18:21 21 September 2007
Geoffrey_Wilde_210866a.jpg, from the Times online.
I read today in The Times of the death of GW as we called him (Rolls-Royce had a reference for each manager... I was Rt ). During the 4th year of my 5-yr engineering apprenticeship I spent 12 weeks working on the RB 207-51 proposed for the Boeing 747 project. I met Geoff Wilde as I had to go up to his department to seek guidance from his Preliminary Design team. I was a little in awe of these people as they showed me the advanced ideas they were working on! One of his staff was the last designer to have worked for Sir Henry Royce. A few month's later after we lost the Boeing contract and turned our attentions to the three-engined Douglas DC-10 and Lockheed L1011 projects I was reassigned to the team working on the RB211 engine. There I worked on the Hyfil fan blade design and began to witness the intense engineering arguments around the new material .. GW's take on this to quote the Times obituary was
"In 1960 Wilde was chosen to form the preliminary design department, choosing the three-shaft design which was launched as the RB211. At the same time he proposed the wide chord fan blade to obtain maximum aerodynamic efficiency. Though the three-shaft concept was brilliant, the detail design, for which Wilde and his team were not responsible, was flawed. Wilde disagreed with the choice of a hyfil carbon fibre for the fan blade on the ground that it would not be strong enough to sustain a birdstrike – and was vindicated when the fan stage disintegrated when a chicken was fired into it. This and other problems resulted in delays leading to Rolls-Royce’s bankruptcy in 1971."
So there was I a trainee designer working on the most political component in the engine when I was sent off to tackle an MSc in Propulsion Technology, returning after two years at Cranfield.... 5 months later the problems with hyfil brought the company to is knees (bankruptcy followed at 10.30 am 4th February 1971).
I was seconded to the Stress Office where all the fully trained analysts were wrestling with RB211 issues that were airworthiness or component life challenges. I was put onto a new section looking after the analysis of Advanced Projects for GW's team. To quote the Times again
"One of the most serious problems had been the short life of the high-pressure turbine blade, and it was recognised that the Rolls lacked high temperature technology. Hooker, called back to the company after a period with Bristol, put Wilde in charge of research on combustion and turbines. Wilde’s team initiated a series of advanced test programmes, and during this time he changed the whole approach to how technology programmes were formulated and managed."
During the transition from the old and new programme management I worked on turbine blade integrity problems across many engines and in particular the High Temperature Demonstrator Unit which was supposed to demonstrate technology for the RB211 and other engines. In fact the engines were developing technology for the HTDU as the programme had slipped due to the bankruptcy and diversion of effort to the RB211 programme! GW raised his eyebrows at such a rooky on the team but supported me as I went about discovering what was preventing the life extension of the turbine blades as we switched from extrusion-forged technology to casting the blades because although the material specimen creep life was dramatically increased the turbine life remained obstinately low. He supported me in my pragmatic intuitive theories that were used to drive the technology programme and soon restored Royce's technology credentials. Eventually scientific theory repaced my amalgam of guesswork and a colleague's oddball material tests. GW carried on in the cultural tradition of pragmatic engineering backed up both by rigorous analysis and practical experimentation and testing. Soon a turbine design department with multi disciplinary personnel and cross disciplinary management was set up and I became, at that time, the youngest technical manager, responsible for turbine blade stress analysis. Later I returned to Cranfield as a post-graduate lecturer and our department ran many 10 week specialist courses to upskill the technologists and to widen their ability to talk a common language across the disciplines as GW had urged! So I owe him a great deal. Thanks GW!