Metropolitan Vickers, the GasTurbine, and the State: A Socio-Technical History, 1935-1960

  • Jakob Whitfield

    Student thesis: Phd


    In 1937 the Manchester Engineering Firm Metropolitan Vickers (Metrovick) wereawarded a development contract by the Air Ministry to develop a gas turbine for aircraftpropulsion in conjunction with the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough.Over the next decade and a half, the company developed a number of gas turbine designsfor a variety of applications in the air, at sea, and on land. This thesis examines the gasturbine work of Metropolitan Vickers, and how the company interacted with a variety ofpartners across both the military and the civilian realms. These included governmentresearch establishments such as the Royal Aircraft Establishment and the AdmiraltyEngineering Laboratory; commercial partners, such as the aero-engine manufacturerArmstrong Siddeley, Yarrow Shipbuilders, and the Great Western Railway, and stateinstitutions 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 heavyengineering plant business, which privileged design over development and productionengineering. Compared to competitors such as Power Jets and Rolls Royce, Metrovick'sprogress 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 andwould not reach production; a factor which was influential in the post-war sale ofMetrovick's aero-engine designs to Armstrong Siddeley.Metrovick did use its gas turbine experience to gain post-war contracts for both naval andcivilian gas turbines. The Royal Navy adopted gas turbines for two roles: as lightweightpowerplants for short-ranged fast-attack craft, and as part of major warship propulsionsystems that were intended to overcome the perceived flaws of the Navy's interwarsteam plants. Metrovick was selected as a development partner because of thecompany'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 applicationsranging from railway locomotives to electrical power generation. Most of the customersfor these designs were state or quasi-state institutions; this thesis argues that the postwarBritish state's support for the civilian gas turbine shows that it was seen as a cruciallyBritish technology that could help improve industrial efficiency, as well as utilisingindigenous energy resources.However, again Metrovick was content to rely on development contracts rather thancommit itself to large-scale production. The company's gas turbine designs weresomewhat marginal to the wider heavy electrical business, and Metrovick nevercommitted the kind of development resources to the gas turbine division that would havebeen required to produce successful products, nor did it attempt to sell its designs widelyto relevant markets.
    Date of Award1 Aug 2013
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • The University of Manchester
    SupervisorJeff Hughes (Supervisor) & David Kirby (Supervisor)


    • Warfare state
    • History of technology
    • Gas turbines
    • Metropolitan Vickers

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