IVAN RAY YATES

CBE FREng HonDSc BEng FIMechE FRAeS FAIAA FRSA
1929-2015

Ivan Yates was born on 22 April 1929 in Ipswich and judging from the stories of childhood was an inquisitive and creative child.

1939 would see the outbreak of WW2 and he was evacuated with the rest of his school from Liverpool to North Wales where he stayed with an architect and his wife who had no children of their own.

This move would prove to be fortuitous - this kind gentleman helped him foster his talent for drawing and technical design. He was also allowed to do some modelling in a small workshop, where he made his first aircraft model - a silver painted glider out of plywood and painted with the registration letters GA-IRY. Even recently, he would recount his frustration of never getting it to fly quite right.

His thoughts as a schoolboy were almost entirely of aircraft; he would frequently annoy the school staff by drawing pictures in his textbooks and was delighted when his art teacher had the class painting pictures of enemy aircraft to aid aircraft recognition.

He went to Liverpool University to study Mechanical Engineering, where he followed up his interest in airframe design by reading aircraft structure and aerodynamics in his own time. In his second year he came fourth in the Universities national championships and would be awarded the Victor Ludorem trophy for hurdles and sprinting.

His final year at University would see him achieving a 1st class honours and a two-year apprenticeship for English Electric in Preston before moving to Warton in Lancashire.

He felt very fortunate to begin his career in what he believed to be a very innovative part of the most progressive and advanced aircraft companies in Europe, if not the world. This was best demonstrated by his leading research on emerging new problems posed by high-speed flutter and vibration during high-speed flight. In 1954 he was placed in charge of all flutter and vibration work.

In 1957 he was made responsible for the aerodynamic work on a project which was to become the basis for the TSR2 - an aircraft that was leading the field when it first flew in 1964. He would ultimately be appointed as Chief Project Engineer TSR2.

Despite the cancellation of the TSR2 he continued to work on the development of supersonic fighter aircraft at what had become the British Aircraft Corporation, first leading the development of the Jaguar aircraft and then transferring to manage the Tornado programme. The 1970s would see the successful delivery of both these programmes to the RAF and exports to many other countries. He would subsequently become managing director at Warton which had already become established as a leading high technology centre in the UK.

His involvement in the Jaguar programme would help to yield valuable experience in international collaboration. This was further developed by the contribution he made to the Tornado and Eurofighter Typhoon programmes and he served for many years on the Supervisory Board of Directors with both the Panavia and Eurofighter Jagdtflugzeug companies.

The 1980s began with his promotion to the board of what was now British Aerospace and a move to company headquarters.

His passion for design was undiminished and he would champion the concept and development of the next generation of fighter aircraft – even taking a number of conceptual models he had hand built into the Company Boardroom. A version of one of these concept models would one day become the Typhoon.

He played a significant role in the technology developments that led to the Typhoon. He was heavily engaged with the negotiations which led to the funding of the EAP (Experimental Aircraft Programme), the demonstrator programme which led to the Eurofighter. This was jointly funded by an industry team led by BAe, including Rolls-Royce, Smiths, Marconi, Dowty and others; and the Ministry of Defence, with the funding provided on a 50-50 split between industry and government. The aircraft flew within three years of the contract signature, a remarkable achievement, and the aircraft provided a spirited display at the 1986 Farnborough Air Show, only a few months after its first flight. It pioneered quadruplex digital flight control of an unstable aircraft, the canard delta configuration, both now common in military aircraft design, and the widespread use of carbon fibre construction.

The Jaguar, Tornado and Eurofighter programmes were the pioneers of international collaboration. The management challenges were far from trivial. The development of Eurofighter would see some 7,500 engineers, spread over 300 companies and four countries. All rolling back the frontiers of technology in their areas of expertise, and any one group encountering problems had a knock on effect to all other areas of the programme. There are few areas of human endeavour that require such a range of engineering disciplines to be brought together to produce a successful product. The success of these programmes is a remarkable testimony to the teamwork and expertise of those involved. New ground was broken in management processes and systems, and the leadership required from the senior levels of the lead companies were critical to the successful delivery of the programmes.

He was presented with the CBE in 1982 and when her majesty the Queen presented it to him at Buckingham palace she asked him “For Export” and he explained carefully that no…. it was for designing aircraft.

In 1985 he was awarded a Gold Medal from the Royal Aeronautical Society, of which he was a Fellow, its highest honour, for work of an outstanding nature in aeronautics in recognition for his outstanding technical and managerial contribution to collaborative military projects.

He was also made a Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the Institute of Mechanical Engineers and the RSA. He was elected a Fellow of The Royal Academy of Engineering in 1983.

On 1 January 1983 he was made Chief Executive of British Aerospace.

On retiring from BAe, he began work as a consultant while receiving numerous accolades for his contribution to industry including an honorary doctorate from Loughborough University and a master’s degree at Imperial College.

In 1991, he became a visiting Professor in the department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge as one of the first Royal Academy of Engineering Visiting Professors in the Principles of Engineering Design. He contributed in many ways to the teaching and research within the department, raising the profile of design teaching in the university and in the wider world. He was much admired, never refusing requests for help and his significant impact continues to be felt in the department to this day.

At every opportunity, he championed engineering, and engineering design in particular, through professional institutions and government bodies.

With the arrival of the new millennium, he discovered a passion and creative talent for Sculpture inspired in part by his artistic surroundings at Juggs Corner Sussex where he lived happily for the past 20 years.

Throughout his life there had been three constants, his love for his family, music and dogs. He never lost that inner child – always inquisitive about the world around him and quick to find fun and a little mischief in any situation. Visits to the Opera during Glyndebourne season were frequent – he had been a member since 1959 – something he greatly enjoyed and was always delighted to share with family and friends.

He married Jennifer Holcombe in 1968; she survives him with a son Mark Yates (Engineer) and daughter Jane Barnes (Maths Teacher).


20 October 2015