John Coplin: explaining jet engineering to children and bankers

John Coplin recalls explaining jet engine technology by writing children's books and talking to bankers after Rolls-Royce's difficulties in the 1970s.

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What I found was that generally, in talking about high technology of aero engines to people like bankers, people who run the airline, the airline accountants and so on, you had to put things in a fairly ordinary language. What is the youngest age at which you can do that? And by about twelve kids have used the – well, kids that have had the opportunity to develop their brains, they’re articulate, they’ve got a good vocabulary, they’ve got a good sense of logic. They’re cheeky. They ask all the right questions and a few more besides. And so I felt, well, why don’t I try and write some things about engineering and about my life that might interest them at a level that can be understood by children, and maybe be read by their parents as well. I also felt that writing a shortish book was roughly equivalent to writing a technical paper. Well, I was producing technical papers at the rate of several per year, so I could actually sit down in some quiet times and just write away. So I did two. I actually – but the aim always really was twelve plus. The threshold being what does an intelligent adequately educated twelve year old – what does that person – what is he capable of reading? What is he capable of understanding? What’s his level of comprehension of these things? And what language would that child use when explaining it on to someone else? I thought that was a very good discipline and I certainly gained from the experience of really trying to make things ordinary. It was a very real need, because, you know, for example, at the time of the crisis of confidence and the bankruptcy, and the decision to go and do an uprated version, it was necessary, when explaining it to the bankers and the accountants and the airlines and so on, to say, ‘Well, a jet engine is suck, bang, blow, and we’re going to increase the suck. We’re going to increase the bang. And we’re going to increase the blow. This is how we’re going to do it.’ So it was real ma and pa language. Now when you’re talking with your professional colleagues it’s flow coefficients and pressure ratios and temperature ratios and all the clever stuff, but how are you going to make the jet engine better? And, you know, you can explain that in really simple language and not many words. Well, it was the only way they understood, otherwise their eyes would just glaze over and you’d lost.

  • Interviewee John Coplin
  • Duration 00:03:14
  • Copyright British Library Board
  • Interviewer Thomas Lean
  • Date of interview 6/6/2011
  • Shelfmark C1379/37

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