Oral history of British science

Parkinson, Bob (Part 6 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 6: Comments on travel: multinational travel for ELDO, conferences in Paris, getting stranded in Geneva en route to Grenoble; 1970 electric propulsion conference in Palo Alto California, with the trip including a tour to sites such as NASA Lewis Research Centre and Intelsat, gaining him BTA - Been to America status. [05:00] Remarks on electric propulsion development in the USA: ion motor already in use on a spacecraft, happy to exchange information. Comments on plans for resistojet work to lead to use of electric propulsion to boost Intelsat satellite into orbit: reduction of launch costs; use of computer to calculate costs of communication satellites launched through electric propulsion, with comparison with Trevor Lord's paper based mathematical methods; decline of work due to expected impact Space Shuttle. [11:35] Comments on change of job c.1970/71: Rolls Royce collapse leading to loss of support work for liquid fuels; BP transferred to solid propellants at short notice; learning new skill set; new project with funding and customer, Huntings Engineering; [16:00] Remarks on marriage in 1971: story about moving into a brand new house after a colleague offered to buy a flat, leading to BP's engagement. Remarks on changes in life at this time due to becoming solid motor designer, partly leaving the space business except for involvement in proposed Skynet 3 launcher, inducing a scheme to build a UK solid motor. [23:00] Remarks on visits to the USA connected with Skynet 2, communicating via telex, working with Thiocol to produce motor, discovering unsuspecting modifications to motor plan. Remarks on frustrations with work and consequent increased involvement with BIS. Remarks on peripheral involvement with Black Arrow: rocket work at Westcott, doing a designs for applying a resistojet and new materials to Black Arrow. [28:20] Remarks on proposed use of packaged liquid fuels to give Black Arrow better performance, eventual use of technology on Chevaline and apogee engines on satellites. Comments on working on RS80 artillery rocket: concept realised as MLRS, learning solid motor skills, supplying Hunting and Fort Halstead with test rockets. Story about rocket launch tests into the sea off Cumberland and a fisherman fishing out a rocket that had gone astray. [33:25] Comments about his section head blowing up two test sites at Westcott, with description of consequent tests at Potton Island on effects of low temperature on solid motors. [39:00] Remarks on solids group research methods relying more on tests than on detailed scientific work before hand. Remarks on: involvement with LAW Light Anti-tank Weapon, projects that didn't go very far, taking longer to write a proposal than the do the work. [41:50] Comments on developing an interest in erosive burning, with description of phenomenon, because the explanation he was given did not seem realistic, details of details of application in LAW. [47:15] Comments on promotion to PSO and section head of design and evaluation c.1975 and how his job changed: people working for him, learning mental arithmetic to quickly evaluate other people's problems, change to a design group, recruiting new staff including Pete Penny. Remarks on Pete Penny's career path. [52:35] Remarks on competing for industry projects, such as Skyflash motor. Remarks on process of designing a rocket from customer specification. Story about Pete Penny writing a computer program to computerise progress reports for customers illustrating the difference between engineer and accountant mindsets, difference between scientific and commercial data processing. [1:00:20] Remarks on working with Fort Halstead, Bristol Aerojet, Royal Ordnance Factories, but producing experimental motors themselves. Remarks on section doing post design services to rectify faults found in service. Comments on being in charge of a group: learning to let others do the work, duties of a section head managing a group. [1:07:00] Comments on his progression within the scientific civil service, with detailed description of civil service promotion system. 

  • 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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