OBITUARIES: Professor Elfyn Richards

Geoffrey Lilley
Sunday 08 October 1995 23:02

Elfyn Richards was the first Professor of Aeronautical Engineering at Southampton University, where in the 1950s he set up a strong postgraduate school to explore noise and vibration in the fields of Aerodynamics, Structures and Materials, a school which has produced a large proportion of the experts in the subject today.

Richards was also the first director of the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research (ISVR), set up at Southampton in 1963, where the research and teaching covered every aspect of noise and vibration ranging from Aerodynamics to Audiology, with applications to all forms of transport on road, sea and air, to noise in the workplace, and diseases of the ear and deafness. Today no other institution in the world can rival the scope and expertise of ISVR in the field of Sound and Vibration, a testament to Elfyn Richards's vision.

Richards was born in Barry, near Cardiff, in 1914, and educated at University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, and St John's College, Cambridge. His professional career started in 1938 at the Bristol Aeroplane Company, where he joined aerodynamicists including Ernest Relf, Arthur Fage, Sidney Goldstein, Douglas Holder and James Lighthill.

It was a period when great advances were made in aerofoil and wing design. From 1945 to 1950 Richards was Chief Aerodynamicist and Assistant Chief Designer under Sir George Edwards at Vickers Armstrong, Weybridge. The significant successful aircraft which bore the stamp of Richards's expertise were the Viking and later the Viscount, the first turboprop commercial transport aircraft in the world. The Valiant bomber was also designed and flown successfully during his time at Weybridge.

It was while at Vickers Armstrong that Richards first recognised the importance of noise and vibration as subjects woefully deficient in research and yet so important in the design of successful aircraft both in the commercial and military fields. He became a member of the Aeronautical Research Council and its several committees.

After 17 years at Southampton, Richards left in 1967 to become the first Vice-Chancellor of the newly created University of Loughborough and changed the former Loughborough College of Technology into a respected university but still retaining its function as a centre concentrating on the application of knowledge to the betterment of mankind. On leaving Loughborough in 1975 he returned to Southampton and continued his research on sound and vibration.

"Sam" Richards was not a man who waited for things to happen. He had a vision for the future and worked courageously and persuasively, against all opposition, to see that vision fulfilled. He was an outspoken proponent of legislation to control noise in the environment, a member of the Government's Noise Advisory Council, and a founder member of the Institute of Acoustics and its first President.

He received honorary degrees from many universities, including Wales, Southampton, Loughborough and Heriot-Watt. He was a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society and an Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Acoustics. He was awarded the Taylor Gold Medal of the Royal Aeronautical Society, the James Watt Medal of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and the Silver Medal of the Royal Society of Arts. In 1980 he was made an honorary member of the Acoustical Society of America.

Geoffrey Lilley

Elfyn John Richards, aeronautical engineer: born Barry, Glamorgan 28 December 1914; research assistant, Bristol Aeroplane Company 1938-39; Scientific Officer, National Physical Laboratory, Teddington 1939-45; Chief Aerodynamicist and Assistant Chief Designer, Vickers Armstrong Ltd, Weybridge 1945-50; Professor of Aeronautical Engineering, Southampton University 1950-64, Founder Director, Institute of Sound and Vibration Research 1963-67, Research Professor and Acoustical Consultant 1975-84 (Emeritus); OBE 1958; Vice-Chancellor, Loughborough University 1967-75; President, British Acoustical Society 1968-70; President, Society of Environmental Engineers 1971-73; married 1941 Eluned Jones (died 1978; three daughters), 1986 Olive Meakin (died 1989), 1990 Miriam Davidson; died Romsey, Hampshire 7 September 1995.

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