OBITUARY:Sir Archibald Russell

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The Independent Online
During the 22 years between February 1954 and 21 January 1976 - when the possibilities of supersonic commercial air services were translated from fantasy into reality - three practical visionaries led the field: Sir Morian Morgan at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, Sir Archibald Russell at the British Aeroplane Company, Filton, and Sir George Edwards at Vickers Armstrongs (and, then, the British Aircraft Corporation) at Brooklands, Weybridge.

Archibald Russell had been responsible at Bristol for the long, but eventually successful, design and development of the Britannia long-range propeller- turbine airliner which went into service with BOAC in February 1957. By that time he had been immersed in the aircraft design business for more than 30 years since, as a 21-year-old Bristol University graduate, he had joined the stress office of the Bristol Aeroplane Company in May 1925 to work on an abortive biplane design under the tutelage of Frank Barnwell.

Then followed three lean and anxious years at Filton until, in August 1928, Barnwell's Bristol Bulldog single-seat fighter biplane won an Air Ministry/ Royal Air Force order for 29 production aircraft. Repeat orders to bring Bulldog output to 500 aircraft for the Royal Air Force's fighter squadrons, and for export, saw the Bristol Aeroplane Company through until the first of the RAF Expansion Schemes was launched under war clouds in 1935. By that time, Frank Barnwell, aided by his two chief assistants, Leslie Frise and Archibald Russell, had landed Air Ministry orders for two new and advanced twin-engine monoplanes - the Bristol Bombay troop-carrier and the Bristol Blenheim bomber (high-speed by 1939 standards). Some 1,000 Blenheims were delivered to the Royal Air Force by 3 September 1939.

Sadly, a month earlier, Frank Barnwell had been killed flying an ultra- light aeroplane of his own design and construction - a grievous loss to Bristol. He was succeeded by another First War veteran, Leslie Frise, aided by Russell. At once they were fully occupied with a Blenheim development to become the formidable Beaufighters. More than 5,500 of them were built before the Second World War ended.

Meanwhile, in 1941 an Air Staff requirement for a long-range, 100-ton, 300mph heavy bomber had led Frise to submit a design for a large, mid- wing monoplane powered by eight Centaurus engines. The request was cancelled but instead the newly formed Brabazon Committee sought from Bristol the design for a post-war, transatlantic civil transport aeroplane - based on the heavy bomber - to carry 90 passengers for 5,000 miles in 17 hours: all with sleeping accommodation.

Hardly had the design begun when Frise resigned to become Technical Director of Hunting Aviation, leaving Russell to succeed him as Bristol's Chief Engineer.

After immense labour, the Bristol Type 167 Bribazon I prototype made its first flight at Filton on 1 September 1949, powered with eight Centaurus engines, coupled in pairs and buried in the wings. Its fuselage diameter of 20 feet matched that of the Boeing 747 of today.

The Brabazon, under- powered and over-large (like the Great Eastern steamship) was ahead of its time. After some 350 hours of smooth and comfortable test flying it was broken up in October 1953, denied a Certificate of Airworthiness because of recurrent fatigue cracks in the engine/propeller mounting structures and the coming of smaller aircraft of equal payload/ranges.

Experience of the Brabazon's design and construction paved the way for Russell towards the elegant, and successful, Britannia airliner, delayed into service by unexpected engine-icing problems on its relatively untried Proteus propeller-turbines. Hence, to Russell's disappointment, the popular Britannia had a relatively short life in first-time commercial service before its performance was overtaken by the larger, new, jet transports.

Then came Concorde, derived from a 1961 design study for a 130-passenger, six-engine Bristol Type 198 to cruise at 1,450mph. Russell's well-versed team, led by Bill Strange, Mick Wilde, Doug Thorn and Douglas Vickery, tackled with enthusiasm and competence the formidable task of designing, developing and route-proving with BOAC the supersonic aircraft "on the frontiers of knowledge", inevitably, but essentially, complicated by the problems of working in harness with French colleagues at Sud Aviation.

The salvation was the wise, patient and talented leadership of Sir George Edwards, in concert with General Andre Puget (a former commander of the Free French Air Force in England), who, together, steered the whole process through a tangle of technical and political minefields, aided by a developing friendship between Russell and Louis Giusta, director-general of Sud Aviation. The two of them were appointed joint chief executives of Concorde under George Edwards, Andre Puget and, representing the British government, Jim Hamilton.

So Concorde was evolved through hard labour in Britain and France and went into service with BOAC and Air France on 21 January 1976. It will shortly complete 20 years of commercial operations bringing New York daily within less than four hours' flying time of London and Paris, as a present help to swift travel and as a portent for the future.

Archibald Russell - a most competent and dedicated perfectionist - was not the easiest of men to work with. He never withheld criticism from those who did not measure up to what he considered right - criticisms in which be included, impartially, ministers, civil servants, the Brabazon Committee and BOAC.

He retired at the end of 1969, as managing director of the British Aircraft Corporation, Filton Division, after 44 years of service there, from the days of 90mph biplanes to those of their 1,350mph successors.

Archibald Edward Russell, aircraft design engineer and administrator: born Cinderford, Gloucestershire 30 May 1904; chief technician, Bristol Aeroplane Co 1931-38, Technical Designer 1938-44, Chief Engineer 1944- 60, Technical Director 1960-66; RAeS British Gold Medal 1951; CBE 1954; joint chairman, Concorde Executive Committee of Directors 1965-69; managing director, British Aircraft Corporation, Filton Division 1966-67, chairman 1967-69; vice-chairman, BAC-Sud Aviation Concorde Committee 1969-70; FRS 1970; Kt 1972; FEng 1976; married 1930 Lorna Mansfield (died 1984; one son, one daughter), 1986 Judy Humphrey; died Angorrack, Cornwall 29 May 1995.