Hypersonic propulsion pioneer Dr. Tom Curran, former director of the US Air Force Research labs Propulsion Directorate (AFRL/PR) and joint patent holder for the scramjet, recently revealed the moment ‘he knew’ he was destined for a life in aerospace.
‘When did you know?’ is a question the (AIAA) American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics have been asking on their website as part of an on-going campaign aimed at recruiting young talent into aerospace. Dr Curran was certainly young, and recalled the moment occurred during a school dance in wartime England when he was growing up. Apparently ‘taking the evening air’ with a girlfriend high up on the roof of the school, their quiet moment together was interrupted by the strange buzzing sound of what he would later discover was a German Fieseler Fi-103 flying bomb - better known as a V-1.
A V-1 in the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio
(pic Guy Norris)
The pair watched as the V-1, with a glowing tailpipe, buzzed overhead before exploding away in the distance. “What was that?” asked his girlfriend, to which Curran replied “I have absolutely no idea!” But that, as he said, was “the moment he knew” he was bound and determined to follow a life to do with aircraft, rockets and missiles.Dr Curran eventually came across to the AFRL/PR in 1961 as an RAF exchange officer. Following his retirement from the RAF in 1968, he joined PR as a civilian and advanced through the ranks to eventually become PR’s Chief Scientist and then Director. He retired as PR’s Director in 1997, but he remains active in the propulsion community.
Hearing Dr Curran’s story, I began to wonder when I "knew." It turns out to be the moment when, as a 10 or 11 year old, I watched an English Electric Lightning take off at an air display in the northeast of England and climb vertically like a rocket until it dwindled to a speck in the sky. The roaring fury of its twin Rolls-Royce Avons, its initial climb rate of 50,000ft/min and the sheer awesome power had me hooked.
My inspiration - a Lightning roaring down the runway
(credit: Michael Hind, Airliners.net)I asked a couple of colleagues what did it for them. Bill Sweetman recalls it was the sight of Boeing B-47s taking off from Greenham Common near his childhood home, while for Graham Warwick - playing in the trees by his family farm in the border country of Scotland - it was the amazing spectacle of a low flying Avro Vulcan in its classic Cold War coat of white anti-flash paint.…How about you? When did you know?
..and just for fun, here's some nice archive Lightning video: