Aircraft

Dennis Higton (right) and colleagues with a Gloster E.28/39, Britain’s first jet aircraft, in the 1940s
Dennis Higton (right) and colleagues with a Gloster E.28/39, Britain’s first jet aircraft, in the 1940s

Designing and building machines that fly and the engines that power them has absorbed a significant proportion of British scientific talent since before World War Two. Working in government research establishments, private firms and nationalised enterprises British scientists and engineers were pioneers in the early jet age and went on to design and develop some of the most iconic aircraft of the Cold War era.  These included the Harrier Jump Jet and the V-bombers as well other innovative designs that did not progress beyond the prototype stage. During the 1950s and 1960s their efforts were widely celebrated in popular culture and helped to inspire a new generation of experts. Rolls-Royce has retained its position as a major producer of engines for both commercial and military aircraft, despite the financial difficultiesthat surrounded its development of the innovative RB211 turbofan engine during the 1960s and early 1970s. This engine was designed to be not only more efficient in its use of fuel than its predecessors, but also to be quieter, a concern that has been reflected in much more recent work on ‘silent aircraft’ carried out in collaboration with US researchers.  British engineers at Saunders-Roe also pioneered the commercial development of the hovercraft, a very different kind of flying machine.

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