Oral history of British science

Dommett, Roy (Part 4 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 4: Comments on Official Secrets Act and sensitivity: historical sources; not being free to discuss counter-measures, with reference to Chevaline and Blue Streak; classification of Grant Dawson's early work on stealth technology robbing him of recognition; [5:20] transfer of UK technology to US, such as silos and Chevaline electronics hardening. Comments on Anglo-American special relationship: technology transfer, larger scale of American efforts, genuine exchange; American and British approaches and greater use of prototypes by American developments. [11:15] Remarks on British hydrogen bomb: Kate Pyne; William Penney and Cooks' hydrodynamic approach to weapon design; radiation pressure work at Aldermaston; Claus Fuchs; greater American computer power, STRETCH at Aldermaston; computers use in weather forecasting, using Met Office computers himself. [18:15] Remarks on: secrecy and security; hidden influence of technology issues on politics and history; using a slide rule at Farnborough, 1950s growth in numerical analysis and the work of the NPL; analytical solutions to Blue Streak re-entry problems and use of small 'bonker' rockets; [25:45] missile stability problems in Larkhill tests; complexity of calculations to solve problems, visit of American Jack Martin and his subsequent publication of RAE methods in textbooks. [28:40] Remarks on early computing: problems with Ferranti Pegasus in London, James Lighthill not paying them travelling time; use of computer in Q134 24 hours a day; story about a fault in the night; limitations of machine; complicated Elliot computers named Gurt and Daisy; computers at Bletchley. [32:00 Remarks on later computing: Ferranti Mercury with Autocode; ICL 1906 and 1907; error checking computer calculations, with example of attack simulations. [37:00] Remarks: on threat cloud, [Closed between 37:23-38:50] using Aldermaston vacuum chamber for rocket testing. [42:25] Remarks on: Polaris trials on Atlantic missile range; knowledge needed for project management; unexpected problems leading to cost over runs [short pause]; [44:40] difficulties caused by US Navy adopting multiple warheads on Polaris, potential interference between second stage and re-entry body rockets, rocket firing order [Closed between 45:34 – 45:55][Closed between 47:05 - 47:38][50:45] Story about aerodynamics problems making it impossible for Valiant bomber to actually drop atom bomb before modification. [mic noise] [53:20] Comments on unforeseen problems on Black Knight trials at Woomera: Story about leftover rocket fuel allowing the rocket to ram the re-entry vehicle, Ken Weaver writing up solution in 'Nature'; [58:00] Story about a bonker rocket malfunctioning but the experiment working anyway, an example RD used in an SDI lecture in London on not trusting what you see. Story about re-entry head hitting the ground and uncovering an opal bed. [1:02:00] Story about BK12 trial, which almost hit the transcontinental railway. Remarks on learning process, pushing technology to its limits. [1:06:20] Comments on computing: learning to program on Pegasus with the aid of a book; warhead packaging studies; Autocode on Mercury; analogue computer for heat shield calculations; atmospheric models; [1:12:20] FORTRAN; flow field calculations; performance specifications for Chevaline; battle models; difference computing made in early career. Remarks on: correlating data on life of simple bodies [mic noise] and engineering methods in the 1950s; [1:18:50] RAE structures department's assumptions of tolerances. [mic crackle] Story about visiting ELDO at Hamburg with John Cook about Europa rocket and having a difference of opinions with a theoretician. [1:21:40] Anecdote about RAE committee that modelled enemy air defences, [mic crackle] and guided weapon hit probabilities. [Closed between 1:23:00 – 1:24:08] [1:25:00] improving computers, Prime computers, personal computers, BASIC programming, Amstrad word processor, Sun workstations, IBM desktops; Jim Scott's specialised computer for post-boost calculations and use of simulation work for countermeasure ejection. [1:30:55] Comments on: Winchester based Strawberry Flavoured Company's work on an Artificial Intelligence [AI] satellite debris simulation; being irritated by having to switch programming languages, FORTRAN, C++, Mercury Autocode; [1:34:00] [Closed between 1:35:33-1:36:48] computer simulation replacing experiments; [cough] [1:40:25] algorithm work of Flow Gravity Experiments [FGE]; a random matrices article in 'New Scientist'; people believing computers more now than before.

  • 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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