ALEXANDER HENRY FRASER-MITCHELL
CEng MIMechE FRAeS
It was his work in the aircraft industry that eventually brought him wide recognition and respect. Less well known, though, is that his career actually began in government research establishments. After a sandwich-type training course he joined the Scientific Civil Service and was based at RAE, Farnborough. Soon, however, he was called up for two years National Service, following which he requested a transfer to the National Physical Laboratory at Teddington, so that he could live nearer to his elderly mother. His request was granted, but to his dismay he was assigned to the Ship Division – not what he wanted!
He made great efforts to obtain a transfer to the aeronautics area, but his pleas were rejected and after six months of frustration he resigned his post – a step which, apparently, caused shock and incredulity in the hierarchy. Apparently, in those days (this was 1952) it was considered that established civil servants, however junior, simply did not do that!
Thus was lost to the government research establishments a talented future research aerodynamicist. But he got a job in the Aerodynamics Department at Handley Page at Cricklewood, so thereby our industry gained a man who matured into an important practitioner of the challenging practical arts of aerodynamic design and development of aeroplanes.
At Handley Page, Harry found a productive and happy atmosphere, with real technical leadership including such innovative thinkers as Dr Gustav Lachmann and Godfrey Lee. He remained with Handley Page for 18 years, progressing steadily in seniority and eventually being appointed to the key post of Chief Aerodynamicist.
In addition to their main production aeroplanes – the very advanced Victor V-bomber; the Hermes, Herald and Jetstream transports - the firm also participated in wider studies and research into future aircraft concepts and technologies such as laminar flow control and supersonic projects. An important example of this for Harry was the major collaborative studies launched in 1956 of design concepts for supersonic airliners, which laid vital technical foundations for Concorde. These ‘Supersonic Transport Aircraft Committee’ (STAC) studies were organised by the RAE, and Harry represented Handley Page on one of the specialist groups. In this, he greatly valued and enjoyed his contacts with many eminent colleagues in the research establishments and other firms. In the course of the studies, doubts arose about the controllability of ‘slender delta’ aircraft at low speeds, including ground effect when landing. This issue gave rise to the award of a contract to Handley Page to design and build a special small research aircraft – the HP115 - to investigate the problem in flight. Harry led the design team on aerodynamics, and the project was highly successful. The flight results gave the crucial reassurance on the safety of a slender delta design, and the HP115 then continued to be flown from RAE Bedford in a variety of low-speed research investigations for more than 13 years, in total making over 1,000 flights.
For Harry, the HP115 episode actually led to much more than a satisfying professional experience. It so happened that Rosamund Fox was also on the design team, and they were married shortly before the aircraft made its first flight in 1961!
Although this marked the start of happy married life for Harry and Rosamund, the future proved not so good for Handley Page. The company came under increasing pressure due to the government aim of rationalising the aircraft industry into fewer units. Merger negotiations were unsuccessful and in early 1970 a difficult commercial situation, including the lack of further government contracts, forced Handley Page to close down.
Fortunately for Harry, his reputation was by then well established and he was offered a post at Hawker Siddeley Kingston, to participate in project studies for a new RAF trainer aircraft. So began the second part of his industry career, which like the first lasted about 18 years. Unlike at Handley Page however, his responsibilities were concentrated throughout on one aircraft project – though its very success gave rise eventually to a ‘family’ of versions.
The aircraft was the Hawk, widely used now by several air forces and publicly very familiar in its ‘Red Arrows’ guise!
After Hawker Siddeley won the Ministry competition, and a contract for 176 aircraft, Harry was appointed Head of Aerodynamics for the Hawk. In this role he led the work on aerodynamic design and development of the aircraft, covering also the evolution of later versions including the difficult challenge of fulfilling the American requirement for a carrier-borne trainer for the US Navy.
In 1981 he was again promoted, to Assistant Chief Airframe Engineer at Kingston, widening his responsibilities still further.
Although Harry took the opportunity of early retirement in 1988, following the transfer of programme responsibility within British Aerospace for the Hawk programme to Brough in Yorkshire, it is worth noting that the Hawk story still continues. Versions of this very successful aircraft are still in production today, 40 years after the first flight, with 1,000 now sold and the prospect of more to come.
Retirement from industry did not mean the end of Harry’s aeronautical involvements. Far from it! In 1990 he became a part-time lecturer at Kingston University. His wide industrial experience enabled him to make important contributions to the teaching of aerodynamics/aircraft design. This included the compilation of five outstanding design case studies of current aircraft, including the Hawk and the Jetstream. He was a highly effective lecturer and project supervisor, and was greatly respected both by staff and, most importantly, students. He continued with this activity for about 12 years.
He was active in many organisations. He continued his involvement with his professional institutions – the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and the Royal Aeronautical Society. He made very substantial contributions to the activities of the Royal Aeronautical Society, by his constructive committee work, his various lectures, and the writing of significant technical and historical papers for which, in 2007, he was awarded an RAeS Specialist Award.
He helped to create other significant bodies, and was the Founding Chairman, Vice President and Secretary of the Handley Page Association. He was also a Founding member of the Hawker Association.
Despite serious ill health in recent years, he maintained a wide range of contacts internationally, as well as in the UK, and remained greatly respected and much consulted.
Harry died on 28 October 2014. He is survived by his widow, Rosamund, his children Jeremy and Jenny, and three grandsons.
F W Armstrong FREng FIMechE FRAeS
B V Pegram CEng FRAeS
Dr E C P Ransom CEng FIMechE MRAeS