HL Deb 07 April 1925 vol 60 cc1017-20

My Lords, I beg to ask His Majesty's Government whether, in view of the recent unfortunate aeroplane accident at Croydon aerodrome, it would not be advisable to allow a portion of the sum voted for research to be used by aeroplane constructors, under the control of the Air Ministry, for experimental research with regard to new designs, so that a great deal of progress might be made, and many of the difficulties which surround the development of new designs by aeroplane constructors might be removed?


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Duke for having postponed this Question in consequence of other urgent matters. I think he will be glad to hear that a good deal of work is being done and a good deal of money is being expended by the Government on research in the matter of aircraft. Your Lordships will realise that the deplorable accident which happened at Croydon, which is the subject-matter of my noble friend's Question, was due in the main to engine failure. As to how that engine failure arose, I do not suppose that we shall ever be quite informed. But it was due to engine failure; that is to say, there was a loss of flying speed which caused the machine to come to the ground. No doubt also there was a certain tendency in the machine to spin, which is a matter not of the engine but of the design of the plane, and no doubt the spinning contributed to the extent of the disaster. But in the main it was engine failure.

Dividing the matter into those two heads, as I say a great deal has been done, and is being done, by the Air Ministry for research in the matter of engines—both pure research and applied research. The pure research has been carried out by the Air Ministry and by the Aeronautical Research Committee. Besides that there is a great deal of experimental research. That is carried out partly in the Air Ministry's own institutions and partly by private firms. But the private firms are in these matters assisted by Government money; that is to say, when it is for the purpose of Government research the Air Ministry supplies a certain amount of money to the private firms in order to enable them to carry out these experiments, which is, of course, a perfectly reasonable and fair arrangement. I believe as large a sum as £200,000 a year is spent in research on engines alone. Then, besides this research into the engines, both pure research and experimental research, there are also final trials of machines with each engine, which are carried out by the Air Ministry.

Turning to the other half of the subject, from the engine to the machine, which is not so important in respect of the Croydon accident but still is of considerable importance, there, again, a great deal of research is being carried out, pure research and applied research; pure research especially in the control of the machine when it is running at low speeds. Your Lordships will appreciate the relevance of that to the particular accident of which we are speaking, because it was when the machine was running at a very low speed that the accident happened. That particular department is the subject of a great deal of investigation. There is an elaborate technical equipment, of which your Lordships are well aware, at the National Physical Laboratory, where these experiments are carried out—experiments in applied research by the means of an artificial current of air driven at a very high speed in a confined space in which the particular designs, the particular shapes of the wings and machines, are tested. That goes on now. Then there are practical tests of the machines themselves, when completed, at Farnborough. All this is in the direction of research.

The only thing of which there could be more, but we have not yet got sufficient equipment for it, is the solving of actual problems put by individual engineers to the National Physical Laboratory—problems which they want to have solved for the development of their own industry. As the House is aware, in the analagous case of the resistance power of 6hips going through the water, problems of that kind are actually solved for the public at the National Physical Laboratory; but we have not sufficient equipment at the moment to carry out fully both the Government work and work which may be submitted from private sources in the way I have described. A certain amount is done, but not as much as one would wish. I am sure that I have said enough to show your Lordships that in the matter of research a great deal is being done already, and that a large amount of money is being spent. I think I am right in saying that, in addition to the £200,000 a year which I have mentioned as being used for the purpose of research in engines, as large a sum as £350,000 a year is expended for the purpose of analagous research in the machines themselves other than the engines. My noble friend will see, therefore, that a great deal is being done.

Lastly, the Air Ministry is in correspondence with the Society of British Aircraft Constructors and a suggestion has been made that there should be an annual meeting or conference with the Aeronautical Research Committee of the Ministry, at which a programme of research suitable for commercial aircraft shall be settled; so that it shall be done, as it were, in collaboration with those who are interested in the industry. My noble friend will agree, I think, that, taken together, those two things show that the Air Ministry is fully alive to the importance of research and research work not merely for Government machines but for commercial machines, and that the Ministry is in communication with those in the commercial world who are interested in order that a suitable programme shall be arranged.