Oral history of British science
Dommett, Roy (Part 13 of 19). An Oral History of British Science.
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Interviewee’s home, Fleet
Dommett, Roy, 1933- (speaker, male)
Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)
Part 13: Further comments on working at the RAE: always someone to consult, Ted Phythian and fiancé office romance; tea breaks with liar dice; solving 'The Listener' problem; using Brunsviga calculators; working in Q134; cramped office; RD working with a colleague on data analysis; Ken Weaver section head, mathematical analyst; computing facilities; [05:35] conditions working on a typical job, library research, computing pool; people disappearing for trial works; towing trial vehicles by car to Aberporth range. Remarks on features of Aberporth, West Freugh and Pendine Sands ranges. [10:50] Remarks on use of rocket sled and vacuum chamber. Story about firing a brick wall at a test vehicle during Blue Streak impact fuse tests and losing a replica implosion pit. [15:20] Comments on the value of tests in the development process, with story about testing Chevaline penaid packages in a chamber and remarks on engineering judgement and hardening electronics. [20:05] Remarks on: importance of previous work to Chevaline; importance of understanding interaction of issues on Chevaline re-entry shield. Comments on Skylark: value of experience of individuals like Frank Hazel, Frank Chapman, Dave Childs, Desmond King-Hele, Derrick Dalton; Westcott development of Rook motor; Waltham Abbey development of new propellant; development of Raven motor; RD and TF work on finned cone cylinders and making a mistake in going for a three finned vehicle; solution to stabilisation problems and consequences for guided weapons work; [27:45] development of TRIDAC analogue computer. Remarks on becoming involved in projects where your expertise was required. [short pause] [29:36] Comments on early Blue Streak work and material choice for re-entry vehicles: US Trailblazer tests; RD going through test data on airflow over cones; airflow problems; ablative and heat sink approaches; problems of Plutonium expanding in re-entry heat; aerodynamics and heating problems of heat shield shape; problems of copper, steel and beryllium in re-entry heads; [39:25] decision to use Armco Iron; hemispherical and cone approaches; problems with testing shapes at Orford Ness; Larkhill balloon drop tests and problem of auto-rotation; Harold Robinson influence in going for an ablative heat shield; problems accommodating warhead in re-entry vehicle; influence of aerodynamicists on vehicle shape; influence of low viability work of Grant Dawson on vehicle shape; Aldermaston work on warhead. [47:20] Remarks on: Twiss and lab assistant, who were plastic experts; testing various materials for rentry vehicles; reniforcing rentry materials, such as with Flock Durestos. [51:50] Remarks on personal role in Blue Streak: secretary of materials panel, observing trials, liaising with different departments, heating calculations talking to ABM people; break down of WE and teamwork. Further remarks on material tests on BK09; not observing BK trials himself, going out for planning exercises and talking to instrumentation people, but considering that visiting trials himself was a waste of time; VIP's getting to visit Polaris tests at Cape Canaveral but not those actually doing the work; viewing ELDO tests and Falstaff and Skylark launches to encourage personnel. [56:15] Story about visiting a Skylark launch at Woomera, which went wrong when the rocket turned upside down. Story about Falstaff launch. [1:00:00] Description of Falstaff vehicle; Falstaff heritage in hypersonic airliner research, with remarks on Dietrich Kuchermann's work on Concorde; cancellation and transfer of Falstaff to Chevaline work due to unavailability of Black Arrow as a test vehicle; contract work of British Hovercraft and MDS Frimley, with reference to importance of collaboration of UK firms in national projects; loss of trials footage. [1:08:40] Remarks on security clearances: story about accidentally Morris dancing at a CND demonstration in Dudley; security worries over high number of Christians in department Remarks on assembling a team of experimental officers for Chevaline, managing relations with contracting companies. [1:13:20] Remarks on: viability of Blue Streak except for problems placing silos and launch communications; importance of Blue Streak for future work; testing of beryllium for use in re-entry vehicles. [1:19:00] Comments on underground nuclear tests of components and materials, such as 3DQP, in Nevada. Remarks on: his own involvement with Americans beginning with a 1957 conference; Sputnik's acceleration of Blue Streak development; not being surprised by Sputnik, which he spotted, because he'd read science fiction, was interested in the V2 and joined British Interplanetary Society; [1:26:30] leadership concerns over missile gap and later intelligence briefings on U2 spy missions. Remarks on: reading science fiction; later work on artificial intelligence work, sold by Dave Sloggit to the USA; tracking capabilities of Fylingdales radar and collaboration with French. [1:30:35] Remarks on: later aspects of Blue Streak work, such as nose cone issues; involvement with Black Knight trials with Harold Robinson; promotion to SSO leading to less oversight; slack time after Blue Streak cancellation. [1:33:20] Comments on Dazzle programme: delays in American radar contribution; equipment; anecdote about reading equipment manuals on the Beach in Australia; purpose of Dazzle trials in early ABM work; problems with computing power before IBM STRETCH; different re-entry vehicle material characteristics; result of demonstrating that in atmosphere ABM defence impossible. [1:41:25] Remarks on: US ABM projects, LOWADS and HIBEX high speed missile; watching a sounding rocket test in Canada; travel arrangements for trips to the USA and exploring country for less than it cost to stay put in Washington; limitations of American beer. [1:46:40] Further remarks on: American beer compared to British; working with the Americans; 1958 Aldermaston - US talks, surpise at how far Britain had got with few tests; Anglicisation of Red Snow warhead, safety concerns of Ordnance Board, smaller size compared to British design. [1:50:00] Description of Blue Steel missile, development arrangements involving RAE, AVRO and Elliots, Gwillim Roberts work on navigation systems; developments in inertial navigation systems; obsolescence of system against improved Soviet defences, which also doomed TSR2 aircraft; current aircraft carrier situation and impact on Portsmouth tramway extension.
Interview with rocket scientist and aeronautical engineer Roy Dommett