PROFESSOR SIR JOHN HAROLD HORLOCK

FREng HonFRAeS
1928-2015

Sir John Horlock died peacefully in hospital on 22 May. He was 87 years old. His life had been rich and full and he will be remembered as a leader in education and in the fluid dynamics and thermodynamics of turbomachinery and powerplant.

He was born and grew up in Edmonton in North London, starting at Latymer grammar school in 1939 and remaining there until 1946. He had expected to be called up to do national service but was disappointed to be rejected because of a leg injury and thus entered St John’s College Cambridge that same year. He took the Mechanical Sciences Tripos (the former name for engineering) and graduated in 1949. He then obtained a summer scholarship to visit MIT, which deeply influenced his interest in teaching, notably of thermodynamics.

Following the stay in the USA, John went to work for Rolls-Royce in Derby, first as a graduate apprentice, and then in the group under Geoff Wilde, which was struggling with the axial compressor for the Avon turbojet. A part of John’s contribution was adapting the successful Armstrong Siddeley compressor into the Rolls-Royce engine. In 1952 he returned to Cambridge to work for a PhD with Will (later Sir William) Hawthorne. The experience in Rolls-Royce had been a formative one and issues of three-dimensional compressor design were the basis for his research. While still working for his PhD he was given a junior teaching appointment and, on the strength of this, was able to marry Sheila Stutely in 1953.

With his PhD in hand, John, Sheila and their first child set off in September 1956 for a year in MIT. It was here that his first book, Axial Compressors, was written. On returning to Cambridge he was soon approached by Liverpool University, and he went there in 1958 as Harrison Professor of Mechanical engineering. In Liverpool he built up facilities for turbomachinery research, led an active research group, and became deeply involved with the politics of a university. He also published his second book, Axial Turbines. In 1967 the opportunity arose to return to Cambridge as a professor and it was not long before he was appointed Deputy Head of the Department of Engineering. He reformed the undergraduate teaching of engineering in Cambridge and founded the SRC Turbomachinery Laboratory--raising the money and then getting it built. The laboratory, which later became the Whittle Laboratory, is one of John’s great legacies. From what John wrote about this period in Cambridge it was not altogether happy, with staff tensions and a feeling that the experimental resources in turbomachinery much inferior to those he had had in Liverpool.

In 1974, John made the surprising move to become Vice Chancellor of Salford University, a recently established university, formerly a college of advanced technology. Then in 1981 came another surprising move, to be Vice Chancellor of the Open University. This was a position with considerably more political involvement than John had anticipated. His appointment as Vice-Chancellor was for ten years and he did not seek reappointment but retired in 1990 at the age of 62. In spite of his leadership roles, and the considerable (and unavoidable) involvement with university politics in both positions of Vice-Chancellor, he had kept an active interest in turbomachinery and thermodynamic cycles, even managing to continue publishing papers. the retirement he moved to was far removed from an idle. A number of books followed, on gas turbines, combined cycles and combined heat and power. Of particular significance to aeronautics, he was the first chair (1990) of the Rolls-Royce advisory body known as the Aerothermal Panel, later recast as the Power and Propulsion System Advisory Board. An acknowledged source of pleasure for him after retiring from the Open University was rejoining the Whittle Laboratory, where he took a regular part in the research of his successful legacy.

John was liked and respected by those who knew him. He made a point of reaching out to provide help and encouragement to a number of junior colleagues, and he was always ready to take a keen interest in a problem. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society (Vice-President 1981-3) and the Royal Academy of Engineering and a Foreign Associate of the US National Academy of Engineering. Among many other awards and honours, he was an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society and he received honorary doctorates from eight universities. Most fittingly he was knighted for services to science, engineering and education in 1996.


28 August 2015