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1.0 out of 5 stars A Jolly Yarn Not Backed By The Facts, 27 July 2013
This review is from: Transatlantic Betrayal (Paperback)
The central allegation in Transatlantic Betrayal is a big one.

In it, the author Andrew Porter, asserts, "...the Labour Government, together with the US administration, conspired politically to undermine the sovereign UK aviation industry, and therefore any positions of technological strength were to be negotiated away by the Labour government to US interests in return in for US agreement towards IMF financial support."

The allegation is very specific. And there's more. "With the Labour government's push for an RB211-powered wide-body rather than an RB207-powered airbus, their politically led preference indicated a willingness to subject the UK's crucial industry to be dependent on the US, despite European efforts to counter the dominance of the US aviation industry. The actions of the anti-Airbus Labour government and their cajoling of Rolls-Royce to secure US business are, I suggest, clear indicators of political forces used to achieve Rolls-Royce's over-reach scenario."

The over-reach scenario would be achieved by McDonnell Douglas and Lockheed either greatly delaying an order for the RB211 or imposing substantial re-engineering of the engine, especially in terms of thrust, and of imposing very onerous contracts.

Despite the author's assertion that the RB211 was superior because it was a three-shaft design employing high pressure bypass ratios, nothing much worked on the engine as it should have. Of the many disasters, the bird-strike test received the greatest coverage. All prototype jet engines have 4lb dead chickens, usually bought from the local supermarket, fired at them whilst running on a static rig. This is not fool proof, and certainly didn't predict the recent outcome of an Airbus 320 flying into a flock of geese over New York's Hudson River, but the effect of the chickens on the RB211's blades were disastrous. The carbon fibre blades, on which R-R had spent a fortune, were only strong in two dimensions, but not in three. There is not a mention of any of the Hyfil blade problems in Transatlantic Betrayal.

R-R had to go back to titanium blades, and thereby lost a very significant weight advantage, which meant a lower payload, or a shorter range, or both. McDonnell Douglas started to walk away in favour of GE's CF6, which, in an earlier form, had powered the Lockheed C5 Galaxy, and so had had most of the bugs taken out of it. Boeing opted for P&W's JT9D for the B747. That just left Lockheed's tri-engined L1011 and the twin-engined A300 airbus. The latter chose either Pratt and Whitney or General Electric as the years went by, but never chose R-R for the A300. Only Lockheed and its increasingly desperate chairman, Dan Haughton, hung on. We got used to his haggard face being interviewed by clumps of TV reporters in the rain on his many transits through Heathrow and on to Derby to find out just how bad the situation was. It wasn't pretty. Haughton was here because the RB211 was not performing to brochure.

The titanium fan blades which replaced the Hyfil blades were not much safer. The need to meet the higher thrust demanded by Lockheed raised the high pressure fan temperature from 1,100C to 1,250C. The strength of the blade halved for every 25C between those temperatures, so a major effort to cool the fan blades became a serious life or death issue too, with R-R eventually adopting Bristol-Siddeley's casting process.

But there was more. The three turbine shafts were not showing the expected efficiencies. The engine was in a mess.

The responsibility lies firmly at the feet of Denning Pearson, the Rolls-Royce managing director, rather than the Americans, or Harold Wilson, or Denis Healey, or Tony Benn who is vilified throughout this book.

The Conservative governments of the 1950s had done their best to consolidate many small manufacturers, such as Miles, Fairey, Gloster and Folland, into consolidated aerospace businesses selling high technology aircraft in large numbers, but the 1957 Duncan Sandys White Paper killed many of the projects. Harold Wilson's two 1960s governments were effectively bankrupt, but this did not mean the government thought that wrecking Rolls-Royce would save the day. The person best able to answer the author's charge is Tony Benn, the Minister of Technology during the RB211 disaster, and he is still alive, as is Denis Healey who was Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time. The book contains many speculations about Benn's contributions to the disaster, but there is no interview. Why not, or was the author rebuffed? The book lacks an index too, so it's difficult to know exactly how many times Benn's name is mentioned, but it is probably in the thirties, a substantial number.

Everyone loves a conspiracy theory. I enjoyed reading the book, but the truth is that a series of UK engineering cock-ups and a bankrupt government were to blame. I was standing in a pub in London's High Holborn at lunchtime on 4 February 1971 with my father, Bryan Greensted, who had been a test pilot. A man rushed in, clutching a copy of the midday Evening Standard, and shouted, "Rolls-Royce has gone bust!" I won't ever forget the silent collective shame of the drinkers in that pub and everywhere else in the UK.

Later that decade, in 1976, I married Sally, the daughter of Sir Stanley Hooker, who, in conjunction with the merchant banker Sir Kenneth Keith, rescued Rolls-Royce. Sanity was restored, and airframe manufacturers started buying R-R engines once more. Businesses should be run by business men and women, whilst governments should be run by politicians. Read this book and enjoy the yarn, but be grateful that leadership and sanity prevailed at Rolls-Royce in 1971 when the company needed it most.

Finally, Rolls-Royce does now have engines on Boeing's Dreamliner, and Airbus Industrie's A350 and A380. It's the only engine-maker on all three of these new generation planes. It's an amazing rebirth from the ashes.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 21 Mar 2014 14:02:47 GMT
Difficult to find any mention of the removal of the salient Hyfil processing equipment and hyfil stock from Hucknall by US airforce transporter craft.This appeared in the Derby Telegraph.I was working ion Materials engineering at the time and a lot of what was said about HP turbine blade reliability ( my area) doesnt ring true.I think the HP story was used as a smokescreen for other problems.

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Mar 2014 14:26:23 GMT
Many thanks for your intriguing comments.
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