Archibald Russell

(1904 - 1995)

Archibald Edward Russell was born in Cinderford, Gloucestershire on 30th May 1904, the son of Arthur and Edith Russell. He was raised in the Forest of Dean and attended East Dean Grammar School where his father was headmaster. When he was fifteen the family moved to Bristol and his education continued at Fairfield Grammar School, and then the Engineering faculty of Bristol University where he gained a BSc in automotive engineering. His first job was maintaining buses for the Bristol Tramways & Carriage Company, one of Sir George White's companies. Another of George White's companies was the Bristol Aeroplane Company, which Russell joined the company in May 1925, at age 21, as an assistant in the stress office, to work on biplane design under the leadership of Frank Barnwell.

Then followed three lean and anxious years at Filton until, in August 1928, Barnwell's Bristol Bulldog single-seat fighter biplane won an Air Ministry order for 29 production aircraft. Russell was appointed Chief Technician in 1931 and repeat orders for Bulldog saw the Bristol Aeroplane Company through until the first of the RAF Expansion Schemes was launched in 1935. By that time, Frank Barnwell, aided by his two chief assistants, Leslie Frise and Archibald Russell, had landed Air Ministry orders for two new and advanced twin-engine monoplanes - the Bristol Bombay troop-carrier and the Bristol Blenheim bomber.

In August 1939, Frank Barnwell was killed flying an ultra-light aeroplane of his own design and construction. He was succeeded by Leslie Frise, aided by Russell as Technical Designer. Under Frise, development of both Blenheim and Beaufort, begun under Barnwell’s leadership, continued, followed by his own design, the highly successful Beaufighter. Later military designs were, however, less successful. The Buckingham, intended as a successor to the Blenheim, saw only limited production, and then only in a support role, while its Torpedo-Bomber cousin, the Brigand, had only a little more success. In 1941 an Air Staff requirement for a long-range, 100-ton, 300mph heavy bomber had led Frise to submit a design for a large, mid-wing monoplane powered by eight Centaurus engines. The request was cancelled but instead the newly formed Brabazon Committee sought from Bristol the design for a post-war, transatlantic civil transport aeroplane based on the heavy bomber, to carry 90 passengers for 5,000 miles in 17 hours. This led, in 1949, to the Bristol Brabazon, at the time one of the largest aircraft in the world. Ill-conceived, it was cancelled in 1953.

Hardly had the Brabazon design begun when Frise resigned to become Technical Director of Hunting Aviation, leaving Russell to succeed him as Bristol's Chief Engineer. Experience of the Brabazon's design and construction paved the way for Russell towards the elegant, and successful, Britannia airliner, delayed into service by unexpected engine-icing problems on its relatively untried Proteus propeller-turbines. Hence, to Russell's disappointment, the popular Britannia had a relatively short life in first-time commercial service before its performance was overtaken by the larger, new, jet transports. He was elected to the board of the Bristol Aeroplane Company in 1951, the same year he was awarded the R.Ae.S British Gold Medal. He gained his doctorate in 1952 and became a CBE 1954.

In 1958 there were still 27 aircraft companies and 7 engine manufacturers in the United Kingdom. The Minister of Aviation forced the industry to organise itself into two aircraft groups. In 1960 Bristol aircraft merged with Vickers Armstrong, English Electric and Hunting as the British Aircraft Corporation. Russell was appointed Managing Director, Filton.

The team under him had been studying a design for a 130-passenger, six-engine airliner to cruise at 1,450mph whiich led to the Bristol Type 198 and its successor, the Type 223. In France, Sud Aviation, based in Toulouse, had been doing design studies for a smaller Mach 2 transcontinental airliner. In 1962 the two Governments signed an agreement that British Aircraft Corporation, Sud Avation, Bristol Siddeley Engines and SNECMA the French engine company, should cooperate to design a single supersonic aircraft in two versions one long range and one short range. Bristol Siddeley already had a proven engine in the Olympus, and took the lead in engines. To balance this Sud Aviation took the lead in the aircraft. M. Pierre Satre, designer of the Caravelle, was appointed Technical Director and Russell was appointed Deputy, and the Concorde project was born. Russell became the joint chairman of the Concorde Executive Committee of Directors between 1965 and 1969 and appointed chairman, Filton Division of the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) in 1968. . In August 1969 he resigned his chairmanship and directorship of the Filton division and effectively retired, but still retained a position on the BAC/Sud-Aviation Concorde Committee of Directors as vice-chairman, replacing Sir George Edwards.

In December 1969 he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Aeronautical Society for his great achievements in aircraft design over many years and his outstanding contribution to the Concorde, received the Guggenheim Award in 1971 and was Knighted in 1972. Sir Archibald Russell CBE, FRS, died at Angorrack, Cornwall on 29th of May 1995.

Biography References
  1. Obituary: Sir Archibald Russell, The Independent, 1 July 1995
  2. http://www.engineerswalk.co.uk/ar_walk.html

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