Oral history of British science
Higton, Dennis (Part 20 of 24). An Oral History of British Science.
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Interviewee’s home, Shrewton, Salisbury
Higton, Dennis, 1921-2012 (speaker, male)
Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)
Part 20: Comments on interests in USA: squash, sailing, walking, travel, writing letters home, reading, shopping in supermarkets, eating outdoors with friends, DH missing gardening. [05:10] Remarks on: missing Britain; parties; visits from colleagues from England, work keeping DH in contact with people; accreditation; monstrously busy first few weeks. [09:00] Remarks on return to England as director of helicopter production; people realising DH was an engineer not a researcher; anecdote about administrator warning him of difficulties; managing staff. [10:50] Remarks on: activities as Director of Aircraft Production [DAP]; activities of post; background to post in wartime experience; promotion to Director General of Aircraft Production [DGAP][in 1976]. [13:00] Remarks on helicopter production post: problems with aircraft firms, delivery times and finance; meeting with DH's superiors over problems with Westland, whose issues eventually led to merger with Augusta; offices in St Giles Court, Whitehall; DH reporting to deputy controller Bill Stewart; [19:00] Bill Stewart's background and chain of command; aeroplane progress meetings; preparation for meetings; urgent controller requests, such as issue with Tornado's being built of Russian Titanium, Westland's difficulties. [23:45] Story about DH joining Geoffrey Pattie's committee on service equipment quality standards, with remarks on committee composition, meeting topics, Margaret Thatcher's unfortunate attempts at encouraging standardisation. [28:55] Remarks on working day activities: varied activities; department subordinates managing many activities; [30:00] work resolving problems with Buccaneer's wings; office activities, dictating letters to secretary, appointments, meetings with subordinates; Story about DH securing coal supplies for aircraft factories in 1970s energy crisis, with department heads. [35:50] Remarks on: office arrangements in Whitehall; importance of other staff; current problems in Procurement Executive activities causing delays and defence cuts; interaction with others; description of office. [39:40] Remarks on boffins in Whitehall: decline in boffin's position, staff cuts; DH limited knowledge of current situation; value of boffin perspective at different levels of chain of command; unacceptable problems, DH intervening in problems he was familiar with; [46:35] problems with Sea Vixen control system; early problems with Harrier high accident rate. [48:45] Comments on problems with the Buccaneer: phone call informing DH about loss of Buccaneer at Red Flag exercise from wing fatigue problems; visiting Brough factory in Yorkshire with chief engineer of RAF; second Buccaneer crash; Farnborough involvement through fatigue specialist Peter Gyat; meeting with RAF to work out a solution; Donald Spears and DH visiting Brough to obtain clearance for changes; John Charnley and DH disagreeing over Peter Gyat skills; [56:45] solution to problem; Buccaneer use in later Gulf War; Cold War use of Buccaneer, pilots such as David Dick standing by in cockpits. [1:00:06] Remarks on: limited contact with John Charnley at Whitehall; John Charnley and DH disagreements over DH career path, DH preferring to be an engineer; DH visit to Tornado factory in Germany, connected to issue of Russian Titanium; [1:02:30] DH involvement with Tornado manufacture; issues with using Titanium on the Tornado; contacts in Tornado team, such as project director Wayson Turner who DH had known from Boscombe; [1:06:58] DH assigning Tornado problems to staff member; DH borrowing camera from Wayson Turner to use on E28/39 in 1940s; commuting with work colleagues. [1:08:35] Story about Westland and an American importer illegally making American helicopter parts, [1:10:58 Pause] DH discovering situation in a meeting at Yeovil; subsequent court case; American importer murdered; DH subpoenaed but case withdrawn. [1:15:40] Story about DH visit to a baring firm in Midlands connected with helicopter problems. [1:17:25] Remarks on: anecdote about DH's start in helicopter production; sources of problems with helicopters; value of DH's background; companies claim that they were there to make money not aircraft; Westlands problems; comparison with situation in France.
Interview with aeronautical engineer Dennis Higton.