Engineer of the Week No. 17. Kate Maslen, aeronautical researcher.
Kathleen (Kate) Rosa Maslen, BSc, HonMBSSM (3rd October 1920-2002)
Kate Maslen was born in north London, her father being a clerk in local governement. She was able to go to London Unversity’s Bedford College during the Second World War and gain a 1st class honours maths degree. As it was war time she got no choice in what she did next, as she was immediately directed to the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, where she would remain for her entire working life. She was put in the Experimental Stress Analysis section because she was the only maths graduate they were sent that year who knew what a Wheatstone Bridge was- so they thought she would understand stress gauges! Her work was in the Structural and Mechanical Engineering Department and was on the very early development and use of simple, wire strain gauges in testing large aircraft components.
At first strain gauges were not trusted by the engineers and designers of new aircraft, whose only tests, at that time, of the potential strength of their designs were based on hanging weights on wings etc and seeing how far they deflected. When Maslen and her colleague Anne Burns were able to show that their strain gauges were correctly predicting locations of test failure cracks, the heirarchy were convinced of their use which then developed rapidly, with new methods of fixing and measuring in extreme temperatures. She wrote or co-authored 10 papers or reports on the characteristics if these early straing gauges before, in 1961, she was moved to the Human Engineering department where she would spend the remainder of her career. Initially she worked on the design of breathing systems and helmets for high altitude fast jet fighters (an early space capsules), later on the effects of noise and other vibrations on human performance. Again, she wrote many reports, some of which were permitted to be published in technical journals, enabling others to reference her work.
In 1980 she retired from her civil service post at the RAE, as a Principal Scientific Officer, having reached the compulsory age (60 for women). In 1988 the British Society for Strain Measurement made her an honorary member, which greatly surprised her as it had been nearly 30 years since her work in that field, but said that “It was an unexpected pleasure to find that my work on this subject so long ago has not been entirely forgotten”. She and her sister Eleanor never married and lived with their parents first in Willesden and later in Woking, where she died in 2002.