Member’s Lunch Meeting – 5th June 2019

Stephen Robson – The Battle of Britain.

After completing an engineering apprenticeship, Stephen Robson joined the RAF in 1969 and left in 1988. Since then he has worked for British Aerospace at Kingston, followed by over five years in a construction consultancy. A return to aviation was in the monitoring of jet engines for the BAe146 / Avro RJ regional jets and business jets. He is active in aviation related organisations and Chairman of the Registered Charity, Charles Rolls Memorial Trust, which promotes the role of Charles Rolls.

Stephen became interested in aircraft as a boy through the Aircraft recognition books published by Penguin. His talk spanned the period from the beginnings of the RAF up until the Battle of Britain. He outlined the build up and formation of the RAF on April 1, 1918, the Royal Air Force (RAF) was formed with the amalgamation of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS). The RAF took its place beside the British navy and army as a separate military service with its own ministry.

The. RAF youngest of the three British armed services, charged with the air defense of the United Kingdom and the fulfillment of international defense commitments.

The first HQ for the new RAF was at 80 Strand, London in the Hotel Cecil. The hotel is now gone and the space is the new rear entrance to the Shell Mex House  building. The old main entrance to this office block was on the Embankment side.There is a plaque is in the top right corner of the archway, just inside the entrance commemoration the RAF formation.

The first air units in Britain’s military were formed eight years after the first powered flight took place in 1903. In April 1911 an air battalion of the Royal Engineers was formed, consisting of one balloon and one airplane company. In December 1911 the British Admiralty formed the first naval flying school, at the Royal Aero Club ground at Eastchurch, Kent.

The history of military aviation at Cranwell goes back to November 1915, when the Admiralty requisitioned from the Marquess of Bristol’s estate. And on 1 April 1916, the Royal Naval Air Service, Training Establishment, Cranwell was officially born.

Stephen when on to explain the build up of the service  particularly from 1933 when Hitler came to power in Germany. He spoke about the development of Acoustic Devices to detect enemy planes to the invention of Radar. 

The Schneider Trophy races (1929 and 1931) were experiences that provided a backdrop to the famous Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, as it was when Supermarine aircraft designer R.J.Mitchell and Rolls-Royce Chief Engineer Ernest Hives (later Lord Hives) forged a partnership. Hives recognised that the Rolls-Royce ‘R’ Series in the racers was not suited to even higher power development. He remained committed to the liquid-cooled V-12 configuration and proposed a new engine with an integrally cast crankcase and cylinder blocks, ‘wedge’ shape combustion chambers, helical gears and a supercharger. He envisaged an engine providing at least 1,000HP, which was both lightweight and reasonably fuel-efficient, and to suit anticipated fighter aircraft requirements. Development was funded by Rolls-Royce. Supermarine and Hawker designed the Spitfire and Hurricane respectively around the new engine.. The presenter then detailed its shortcomings and their remedies which resulted in a considerably re-designed Merlin which had a more conventional cylinder-head valve configuration, and sub-divided the crankcase and cylinder block castings. The much improved Merlin III entered service with the RAF in Spitfires and Hurricanes in early 1940.

The history of the RAF  is long and complex and further reading can be  found on the Internet. Finally Stephen reminded us that his interest in flying and aircraft stemmed from Penguin Books on Aircraft Recognition. It is ironic that Penguin Books Headquarters are now located in Shell Mex House, formerly Hotel Cecil, the site where the RAF was formed in 1918.


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