What’s it all about then?

As mentioned previously, my MSc thesis is going to be on the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) Farnborough’s engine department in the interwar period. The work which I’m most directly engaging with is that of David Edgerton, notably his Warfare State and England and the Aeroplane. His argument that the British state strongly supported warlike technologies such as military aviation even through periods often viewed as peaceful and disarmed seems to me to be very strong, but his work takes a very high-level approach. On the one hand, this means that the state is treated as a monolithic actor; on the other, it means that he treats the development of technologies as simply a consequence of state funding.

I hope to explore one small facet of the warfare state in detail, namely how the research work of Farnborough’s engine department was influenced by the various actors and social groups with an interest in engine technology, such as the Air Council, the Aeronautical Research Committee (ARC), the aero-engine industry, the Air Ministry’s own R&D staff, and of course Farborough’s researchers themselves. In order to do this, I’m trying to get a picture of the work that the RAE did, from their own technical reports, as well as ARC reports and memoranda (R&Ms), papers published in the technical journals, and the aeronautical press such as Flight. At the same time, I’m trying to compile biographies of key figures and trace their movements between research establishments, industry, and other posts.

Apart from the inevitable introduction/conclusion and historiographical discussion, I plan to have 4 main chapters. Chapter 1 will deal with the RAE (or rather the Royal Aircraft Factory as then was) up to the end of the First World War, including its often strained relationship with private industry, and its eventual loss of design authority.  Chapter 2 will deal with the radial engine in the UK in roughly the decade 1916-1926, or from much of the fundamental work done at Farnborough to supercharged radials entering service. Chapter 3 will deal with the liquid-cooled engine from the mid-1920s through to the early 1930s. It will cover UK government support for the inline in the wake of the US Curtiss-powered Schneider Trophy winners,  its development and use in the UK’s Schneider Trophy aircraft, and the support given by the RAF, the Air Ministry, and Farnborough. The final chapter will cover rearmament and high-powered engines for air defence aircraft, leading finally to the letting of a  contract to Metropolitan-Vickers to develop an RAE-designed jet engine.


2 Responses to “What’s it all about then?”

  1. Airminded · Your target for tonight … Says:

    […] written by Jakob Whitfield, a frequent commenter around these parts. He’s just finishing up a Master’s on engine development at the interwar RAE, and then will roll into a PhD on Metrovick and the gas turbine. This is pleasing for a number of […]

  2. Jim Rait Says:

    I’ve been describing what I know about British aero turbocharger development which really started at Farenborough. Jimmy Ellor was a prime mover and worked with Metrovick in WWI as I mentioned in the post (http://www.theaerodrome.com/forum/555997-post25.html).
    So the relationship went back a long time although I have not found any more information. Also Frank Nixon’s article in the RAeS centenary edition of Aeronautical Journal Jan 1966 gives a good overview.. I did the research!

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