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Warlow-Davies, Eric John (1910–1964)

by R. C. Sharman

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Eric John Warlow-Davies (1910-1964), aircraft engineer, was born on 4 January 1910 at Broken Hill, New South Wales, son of native-born parents Harry Warlow Davies, mining engineer, and his wife Muriel Winifred Julie, née Bate, great-granddaughter of Samuel Bate. After World War I Harry was appointed chief engineer of the Electrolytic Zinc Co. of Australasia Ltd, Risdon, Tasmania. Eric attended The Hutchins School, Hobart, where he won numerous prizes and scholarships. In 1928 he entered the University of Tasmania (B.Sc., 1931). He read physics, mathematics and engineering, served as secretary (1929) and later president of the university union, co-edited the university magazine, and enjoyed rifle-shooting, rowing and soccer.

Selected as Rhodes scholar for Tasmania in 1932, Warlow-Davies proceeded to Corpus Christi College, Oxford (B.A., 1934; D.Phil., 1939), and graduated with first-class honours in engineering science. Warlow, as he was known to his friends, worked at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, from 1936 and at the London, Midland & Scottish Railway Co.'s research laboratory, Derby, from 1938. He contributed several papers to scientific and engineering journals reporting on his own or collaborative research into such matters as the 'impact strength' and 'fatigue strength' of materials, problems of repeatability and standardization, the effects of 'fretting corrosion' on fatigue strength and the 'dielectric breakdown strength' of lubricating materials.

In 1942, persuaded by (Sir) Stanley Hooker (assistant chief engineer of Rolls-Royce Ltd), Warlow-Davies joined the firm; he was appointed quality engineer at the plant near Glasgow where Merlin engines were being made for British fighter aircraft. Hooker said of him: 'No scratch or frettage was too microscopic to escape his attention, and he possessed the sixth sense of being able instantly to recognise whether such a mark would lead to a dangerous failure'. In 1946 Warlow-Davies was sent to Montreal, Canada, to oversee the development and manufacture of Merlin engines for DC-4M civil airliners. Next year he published a paper concerning the advantages of liquid-cooling systems for aircraft engines, in comparison with air-cooling systems. Back in Britain in 1948, he was technical-services and quality engineer at Rolls-Royce's works near Derby, becoming chief development engineer for the Nene and Derwent engines the following year. He returned to Montreal in 1951 as general manager and chief engineer of Rolls-Royce of Canada Ltd, with responsibility for the Nene engines which the company was supplying for T-33A Silver Star jet trainers. He was unhappy in this work, for the senior management position cut him off from his first love, engineering.

With the help of Hooker, then chief engineer at the Bristol Aeroplane Co. Ltd's engine division (Bristol Aero-Engines Ltd from 1956), Warlow-Davies left Canada and Rolls-Royce in July 1953. He was welcomed to Filton, England, by Bristol's new managing director, Air Chief Marshal Sir Alec Coryton, as chief engineer for current-production jet engines, the Proteus and the Olympus. Coryton and Warlow-Davies became firm friends. Together they purchased a 1904 Humberette which they entered in many vintage motorcar rallies. In 1959 Bristol Aero-Engines Ltd merged with Armstrong Siddeley Motors Ltd to form Bristol Siddeley Engines Ltd. Warlow-Davies was appointed chief engineer (aero); by 1963 he was managing director.

In 1962 the French and British governments agreed to combine in their attempts to build a supersonic airliner. The aircraft, eventually called the Concorde, was to be powered by four Olympus engines, constructed by Bristol Siddeley and the Société Nationale d'Étude et de Construction de Moteurs d'Aviation. Warlow-Davies led a team which designed a more powerful variant of the Olympus 301 (capable of a thrust of 20,000 lb.). The development of the Olympus 593 (capable of a thrust of 38,000 lb.) for the Concorde is a measure of Warlow-Davies' achievement. From January 1964 he was also a member of the British Air Registration Board.

Warlow-Davies never married. Tall and spare, he was said to have been feared by younger entrants to his profession as an uncompromising stickler for accuracy in all their calculations, and for the fullest necessary detail in engineering drawings. An associate, Professor Martyn Farley, wrote that his 'contribution was immense and many of his colleagues acquired reputations by learning from him and living in the culture that he created'. On holiday in Corsica with friends, Warlow-Davies collapsed on 28 June 1964 while swimming at a beach between the towns of L'Ile-Rousse and Calvi. A local doctor pronounced him dead, certifying that he had died of a stroke complicated by a heart attack. His body was brought back to Derby, England, where he was cremated. He was named a 'Hutchins Lion' by his old school in Hobart.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Burnet, Three Centuries to Concorde (Lond, 1979)
  • S. Hooker, Not Much of an Engineer (Shrewsbury, Eng, 1984)
  • Times (London), 30 June 1964
  • Nice-Matin (France), 30 June 1964
  • private information.

Citation details

R. C. Sharman, 'Warlow-Davies, Eric John (1910–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/warlow-davies-eric-john-11966/text21449, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 22 July 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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