Obituary: Roy Richardson

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The Independent Online
John Roy Richardson, aeronautical engineer: born Newcastle upon Tyne 14 March 1926; Chief of Aero-Elasticity, Avro Canada 1957-59; co- founder, Engineering Research Associates of Toronto 1959-68; Principal Scientific Officer, Hovercraft Division, National Physical Laboratory 1969-76; Chairman, Hovercraft Research Committee 1970-73; PSO, National Maritime Institute 1976-86; married 1957 Pam Atkinson (one son, three daughters); died Kingston upon Thames 5 August 1994.

ROY RICHARDSON's career as an engineer spanned a period of great change: not just the rapid post-war development of technology through the Fifties, Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, but also the changing attitudes toward research and national investment in engineering developments.

A war-time education at London University provided Richardson with a degree in aeronautical engineering which stood him in good stead for the diverse assignments to come. His foundation experience was gained in the first 13 years of his working life, in the pioneering aircraft industry - at Fairey Aviation, Handley Page and Avro. His area was the complex subject of aero-elasticity - the vibration and distortion of the aircraft structure induced by its flight through the air. Mastery of the subject requires a deep understanding of structures and their behaviour, the science of aerodynamics both subsonic and supersonic, and a mathematical ability to mould the two elements


Master the subject Richardson did, and by 1957 he held the position of Chief of Aero-Elasticity at Avro (Canada). From this base he moved into consulting and for nine years expanded his repertoire of skills by selling his services to the clients of Engineering Research Associates of Toronto - a company he co-founded in 1959.

By 1968 and his return to Britain, he had played significant roles in the development and certification of aircraft with nostalgia- laden names such as the Fairey Gannet the Handley Page Victor and Herald, Avro's CF105 Arrow; and romantic names such as the Caribou and Buffalo (De Havilland), the Commanche, Navajo and Cherokee (Piper), and aircraft from the Cessna, Beech and Grumman companies.

Richardson's experiences in Canada had led him into aircraft related areas such as hydrofoils, a diversification further developed when he joined the Hovercraft Division of the National Physical Laboratory in 1969. From 1970 to 1973 he served as Chairman of Britain's Hovercraft Research Committee and from 1973 to 1975 on a committee on hovercraft stability and control, set up by the then Air Registration Board.

From 1976 Richardson was part of the newly formed National Maritime Institute and his priorities driven by other agendas - North Sea oil and gas production and the quest for alternative energy sources. Today the North Sea and the Gulf of Mexico have a number of Tension Leg Platforms (TLP), but in the mid-Seventies they were merely concepts, subject to unknown motions and instabilities. Such new challenges were the essence of motivation for Richardson and he contributed to both the TLP and Wave Energy areas.

Aerodynamics, however, was Richardson's first love and for the last 15 years of his career he devoted much of his talent and enthusiasm to the aero-elasticity of long-span bridges. The analysis of bridge safety and stability in high winds became a significant concern to designers and operators following the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Suspension Bridge Oregon, US in the 1940s, and now all new designs are subject to thorough scrutiny. Richardson provided expert consultancy to many of the more recent constructions - the QEII Bridge at Dartford, the Humber, the Second Severn Crossing, the Second Bosporus Suspension Bridge and the Tsing-Ma Suspension Bridge now in construction as part of the fixed link to Hong Kong's new airport.

Some of his most innovative work may lie in the projects which have not yet gone ahead: the EuroRoute alternative to the Channel Tunnel and the patented designs for very long spans suitable for the Messina Straits and Japanese island links.