Ron Ayers obituary


Working on the Handley Web page firm, after which within the guided weapons division of the Bristol Aeroplane Firm (now a part of BAE Programs), within the Nineteen Fifties and 60s, the engineer and aerodynamicist Ron Ayers, who has died aged 92, turned one among Britain’s most skilled supersonic and high-speed plane designers.

Following retirement in 1988, he took on a volunteer position on the Brooklands Museum, Weybridge, and was fascinated to find, among the many aviation archives held there, aerodynamic and wind tunnel work on the prewar technology of land-speed record-breaking vehicles. This led to Ayers assembly Ken Norris, designer (together with his brother Lew) of Donald Campbell’s Bluebird automotive and jet-powered boat. With these two autos, in 1964, Campbell had achieved world information, for land velocity of 403.1mph (648.73 km/h), and for water velocity of 276.3mph (444.71km/h).

Norris had additionally been supervisor of newer world-record-breaking runs by the self-styled “adventurer and engineer” Richard Noble with Thrust, a automotive that gained a world report of 633mph (1018.7 km/h) within the Nevada desert in 1983. When Ayers ran into Noble by probability, whereas they had been each passing by Bournemouth airport in 1992, he discovered that Noble’s subsequent undertaking was the Thrust SSC, a jet-powered “automotive” supposed to interrupt the sound barrier on land – at a velocity of about 767mph. “Don’t be an fool – you’ll kill your self,” Ayers stated.

The issue is {that a} land-speed automotive is an “interface car” working between air and earth. Designing a secure supersonic form for that regime is sort of totally different to creating an plane or missile that would obtain supersonic flight safely in free air. On land, the place would the supersonic shock waves across the car go and the way may they upset it? What would the airflow beneath it’s like and the way may it carry or destabilise it? There have been no precedents. However, intrigued by the problem, Ayers mulled over the issue and, a bit of later, received again to Noble saying that he thought he may see a technique to do it.

There aren’t any wind tunnels able to modelling this case, however between them, they known as in favours and all their contacts to win time for day-long simulations that ran on Britain’s strongest supercomputer (a Cray machine), in parallel with bodily experiments with a scale mannequin hooked up to an 800mph rail-mounted rocket sledge on the Defence Analysis Company’s institution at MOD Pendine in Wales.

The analysis paid off, and on 15 October 1997 the RAF pilot Wg Cmdr Andy Inexperienced lastly achieved a supersonic world report of 763.035mph (1,227.986 km/h) in Thrust SSC – a report that also stands.

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Thrust SSC within the Black Rock desert, Nevada, in September 1997. {Photograph}: David B Parker/Reno Gazette Journal/AP

Ayers was born in London, the son of Frederick Ayers, an engineer, and his spouse, Maud (nee Jardine). To flee bombing in the course of the second world warfare, in 1940 the household, and Frederick’s manufacturing facility, moved to Barnstaple in Devon. Deemed not appropriate for college, as a result of persistent childhood ear infections (alleviated with the appearance of penicillin) and an interrupted schooling, Ron went straight into the Handley Web page firm in 1950 as an engineering apprentice, the place he labored on the Victor bomber undertaking. This additionally allowed him “day launch” to realize a level in aeronautical engineering from the College of London. He then received a scholarship to review for an MSc at Cranfield School of Aeronautics (now Cranfield College).

Britain had a number of the most technically superior plane corporations on the planet and Handley Web page was one of the vital esteemed, on the forefront with an exceptionally superior aerodynamic design staff. Its Victor bomber turned central to the V power – Britain’s chilly warfare deterrent. These plane had been devised to evade interception by flying sooner and better than any plane earlier than.

It’s unimaginable to overstate the significance of aerodynamic science to nationwide coverage on the time. Chilly warfare plane growth was a contest of the brightest minds to attain unprecedented efficiency within the tough transonic regime – the velocity vary approaching the velocity of sound. As the brand new postwar technology of navy plane approached that velocity, the airflow over them could possibly be blended – flowing in a well-known, nicely understood method in some areas, however turning into supersonic over elements the place the air accelerated.

This supersonic (incompressible) stream was a brand new, little studied, phenomenon, and it posed recent issues in stability, management and structural integrity. The entire business was supported carefully by the Royal Plane Institution at Farnborough, Hampshire (and at Bedford). This was most likely the largest analysis enterprise in Europe in these years.

This was the milieu wherein Ayers developed – fixing issues that the feasibility of Noble’s supersonic automotive would recall. The nationwide deterrent coverage again then was to plot near-supersonic bombers that would outfly the fighter defences, exploiting velocity, top and the constraints imposed by radar warning time. However on the identical time, the intention was to create dwelling defences that would catch something comparable developed by an enemy.

As a part of this warfare of innovation, the Bristol firm was growing the Bloodhound guided missile, supposed to destroy incoming enemy plane, so it’s intriguing that Ayers in 1956 joined the Bristol’s guided weapons division, turning into chief aerodynamicist. The revised Bloodhound Mk II that he labored on was a extremely efficient missile supposed to destroy bombers attacking Britain, able to reaching 65,000ft (practically 20,000 metres) at greater than twice the velocity of sound. It went into service “to defend the deterrent” – the V-bomber power that Ayers had initially contributed to in his first job.

Nevertheless, on the dying of his father, Ayers left aeronautics and in 1967 took over the household enterprise, which made printing presses, remaining with the corporate till it was bought in 1988.

In retirement, in addition to volunteering at Brooklands, Ayers was actively concerned in selling engineering schooling, and he seen the Thrust SSC record-breaking makes an attempt as helpful publicity to showcase engineering and its intrinsic curiosity. Subsequently, he was chief aerodynamicist for the JCB 2006 Dieselmax automotive, which nonetheless holds the world diesel automotive report of over 350mph (560 km/h), and in addition for the projected 1,000mph Bloodhound automotive.

All this extremely authentic work carried out within the later many years of Ayers’s life was, he stated, “rather more enjoyable than mowing the garden”.

Ayers married Irene Graham, a psychologist, in 1968. She died in 1991 and he’s survived by their son, Roger, and granddaughters, Lily-Might and Daisy.


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