Oral history of British science

Dommett, Roy (Part 19 of 19). An Oral History of British Science.

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  • Subjects

    Aeronautical Engineering

  • Recording date


  • Recording locations

    Interviewee’s home, Fleet

  • Interviewees

    Dommett, Roy, 1933- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 19: Remarks on: people never asking what RD did reputation for being inquisitive and interested in local activities; importance of wider interests; anecdote about a promotion board RD sat on; anecdotes about RD's promotion interviews, having to admit being in the same pantomime as interviewer Dennis Madison; importance of Morris dancing keeping his life in balance; importance of living your job; [06:30] link of play performances with work presentations; student examination practice; link of interviewing people about Morris dancing with talking to people in professional life. [08:55] Comments on spending whole career at RAE Farnborough: expecting to have found himself posted to London; deciding to stay in civil service in 1968; twenty year involvement leading to him becoming special merit DCSO; anecdotes about SPSO and DCSO interviews, with Mr Press from the Cabinet Office and MoD Chief Scientific Advisor [Ronald] Mason, Newley director of Aldermaston, with reference to Aldermaston attitudes and Trident decision; RD working with division head successor Bill Leicester. [14:20] Detailed Comments on late career innovative work: working with ASA Camberley on parallel processing and algorithms for tracking, later sold to Americans for use at White Sands; problems interesting UK in need for work; working with David Sloggit of Data Sciences on AIDA artificial intelligence discrimination algorithm, later used at White Sands despite RAE disinterest. [21:35] Remarks on ethnic minorities and women at the RAE: initial security issues with immigrants; few women engineers, such as Miss Shilling; good treatment of women clerks and typists compared to scientists. Remarks on later career: being able to initiate studies but not projects; idea for flywheel control of re-entry bodies. [27:50] Remarks on: never considering leaving the civil service, enjoying a constantly creative and interesting career; [sneeze] ministry policies for matching people to positions; happy throughout career; not ending up in positions he expected; recap of early career path, with remarks on management complications of Chevaline, leaving RD working on systems work and leaving engineering to George Munns; [33:00] RD enjoying ELDO, AGARD, SDI and Australian workshops; RD philosophy that people should move on every 5 years, both in work and personal life, with remarks on his own career path and interests. [35:50] Overview comments on projects RD worked on: Blue Streak basis for later work; knowledge carried on between projects, with remarks on nuclear hardening computer architecture developed on Chevaline and later used by NASA on space probes and Tornado hardening; improved flow field algorithms over complex bodies, relationship to European Space Agency projects, possible loss of capability [41:30]. Remarks on: continuous career path; changes in RAE, loss of knowledge down generations in reorganisations, with remarks on reorganisation of RAE departments; complications of file systems changing when departments renamed, with remarks on ABM studies, disappearance of defensive weapons department, obsolescence of some storage media used by RAE, RCA and BAE; problems with electronic equipment becoming obsolescent, with reference to purchasing enough electronics to support Chevaline throughout its entire lifetime and comparison to American Apollo arrangements. [49:45] Remarks on Qinetiq and DERA; certain senior people seeing chance to make a profit through privatisations; less research orientated than RAE; RAE offering individuals the chance to develop career in a certain field; limitations for research funding arrangements in Britain compared to France, with reference to programme choices, such as over Black Arrow and Polaris. [54:35] Comments on cultural differences with Aldermaston, where staff were ranked higher than the RAE; different cultures of different parts of the research establishments on Chevaline, with remarks on history, attitudes, chain of command of RAE compared to newer Aldermaston; [1:00:20] problems and practices of working with Aldermaston; Vic Macklen's position in London. [1:02:50] Remarks on: RRE Malvern and other army and navy establishments, such as Portsdown; artificial intelligence, HMS Marlborough; problems working together due to cultural differences; Luxuriant study on military uses of space; different backgrounds providing alternative views; anecdote about Department of Analysis Establishment at Weybridge having no idea how much a nuclear weapon cost; [1:07:40] problems costing RAE facilities, leading to facilities being sold off. [1:09:02] Comments on difficulties RD has assessing what he actually did on certain projects: 17 page CV of project contributions; need to explain projects for him to explain his life's work; RD seeing his career as connected packages; RAE community approach making it difficult to split individual contributions; CBE award a recognition of group achievement; RD personal activities on Blue Streak, with reference to team effort. [1:13:45] Remarks on: being happy to see the end of nuclear weapons, but recognising they are part of political game; credibility of British nuclear capability; limitations of documentary sources, with reference to Allied photographic reconnaissance of V-weapons; limitations of oral history. [1:16:05] Remarks on: feelings about taking part in oral history project; views on teams and individuals he talked to most; Chevaline team being the cream of the establishment, with remarks on John Flood and Mike Rance, Dave Albery and Rex Chase, an ex-dockyard apprentice which caused him career problems. [1:21:10] Remarks on feelings about being a British government scientist: Britain technically able at an affordable price, with reference to cost differences between American Avco and British Marconi; rewards of work; increased regimentation of work over years; comparison of his work with the teaching of Morris Dancing and structural engineering, and the loss of skills over time. [1:29:10] Remarks on rewards: vague citations for CBE, RAeS silver medal; problems with historians not knowing about secret work; remarks on this interview; loss of rocketry experience over years; presentation to University of the Third Age. [1:33:10] Remarks on: article in Morris dancing publication, with anecdote about a visit to Sidmouth folk festival; processing of interview, summary, review of interview by MoD's Tony Wilson.

  • 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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