Oral history of British science

Dommett, Roy (Part 6 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 6: Comments on documentation of British rocketry: producing an index of papers; problems accessing information at Boscombe Down; Pete Crawley's idea to produce un-veted working papers; limitations of National Archive [mic crackle] and how documents get there via Hayes; RD's final job at RAE preserving or destroying historical secret documents; documents written by RD, such as on Chevaline; lack of credit given to establishments due to secrecy. [08:00] Remarks on nature of establishments: scientifically self sufficient; use of work in technology transfers; people working on topics of personal interest across different projects; transfer of mindset to industry, such as Fluid Gravity Engineering [FGE]. [11:35] Remarks on museums: premature release of Chevaline to museums, such as Cosford, Duxford and Miles Museum; mechanical engineering work of Miles and M.L. Aviation on Chevaline. [cough] [14:15] Remarks on Blue Streak: relevance for later programmes; early feasibility studies and 1954 agreement with Americans; problems caused by changes to hydrogen bomb warhead; Aldermaston's early warhead concepts; [Closed between 18:48 – 19:09][20:00] Remarks on performing a study to package an Orange Herald warhead in a spherical re-entry vehicle: comparisons to Russian and American practice; discovering problem of auto-rotation; use of ballistic range at Orford Ness to test model vehicles; [25:20] Remarks on: earliest Blue Streak job of attending RAE panels; concerns over a change to two engined rocket or two stage liquid fuelled rocket, due to Aldermaston not knowing how much a hydrogen bomb would weigh; structure of ministry and decision making by Controller Guided Weapons [29:35]; history rarely recording the names of senior civil servants; 'The Great Cold War' by Gordon Barrass helping him to understand why his work was busy at certain times. [32:00] Comments on British missions to the USA: 1954 mission to Convair regarding Atlas [short pause - entry of MD]; limited value of American technology to Britain; Bert Longdon's work showing unsuitability of radar guidance for ballistic missiles; Rolls Royce re-engineering of American Navaho jet engine; comparison of American, as per contract specification, to British practice of frequently changing specification [mic noise], with example of CTV test vehicles. [39:40] Remarks on: definition of Blue Streak in 1956 and sub-contraction to De Haviland; construction of test site near main road at Luton, similarity of Blue Streak tank to De Haviland Comet fuselage; Lambert guidance techniques, targeting work of Schirmacher's staff, improvements in computing power. [44:00] Comments on Blue Streak silo launching: technical problems solved by Westcott model silos, test silo at Duxford, problem of locating silos, test silo at Upavon, submerged coastal launchers, vulnerability of UK to nuclear attack and hardening of missile in silo. [49:15] Comments on Blue Streak re-entry problems: deceleration of heavy objects; stress of warhead on re-entry; heating and use of ablative materials or heat sinks; [mic crackle] problems with auto-rotation caused by warhead shapes, tested by dropping from balloon at Larkhill, Dietrich Kucheman's opinion. [53:50] Comments on choice of ablative materials for re-entry vehicles, phenolic resin, [mic crackle] experimental work at Westcott testing different materials, asbestos, use of three dimensional quartz on Chevaline re-entry bodies [mic crackle], construction of Blue Streak heat shield in planks due to large size of warhead, Black Knight trials. [59:55] Story about heat shield test on BK09 disintegrating on re-entry. [1:00:40] Remarks on: Black Knight programme producing positive results even when experiments went wrong; story about an overzealous safety officer removing radioactive tracers [mic crackle]; story about a Black Knight rocket hitting re-entry vehicle after separation; story about BK07 failing; remarks on learning from flight trials by looking and doing simple experiments. [1:04:40] Remarks: on ABM studies and work of Royal Radar Establishment [RRE] Malvern carried out in parallel; reasons for cancellation of Blue Streak, silos, launch order communications; [1:06:35] working in a team. Remarks on Blue Streak team: trajectory behaviour work by Stan Green, formerly of Hawkers, and Harry Cumming, later professor of mathematics at Hull; re-entry problems and choice of materials worked on by RD and Ian Petey; flow field work done by Pete Herbert and RD; packaging work by Jim Scott and RD; decoy work by Byron Davies. [1:09:00] Remarks on Black Knight team: Les Parkin, vehicle design; Derrick Dalton, instrumentation; Ralph Ulrich, experiments; Jim Sedgwick, Harry Jagger, Frank Knot, working with ordnance factories. Remarks on: working with Royal Ordnance Factory Patricroft on durestos component;technicians in assembly area in F1E, where Randy Pearce built Black Arrow satellite; [mic noise] Randy Pearce's curious domestic arrangements and possibly haunted house; [1:13:00] RAE's use of small companies for specialist tasks. Comments on Dazzle and Gaslight trials: origins in report by Dr Penley of RRE after Blue Streak cancellation [mic crackle]; flight experiments with Americans at Woomera; problems with Stanford Research radar system used in trials, which allowed RD spare time to research Morris Dancing material; optical instrumentation; [1:20:30] Doctor Crosby and Peter Moran's improvements to tracking arrangements at Woomera; [mic noise] Canadian involvement, with remarks on Gerald Bull, later designer of Iraqi super-gun; drawbacks of big guns, Iraqi super-gun parts at Fort Nelson, John Harlow's work as a weapon inspector. [1:24:40] Further comments on Dazzle programme: choice of materials for re-entry vehicle tests; story about construction of fused quartz re-entry test-vehicle by Newcastle Glass making firm [mic crackle]; story about glass test vehicle shattering; glass-to-glass interfaces; [1:31:25] construction of durestos vehicle; [mic crackle] PTFE vehicle built with help of ICI, difficulties of working with PTFE; difficulties of working with tungsten, working with contractors; [1:35:40] Remarks on: Grant Dawson's work on radar cross sections [Closed between 1:36:35 – 1:37:02] Dazzle working practices as basis for construction of Falstaff vehicle; 'doing it for Britain.'

  • 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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