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Pioneer Led The Way In Golden Age Of Aviation

Gordon Lewis

Gordon Lewis

Gordon Lewis was a pioneering engineer who was the driving force behind the revolutionary Harrier jump jet.

Mr Lewis, who has died aged 86, worked at Rolls-Royce in Patchway during its golden age of innovation. He was seen as one of the leading figures in British aviation in the 1960s and also worked on the engines which eventually powered Concorde. Even after his retirement, the Bristol resident was a leading figure in the engineering fraternity and was a regular speaker and guest at various events.

Mr Lewis, who was awarded the CBE in recognition of his achievements, died peacefully at home with his family in Bristol on 4th October. He joined the Bristol Aeroplane Company in 1944 as a young graduate from Oxford University and soon became involved in the early design of jet engines. He originally worked on the project to build the engine which powered the Vulcan aircraft before he came under the wing of Sir Stanley Hooker, the leading engineer of his time.

In 1956, he took the designs of French engineer M Wimbault and started to adapt them in a project which would eventually lead to the invention of the engine for the jump jet. The engine meant that aircraft could take off and land vertically for the first time ever and Rolls-Royce still leads the way in the field to this day. Mr Lewis also led the way in working with other manufacturers across Europe and with his German and Italian counterparts, he helped to develop the engine for the Tornado and later the Typhoon.

As well as being a great talent, Mr Lewis was also well known for his dry sense of humour and as a great inspiration for his colleagues. A spokesman for the firm said: “Gordon Lewis was an inspiration to innumerable teams, not only on engineering matters but also on commercial and project aspects.

“Refreshingly honest and open in debate, his judgements were usually adopted as the correct course of action although, if his advice was not taken, he always committed himself wholeheartedly and loyally to making a success of the chosen policy.” Mr Lewis retired in 1986, by which time he was working as technical director for Rolls-Royce, having been appointed CBE in 1977 and awarded the Royal Aeronautical Society British Gold Medal in 1978.

In 1980, he was appointed a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and received the honorary degree of Doctor of Science from Bristol University in 1987. A great innovative engineer, he is universally held in high regard by the international aviation community and he supported the Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust throughout his retirement.

Colin Smith, director of engineering and technology at Rolls-Royce, said: “The news of Gordon Lewis’s sad passing marks a great loss for Rolls-Royce. Mr Lewis was instrumental in developing a number of the most significant families of aero engines produced by the company. He developed the technology behind vertical take-off and landing and this is still at the forefront of engineering excellence today. Mr Lewis was an inspiration and our heartfelt condolences go to his family.”

He is survived by his widow Marjorie, who he was married to for over 60 years, their son David and two daughters Susan and Jane.


More information on his early Pegasus work from a 2004 lecture he gave: Hawker Association

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