View Full Version : RAE Standard Method

22nd Nov 2014, 12:52
Johanna Weber, mathematician and aerodynamicist, 1910-2014
In the era when mass air travel was about to take off, anyone needing to hear the latest on what kept jets aloft could visit the Royal Aircraft Establishment (http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/55b7621a-00d9-11e1-930b-00144feabdc0.html?siteedition=uk#axzz3JexHeNQ9) at Farnborough – or pay a call on one of two neighbouring houses in leafy Echo Barn Lane, part of the nearby Surrey village of Wrecclesham.
There, from 1953, lived a pair of German-born scientists whose work on aerodynamics at RAE did much to ensure the safety of flying and the industry’s ability to build ever more advanced aircraft, not least Concorde (http://www.britishairways.com/en-gb/information/about-ba/history-and-heritage/celebrating-concorde).
One was Dietrich Küchemann, a fluid dynamicist, who died in 1976. The other was the mathematician Johanna Weber (http://www.hillhouse-nursinghome.co.uk/a-resident-celebrates-her-102nd-birthday/), who lodged with her colleague and his family for eight years before buying the bungalow next door. Weber, who has died aged 104, lived in it alone for four decades, opting for a local nursing home only when her centenary approached.
Their initial work at Farnborough from 1947 – regarded by peers as their most influential – was on the Handley Page Victor V-bomber. As a military project it received less public attention but the Victor was a remarkably elegant creation. The airflow over its crescent shaped wings gave such an efficient pressure distribution that the principles were later adopted for many civil and defence aircraft, particularly in Europe.
A linear progression can be detected from their wing work (it came to be known as the “RAE standard method”) to the Airbus (http://markets.ft.com/tearsheets/performance.asp?s=fr:AIR) A310 introduced in 1983. But by the early 1950s Weber and Küchemann had turned to look at wings for supersonic flight. This was initially pure research but was applied to the design of what became Concorde.
Yet simply because no other airliners (http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/4f0849f4-4888-11e3-8237-00144feabdc0.html#axzz3JexHeNQ9) were built that required these characteristics, the genius of their “slender delta” wing, which provides sufficient lift at low speeds while performing efficiently in Mach 1-plus flight with very little drag, was not as influential on future projects as that for the Victor. A US initiative for a supersonic transport plane was cancelled in 1971.
Although a mathematician at heart, Weber was also a gifted experimenter who readily helped build wing mock-ups. Quiet, even timid, she took a back seat to the charismatic Küchemann in presenting their work. After retiring nearly 40 years ago she kept intellectually active by taking courses in unrelated disciplines such as psychology.
Born on August 8 1910 in Düsseldorf to migrant Walloons of humble farming stock, the young Johanna lost her father to the first world war and faced finding a job once Hitler, of whom she was wary, had come to power. It was fortuitous that she not only survived that ensuing conflict but had by then struck up the collaboration that was to span the rest of her career and bring her to Britain.
Weber arrived in the UK at the urging of Küchemann, with whom she first worked at Göttingen university (http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/2bf716ee-4ed0-11e4-a1ef-00144feab7de.html#axzz3JexHeNQ9)’s experimental aerodynamics institute after two years in the ballistics department of Krupp. Their skills and specialisations converged in the study of how air flowed over surfaces and he was an enthusiastic advocate for her to be hired: on reporting to her first British boss she was amused to be greeted with: “Oh, the myth has become a Miss.”

The life-long spinster, classed at the time as an enemy alien with curbs on her travel, did not plan to stay at Farnborough, at first accepting just a six-month contract. But in a 2000 oral history interview with the Farnborough Air Sciences Trust she said she had been won over: “English people typically are such a friendly lot to foreigners, certainly the women . . . I was an odd one but they wanted all to be kind to me.” Also, her salary helped to support her mother and a frail younger sister. Weber, who is survived by distant relatives mainly in Belgium, was naturalised along with Küchemann in 1953, the year they published their Aerodynamics of Propulsion.
Dietmar Küchemann (http://www.kcl.ac.uk/sspp/departments/education/people/academic/k%C3%BCchemannd.aspx), his son and himself a mathematics academic, recalls her describing their working relationship as “she doing the maths, he having the vision”. He adds: “They certainly complemented each other in a very productive way, though she might again have been playing down her role.” After Dietmar’s parents died, Weber came to be “family elder and last link to that generation and the times in Germany”.
Indeed, to have maintained those ties all along by moving in next door had required her to set aside her shyness and press Abbey National to grant her a mortgage. Building societies in the 1960s were chary of lending to single women no matter how eminent in their field – which, even by then, she had clearly become.

22nd Nov 2014, 15:37
Many thanks for re-posting the FT's excellent obituary for those of us who can't get past their paywall.

They may come after you, but I don't suppose they will. :O