Stanley Hooker

Sir Stanley George Hooker (September 30, 1907May 24, 1984) was a jet engine engineer, first at Rolls-Royce where he worked on the earliest designs such as the Welland and Derwent, and later at Bristol Aero Engines where he helped bring the troubled Proteus and Olympus to market, and then designed the famous Pegasus.

Stanley George Hooker was born at Sheerness and educated at Borden Grammar School. He won a scholarship for Imperial College London to study mathematics, and in particular, hydrodynamics. He became more interested in aerodynamics, and moved to Brasenose College, Oxford where he received his PhD in this area in 1935.


In late 1937 he applied for a job at Rolls-Royce, and started there in January 1938. He was able to study anything that caught his fancy, and soon moved into the supercharger design department. He started researching the superchargers used on the Merlin engine, and demonstrated that large improvements could be made to their efficiency. His recommendations were put into the production line for newer versions, notably the Merlin 45, improving its power by approximately 30%, and then the Merlin 61.

The Merlin 45 went into the Spitfire Mk V in October 1940, which was produced in the greatest number of any Spitfire variant. The two-stage supercharged Merlin 61 went into the Spitfire Mk IX, the second most-produced variant, which went into service in July 1942. This latter aircraft arrived in time to give the Spitfire a desperately needed advantage in rate of climb and service ceiling over the Butcher Bird, the Focke-Wulf Fw 190.

The mathematics involved in optimising the efficiency of a supercharger, which Hooker developed, were the basis of the mathematics needed to make a gas turbine run efficiently. All jet engines, except for turbineless ones such as ram-jets, are based upon the equations used to develop the Merlin.

In 1940 Hooker was introduced to Frank Whittle, who was in the process of setting up production of his first production-quality jet engine, the W.2. In 1941 the Air Ministry had offered contracts to Rover to start production, but Whittle was growing increasingly frustrated with their inability to deliver various parts to start testing the new engine. Hooker was excited, and in turn brought Rolls-Royce chairman Ernest Hives to visit Rover's factory in Barnoldswick. Whittle mentioned his frustrations, and Hives told Whittle to send him the plans for the engine. Soon Rolls' Derby engine and supercharger factories were supplying the needed parts.

Rover was no happier with the state of affairs than Whittle. In 1942 Maurice Wilkes of Rover met Hives and Hooker in a pub near the factory. Wilkes and Hives eventually came to an agreement whereby Rover would take over production of the Rolls-Royce Meteor tank engine factory in Nottingham and Rolls would take over the jet engine factory in Barnoldswick. Hooker soon found himself as chief engineer of the new factory, delivering the W.2 as the Welland. Wellands went on to power the earliest models of the Gloster Meteor, and a development of the Welland known as the Derwent powered the vast majority of the later models.

Whittle had moved to the US in 1942 to help General Electric get the W.2 into production there, returning in early 1943. Hooker also visited in 1943, and was surprised to find they had made extensive changes and raised the power to convert|4000|lbf|kN|abbr=on. Upon his return to England he decided that Rolls should recapture the power lead, and in 1944 the team started development of a larger version of the Derwent that was delivered as the convert|5500|lbf|abbr=on Nene. While this proved to be a successful design, it was not used widely on British designs, and Rolls eventually sold a license to the United States, and later, several engines to the Soviet Union, which then went on to copy it unlicensed. This set off a major political row, and soon the MiG-15, powered by a copy of the Nene, was outperforming anything the British or US had to counter it.

Meanwhile Hooker's team had moved onto their first axial-flow design, then known as the AJ.65 but soon to be renamed the Avon. The Avon did not turn out well at first, and Hooker felt he was being blamed for its problems. At the same time Rolls decided that their existing piston engines were a dead-end, and moved all future jet work from Barnoldswick to Derby, their main engine site. This reduced Hooker's role in the company, and after an emotional falling-out with Hives, he left.


In January 1949 Hooker started work at the Bristol Aero Engine company. He immediately started work on sorting out the various problems of Bristol's turboprop design, the Proteus, which was intended to power a number of Bristol aircraft designs, including the Britannia. The task of rectifying the many faults of the Proteus was immense. Hives soon got to hear of the extent of them, and very generously sent his top team of Rolls-Royce jet engineers, composed of Elliott, Rubbra, Lovesey, Lombard, Howarth and Davies, to give Hooker some desperately needed help.

The Proteus was soon in production, but did not see widespread use, and only a small number of Britannias were built. Hooker also worked on finishing the Olympus, developing later versions that would be used on the Avro Vulcan and Concorde.

In 1952 Hooker was approached by the Folland company and asked if he could produce a convert|5000|lbf|kN|abbr=on thrust engine to power their new lightweight fighter, the Gnat. For this role he produced his first completely original design, the Orpheus, which went on to power the Fiat G91 and other light fighters. Hooker then used the Orpheus as the basis of an experimental vectored-thrust engine for VTOL aircraft, at that time considered by most to be the next big thing in aircraft design. By equipping an Orpheus to bleed off air from the compressor and turbine the thrust could be directed downwards, creating the Pegasus engine and leading to the Hawker Siddeley Harrier that used it.

In the late 1950s the Air Ministry forced through a series of mergers in the aerospace field that left only two airframe companies and two engine companies. Bristol was merged with Armstrong Siddeley to become Bristol Siddeley in 1958, while most other remaining engine companies merged with Rolls. In 1966 Bristol Siddeley was itself bought by the now cash-flush Rolls, with the result that there was only one engine company in England. After a brief period, Hooker retired in 1967, staying on as a consultant only. In 1970 he retired fully, and was upset that after almost 30 years in the industry he had never become director of engine development.

Rolls-Royce, again

In 1971 Rolls-Royce was bankrupted by its hugely expensive RB.211 project. While trying to save the company and the project, Kenneth Keith, the new chairman who had been put to rescue the company, persuaded Hooker to return to Rolls full-time. As technical director he led a team of other retirees to fix the problems, and soon the RB.211 was in production. Its first application was for Lockheed's L-1011 Tri-Star. Hooker was knighted for his role in 1974. After another four years he retired once again in 1978.

During his return to Rolls-Royce, Sir Stanley was part of several high-level trade missions to China. These led to him becoming Honorary Professor of Aeronautical Engineering at Beijing University.

In 1984, Hooker published his autobiography, "Not Much Of An Engineer", referring to a quip Hives had made soon after they met.

In the late 1980s, Bill Bedford gave a talk in Christie's auction room in South Kensington in London. He had been the original test pilot for the Harrier at Dunsfold. Bill talked about the various fighters he had flown, many of which had been powered by Hooker's engines. On the screen behind him, towards the end of his talk, he showed a picture of Hooker, and said, "I'll have to think about this a bit, but if I was asked who was Britain's greatest ever engineer, I'd have to decide between Brunel and Sir Stanley Hooker, but I'd probably go for Sir Stanley."


* "Not Much Of An Engineer", Sir Stanley Hooker, Airlife Publishing, ISBN 1853102857.

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