Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Beatrice Shilling

Beatrice Shilling (8 March 1909–1990) was an aeronautical engineer who was responsible for correcting a serious defect in the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine during the Second World War. She also was a well-known racing motorcyclist.

Shilling was born at Waterlooville, Hampshire, the daughter of a butcher. After working as an electrician and electrical linesman, she took a degree in engineering at Manchester University. In the 1930s she was recruited as a scientific officer by the Royal Aircraft Establishment.

In the 1930s Shilling raced motorcycles around the Brooklands circuit and was awarded the Gold Star for lapping the track at over 100 mph on her Manx Norton 500.

During the Battle of France and Battle of Britain in 1940, it became apparent that the Merlin-engined RAF fighters had a serious problem with their carburettors while manoeuvring in combat. The negative g created by suddenly lowering the nose of the aircraft resulted in the engine being starved of fuel, causing it to cut out unless pilots flew inverted before diving. The opposing fighters did not have this problem. Shilling devised a solution which was dubbed "Miss Shilling's orifice". It was a small metal disc with a hole in the middle. After it was fixed into the engine's carburettor, it was able to reduce the fuel starvation of the engine. By March 1941 the device had been installed throughout Fighter Command as a stop-gap until an improved carburettor became available in 1943.

Shilling was once described by a fellow scientist as "a flaming pathfinder of women's lib"; she always rejected any suggestion that as a woman she might be inferior to a man in technical and scientific fields. She married George Naylor, a bomber pilot with No. 625 Squadron RAF. Shilling worked for the RAE until the mid-1960s.

She held a doctorate from the University of Surrey, a CEng and was a member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and the Women's Engineering Society.

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