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Title: Metropolitan Vickers, the gas turbine, and the State : a socio-technical history, 1935-1960
Author: Whitfield, Jakob
ISNI:       0000 0004 2740 9789
Awarding Body: University of Manchester
Current Institution: University of Manchester
Date of Award: 2013
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In 1937 the Manchester Engineering Firm Metropolitan Vickers (Metrovick) were awarded a development contract by the Air Ministry to develop a gas turbine for aircraft propulsion in conjunction with the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough. Over the next decade and a half, the company developed a number of gas turbine designs for a variety of applications in the air, at sea, and on land. This thesis examines the gas turbine work of Metropolitan Vickers, and how the company interacted with a variety of partners across both the military and the civilian realms. These included government research establishments such as the Royal Aircraft Establishment and the Admiralty Engineering Laboratory; commercial partners, such as the aero-engine manufacturer Armstrong Siddeley, Yarrow Shipbuilders, and the Great Western Railway, and state institutions such as the Ministries of Aircraft Production and Fuel and Power. It argues that Metrovick’s technical style was formed by the company’s existing heavy engineering plant business, which privileged design over development and production engineering. Compared to competitors such as Power Jets and Rolls Royce, Metrovick’s progress on aero-engine work was hampered by the lack of a development organisation; though technically advanced, its aircraft engines took a long time to be developed and would not reach production; a factor which was influential in the post-war sale of Metrovick’s aero-engine designs to Armstrong Siddeley. Metrovick did use its gas turbine experience to gain post-war contracts for both naval and civilian gas turbines. The Royal Navy adopted gas turbines for two roles: as lightweight powerplants for short-ranged fast-attack craft, and as part of major warship propulsion systems that were intended to overcome the perceived flaws of the Navy’s interwar steam plants. Metrovick was selected as a development partner because of the company’s existing naval business, as well as its gas turbine expertise. In the civilian realm, the company produced gas turbines for a wide range of applications ranging from railway locomotives to electrical power generation. Most of the customers for these designs were state or quasi-state institutions; this thesis argues that the postwar British state’s support for the civilian gas turbine shows that it was seen as a crucially British technology that could help improve industrial efficiency, as well as utilising indigenous energy resources. However, again Metrovick was content to rely on development contracts rather than commit itself to large-scale production. The company’s gas turbine designs were somewhat marginal to the wider heavy electrical business, and Metrovick never committed the kind of development resources to the gas turbine division that would have been required to produce successful products, nor did it attempt to sell its designs widely to relevant markets.
Supervisor: Hughes, Jeffrey; Kirby, David Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: History of technology ; Gas turbines ; Warfare state ; Metropolitan Vickers