8 August 1910 – 24 October 2014

Johanna Weber was a mathematician who, over a period of 36 years, in collaboration with her colleague and contemporary, Dietrich Küchemann, laid the foundations for the world-leading position that the UK now enjoys in the aerodynamic design of civil aircraft wings. In turn, this wing design capability has contributed to the rise of Airbus to stand beside Boeing as one of the world’s two dominant manufacturers of civil aircraft, with the consequent benefit to the European industry and economy. Many others have played their part in this success but, without the combination of Küchemann’s vision and Weber’s mathematical prowess, the advances in UK design capability between the 1940s and 1970s would probably not have occurred. Without those advances, the early Airbus aircraft might not have proved commercially successful and the industrial giant that is Airbus might conceivably not have arisen.

Johanna came from a poor farming family that had moved from the region of Malmedy (then in Germany, but in 1919 assigned to Belgium under the Treaty of Versailles) to Düsseldorf, where she was born on 8 August 1910. Her father died in November 1914, an early casualty of the First World War, which gave her the status of ‘war orphan’. In the event this meant she was able to receive financial support for her education.

She did well at school. Her primary school recommended that she go on to the local lycée, which in turn recommended she study to become a teacher. She started a Chemistry and Mathematics degree (with Physics) in 1929, the first year in Köln, within commuting distance by train from Düsseldorf. In 1930, however, she switched to Göttingen University, which at the time (prior to the Nazi purge of 1933) was world-renowned for mathematics and science. She graduated Dr. rer. nat. with first-class honours in 1935 and then undertook a two year teacher training course which she completed successfully. However, she was refused a teaching post as she was not a member of the Nazi Party, which had come to power in Germany in 1933. So, early in 1937, she took a job at Krupp in Essen, which was relatively near to Düsseldorf where her mother and sister still lived and who were in need of financial support. The work involved fairly low level mathematics, mainly tiresome computational work for the ballistics department using Brunsviga mechanical calculators which, at the time, were the state of the art for the precise calculations needed to integrate the differential equations used in ballistics.

By chance a colleague in her department at Krupp showed her an advertisement in a German engineering journal for mathematicians at the Aerodynamische Versuchsanstalt (AVA) – Aerodynamics Research Institute – in Göttingen. He had applied for it and, feeling in need of a change, she applied also. Though, in her own words, she “really knew nothing” of aerodynamics, she was successful and, early in 1939, took up a post there. Albert Betz, who in 1936 had succeeded Ludwig Prandtl as Director of the AVA, placed her in a small theoretical group where, as the first part of her aerodynamic training, she collected information about wind tunnel corrections. On her first day at the AVA, 1 February 1939, she met Dietrich Küchemann, who was organising a social that evening where she met Dietrich’s wife, Helga. It was the beginning of a friendship with the family that became close and would last throughout their lives.

Though Johanna was unaware of it when she joined the AVA, the institute had led the world in the development of aerodynamics in the early decades of the 20th century. There were important contributions from other countries, not least the ideas set out in Britain by Frederick Lanchester early in the century. Nevertheless, under Prandtl’s leadership, through a combination of mathematical rigour backed by wind tunnel experiments, it was primarily Göttingen scientists who had developed a coherent theory for flow about an aircraft. At that time it was approximate and limited in the range of geometries it could treat. Its key feature was the mathematical use of a combination of singularities - sources and sinks to represent the increase and decrease in volume and horseshoe vortices to represent the generation of lift. It was in this field that Johanna had to find her feet as an aerodynamicist. 

Six months into the job, shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, she had progressed to the point of being asked to give a talk, at one of the AVA monthly seminars, on the aerodynamic features of vortex rings. She did this somewhat reluctantly – she was essentially a shy person – but after the talk she approached Küchemann and suggested that the work on vortex rings might have some bearing on the work he was doing, in a different group in AVA, on engine cowlings and jet engine intakes. As a result, they began to work together, Weber not only doing the mathematics but also diversifying into wind tunnel testing and liaison with the workshops. Küchemann meanwhile, in consultation with the manufacturers, developed the research ideas and shaped the direction of their work. Their substantial output in the period from 1939 to 1945 formed the basis for their textbook Aerodynamics of Propulsion, published in 1953 by McGraw-Hill. Their partnership continued, almost unbroken, for the rest of Johanna’s professional life.

On 9 April 1945 Göttingen was captured by the US army. This was done without a shot being fired, except for a fruitless exchange between a German general and the Gestapo. The army found classes at the University still in session and, in compliance with SHAEF standing orders, ordered the University and the linked AVA to be closed. After the German surrender, Göttingen fell into the zone occupied by the British, who after a few months encouraged (and paid) some of the researchers, including Küchemann and Weber, to return to AVA and write monographs of the work they had undertaken during the war. These were subsequently translated into English and copies of the originals and translations are held in the National Archives. From 1945 to 1947, under Operations Paperclip and Surgeon, the US and UK, working co-operatively, acquired valuable experimental facilities and the services of a large number of German scientists. Around 50 scientists were offered six-month contracts at the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) at Farnborough. Although the contracts were usually renewed at six-month intervals, many of the scientists returned to Germany or went to the USA within a year or two of coming.

Küchemann initially resisted a move from Germany but in October 1946 took up a six-month contract to work in the Aerodynamics Department, RAE. He persuaded Johanna Weber to come to RAE in August 1947 while Helga Küchemann and their three children joined him in 1948. The six-month contracts were continually renewed and later made permanent after Küchemann and Weber were offered and took up British Citizenship in 1953. On his arrival Küchemann was befriended by Dr John Seddon, a fellow researcher in propulsion aerodynamics. When the rest of the Küchemann family arrived, they joined with the Seddon family to share a large rented house in Farnham, which they did for the next five years. Meanwhile, Johanna, being the only woman among the German scientists, lived in an RAE staff hostel, an arrangement which suited her well. In an oral history interview in 2000, speaking of this time, she said, “.. the English people typically are such a friendly lot to foreigners, certainly the women, …. . I was an odd one, but they all wanted to be kind to me.” The German scientists were initially classed as “enemy aliens” and subject to travel restrictions. By the time Johanna Weber arrived, although the travel restrictions within the UK had been lifted, the enemy alien classification was still in place. Even so, in her interview in 2000, she said of the people, “They were extremely friendly. I have never heard a bad word in all my life.”

On her arrival, she was placed in the Low Speed Wind Tunnels Division of Aerodynamics Department, headed by the redoubtable Miss Frances Bradfield. Miss B, as she was known, had graduated in mathematics from Newnham College, Cambridge in 1917. She was an exacting but kindly boss who had a powerful influence on the generation of young graduates who were posted into Aerodynamics Department at the beginning of the war – an influence that they carried with them through their later careers into senior positions, as I, and others who worked under some of them in the 1960s and 70s, can testify. The photo shows Miss B and her Low Speed Tunnels staff (Johanna Weber on her right) taken around 1948.

RAE Low Speed Wind Tunnels staff, circa 1948, Miss Bradfield centre, Miss Weber on her right.

Because of her background in propulsion aerodynamics, Weber was placed under John Seddon to do experimental work on air intakes. Küchemann had evidently sung her praises before her arrival, with the result that Seddon greeted her with, “Oh, the Myth has become a Miss.”

By 1937 the RAE had recognised the need for a wind tunnel capable of higher speeds and had begun the design of the 10ft x 7ft High Speed Tunnel, which could test models at speeds up to 600mph. The tunnel went into service in November 1942 and by the time Küchemann joined RAE in 1946, and was assigned to it, there had been a substantial amount of testing at high speeds. Indeed, the high speed group, photographed below in around 1948, was about 50% larger than its low-speed counterpart.

RAE Aerodynamics Department High Speed Tunnel staff, circa 1948, Küchemann front row, fifth from right.

When Küchemann joined the High Speed Tunnel at Farnborough he found that swept wings were the overriding interest. At the Volta Conference in Italy in 1935, to which 22 of the world’s elite in aeronautical science had been invited, Adolph Busemann, a pupil of Prandtl at Göttingen, gave a paper showing that the effective Mach number can be reduced by sweeping the wing. The rest of the world failed to notice the importance of this and forgot his paper. In Germany, however, the idea developed of sweeping the wings as a means of increasing aircraft maximum speed and in late 1939 Albert Betz arranged the first wind-tunnel demonstration of the principle in a small high-speed wind tunnel at AVA. Busemann followed with tests in the large high speed tunnel at the LFA Braunschweig, of which he was then Director. Busemann and Betz took out a joint patent on the swept wing and Willi Messerschmitt took a close interest in the concept.

Design work on the Messerschmitt Me262, which became the world’s first jet-propelled aircraft to enter series production, had begun in April 1939. Although studies for later versions of the Me262 included wings of 35 and 45 degrees sweep, the original version had a leading-edge sweep of 18.5 degrees, determined by considerations of mass balance rather than high speed aerodynamics. On 25 July 1944, the Me262 became the first jet aircraft to engage in military action when it attacked a de Havilland Mosquito photo-reconnaissance aircraft. Two days later, the British Gloster Meteor became the second jet aircraft to engage in action, this time against the V-1 flying bomb. Both countries had developed the jet engine before the war and both had produced twin-engine fighter aircraft to use them. At the same altitude and very similar engine thrusts, the maximum speeds of the two aircraft were 760kph (Mach 0.70) for the Meteor and 830kph (Mach 0.76) for the Me262. The benefit of the unplanned wing sweep that undoubtedly contributed to this advantage did not become apparent to the Allies, however, until their scientists gained access to the German research and the German scientists in the Spring of 1945.

Although Küchemann’s work during the war years had been on engine installations, it was his nature to take a close interest in the work of his colleagues across the whole field of aerodynamics and when he came to Britain in 1946 he was well aware of the work that had been done in Göttingen on swept wings. Also, in the first years after the war, Adolf Busemann, ten years older than Küchemann, was also under contract at RAE until in mid 1947 when, under Operation Paperclip, he received an employment contract with the US Navy and moved with his family to the United States. Hans Multhopp, a Göttingen graduate who, working for Focke-Wulf, had in 1944 designed a swept-wing jet fighter that never reached the wind tunnel test stage, also worked at RAE from 1945 to 1949 on the design of a supersonic research aircraft before moving to the USA. To what extent the three men discussed the challenges of swept wing aerodynamics is not known but it is evident that, by 1947, Küchemann had a clear understanding of these challenges and how to tackle them.

In 1946 the British Air Ministry issued a specification for a ‘long-range’ bomber, jet propelled and capable of carrying a nuclear weapon. In January 1947 a less demanding specification for a ‘medium-range’ bomber was issued, in recognition that the original specification was technically very challenging. The later specification was still challenging. Of the designs offered to meet it, the most ambitious was that proposed by Handley Page, which involved a crescent-shaped wing with three spanwise sections with different sweep angles. The crescent wing had been first proposed in Göttingen in 1939, patented by Betz, and wind tunnel models had been tested for a crescent-winged variant of the Arado AR 234 jet bomber. The war ended before the concept could be flight tested and, though the Arado design provided the inspiration for the Handley Page wing, the aerodynamics of such a wing at high flight speeds was well outside UK design experience.

In response to the specification issued in January, Handley Page submitted their proposed design in May 1947. Küchemann, with Miss B’s consent, enlisted Weber to help with the calculations and in September 1947 they issued a joint paper assessing the aerodynamics of the proposed crescent-wing design and suggesting modifications to the wing and fuselage to improve its performance at high speeds. In the full aerodynamic development of the aircraft there were further revisions to the wing design, including its integration with the engine air intakes, using the work that Küchemann and Weber had done in Göttingen during the war. The result was an aircraft, pictured below, that had outstanding high-speed performance. Its maximum Mach number in horizontal flight was 0.98 and in a shallow dive it became the largest aircraft to break the sound barrier. It served in the RAF, in various roles, from 1957 to 1993.

Handley Page Victor, showing crescent wing and large, swept engine air intakes.

Weber’s analysis of the Victor wing used simple, linearised aerodynamic models and hand calculations – there were no computers at that time. Some of the ladies standing behind Johanna in the second row of the photograph were, however, “computors”, the members of staff who carried the main burden of the hand calculations, leaving Weber to do the maths and define the calculating task.

Following on from the Victor, Küchemann and Weber set about improving the theoretical methods across the whole spectrum of subsonic aerodynamics. In 1947 the methods were approximate, linearised, and had to treat the effects of wing thickness and lift separately, the wing as a lifting surface being represented as a thin, cambered and twisted sheet. Some of their work was reported in joint papers, some under their individual names, and there were also contributions from a number of other RAE scientists. It was Weber, however, who in the mid 1950s, at the time when aerodynamic design of the Vickers VC10 was beginning, finally produced a method that enabled all the key features of a wing – thickness, camber, twist and sweepback – to be treated simultaneously. The method became available at about the same time that ‘peaky’ aerofoil sections were being developed by Herbert Pearcey at the National Physical Laboratory. The Vickers aerodynamicists seized on these two advances and worked with Weber to develop her method from one which predicted the pressure distribution over a wing of given shape into one which determined the shape of wing to give a particular pressure distribution. Using this design tool, and the concepts that Küchemann and Weber had applied to the optimisation of the Victor wing, Vickers produced a wing for the VC10 that was aerodynamically more advanced than on any previous civil aircraft.

Vickers VC10, showing its 'Küchemann' wing tips. RAeS (NAL).

An important aspect of the design of a swept wing is the shaping of the wing near the joint with the fuselage and also near the tip to allow for the end effects in a way that enables the optimum pressure distribution to be achieved across the entire span. On the prototype VC10 the wing tips were ‘square’ – ie parallel with the aircraft centre line. In order to reduce drag, curved tips, so called ‘Küchemann tips’, were installed on later versions of the aircraft. In his book The Aerodynamic Design of Aircraft Küchemann attributes the idea to Weber, who in 1949 set out the rationale for curved tips and demonstrated that they worked in wind-tunnel tests.

The Weber method used in the design of the VC10 wing was a major step forward and was adopted by de Havilland for the design of the DH121 Trident medium range airliner and later for the DH125 business jet (both later renamed as Hawker Siddeley types). It was also used again by Vickers, now BAC, in the design of the short-haul BAC 1-11. During this period, when calculations were done on a Pegasus computer with a fast memory about one millionth that of a 2014 smart phone, the aerodynamic development of a new type involved a lengthy iterative process between design calculations and wind tunnel tests. The process was an educational one, in that it built up experience and insight into swept-wing design in the industry and the Government laboratories and put the UK in a strong position within Europe in the aerodynamic design of civil aircraft.

In parallel with her work on swept wings Weber became involved, from the earliest days, in supersonic transport aircraft. A study at RAE of a possible long-range supersonic transport, based on current ideas for the configuration of such an aircraft, concluded in April 1955 that it was not then feasible; it recommended, however, that low key research into supersonic transport should continue. Research at RAE in 1955 by Eric Maskell and Johanna Weber then demonstrated that a slender delta wing at high angles of attack generated strong vortices from its leading edges which greatly increased the lift of the wing. This so-called non-linear lift gave a slender delta the possibility of achieving satisfactory take-off and landing performance without the need for a variable geometry wing, while its slender configuration gave it good supersonic performance. Küchemann recognised the potential of the slender delta and when the UK Government established the Supersonic Transport Advisory Committee (STAC) in November 1956 it was partly because his advocacy had gained acceptance of the idea of the slender delta as a realistic possibility for a Mach 2 airliner.

The STAC report of March 1959 recommended feasibility studies of two possible supersonic transports, a medium-range M-wing aircraft cruising at Mach 1.2 and a long-range slender wing cruising at Mach 1.8. The Government approved these feasibility studies in September 1959 and RAE expanded the experimental and theoretical research that had been in progress since 1955. Weber’s contributions to this research were during the early years and were twofold: (a) the development of methods for predicting the wave drag of a slender aircraft at supersonic speeds, which provided the basis for assessing drag at cruise conditions, and (b) the development of a method for shaping the wing so that at one particular flight condition, at or near cruise, the air flow was attached to the sharp leading edge along its entire length. At higher or lower angles of attack a shallow leading edge vortex formed above or below the wing, but Weber’s shaping was aimed at avoiding the condition of split vortices, partly above and partly below the wing. Her work on wave drag and wing warping was a spring board for the design studies of a slender-wing aircraft by HSA and Bristol that were launched in 1959 following acceptance of the STAC report. Over the next three years, these studies led to a treaty between the British and French governments, with Bristol (by then part of the British Aircraft Corporation) and Sud Aviation as the airframe contractors, to build a supersonic slender delta. At its roll-out in Toulouse in 1967 the name Concorde was finally agreed by both governments.

Concorde from the front, showing its warped leading edge. RAeS (NAL).

Concorde landing, with condensation showing its leading-edge vortices. RAeS (NAL).

Once the peak of research activity in support of Concorde was past, Weber reverted to the task of improving and extending design methods for swept wing subsonic transport aircraft. The methods were still, and would remain, limited to subcritical flows – ie to flight speeds at which the local Mach number around the aircraft does not exceed 1.0. They were based on solutions of the classical equations for incompressible flow. Historically, the effect of compressibility – the variation of density at higher flight Mach numbers – had been allowed for by the Prandtl-Glauert transformation, dating from 1928 (at the time of his death in an accident at Farnorough in 1934, Glauert was Head of Aerodynamics Department RAE while Prandtl was Director of AVA Göttingen). In 1948 Weber proposed an alternative procedure which wind-tunnel tests showed to be generally more accurate and this was adopted thereafter in RAE wing design methods.

In reality the flow over the wings of a jet transport aircraft is supercritical with, over the forward part of the wing upper surface, a region of locally supersonic flow terminated by a shock wave. As flight speed increases, the supersonic region grows larger, the strength of the shock wave increases and a point is reached at which the drag begins to increase rapidly. Nevertheless, experience had shown that a wing designed by the RAE subcritical methods, embodying the concepts of efficient design carried forward from the Victor and including Pearcey’s “peaky” aerofoil sections, worked well at supercritical conditions up to the point of drag divergence. Part of Weber’s work was therefore to refine the methods. She introduced second-order terms that provided a means of evaluating error, enabling the methods to be used in an iterative process – made practicable by advances in computing power – that produced exact rather than approximate solutions to the equations. She also made further advances in calculating the important three-dimensional effects at wing-fuselage junctions, enabling more accurate design of a part of the aircraft that has an appreciable influence on aerodynamic efficiency. She did this at a time when there was intense activity on transport aircraft design, both theoretically and in wind tunnel testing. Küchemann, who became Head of Aerodynamics Department in 1966, was driving a national research effort at the RAE, the NPL and in industry, all aimed at the further development of the “RAE Standard Method”. Weber’s contribution to this progress, which she sustained up to her retirement in 1975, was a key one.

Her most important contribution in the post-Concorde period, however, was to the design of the first Airbus, the A300B, which was the world’s first wide-body twinjet. In the allocation of responsibility between the European partner companies, wing design fell to Hawker Siddeley at Hatfield. Following earlier development for the HBN 100 and A300 projects, design work began in earnest in 1967, using the set of methods of Weber, and Küchemann and Weber, that had evolved from the methods developed a decade earlier for the VC10. The available computer was initially still a Ferranti Pegasus, later replaced by the more capable English Electric KDF9, but aerofoil section designs had advanced significantly since the VC10 and, after a process of repeated iteration between wind-tunnel test and re-design, an aerodynamically very advanced aircraft emerged. It entered service in 1974, the year before Weber retired, but sales were slow until Eastern Airlines in the USA, discovering that the A300Bs it had leased on a trial consumed 30% less fuel than the Lockheed TriStars in its fleet, ordered 23 of the type. This success led to a growth in orders and eventually the aircraft outsold both its wide-body rivals, the Lockheed TriStar and the McDonnell Douglas DC-10, by a comfortable margin. The final A300B off the production line, the 561st, was delivered in 2007, 32 years after Weber’s retirement. By then four new Airbus types were in service, the civil aircraft market was divided between two giants, Boeing and Airbus, and Airbus was delivering more aircraft per year than its American competitor (in the ten years from 2004 to 2013, Airbus received 8,933 orders while delivering 4,824, and Boeing received 8,428 orders while delivering 4,458).

Airbus A300B, the third production aircraft ending its career as a zero-gravity demonstrator at air shows. ZERO-G.

The 1970s saw the arrival of supercomputers and, with them, the development of numerical methods for solving the equations for transonic (ie supercritical) flows. These enabled the prediction of flows with shock waves, initially about aerofoil sections but later about swept wings, at their actual operating conditions. Work on such methods began at RAE in the early 1970s and in 1975 Clive Albone, Mike Hall and Gaynor Joyce issued the first RAE paper giving ‘Numerical solutions for transonic flows past wing-body combinations’. The method became known as the RAE Transonic Small Perturbation (TSP) method. Gaynor Joyce, who is standing immediately behind Johanna Weber in the photograph of the Low Speed Wind Tunnels staff, worked with Johanna as her ‘computor’, carrying responsibility for calculations by subcritical methods, for nearly thirty years. With the coming of the supercomputer and Johanna’s retirement, Gaynor switched to supercritical calculations using an unimaginably more powerful machine than the Brunsviga she had used in the 1940s.

In 1977 design work on the next Airbus, the A310, began at Hatfield using the TSP method. A competing wing design was offered by the German partner in Airbus but the Hatfield design was chosen after a ‘fly-off’ in the ARA Transonic Wind Tunnel. In 1984 the A320 was launched, followed by the A330/340 in 1986, with the latter once again being the subject a competition between British and German wing designs resolved by a fly-off at ARA. The A380 followed in 2000 and the A350 XWB in 2006, neither involving a wing design competition. All these aircraft have wings designed and manufactured in Britain, each generation benefiting from steady advances in both aerodynamic and structural design methods as computer power and manufacturing technology has advanced. All are held to be aerodynamically more than a match for their competitors from Boeing.

Johanna Weber was a very modest person and would have dismissed any suggestion that she had played an important part in laying the foundations for the great enterprise that is now Airbus. However, without the drive of Küchemann and the mathematics of Weber, the UK would probably not have designed a wing for the A300B that gave it the aerodynamic edge to break into the American, and hence the world, market. And if the A300B had not proved a considerably better aircraft than its competitors, Airbus might never have established parity with Boeing.

Airbus A380, 33 years on from the A300B.

Johanna Weber never married. She never drove a car. She lived happily in an RAE hostel from 1947 until 1953, when she and the Küchemanns became UK citizens. Shortly thereafter, the Küchemann family moved from the Seddon house in Farnham, eight miles from RAE, into a newly-built house a mile further west. The new house was sufficiently large to provide a spacious bed-sitting room and small kitchen for Johanna, and this became her home for the next eight years. In 1961 the bungalow next door to the Küchemanns went on the market and she bought it. She lived there until 2010, becoming the oldest established resident in the street. Her last four years were spent in a nursing home, where she died on 24 October 2014.

In 1953 not many people had motor cars and the RAE laid on three double-decker buses to bring in staff from Farnham. Weber and Küchemann travelled to work on the bus for their first year or two in his new house, then he bought a car (a Ford Popular) and for the next 20 years gave her, and one or two other non-driver colleagues, a lift to work. In the oral history interview of 2000, speaking of her time at the AVA, she described working with Küchemann as "just wonderful". She felt they complemented each other: “...being a timid person ... I didn’t want to give lectures... let him do this... He was a different person from what I was .... he did not like mathematics as much... calculations. He was the one who had the vision and saw the three dimensional things... flow properties and everything, and knew more about physics and so on than me.” Of her early days working with Küchemann at RAE she said, “.. .Miss B knew what we were doing of course, so she was not against it and didn’t think it was rubbish, but … she was a feminist … and she talked me off being the stooge with Dietrich.”

It is clear from the oral history interview that aerodynamics was discussed sometimes on the journey to work and Küchemann would sometimes suggest things that might be done or approaches that might be taken. It was also clear, however, that Johanna Weber was her own woman and, for most of her career at RAE, thrived on the intellectual freedom enjoyed by the scientists in the first decades after the war. In her 2000 interview, she spoke of the pleasure of undertaking pure research, of the openness with which colleagues used to share ideas, and of the absence of a ‘cost effectiveness’ culture which began to emerge towards the end of her working life. She rose to the grade of individual merit Senior Principal Scientific Office, a reflection of her outstanding scientific ability, and on reaching retirement age was retained as a consultant, finally retiring in 1975 with approximately 100 scientific papers to her name.

Dietrich Küchemann died unexpectedly in February 1976. Johanna continued to assist in finalising his now classic book, The Aerodynamic Design of Aircraft, which was published posthumously in 1978. She had declined his request to be joint author, despite their having been joint authors of the 1953 book, The Aerodynamics of Propulsion, saying she did not want the responsibility. The book draws heavily on Weber’s work and she played an important part in checking the final text and references (around 1,800). Then, as she said in her interview in 2000, “..when the book came out and came to an end, I said no more aerodynamics, because from a human point of view my life had been in too narrow a channel.”

During her working life she had been deeply attached to her vivacious but frail younger sister, who died aged 50, and to her mother, and she gave them constant emotional and financial support. She showed the same thoughtful and caring nature to others. In retirement she continued to live an active, measured life at her house in Farnham taking adult education courses, first in psychology and then in geology. She gave these up when her hearing began to deteriorate and, although she could hear the lecture she could not follow the discussion afterwards. As she reflected in 2000, “Thinking back, I probably gave it up too early but I mean, I didn’t expect to live that long.“

In preparing this memoir, I have drawn heavily and gratefully on an article about his Tante Jo, written by Dietmar Küchemann last year for European Women in Mathematics. It is appropriate now to end with a quote from a letter that he wrote to me:
“Later in life, and particularly after she had retired (1975), and more particularly after my parents had died (1976, 1987) I saw her somewhat differently. She had become somewhat more outgoing – she had, for example, taken some courses through the ‘University of the Third Age’ and she had made friends with some neighbours as well as seeing more of some of the local German friends that she had known but not seen much during her working years [most of these German women/wives didn’t work]. We found her to be very caring and generous, warm and gently humorous, and full of thoughtful, sound advice. Thus she became a kind of elder to our family (ie to me, my sisters and our children and their children) and a link to our parents’ time in Germany [she knew both sets of my grandparents]. Despite her catholic upbringing, she was not religious.

Though she vowed to turn her back on aerodynamics when she retired, she, understandably, talked increasingly about her working life in her last years. I think she was very pleased and somehow very grateful for what she had achieved.”

I think we can all be very grateful for what she achieved.

John Green FREng FAIAA FRAeS


12 January 2015