet engines at Bristol, Roy Fedden's departure from Bristol leading company leaderless until Stanley Hooker arrived, Stanley Hooker importing senior staff Lionel Howarth and Bob Plum from Derby. [13:05] Comments on Proteus engine: problems in engine compressor causing problems with icing, used in Britannia, peek lopping power stations; ; description of marinisation for Vosper Thornycroft Brave class torpedo boats, RD designing the intake system, test-rig at Patchway. [18:45] Remarks on: design work on marinisation need for knowledge of air flow dynamics; first gas turbine peek lopping power station at Princeton; 1950s installation of Olympus engines in Hams Hall power station, creating first combined cycle gas turbine; adaptation of Proteus for power station work with new intake; short intakes on Harrier aircraft, developed with Hawkers; Concorde convergent-divergent nozzles and ejector nozzles to cope with varying airflows in subsonic and supersonic flight; [27:00] complicated nature of Concorde project involving various groups; reasons RD became involved with air intake design, previous work on aerodynamic installations; work of installation engineer in matching engine to aircraft; cooling of engine installations using injector nozzles or blanketing; need for interchangeability between different manufacturers' engines; Refrasil blankets to deal with high temperatures from jets, Barnes Wallace's son's work on cooling jet installations; buried engine installations, as on Comet and V-bombers, necessitating close work between engine and aircraft designers, compared to current podded engine practice; [35:30] Whittle's favour of centrifugal compressor engines necessitating buried installations; eventual realisation that axial compressor was the way forward; RD discussions with Whittle over axial and centrifugal compressors, high regard of Whittle in the 1950s among jet designers, RD contact with Whittle in 1960s. [40:00] Remarks on fitting an engine to an aircraft: problems on Britannia as designers hadn't anticipated jet thrust problems; aircraft company accepting performance; P&W just selling engine, Bristol building relationship with aircraft companies to develop installation; close relations with aircraft company designers, such as Walter Swan of Boeing.

    Track 8 [25:20] Remarks on Harrier background: supersonic P1154 aircraft, scrapped later Dennis Healy's defence cuts leading to subsonic Harrier; agreed Ministry and Hawkers specification of Harrier, quick entry to service; US Marine use of Harrier; development of Sea Harrier for Royal Navy, as used in Falklands War. [06:05] Description of career: early work at ministry of aircraft production, Brabazon, visit to Germany; return to college; entering Bristol Engine Company, work on engines for Britania, Brabazon, Orpheus engine for Fiat G.91 and Folland Gnat; Stanley Hooker, Olympus engine for Vulcan, engines for CL-44 Short Belfast; Wibbault's ideas for Harrier engine; first Pegasus engine in 1959; [10:55] attempts to use Pegasus in different aircract, bypass engine version of Pegasus; 1960s development of Concorde ideas, importance of Farnborough, occupying much of RDs time in 1960s; culmination of Harrier work; collaboration with SNECMA on AFVG M45 engine; transformation of M45 into civil engine for German VFW 614; [16:55] amalgamation of RR and Bristol, problems and internal competition; RR 1971 bankruptcy and consequent financial problems meaning that RD's schemes went undeveloped, such as the RB401 and RJ500; Airbus engine collaboration with P&W, split of military and civil engines between Bristol and Derby, and consequent success of engine; large fan engines needing gear boxes, as tested on M45-SDO2 in 1070s; company policy of retirement at 62.

    Track 9 [49:30] Remarks on finishing career with developments leading to Eurofighter Typhoon engines. [00:40] Remarks on Pegasus engine: NATO requirement for aircraft that didn't need runway; Michele Wibault's scheme for engine with 4 rotating compressors, Gordon Lewis idea to use 1 big compressor and rotate sets of nozzles; Bristol and Hawker's coming up with idea of front and rear rotating nozzles; Kestrel predecessor to Harrier, NATO and US support; Sidney Camm and Stanley Hooker teams assigned to work on engine; solution for need for short intakes; problems with hot air being drawn into engine; [08:00] RD involvement with water injection system and high pressure bleed on demand system; importance of close relationship with aircraft company in producing an aircraft quickly; RD involvement with Pegasus as installation expert and later head of new projects after 1960s work of P1127 and Concorde. [11:40] Description of Pegasus: split of airflow; vectoring of output to split thrust between rear and front nozzles; air flow through engine; working of engine. [16:45] Further remarks on Pegasus: need for high thrust and high temperatures; Michele Wibault, French not taking up idea of thrust vectoring in favour of lift engines, as utilised on Dassault Mirage IIIV aircraft; [20:20] RD jobs as installation engineer, model testing in wind tunnel acquired from Armstrong-Siddeley; tests conducted with NGTE at Pyestock near Farnborough; financial arrangements between MWDP and Ministry; RD ministry opposite number Martin Cox; use of wind tunnel in Pegasus testing to help decide jet nozzle positions; [24:57] use of wind tunnel results; wind direction indicator for Harrier pilot; RD struck by increased difficulty for pilot in vertical take off aircraft; anecdote about Harrier bowing at Farnborough show; opinions on potential use for VTOL aircraft; Viffing, Vectoring In Forward Flight using nozzles; close interaction between Bristol and Hawkers, RD regular visits to Ralph Hooper, John Alan and Sidney Camm at Kingston. [31:20] Comments on inventive nature of Hawkers and meetings at Hawkers: Sidney Camm and Ralph Hooper; close cooperation to solve problems; use of water injection to boast Pegasus. [36:10] Further remarks on Pegasus: improvements in thrust; viewing P1127 test flights; Kestrel Tripartite Evaluation Squadron; French continuing to press for lift engine approach to VTOL; RD work on nozzle testing and control system; scheme to boast power with plenum chamber burning and fifth engine nozzle, developed with help of a Berlin professor. [41:40] Remarks on department: other staff; duties of other engineers; RD position in hierarchy, managers Freddy Pitts and chief performance engineer Pierre Young; RD duties as assistant chief performance engineer; number of engineers in offices; [46:20] women staff, usually mathematicians; use of computer to optimise engine design; mathematics support in thermodynamics and aerodynamics;

    Track 10 [29:31] Remarks on: formative years in early career, impact of new jet engines on careers; longevity of piston engines. [02:35] Remarks on working at Bristol in 1960s: enjoyable thanks to good boss Stanley Hooker, who had previously worked under gas dynamicist GI Taylor at Oxford; gas dynamics importance to jet design c1945; challenges of designing an early jet engine, drawbacks of centrifugal compressor, modern developments such as lighter materials, problems of large size of jet engines; [08:55] 1960s key requirement of thrust to weight ratio, compared to current practice. [10:20] Remarks on working in 1960s and 70s: spending much time travelling and writing up notes; performance related pay to retain staff; RD administration responsibilities; qualities of good staff, balance of creativity and company line; liaison between Derby and Bristol; setting example to staff; relaxed working atmosphere; personnel management; technical meetings, writing papers at home; [18:30]life outside work, squash, walking, interdepartmental sports. [19:40] Comments on: development of engine control systems; Pegasus control system, need to avoid surges in compressor. [25:20] Comments on patenting: patent on control system with Ian Mill; protective patents; company patent agents. [27:40] Remarks on interest in job in 1960s, successes, RB401 performance matching predictions.

    Track 11 [4:20] Remarks about Concorde supersonic boom noise: exercises with explosives: concerns over noise; idea of dual cycle engine to reduce noise; problems of supersonic bombers, such as American Hustler.

    Track 12 [Interview Four: 17 April 2012][34:39] Remarks on international projects and Concorde: RD on Supersonic Transport Aircraft Committee from 1966; Government lead for Concorde under James Hamilton; possibility of M-wing wing design to fly around Mach 1.2, Farnborough wind tunnel limitations around speed of sound; [05:00] supersonic bomber programme, partly designed by German scientists, results fed into programme, Avro, Bristol, Handley-Page projects; transfer of supersonic bomber personnel to supersonic transport [SST]; importance of German scientist Dietrich Küchemann to Concorde; limitations of British wind tunnels compared to German efforts sparked by Busemann; RD on engine intake subcommittee; work on government contracts studying nozzles and intakes; debates over approach to nozzles, work with Snecma after Bristol merged into Bristol Siddeley; Snecma purchase of Pratt & Whitney nozzle design; thrust reverser arrangement for nozzle; [11:50] difficulties designing an efficient supersonic/subsonic nozzle; static tests of SNECMA nozzle revealing problems, and subsequent need for integrated team; details of nozzle design requirements, airflow, static pressures, convergent and divergent flow, pressure ratios in nozzles; [17:45] fears that inefficient nozzle design would make it impossible for aircraft to cross Atlantic; debates between ministry and industry scientists over nozzle design; solution of air-bleed from front of engine used to expand supersonic flow, leading to over 100% nozzle efficiency; decision to make a square nozzle; competition between companies for nozzle designs tested in France; [21:05] arrangements to produce back end out of honey comb material; risks of tiny loss of thrust to fuel efficiency. [22:50] Remarks on Bristol approach to nozzle design: anecdote about engines glowing during night tests, Bristol building rear of TSR2; Refrasil heat-insulating blankets to protect aircraft from engine heat; bled air used for making smoother supersonic flow. [25:45] Remarks on: RD position in process; making models; use of thrust rigs to measure thrust; transfer of results to Government; Supersonic Transport Aircraft Committee meetings at Farnborough, later collaboration with French at instigation of Prime Minister Ted Heath; others in Farnborough meetings; RD views of feasibility of super sonic passenger plane, need for improvements from supersonic bomber intakes; Concorde's box shaped variable intakes; material choices; [31:10] engine design considerations at different speeds, with differing intake, engine and nozzle sizes; ideal of Mach 2.2 for a supersonic transport.

    Track 13 [35:08] Remarks on Concorde: RD early views on prospects for supersonic transport aircraft [SST], problem of sonic boom noise; opinions of colleagues on SST; postwar interest in speed of aircraft above other things, current concerns for fuel economy; noise rules and Concorde, RD and NGTE deciding that Concorde would be no noisier than loudest subsonic transport; [05:15] meetings at Supersonic Aircraft Committee; important role of civil servants in aircraft policy as hangover from wartime, RD experience in MAP deciding what aircraft would be supported by government; having to talk carefully in committee meetings, anecdote about talking to Warlow Davies [08:15] Remarks on differences between industrial and government scientists: political interference, 1960s Labour defence cuts that led to production of Harrier in Kingston marginal constituency instead; civil servant Jock Cohen writing specification for Harrier at short notice; rapid production of Harrier. [13:40] Remarks on: RD involvement in P1154 engine installation, problems with hot gas ingestion; US Marine Corps favour for Harrier; TSR2 strike aircraft; installation of Olympus in TSR2, shaft breakage problems caused by Bell mode; viability of TSR2, alternative of Buccaneer; TSR2 cancellation, political concerns involving Bristol and Rolls Royce competition. [19:35] Remarks on Rolls Royce takeover of Bristol: RD learning about takeover at a conference; Reginald Verdon Smith's plans for Bristol expnasion with help of Stanley Hooker after Roy Fedden's absence; political considerations favouring Rolls Royce Derby, re-engining of F-4 aircraft; changes at Bristol after merger, competition over projects; Derby and Bristol differences in VSTOL aircraft concepts, AA Griffths idea of multiple lift jets; working with former rivals; long term benefits of interchange of personel for company; impact of change on RD, reporting to multiple bosses; [mic adjustments] difficulties with merger at time; [27:05] 1971 Rolls Royce bankruptcy limiting funding; need for large engine company to compete with American companies, collaboration of European companies with American ones; Stanley Hooker's career path from Rolls Royce Barnoldswick to Bristol; Postwar longevity and decline of piston engines, Blackburn Beverley, Nord Noratlas, Brabazon; Hooker's interest in gas dynamics, superchargers for Spitfires and Mustang fighters, suitability for early jet engine work; Hooker's transfer from Barnoldswick to Derby; Hooker's reactions to merger; RD enjoying working with Hooker.

    Track 14 [44:38] Remarks on Concorde noise: RD assigned by Stanley Hooker to set up a noise panel, including acoustic expert Shôn Ffowcs Williams and professors from Manchester and Southampton; big problem of jet noise; reasons for external consultants, noise rig tests at Aston Down using Rotordyne rotor; value of placing jets next to each other in reducing noise; recruiting experts for noise panel; Ansty acoustic test site; understanding how blade number and placing between rotors and stators factors affected noise; developing understanding of how to design a low noise engine; relation between noise and velocity. [06:15] Remarks on: RD strongest memories of Concorde period; reasons for Concorde having a pure jet engine, difficulties quieting supersonic engine noise; issues involved in designing a nozzle; methods for measuring nozzle flow; compressor design issues; [11:40] difficulty of Concorde engine work, issues of working with supersonic flow; supersonic flow considerations for engine design; RD splitting time between work on Concorde engine, with time in Europe, and VSTOL work, with meetings at Kingston and Warton; English Electric work on VSTOL; methods of splitting time between different projects; differences between challenges of Harrier and Concorde, slowest and fastest engines. [18:15] Remarks on differences in military and civil programmes: safety concerns; different books of rules; jet inlet concerns over gun mountings. [20:45] Remarks on working day: working Saturdays and long working hours during MAP work in wartime; lengthy working hours at Bristol, interest in job, travelling hours; family reactions to job, father expecting him to work in coal industry. [23:50] Remarks on children's occupations: son computing career second son's becoming stock broker's mining analyst after failing to get job with mining supplier Gullick Dobson; third son joining BP and British Gas after leaving Rolls Royce apprenticeship; daughter studying cosmology at Durham and becoming web designer; younger daughter studying at Loughborough and becoming Hong Kong based asset manager. [27:45] Remarks on: fitting family life around work; gardening; enjoyments in travel for work; travel for Concorde program within Europe to Turn, Paris, other collaborations with MTU, Fiat and Volvo Flygmotor; overseas meetings with Snecma and Sud Aviation; later collaborative programmes, Tornado, Typhoon, M45, Spey replacement; meetings with Snecma, engineering decisions, meetings in English as French wanted to improve English; French engineers, such as Debreese. [34:35] Remarks on French engine companies: French practice of scientists in civil service compared to British practice; RD impressions of Snecma, formerly Gnome-Rhône, German help in producing Atar jet engine, wartime collaboration of Gnome-Rhône; better French management by engineering elite; rivalries between different engine companies; effective collaboration with Snecma, partly due to Snecma's lack of knowledge of jet engines. [40:35] Remarks on American Supersonic Aircraft programme: RD friendship with Boeing manager Walter Swan; decision to adopt 2.6 Mach number leading low pressure ratio turbojet; American opinions to Concorde programme, deficiencies in US supersonic bomber programme; RD conversations with Walter Swan; unsuccessful work work toward re-engining Boeing 737 in 1970s; lack of funding in Rolls Royce in 1970s.

    Track 15 [1:16:58] Remarks on post of Chief Engineer Advanced Projects from 1968: duties of post; performance, design and noise offices; building a team to produce new project designs, which may or may not be followed up. [02:25] Remarks on first project on RB401 small business jet turbofan: few turbofans on market at that point; technical reasons for approach of efficient small bypass engine; reasons for targeting business jet market, Hawker HS125 business jet powered by Viper; liaisons with customers over requirements; development of engine design computer software to find optimum desig. [07:30] Comments on Compass computer design system: based on information from previous engine designs; ability to produce bottom up design; ability to produce parametric engine studies of a series of engines; significance of system compared to existing statistical systems; Compass engine design system; [section closed]; [13:25] mixed reactions of experts feeding knowledge into system; replacement of varying hand produced methods with systematised computer approach; NGTE's Frank Armstrong's desire for system at NGTE; [15:50] computer use in RB401 development, engine working as specified on first run; outputs from computer, performance linked to geometry of engine; computer drawing engine outline, passed to designer to work out practical details; allowing right design fundamentals from start; accuracy of first engine to design plan; discussion with engine companies and quick reformulation of design; comparisons with previous practice; individual specialists asking for results. [21:50] Remarks on Chief Engineer Advanced Projects post: previous experience in engine design; RD enjoying post, anecdote about boss's envy; enjoying doing something new; activities, projecting new engines, finding customer requirements, performance, management activities; [27:00] RD Travel to US, Canada, Germany, Sweden, Italy, France, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, China; details of jobs selling engines overseas, need for an engineers to help with sales; RD regular visits to Boeing; high level of aviation activity in USA; visits to countries to sell new training aircraft; [31:00]Comments on 1970s geared variable pitch fan engine schemes: Short Take Off [STOL] transport schemes with Vickers, using a geared variable pitch fan engine; links to interest in London City Airport; suitability of geared fan engines for short haul operations; description of geared fan engine, suitability to short haul flights around European airports, need for larger short haul aircraft; test-bed status of geared fan work at Bristol; closure of Vickers-Armstrong at Weybridge leading to end of project, pick up of work by de Havilland who took a different approach; time period of project. [36:25] Remarks on effects of Rolls Royce bankruptcy: lasting problems into 1980s, importance of keeping RB211 afloat; Collaboration with Japanese and Pratt & Whitney for Spey replacement engine; Snecma-GE success on Boeing 737 engine taking advantage of Rolls Royce weakness; success of eventual V2500 engine, produced with Japanese and Pratt & Whitney. [39:20] Remarks on Supersonic VSTOL Project AST.396: work with Hawkers; complications of incompatibility with a collaborative European project, such as a Tornado follow on; British Aerospace dilemma between supersonic VSTOL aircraft from Kingston, and European fighter favoured by Warton; European Aircraft Programme [EAP] leading to Typhoon, putting a stop to supersonic VSTOL P1216; RD reservations over problems with hot gas ingestion on P1216; UK joining US Joint Strike Fighter VSTOL fighter programme, implications for new aircraft carrier design and choice of VSTOL or CTOL; values of Harrier; closure of Hawkers at Kingston; US Marine corps favour of Harrier; limited impact on RD as he was approaching retirement in 1987. [48:55]

    Track 15 [cont' from 48:55] Remarks on RD final job setting up technical basis for EJ200 Euro-fighter engine: value of computer system in design process; travelling around Europe to Spain, Germany, Italy, and France, until they pulled out; long development of Euro-fighter; relations with European partners, scale back of projects with time; RD expectations on biggest challenges of EJ200. [53:20] Remarks on: feelings about aircraft industry, increased costs and time-scales; retirement in 1987; company policy of retirement at 62 as senior jet engine people were all same age, causing a career block; RD desire to have carried on working, but discovering consultancy not as exciting as real work; post retirement activities, writing papers on new civil aircraft with RAE's Frank Armstrong and Hawker's John Alan; [57:50] consultancy with Rolls Royce and Ricardo; retirement hobbies, word turning with retirement lathe; painting in retirement, art of engineering; growth of Rolls Royce since retirement, fortunate in leaders such as Ralph Robbins and John Rose, expansion of business into new areas; importance of energy to future. [1:04:05] Comments on recent issues in science and technology: potential for Thorium reactors, risks of Tsunami's demonstrated by Fukushima disaster; RD scepticism of climate change. Remarks on climate change: problematic temperature statistics; greenhouse gas, RD memories of green pea soup fogs in London; carbon trading; discrepancy between greenhouse effect and lack of summer temperature rise; effects of cloud; Los Angeles micro-climate; Nigel Lawson; risks in needless expense in schemes such as Carbon trading. [1:12:45] Remarks on: interview; blessing and curse of aviation; feelings on interview; RD's revisionist view of history; RD pessimism about future; RD feelings about interview programme. RD contrarian viewpoint.

  • Notes:
    Recording: 2012-02-06, 2012-02-21- 2012-03-20, 2012-04-17;
    - Denning, Ralph, 1925- (speaker, male; interviewee);
    - Lean, Thomas (speaker, male; interviewer)
    Recording Notes: audio file 15 WAV 24 bit 48 kHz 2-channel
    Duration: 10 hr. 19 min. 25 sec.
    Access restrictions: the following section is closed for 15 years until June 2028: Track 15; [00:11:46 - 00:12:24]. The remainder of the recording is open

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