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The Saga of the Miles M-52 Britain’s Wartime Supersonic Project

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Dr Nigel Bennee.

Please note this lecture is different to that previously advertised. It will be preceeded by a short presentation by Vaibhav Bhardwaj on his research "Algae-bacteria symbiosis: Using molecular biology to improve algae cultivation for biofuels"

In 1943 a specification was issued calling for a research aircraft with a 1000mph maximum speed to be powered by an extremely advanced Whittle turbojet engine. Aircraft diving in combat at half that speed had suffered violent buffeting and loss of control. Many pilots had been unable to pull out, and the term ‘graveyard dive’ entered their vocabulary.

Aerodynamicists were aware that airflow characteristics changed as aircraft approached the speed of sound (660mph at altitude), but knowledge was scanty and conflicting, and the challenge presented in meeting the specification was daunting in the extreme.

The theoretical picture pieced together by the aerodynamicists at Miles Aircraft enabled them to produce a design which, with the benefit of hindsight, would have not only met, but exceeded the specification requirements.

The design process will be discussed, including the visits made to ‘experts’ in an attempt to establish sound from less-sound information on which to base the design.

Sadly the resulting aircraft was abruptly cancelled in February 1946 under a cloud of secrecy and misinformation, within months of its completion, scheduled for the summer of that year. The reasons for the cancellation have been hotly disputed ever since, and I shall discuss some of these. What is certain, however, is that this one cancellation caused Britain to lose the lead we then had in the design of transonic and supersonic aircraft, as well as advanced jet engines. (The Whittle engine alone was a technological tour-de-force, well over ten years ahead of its time). It took over a year later for the Americans to nudge beyond Mach1 in October 1947 with the rocket powered Bell X-1, dropped from a bomber and gliding back to earth to land on a vast dry lake-bed in the Mojave desert, a facility which was not available in our tiny island!

This talk is part of the Cambridge Society for the Application of Research (CSAR) series.

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