Oral history of British science

Dommett, Roy (Part 14 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 14: Comments on observability trials on BK: use of American Gaslight optical equipment and radar on Dazzle trials; role of Long Island firm General Applied Science, run by Ferry and Bankalern [?], in supplying software to calculate wake content, used by RD and Brian Wood on CDC computer in East Kilbride. Anecdotes about staying in the USA to learn how to use software. [05:15] Remarks on: visits to East Kilbride to run software, staying a boarding house that specialised in kippers and scotch for breakfast; flight trials following calculations, problems with spherical bodies; using Delco vacuum ballistic range to test spheres; redesigning fused silica re-entry head. [09:20] Comments about: construction of zinc and PTFE re-entry heads by contractors; low cost of fused silica re-entry heads, which self destructed; limited knowledge of firms involved, with reference to Blue Danube casings made by a narrow gauge railway manufacturer. [13:00] Remarks on Morris Dancing: post Blue Streak lull giving him time to research Morris Dancing; first getting involved as a result of sharing a room with a colleague with an interest; recording Morris Dancing with cine-camera from early 1960s; importance of Morris Dancing in getting him out of office. [15:15] Remarks on offices moves throughout his career, from one end of corridor to the other, eventually sharing office with Ian Petey. Comments on Skybolt work: information from Douglas; problems caused by warhead position in Skybolt; concerns over ABM detonations. [20:50] Comments on Polaris work: existing links; division head C J Stevens well informed; Bill Neville sent to Nassau Conference expecting Polaris A2 to find A3 on offer; problems of incorporating UK plans with smaller volume of A3; solution of HR169 work; working with Essams, Irvings, GE on penaids; impact of changes in Russian ABM defences eventually leading to Chevaline; [25:10] 1967 study to work out what problems needed solving; alternative schemes. Remarks on his duties over this period: Dazzle, Chevaline, ELDO. Comments on membership of ELDO aerodynamics committee: meetings in Paris, often carried out in Cafes; language difficulties; wind tunnel tests near Amsterdam; meeting in Oktoberfest damaged Munich with Messerschmitt, John Cook's disagreement with chair of meeting; anecdote about Hamburg bar band playing 'Colonel Bogey' whenever they arrived; [31:35] visiting French wind tunnels at Modane; differences of French and UK approach to facilities; becoming an expert on flow field dynamics; hospitality on visits to Italy; [35:20] language issues in meetings, good relations with engineers. Remarks on structural problems with German stage; use of analysis of Skylark wind profile data to aid to aid Black Arrow launch and to assess ELDO vehicle; meetings with HSD representative in a pub to resolve problems; calculating loads on a rocket in flight; differences in his ballistic missile speciality from aircraft or guided weapons leading to him becoming a ballistic missile specialist. [45:35] Remarks on: Frenchman publishing their research on wind data analysis; Anglophobia making collaboration with French 1990s missile development problematic; French hiding their capabilities during AGARD talks. Remarks on working with Americans: US inter-service differences; implications of secrecy; necessity of US Presidential approval for Polaris improvement discussions; [50:40] assistance of Americans in Polaris gas dynamics problems. Anecdote about a drunken visit to a Lockheed test site where the British contingent pretended to be Daleks. [55:50] Anecdotes about: getting Colin Gaskill to host a cocktail party for the Americans; a trip to Las Vegas; pub lunches in the UK. [1:00:00] Remarks on: changes in lifestyle at marriage; only drinking for special occasions at work or for Morris dancing; social walks in countryside; courting MD by train; living in RAE hostel when he first started; RAE fête and Morris team; Sperry hospitality arrangements; cricket matches and games nights with Huntings. [1:06:00] Remarks on: Emil aviation activity days; RAE social evenings when George Muns became head of department; busy 1970s. Comments on Chevaline committees, advantages of John Flood's ambidextrous in meetings. [1:10:40] Comments on Chevaline period: decision between Fred East [short pause Mrs Dommett] or Peter Jones [PJ] as manager; PJ's pros and cons as a manager; meetings with Sperry people like Tom Lukeman at the Vulnerability Working Group; ground breaking electronics hardening work; American advisers; numbers on hardened components and scheme for testing; [1:17:40] PJ's role in bringing people together; RD's role in defining RAE role; procedure leading from broad specifications from navy, through refinement by Aldermaston, RAE and contractors; Navy acceptance by questionnaire method, borrowed by RAE; split of work between Aldermaston and RAE; management of project; WE prefix names. [1:23:30] Remarks on RD's job on Chevaline: running section on Polaris improvements from 1967; Bill Neville's introduction of Polaris; flow of expertise from DAZZLE observability trials to HR169 work; managing a section of 5 and its activities; engineer technicians; Aldermaston closed working culture compared to RAE; limitations of practices of Navy at Bath compared to original Polaris work; Fred East's employment of 500 BAE personnel to get Navy up to speed. [1:30:00] Further remarks on RD position on Chevaline: George Hicks setting up of test facilities; RD getting engineering going and taking over as divisional head in 1972; divisions of group as it grew; RD doing systems work through necessity and leading division until 1982; responsibility for safety and reliability; Bayesian reliability methods compared to US inspired Navy methods. [1:36:45] Discussion over his feelings about working with nuclear weapons: Chevaline tests; horrified with effects of nuclear weapons but not thinking it a reason not to work with them; wider applications of work, with reference to later work in 1980s on SDI; never uncomfortable about working on nuclear systems; had sympathy with elements of CND but also quite cynical; futility of protest over nuclear weapons; status of nuclear weapons; spin off technologies in materials, chemistry and computers; value for money of Chevaline; feelings about Trident replacement and the future; limitations of politician's 5 year vision; nuclear weapon's use against asteroid strike.

  • 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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