PROFESSOR RONALD DOUGLAS MILNE

BSc PhD FRAeS FIMA

1930–2014

Ronald Milne was born in August 1930 in Aberdeen where his father ran a family engineering business. He attended Aberdeen Grammar School and from there, in 1948, went to Aberdeen University to read Civil Engineering, graduating with First Class Honours in 1952. He continued his studies at Cranfield College of Aeronautics, gaining an MSc with Distinction in Aeronautical Sciences in 1954. In vacation periods, before and during his time at Cranfield, Ronald worked at Fairey Aviation at Hayes, Middlesex. After graduating from Cranfield, he joined English Electric Guided Weapons Division at Stevenage.

In 1956, encouraged by his former Professor at Cranfield, Alec Young FRS, Ronald joined Queen Mary College, London, as a Lecturer, where Alec had taken over as Head of Aeronautical Engineering in 1954. He completed his PhD on the Dynamics of the Deformable Aeroplane in 1962 and was promoted Reader in 1964. It was during his time at QMC that he made some remarkable contributions to aeronautics. He developed a unified mathematical framework for aeroelasticity, published in a series of papers and the milestone report 'Dynamics of the Deformable Aeroplane' (Aeronautical Research Council R&M 3345, 1964). With this work, Ronald Milne built a bridge between flutter analysis and rigid body flight mechanics, particularly at the time for the Concorde designers, revealing the critical importance of the reference axes system for describing the motion of flexible aircraft.

Ronald possessed the special ability to express engineering problems using rigorous mathematical principles, then using these as a starting point for finding approximate solutions. All approximations are projections of the true solution in some vector space where special functions could be used as bases for building the approximations; rigour is important here as not all such functions are admissible on either physical or mathematical grounds. This was particularly true when modelling the hereditary nature of unsteady aerodynamics and structural damping, as Ronald showed in his papers. The mathematics that unified all these ideas was drawn from the field of functional analysis and Ronald subsequently wrote a book, Applied Functional Analysis (Pitman, 1980), in which he drew examples using a general and elegant finite element theory for continuum mechanics.

Ronald Milne took up the Chair of Theoretical Mechanics in Bristol University’s Engineering Faculty in August 1971 (renamed Engineering Mathematics in 1973). He immediately set a tone for his Department by taking on major first year teaching responsibilities, which he saw as a duty of a Head of Department. On the research front, he encouraged staff to follow their own enthusiasms; as a result the Department had a particularly broad and diverse range of research. He led the planning and implementation of the new degree in Engineering Mathematics, introduced in 1977 and was appointed Dean of Engineering for the years 1980-83, a period which involved him in helping shape Bristol University’s response to the severe cuts imposed on the UK university system in 1981. It was widely felt by his colleagues that Ronald handled this unhappy task with great skill, impartiality and sound judgement.

After his period as Dean, Ronald returned to Departmental duties and developed new research directions, making advances in understanding the mechanics of the golf swing, allowing him to combine his professional and sporting interests in a unique fashion. During the late 1980s he also worked closely with Alan Simpson FRAeS in the Department of Aeronautical Engineering, and staff at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Bedford to develop a rigorous treatment of the strain pattern analysis method for re-constructing the deformation of helicopter blades in flight using measured structural modes, and publishing a definitive assessment of its merits. Ronald Milne took early retirement in 1989, but continued to lecture part time and to research the golf swing, both theoretically and in practice on local golf courses, well into retirement.

Ronald Milne touched the lives, and inspired the careers, of many student engineers who were fortunate to come under his wing. He is one of the unsung heroes of his profession, seeking neither fame nor glory as he created exciting and innovative tools for dealing with complex engineering problems.

Ronald married Janet Dorothy Davidson in 1955. They were a devoted and hospitable couple, who created a kindly social atmosphere within his Department at Bristol. Ronald died peacefully after a long illness and is survived by Dorothy, his daughter Alisoun, son Douglas and three grandchildren.

Professor Gareth D Padfield FREng FRAeS

Professor Dick Clements MRAeS


27 March 2014