Actually entitled 'The HSA Advanced Project Group 1960 - 1976' the
93 year old Professor's talk on May 14th turned out to be more of a
relaxed conversation about his career and his philosophy of engineering
as much as about the APG.
Before joining APG John was Deputy Chief Engineer at Avro, under
Hugh Francis, on the Blue Steel supersonic stand-off missile, the shape
of which he designed in four weeks. The exterior of the vehicle was
aerodynamic elegance but inside it was complex chaos. The nuclear
warhead weighed two tons, the electronics were pre-digital and
pre-reliable transistors so the inertial navigator was huge; and it all
generated a lot of heat requiring a powerful refrigeration system. To
carry the Blue Steel the Vulcan needed 1000 modifications. Trials were
carried out in Australia where it took 29 flights to get the inertial
navigation system to work properly. In 100 miles it gave a position
just 100 ft short and 240 ft off to the left.
From here John moved into the field of aerophysics in super- and hypersonic flows and spacecraft design.
In 1960 Hawker Siddeley had set up at Kingston the Advanced Projects Group of 30 designers and engineers under Jim Floyd, former Chief Engineer of the ill-fated Avro Canada Arrow project. Its remit was to do things not done by the individual HSA companies. A major project was a 150 passenger supersonic transport (SST), the HS1000, but the contract was lost to BAC and what became the Concorde. Floyd resigned and Hugh Francis and John Allan were transferred from Avro in 1969 to the 'silver mile' in the office block fronting onto the Richmond Road.
Many innovative projects were investigated including the HS1011
M1.15 swing-wing SST which would produce no sonic boom at sea level, a
V/STOL SST with very many engines and a number of M3 - M5 SSTs which
proved to have no commercial advantage. On the military front there was
the single-seat HS1034 variable geometry (VG) M5 rocket plane and the
HS1043 M4 VG canard interceptor and strike fighter with the R-R Spey
engine and variable intake and nozzle. The wing pivot was inside the
fuselage. Its mission was the interception of supersonic bombers,
cruising at 75,000 ft and M4 with a radius of action of 750 - 1250
Recoverable spacecraft were also studied in conjunction with Junkers in Germany and McDonnell-Douglas in the USA. A configuration of recoverable orbiter and boosters with expendable tanks was developed, like NASA's later Space Shuttle. Also studied were air breathing vehicles based on Kucheman's 'carrot' shape with base-burning propulsion, and alternative fuels such as hybrid liquid-solids (graphite, for example) but there was only a 5% energy advantage over kerosene. Liquid hydrogen had promise but was too difficult to handle in practice. Studies also included supersonic close combat fighters, airborne early warning aircraft and Nimrod developments.
After all this John was invited to join Ralph Hooper, as the Head of
Future Projects, for whom he spent 14 years working with, he said, the
great team that had produced so many outstanding aircraft.
John then chatted about other things that had exercised his
imagination such as anti-gravity physics, the importance of project
directed research, getting to Mars at ¼ g, an 'Air Rover' aircraft to
operate away from runways and go into villages in Africa, and enthusing
young people to take up engineering as a career.
He wants to carry out some research into how and why people became
engineers and has devised the questionnaire below. Please take a little
time to complete it and send it to John for professional analysis and
so, perhaps, contribute to the burgeoning of engineering students in
The vote of thanks was given by your Editor who picked up a point
John had made about Meccano, an excellent teacher of engineering,
saying that in his view the shortage of young British engineers was due
to Leggo which, because it was so easy, had pushed Meccano out of the