Oral history of British science

Coplin, John (Part 13 of 22). An Oral History of British Science

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  • Subjects

    Aeronautical Engineering

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  • Recording locations

    Interviewee’s home, Derby

  • Interviewees

    Coplin, John, 1934- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 13: Remark on RB211: major challenge; JC preparation through previous experience with Geoff Wilde, Freddy Morely, David Davies, Roy Heathcote; related RB207 development for Airbus, abandoned; series of engine leading to engine for Lockheed L10-11. [02:35] Remarks on RB211 advance over previous engines: bigger fan; higher pressure ratio; challenges of combination of light weight materials and high temperatures; [04:00] JC feelings at start of project, tough challenge but also one faced by competitors, JC high confidence in RB211 concept; ultimate success. [05:40] Remarks on biggest RB211 challenges: behaviour of composite materials, challenges of joining carbon fibre; huge loads; earlier problems with use of cast blades; experience of XJ9 engine in composites and cast blades; increased thrust rating of engine; overcoming of most problems with time, except for composite joints, resistance over introduction of cast blade; [10:10] resolution of problems with fan blade, risks of carbon fibre fan blade recognised, leading to titanium backup, but also need to upgrade structure of engine. [12:00] Remarks on Rolls-Royce receivership 1971: crisis of confidence; new MD Geoff Vaughan realising they needed extra financing from government; Phil Ruffles higher engine thrust test creating confidence in Rolls-Royce; decision to increase thrust of engine; helpful government representative at time of money crisis; massive commitment by Rolls-Royce workers to overcome problems; loss of some staff; surprise at receivership; support at high levels in Rolls-Royce, Lockheed, and airlines for engine changes; [17:50] poor records of decision making meetings, with examples of backup titanium fan-blade, fan outlet guide vanes, Lockheed insistence of taking thrust on fan-case from front of engine, Arthur Hare's negotiations. Remarks on pressure on JC: JC subsequently learning that some thought him cause of problem; Lockheed's Dan Hare's pragmatic view of situation; [22:00] Stanley Hooker inspiring confidence; and bringing in retired designer Freddie Morely; concerns over JC's young age at 33; much support for JC from all quarters; long but positive hours of work; JC division of day to work most effectively; benefits of JC touring all groups involved in development, such as linking design process with those who would be using and maintaining them in difficult conditions. [28:35] Remarks on consideration of end user in design process: service department advice; JC links to TWA's John Leamon, Eastern Airlines' Max Dow, Delta Airlines Don Heterman; P&W's difficulties with JT9 engine; need to manage risks, safety and ensuring revenue stream; Rolls-Royce safety consciousness; nature of risks of passenger flight. [34:45] Comments on monitoring engine condition: borascope, fibre optics used to investigate engine innards in service; role of airborne diagnostics instrumentation; large size of engine allowing a person to enter bypass duct; use of service engineering manuals; advantages of modular engine design for efficient maintenance; designing engines for durability. [41:40] Remarks on daily activities in RB211 period: thinking through design problems; figuring out service support issues; reporting to airlines and Lockheed about changes; salaries and personnel management. [43:55] Description of thinking design decisions through: systematic nature of design; value to JC of time spent with David Davies considering scenarios for problems; development testing of engines under different conditions; airline operator considerations. [49:40] Comments on veteran jet engineers' contributions to RB211: Stanley Hooker, long experience, very effective communication style, despite rarely completing a sentence, high standing with financiers and government officials, such as Wedgewood-Benn, allowing him to inspire confidence; experienced designer Freddie Morely helped JC; helped assure non-technical bankers of validity of Rolls-Royce work; [54:50] meticulous work of Arthur Rubrow, contribution in assessing existing Rolls-Royce work; JC knowing Arthur Rubrow through RAeS; anecdote about JC and Arthur Rubrow having same colour cars; description of large RB211 wheel case; JC and AR difference of opinion over wheel case design. [1:00:05] Comments on: supportive and hard working RB211 team, receivership galvanising team, long working hours; support from Lockheed, role of wife Jean in entertaining, importance of socialising in building up mutual trust; prolonged methods for building up good relationships with Japanese, similarity to Indonesia arranged marriage. [1:07:10] Comments on being 'asked to do the impossible': Rolls-Royce approach of development to sort out problems and impossible just taking longer; comparison of early Rolls-Royce work improving steel turbine blades with challenges of composite materials, possible solutions to carbon fibre weaknesses, subsonic and transonic turbine blades. [1:14:35] Remarks on discussions with material scientists: JC early work for Adrian Lombard with Rolls-Royce composite expert John Morely, resin expert Cliff Hannah, RAE material scientists, BP, Courtaulds; problems and benefits of carbon fibre used in fan blades, blade twist; successful use of glass fibre composites in RB162; [1:18:50] JC communications with RAE via John Morely and Cliff Hannah; BP link via John Cuddugan; story about unsatisfactory meeting with material's company; materials company's reactions to use of carbon fibre in jet engines, ideas that carbon fibre structure could be knitted, Gordon Ray at Loughborough, Formula 1 race car designers use of carbon fibre woven cloth; JC comfort over abandonment of carbon fibre for RB211 being borne out by subsequent experiences; [1:24:00] people feeling bad for letting Rolls-Royce head David Huddie down; anecdote about RB211 being overweight at start of design. [1:25:20] Comments on: resistance over removing RB211 carbon fibre, loyalty to Adrian Lombard's approach after his death; personal costs to Adrian Lombard of his confrontational attitudes; influence of Adrian Lombard on JC's compromise style of negotiation, with example of consulting Hawker Siddeley to find a solution to electron beam welding problems; finding expertise to solve problems; compromise approach to problem solving; [1:34:00] JC scheduling meetings for times of day that he was most awake; Jeff Fawn's request for a simple wrought fan blade overruling laboratory desire to develop cast fan blade; issues with people taking too firm a stand on fan disc design. [1:38:20] Remarks on: Jeff Fawn, background in turbine design office and Rolls-Royce cars at Crewe, judgement over costs and effort required to complete RB211 triggered receivership. Comments on receivership: JC first knowledge and expecting the worst; importance of Stanley Hooker, Freddie Morely, Lockheed's Dan Haughton and Willis Hawkins, and Archie Folden in helping solution; SNECMA job offer to JC; rapid building of confidence after appointment of Stanley Hooker and Freddie Morely; JC always feeling like part of the solution to RB211 problems; JC salary and worries in 1971; appointment of helpful Alan Jeffs as government representative to Derby; [1:46:05] positive change in attitude of Rolls-Royce staff to fixing RB211; JC only feeling let down by team once over walkout; JC industrial relations management.

  • Description

    Interview with aeronautical and mechanical engineer Professor John Coplin

  • Related transcripts

    John Coplin 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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