Engineer of the Week No.6. Today we remember Anne Burns (nee Pellew) BSc ( 23 November 1915 - 22 January 2001), on the 18th anniversary of her death.
Burns was an aeronautical engineer and glider pilot, who became the world expert in ‘Clear Air Turbulence’ and its effects on aircraft safety. She gained a 1st class degree in engineering science from Oxford University (1936) and then joined the Structures and Mechanical Department at the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) at Farnborough, Hampshire (1940), as a scientific assistant, promoted to Principal Science Officer 1953. She became expert in 'flutter' and clear air turbulence. She was the first flight test engineer to use strain gauges and was involved in the investigations into the Comet disasters (1950s).
It is easy now to forget how dangerous flying was even by the mid-20th century. Burns was part of the first generation of aeronautical engineers who applied stringent mathematics and physics principles to test airframes for safety. Many military and civilian planes had design faults which only became apparent when 'unexplained' disasters befell them. It was Anne's life work to find the explanations for such problems as 'flutter” - unstable oscillations of a plane's control surfaces – and such disasters as the crashes of Comet airliners. As a flight test engineer observer she had to fly in many planes known to be dangerous, whilst monitoring her innovative strain gauges. Lancasters, Wellingtons, Sunderland flying boats, Avro Tudor, Vickers Viking and other military planes are among those she flew in as a test observer. In the 1960s she became known world wide for her expertise and daring in seeking out clear air turbulence and studying the problems which airframes can experience.
Awarded the Queen's Commendation for her bravery and contribution to Comet investigation (1955); R.P. Alston Medal by the Royal Aeronautical Society for this work (1958); Royal Aeronautical Society Silver Medal for Aeronautics (1966); Whitney Straight Award for her services to aeronautical research and flying (1968). Retired from the RAE in 1976. She married Denis Burns in 1948 and they shared a lot of recreational flying. She held many gliding records and was awarded the Royal Aero Club's Britannia Trophy and British Gliding Champion (1966), the first woman to hold the title.
Anne Burns was a remarkable woman for whom flying was not just the focus of her very full career but also her principal hobby, she contributed significantly to the safety of many sorts of planes.