Oral history of British science

Parkinson, Bob (Part 5 of 15). An Oral History of British Science.

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  • Subjects

    Aeronautical Engineering; Space Science and Engineering

  • Recording date


  • Recording locations

    The British Library

  • Interviewees

    Parkinson, Bob, 1941- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 5: Remarks on retirement of section head Barry Ricketson circa 1970s and consequent negative meeting with management. Story about being sent on junior management course involving a role play exercise based on a fictional research establishment. Comments on atmosphere at Westcott: thwarting of schemes by changes of policy, insecurity in liquid propellent department, doing work that didn't lead to projects, less frustration later working on solid propellants as some projects seen through to completion. [06:05] Comments on engineer's mindset: satisfaction of completion of projects, interest in a new project, politics and management negative aspects, anecdote about a British Aerospace manager who kept his engineers happy by ensuring they always had newest equipment, interest in work as a driving force. [10:30] Remarks on management at the RPE, civil service hierarchy, division into sections. Comments on progression, promotion and management within the scientific civil service. [13:50] Remarks on solid propellent group at Westcott: about six scientists, clerk, technicians, comparison with later role at Propellants, Explosives and Rocket Motor Establishment [PERME] Waltham Abbey. Remarks on sharing a flat with Bernard Bonner, who had previously done BP's job, before their respective marriages where they were each others best men, commuting to work together, talking to each other about what was going on at work. [18:35] Comparison of liquid and solid fuel project division of labour and project organisation, with reference to later work at PERME. Comments on discussing work in the queue while using the Elliott 803 computer. Further remarks on organisation of projects. [23:00] Comments on importance of technicians in building rockets, reference to Hans Zeibland, scientific civil service division of scientific and experimental grades, working together well at most level, except occasionally at higher levels. [28:40] Anecdote about technicians testing new personnel in manner similar to apprentices. Further remarks on importance of technicians. Comments on freedom within hierarchy: limited if project required significant resources but also employed to think originally, with detailed example of how his interest in heat transfer work developed into a speciality he was allowed to develop. [36:00] Remarks on work of research division looking at interesting subjects which might be useful later. Further comments on heat transfer work, relation to liquid hydrogen propulsion and RZ20 engine for ELDO, analysis of heat transfer data leading to generally applicable programme still used by his students. Comments on RPE's relations with ELDO, Blue Streak development, hydrogen engines, launch site work assigned from Hawker Siddeley. Remarks on getting to the top the priority list at Westcott. [42:30] Comments on wondering if research establishments being under resourced was deliberate to create a resource of skilled scientists for calling on at times of need. Comments on working atmosphere at RPE: getting on well with co-workers, united against external factors stopping progress; technicians recruited from local area and still recalling days well; comparison with wife's experience working in the different environment of a medical laboratory. [49:10] Remarks on meeting wife Elizabeth through Church, learning to drive when his flat mate got married, getting to know wife while giving her a lift home, getting married in 1971. Remarks on wife, local farmer's daughter with quite different family background to his own and many family connections to Buckinghamshire, which he did not share coming from a dispersed family. [54:20] Comments on feelings about working on weapons: not being quite what he wanted to do, cold war background with reference to post cold war work on sea launch systems, pleased he never worked on nuclear systems. 

  • Description

    Interview with aerospace engineer Dr Bob Parkinson.

  • Related transcripts

    Dr Bob Parkinson interviewed by Tom Lean: full transcript of the interview

  • Related links

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

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