Thursday, 20 December 2012

Frank Piasecki 1919-2008

Piasecki, whose family came from Poland, became only the second American to design and fly a prototype helicopter in 1943, two years after the Russian-born Igor Sikorsky had flown the first. Unlike Sikorsky, however, Piasecki concentrated on helicopters with tandem rotors that could provide the capacity for troop transports and land and sea rescue missions. He never retired; even on the day he died his chief test pilot was flying his latest development, the Speed Hawk, which has a ducted fan replacing the helicopter's familiar vertical tail rotor to increase its speed and manoeuvrability.

The son of a Polish immigrant tailor, Piasecki was born in Philadelphia in 1919, he studied mechanical engineering at Pennsylvania University and by the age of 20 had gained an engineering degree from the Guggenheim school of aeronautics at New York University. With help from a few friends he then started a small company, the PV Engineering Forum, in the Philadelphia suburbs, which enabled him to build and, in April 1943, test-fly a single-person, single-rotor helicopter, designated the PV-2. At that stage, he had it in mind to satisfy what he thought would become a growing market of rich, individual customers.

Soon, however, he was exploring the twin-rotor concept, most successfully in 1945 with the PV-3 Dogship, which had 10 seats. The US navy, under wartime pressure from Congress to develop this new technology, gave Piasecki a contract, and within 13 months he had built and flown the navy's first helicopter, designated the HRP-1. These aircraft were nicknamed "flying bananas" because of the upward angle of the aft fuselage, designed to ensure that the forward and rear rotors did not collide.

When the second world war ended, Piasecki formed the Piasecki Helicopter Corporation, designating himself chief executive, chief engineer and chief test pilot. In addition to building helicopters for the US navy, air force and marine corps, he exported the models to the Royal Canadian air force, the French navy and the West German defence force. In 1953 he designed the world's first twin-turbine helicopter, the YH-16, capable of carrying a payload of 40 passengers. His tandem rotor technology led to the development of the CH-46 Sea Knight and the CH-40 Chinook, which played a critical role in Vietnam and all major conflicts after it.

In 1955, preferring to continue research and development, Piasecki left his own company, which was renamed the Vertol Aircraft Corporation - taking its title from the acronym for Vertical Take-Off and Landing. In its turn, this company was bought by Boeing in 1960 and became the Boeing helicopter division in 1987. Meanwhile, Piasecki reformed his company as the Piasecki Aircraft Corporation, "pioneers in vertical flight", which has continued to work on advanced helicopter technology, improved survivability and reduced operational costs. One of its most ambitious projects was what Piasecki called the "world's largest aircraft", which aimed to use four modified helicopters and a helium airship to carry exceptionally heavy loads.

In 1986 President Ronald Reagan awarded Piasecki the US's highest technical honour, the National Medal of Technology, and when the Berlin wall fell in 1989, President George Bush Sr asked him to return to his country of origin to help Poland re-establish its aircraft industry. In 2005, he received the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum lifetime achievement award. Some of his early helicopter designs are displayed in the museum.

Known as Pi to his friends and staff, Piasecki was a demanding and occasionally table-thumping boss, but knew all his staff personally, and admired those who stood up to him. He had continued as chief executive, his mental abilities undiminished despite several disabling strokes.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Ernest G. Stout 1913-1995

Ernest Stout, design engineer of the Convair Company. His firm produced one of the American Navy's two V.T.O. turboprop prototypes; in addition he has pioneered the Sea Dart hydro-ski fighter which is land-based, but which uses water (or snow or ice) for take-off and landing.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Anne Burns 1915-2001

Champion glider pilot who risked her life investigating air disasters

Anne Burns was an eminent aeronautical scientist and a champion glider pilot; she also played a key role in investigating the causes of some of Britain's most serious aircraft disasters.

In 1954, two BOAC Comets broke up over the Mediterranean, one over Elba and the other above the island of Stromboli. Both planes had been flying at more than 25,000 ft. Coupled with an earlier disintegration over Calcutta, these disasters jeopardised the future of British civil aviation. Anne Burns had been appointed principal scientific officer at the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) in 1953, and the following year she took part in months of tests which eventually led to the detection of metal fatigue in the Comet jet airliner.

The only woman in a team of 20, she would spend hours at a time in an unpressurised cabin, often at an altitude of 40,000 ft, probing for solutions which had to be found speedily if BOAC was to restore passenger confidence. "We just flew about," she later recalled, "waiting for the windows to fall out."

The conditions were, in fact, extremely hazardous and when an inquiry was later conducted into the Elba crash, Sir Lionel Heald, who was representing the Crown, praised Anne Burns's bravery, describing how on each of her experimental flights, designed to produce the actual conditions of the crash, "no one knew what had really happened or what danger there was". In 1955 she received a Queen's Commendation for Valuable Services in the Air in recognition of her considerable contribution to aircraft safety.

She was born Anne Pellew on November 23 1915, the daughter of Major Fleetwood Pellew whose forebear Sir Edward Pellew was a naval hero of the Napoleonic Wars. Anne was educated at Abbey School in Reading and aged 12 made her first flight in a Gipsy Moth from Woodley aerodrome. She later went up to St Hugh's, Oxford where she took a First in Engineering Science. As an undergraduate, she owned a noisy sports car in which she would career around the city until, fearing the worst, the proctors impounded the vehicle. However, she directed some of her enthusiasm and prodigious energy to sport, winning a hockey Blue and squash Half Blue.

Following research work under Professor Richard Southwell at the university's engineering laboratory, she joined the RAE in 1940. There she qualified for a pilot's licence in a de Havilland Tiger Moth biplane trainer, and was involved in flight test programmes for RAF and Fleet Air Arm aircraft of many types. At the RAE she also met her future husband, Denis Burns.

As a member of the RAE's structures department Anne Burns was mainly concerned with the measurement of structural loads in flight and the effect of such loads on the fatigue life of aircraft. For some years she also conducted an investigation into atmospheric turbulence in relation to aircraft structure, pilot performance and flying procedures. She played a leading role in the testing of the English Electric Canberra - Britain's first jet bomber - flying at low levels in Britain and North Africa and at high altitude in Australia and the United States.

Her contributions to reports on turbulence were of great significance. She became an expert on CAT - clear air turbulence - the rare natural phenomenon sometimes encountered by airline captains of flying into a "brick wall" in the sky. Her interest in this area led her to buy an ultra-light French-built RF-4, which was, in effect, a glider with an outboard engine capable of being switched on and off. In this rather fragile plane she would fly over the Pennines and the Welsh mountains looking for "brick walls". "Luckily," she explained, "my husband is both a scientist and a glider pilot and we have no children. He doesn't worry. In a way it's rather exciting - like skiing in the sky - quite apart from the thrill of scientific discovery."

Burns's enthusiasm for gliding had begun during the war when she took part in launch tests for wartime troop carrying gliders. She later went on to gain a formidable reputation in recreational and competition gliding. In 1955, after only a year's experience flying glider planes, she established a women's gliding record of 134 miles when she flew from Lasham in Hampshire to Market Drayton in Shropshire. With typical modesty, she ascribed her win to "beginner's luck".

In 1957 she became the first woman to cross the Channel in a glider. She consistently bettered her own record times and in South Africa in 1961 she and her husband broke five world and 12 British records. At the age of 50, as the holder of multiple gliding records, she was awarded the Lilienthal Medal of the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, and in 1967 she received the Founder's Medal of the Air League.

Other gliding awards include the Jean Lennox Bird Trophy in 1959, the Brabazon Cup in 1961 and 1963, and the O P Jones Cup in 1966, which recognised her as the national gliding champion of Great Britain. In 1962, Denis and Anne Burns were jointly awarded awarded the Royal Aero Club's Britannia trophy for their gliding achievements, which were described at the time as the most "dazzling display in any field of aviation since the beginning of flying history".

Anne Burns's distinctions as an aeronautical scientist were no less impressive. She won another Queen's Commendation for Valuable Services in the Air in 1961, the Royal Aeronautical Society's R P Alston Medal (1958) and the Whitney Straight award in 1968. In 1977 a glider she had been piloting near Andover hit a bird and went into freefall. As she bailed out, Anne Burns became entangled in her parachute and ended up landing in the branches of a tree.

Although this automatically entitled her to membership of the Caterpillar club - whose members are pilots who have jumped for their lives - she decided that her flying days were over. Her husband, Denis Owen Burns, whom she married in 1947, died in 1990.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Francis Melvin Rogallo 1912–2009

Francis Rogallo was an aeronautical engineer who, beginning with a model made from a kitchen curtain, designed the wing that led to hang gliding, paragliding, sport parachuting and stunt kite flying.He was born Jan. 27, 1912, in Sanger, California and graduated from Sanger High School in 1928.He went on to graduate with an advanced degree in Mechanical Engineering and Aeronautics in 1935, one of the first to do so, from Stanford University.After completing his college studies, Rogallo joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), later to become the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), in 1936 in Hampton, Va., and embarked on what would be a long and distinguished career in aeronautics. In 1939 he married the love of his life Gertrude Sugden Rogallo, a young educator from the Hampton Roads area. The couple raised four children, Marie, Robert, Carol, and Frances, and celebrated 68 years of marriage together. While Roger was working as an aeronautical engineer in the NACA wind tunnels and Gertrude was busy as a homemaker, they actively pursued at home their passion and dream of creating a vehicle to make flight affordable and available to everyone. While pursuing their dream, the couple met the legendary inventor Orville Wright who fueled their spirit of invention. Francis held several patents from his work at NACA and NASA, but was proudest of the one he and Gertrude filed in 1948 as co-inventors of a "flexible kite" based on their joint efforts at home in their leisure time. The device is one of the simplest airfoils ever created, a wing totally without stiffeners creating lift and carrying payloads. This Rogallo Wing has made possible many sports including hang gliding, paragliding, sport parachuting, stunt kite flying, and kite boarding enjoyed by millions of people. The Rogallos are recognized worldwide for their contributions to sport aviation and have been honored in Japan, Australia, Switzerland, Germany, and France. Honors in this country for Francis include recognition by the National Air and Space Museum "for outstanding achievement in aerospace technology", presentation of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine from the State of North Carolina as one of the 100 aviation heroes by Senator Elizabeth Dole at the Century of Flight ceremonies in 2003, and induction of both into the Paul Garber Shrine at the Wright Brothers National Memorial. The couple's portrait hangs today in the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, N.C. Rog also was an inductee of the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame and of the Public Education Hall of Fame of the California School Boards Association, in the inaugural class in 1984, and both are honored with a pylon at the Century of Flight Monument in Kitty Hawk, N.C.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

E A 'Chris' Wren 1909-1982 (Cartoonist)


The Aeroplane artist E. A. Chris Wren was the envy of Flight magazine. His column Wroundabout and the
aerodynamic animation of his aircraft caricatures, which somehow looked more real than the originals, and his wartime "Oddentifications" won him an enormous international aviation fan club. In fact it was because of Wren that Flight started Straight and Level. The Empire Test Pilots School mess is filled with his drawings, of the countless international pilots who have attended it over the years. He died at the 1982 ETPS annual
dinner—an occasion he would never miss—at a youthful 73 and at the height of his powers.

Dr Eric S Moult Ph.D., B.Sc, M.I.Mech.E., F.R.Ae.S 1903-

Dr E. S. Moult, Ph.D., B.Sc, M.I.Mech.E., F.R.Ae.S.,chief engineer of the de Havilland Engine Co., Ltd.was concerned with aero-engine design from a time soon after the First World War, and in the inter-war years was associated with the late Major F. B. Halford in the design and development of such famous engines as the D.H.Gipsy and the Napier Rapier, Dagger and Sabre. He became chief engineer of the engineering departments of the de Hayilland engine and propeller divisions in 1941 and on the formation of the D.H. engine company in 1944 was appointed its chief engineer. He was a member of the Council of the R.Ae.S. in 1951-53. He became a director in 1955, and was technical director during 1957-62. In the latter year he was appointed technical director of Bristol Siddeley Engines Ltd, and became technical director of the Small Engine Division in 1962.

Friday, 11 May 2012