Oral history of British science

Wheeler, Ray (Part 11 of 13). An Oral History of British Science.

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  • Subjects

    Aeronautical Engineering; Space Science and Engineering

  • Recording date


  • Recording locations

    Interviewees home, Isle of Wight.

  • Interviewees

    Wheeler, Ray, 1927- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 11: Description of Black Arrow rocket: rocket nozzle arrangement, fuel tanks, launch and flight, vibration and temperature environment. [05:50] Remarks on: making rocket reliable through testing; [remarks on photo of Black Arrow]; anecdote about a telex from Australia connected with a failed test. [09:10] Comments on development of Black Arrow: rocket engine developed elsewhere, such as Westcott; importance of reliability; specialist facilities for building rocket; development of Black Arrow compared to Black Knight and hovercraft; insecurity of Black Arrow funding arrangements; RW surprise at Black Arrow cancellation; potential for Black Arrow as a profitable satellite launcher; Kenneth Clarke; RW relations with politicians. [16:20] Remarks on good relationship with RAE, example of meeting over cost of packaging to send rocket to Australia. [19:40] Remarks on: some staff becoming patriotic, RW just wanting Black Arrow to work; good relationship between all engineers. [20:57] Remarks about aborted Phoenix unmanned helicopter development RW worked on at request of Basil Blackwell. [26:05] Remarks on RW Black Arrow roll as chief designer: subordinate managers Cliff Maidment, Jack Redpath; scaling up of Black Knight to Black Arrow; Black Knight control system electronics use on SRN4; anecdote about reliability of SRN4 control electronics in Hoverlloyd service; meetings with government officials; expectations of successful future of Black Arrow; later ESA financial and work share arrangements. [31:30] Stories about: finding out about success of Black Arrow after telex from Jack Redpath in Australia; staff being laid off after Black Arrow cancellation; possibilities for Black Arrow upgrade; cost efficiency of Black Arrow; reasons for Black Arrow cancellation; comparative success of Ariane 5 rocket. [37:30][pause] Comments on: RW appointment as Technical director after Dick Stanton Jones, also retaining chief designer role; details of Technical Director role; [40:20] patenting of work, RW patents on durable hovercraft skirts, with description of skirt testing. [42:40] Remarks on advances in hovercraft technology: automatic welding of marine aluminium alloys and consequent structural changes to hovercraft, RW not being awarded patent for work. [45:00] Remarks on: patenting and arrangements for patent licensing; licensing arrangements with Bell; work after cancellation of Black Arrow, such as helicopters, work with Bombardier, Christopher Cockerell. [48:45] Remarks on: Chief Technical Director and Chief Designer activity, mainly dealing with people and little technical work; impact of computerisation, networking to Yeovil computer, changes to drawing.

  • Description

    Life story interview with Aeronautical Engineer Ray Wheeler.

  • Related transcripts

    Ray Wheeler interviewed by 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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