Joint meeting – Aeronautical Society of Mauritius (AeSM) and Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS) (2019)
The President for 2018-2019 of the Royal Aeronautical Society, Rear Admiral Simon Henley, visited Mauritius last week – with a message: This was that a lot has happened in jet engine and space rocket development in the years since US Astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin first landed on the Moon on 20 July 1969, and he was here in Mauritius (at the invitation of the AeSM and Air Mauritius) to tell us about it. Simon Henley, with all his nautical background and title, describes himself as an ‘aeronautical engineer’ rather than a sailor, and his early training and accomplishments are confirmation of that. Fair to say that when he was first introduced to a Royal Navy aircraft carrier it was the aircraft and helicopters on board that drew all his attention.
The Admiral’s theme, explained to us last week, was twofold, firstly to illustrate how much has been achieved over recent years in the story of Aviation; secondly to pass on his clear conviction that each leap ahead in this thriving industry – whether military or civil — has been made possible by a breakthrough in propulsion technology. From Kittyhawk through the Douglas DC3 to the first and second generation jet-propelled airliners like the de Havilland Comet and the British Aerospace/Aerospatiale supersonic Concorde, each dramatic improvement in travel by air has been made possible by new engine development. In this millennium it is clear that the greatest and most exciting innovations are taking place in Space, where rocket technology has already spawned many tangible benefits for all the citizens of the world – take GPS and weather satellites as two out of many examples. Early rockets – says the admiral – which were designed with the objective of putting useful payloads into LEO (Low Earth Orbit) or further into the stratosphere, have been shown to have certain disadvantages: high cost, poor operability and low reliability. In a world where 99.99% reliability is a minimum target, the 2 or 3 percent failure rate of rocket launches is simply not acceptable. Also cost has been high, mainly because – up until recently – each launcher (rocket) could be used only once. So the search has gathered pace to find new space access systems, which address all these challenges.
Simon Henley is now working with a British company called “Reaction Engines”, which has found an innovative and very promising solution. This company was founded in 1989 by three Rolls Royce propulsion engineers, Alan Bond, Richard Varvill and John Scott. Their vision was to fill the world’s need for less costly, re-usable space access, which they believed must come from an entirely new type of launch engine, and they invented one which is now known as SABRE (Synergetic Air Breathing Rocket Engine) , or colloquially as “the rocket that thinks it’s a jet”. Their rationale is that there are advantages in air-breathing propulsion, and that horizontal and not vertical launches decrease cost and increase operability, and their remarkable project is being developed along these lines. In its air-breathing mode (as a jet) the SABRE engine can accelerate to Mach 5 (five times the speed of sound), and then transition to pure rocket power attaining orbital speed of Mach 25. All this, and then return to Earth to be used again and again. How is this then achieved? The answer is a miracle of Physics, and begins with the air-breathing jet accelerating to Mach 5, when the airflow has to be slowed down on its entry through the inlet of the engine to avoid destroying it. The air compression that takes place at this point raises the air temperature to +1,000 degrees Centigrade, which in SABRE (by a process using gaseous helium coolant, a closely guarded secret), is then cooled down to minus 150 degrees in a twentieth of a second! The air then can enter the combustion chambers, then – on attaining an airspeed of just over Mach 5 – the inlet is shut down, and the engine continues to function as a rocket fueled by stored liquid hydrogen.
Although successful tests were carried out early this year, there is still a great deal of work to be carried to a conclusion, before we shall see SABRE heading off into space. One notable task will be to design, build and test an airframe which is worthy of these mighty new engines.
Summary written by Dick Twomey, FAeSM
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About Rear Admiral Henley
Simon was educated at Collyers Grammar School Horsham. He joined the Royal Navy directly from school and underwent initial officer training at Britannia Royal Naval College Dartmouth, followed by studying for a degree in Mechanical Engineering at the Royal Naval Engineering College in Manadon, Plymouth followed by 12 months post-graduate training in Aerospace Engineering.
He served as an Aircraft Engineer Officer in the Royal Navy for 32 years, retiring in the rank of Rear Admiral. During his career, he served in operational roles supporting front line squadrons on several helicopter types and Sea Harrier, and towards the end of his career specialised in future logistic support requirements for new aircraft and ships, and then in major project acquisition. He served as the UK lead in the US/UK Joint Strike Fighter Programme Office, was the UK lead in participation in the source selection process for that programme, and subsequently led the UK’s Joint Combat Aircraft Integrated Project Team for four years. His last job before retirement was as Technical Director and head of Programme Management for the Defence Equipment and Support organisation.
He subsequently joined Rolls-Royce as Programme Director for new programmes in Defence Aerospace, with responsibility for development and transition to production of the LiftSystem for the F-35 Lightning II programme and the propulsion systems for the Mantis and Taranis unmanned demonstration programmes. In 2010 he was seconded to the Rolls-Royce/Snecma/MTU/ITP joint venture Europrop International as President, responsible for the development, certification, and introduction to service of the TP400 engine for the A400M aircraft, culminating in the delivery of the first aircraft to the French Air Force in 2013. After leaving Rolls-Royce in 2014, he has worked as VP Programmes for an aircraft interior company developing and delivering the galleys for the Airbus A350, and subsequently as Director (Special Projects) for Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group. He is currently Business and Industry Strategy Adviser to Reaction Engines Ltd, developing the revolutionary SABRE engine to power hypersonic atmospheric and space flight.
He is a Chartered Aerospace Engineer, a Registered Project Professional, an Honorary Fellow of the Association for Project Management, and a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society.