Oral history of British science

Dommett, Roy (Part 8 of 19). An Oral History of British Science.

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  • Subjects

    Aeronautical Engineering

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  • Recording locations

    Interviewee’s home, Fleet

  • Interviewees

    Dommett, Roy, 1933- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 8: Remarks on Polaris improvements: [Closed between 00:36-00:46] Antelope, penaids, relationship with USA after Senate bar on transferring decoy information, [Closed between 02:22-02:44]improved Russian defences, effects of X-ray [cough] radiation on re-entry vehicles, plutonium phase changes with temperature concerns of nuclear weapons in service. [06:15] [mic crackle] Remarks on establishing credibility of concepts: Moscow ABM defences; observing Russians test effects of nuclear detonation on airborne missiles; differences of these tests to American equivalent [mic crackle]; using satellite imagery to observe construction of defences. [12:00] Remarks on: intelligence, taking advantage of mistakes [cough] in Russian bureaucracy to ascertain radar and nuclear weapon information; anti-nuclear Labour government of 1960s [mic noise] and Harold Wilson's decision to retain Polaris; problems with American Poseidon C3 alternative [mic crackle]; Royal Navy interest in Poseidon as it would not come out of their budget; general problems of programs. [16:55] Remarks on: relationship with navy, good at working level; inter-service rivalries between RN, RAF and Army, budget problems, history of situation with reference to D-day and retreat from empire; [cough][19:55] Remarks on: political situation c.1970, Vic Macklen, Edward Heath, and start of Chevaline program [mic crackle]; working with Sperry and Marconi on guidance systems, and Huntings [cough]' [24:00] problems with limited volume on Polaris; limited financing of Super Antelope project; importance of industry to RAE, which was purely a research centre; working with Jim Simmons from Huntings in secret; ABM treaty negotiations; handing penaid work over to Sid Barker of Aldermaston in 1968 due to shortage of finance. [27:30] Comments on: [mic crackle] limited volume on Polaris leading to attachment of second warhead to penetration aid carrier; importance of rapid ejection of decoys; importance of trying to challenge your own system and having a systems group to re-evaluate work [cough] [33:00] Comments on modern algorithmic approaches, AIDA artificial intelligence discrimination algorithm, recognising problems, neural networks, random matrices, construction of database of decoys built up during Chevaline tests. [38:50] Remarks on progress of Chevaline from 1972: Aldermaston's re-entry body design; [mic noise] Beryllium's resistance to X-rays; strategic aim of Polaris force, [Closed between 40:51- 44:02] [cough], number of submarines; [42:50] exchange ratio between Polaris and ABM; [cough] original plans for fifth submarine and delicacy of deterrent based on only four submarines [mic noise]; [Closed between 45:04-45:53] [cough] long term irradiation of nuclear submarines. [47:30] Remarks on: navy not wanting Chevaline due to budget problems; project only funded for 6 month at a time, causing problems with Sperry; cost escalation as Chevaline project took shape, background of 1970s British economic problems, problems for Huntings and delays in deliveries, unjustified criticism of Parliamentary Accounts Committee. [52:20] Remarks on: technical problems with Chevaline, re-entry bodies use of Avco supplied 3-Dimensional Quartz Phenolic [3DQP], development of new materials by Aldermaston; different stages of development; working with contractors, system goals set by Aldermaston; importance of keeping superiors fully briefed; [56:45] 1972 ABM treaty's favourable implications for Chevaline plans [cough]; technical problems for defenders using nuclear tipped ABM's. Remark on Chevaline political situation: drip feed of funding whilst alternatives considered; sapping of morale at RAE due to uncertainty; minister ordering navy to find solution to problems and assignment of Fred East to review project; [mic crackle] problems with the navy; trials in Australia. [1:02:30] Story about selection of Chevaline assembly and test area in industrial estate at Farnborough [cough], with remarks on bringing in Powell to manage area due to earlier work on ELDO. Remarks on: establishing a reference facility for Chevaline at Airlogs; [1:07:30] [cough] FE at Admiralty in Bath, bringing BAe contractors to staff flight trials at Cape Kennedy; Navy's slow development of Chevaline procedures and assembly area at Coulport; Roy Harmer and Steve Metcalf working in Scotland frequently. [1:11:00] Remarks on radiation hardening of critical components: component testing on Linac, procedure development by RD and John Flood, assistance of Americans, facilities at Farnborough, Aldermaston and in the USA. [1:14:45] Remarks on: efficiency of UK teams using at American facilities, importance of extensive preparation for UK tests, comparison with nuclear testing; completion of radiation hardening work; launching countermeasures and size of threat cloud; [mic crackle]. [1:19:40] difficulties of bringing components together from multiple sources, including Westcott, Aldermaston, USA [mic crackle], and the importance of designer Alec Beard [??] having a clear idea of the whole; 'doing it for Britain'; testing components in vacuum and zero gravity, and on Skylark and Falstaff rockets. [1:25:40] Comments on development of ejection process at Aldermaston, shape of decoys, problems with original design of penetration aid carrier [mic crackle], use of titanium and carbon fibre materials, unsuccessful Huntings Messerschmitt alloy development. [1:29:30] Remarks on: use of new materials on Chevaline out of necessity; 70% of Chevaline being built of things that didn't exist at the start of the project; use of dynamic models to resolve concerns about flow caused by rapid release of decoys; tests at Foulness [cough] and Aldermaston, admirals' trials.

  • Description

    Interview with rocket scientist and aeronautical engineer Roy Dommett

  • Related transcripts

    Roy Dommett interviewed by Dr Thomas Lean: full transcript of the interview

  • Related links

    Visit this interviewee's page on the 'Voices of Science' web resource

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Dommett, Roy (Part 8 of 19). An Oral History of British Science.

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