Roy Ewans, who has died aged 94, was one of Britain’s foremost aircraft designers. He redesigned the Avro Vulcan, the longest serving of the RAF’s three V-bombers.
The delta-wing Avro 698 (which was soon named Vulcan), was developed from a concept promoted by Roy Chadwick, designer of the Lancaster bomber, and the prototype flew for the first time in August 1952. An order for RAF’s Bomber Command soon followed and the aircraft entered service in May 1956; for the next 13 years it was a pivotal element of Britain’s strategic nuclear deterrent.
Vulcan designer Roy Ewans
Though the first version of the Vulcan, the B1, was capable of flying at 50,000ft, it was soon clear that the new generation of Soviet fighters would be able to intercept it. Even as the B1 was being rolled out, Ewans was redesigning the wing to increase lift and manoeuvrability at altitude. Wingspan was increased by 12ft, allowing the B2 to fly at heights above 60,000ft. Allied with the uprated Olympus 200 engine , the new design enabled the B2 to fly 300 miles further than the B1 and gave it a greater load-carrying ability. This made it well suited to become the launch platform for new rocket-powered nuclear missiles, as opposed to simple gravity bombs. Such missiles, known as "stand-off" weapons because they allowed the aircraft to remain beyond Soviet air defences, were a key requirement of the Air Ministry as the Cold War intensified.
The first of 89 B2s entered service in July 1960 and remained operational for a further 24 years. As the aircraft was about to leave squadron service, the Falklands conflict broke out, and a Vulcan B2 flew the type’s only operational sortie when it damaged the runway at Stanley Airfield in 1982. The 16-hour flight, having covered 7,860 miles, was the longest bombing mission ever carried out by the RAF.
John Roy Ewans was born on December 21, 1917 at Torquay in Devon. In 1938 he graduated from Imperial College, London, with a first in mechanical engineering, then took a postgraduate diploma in aeronautical engineering.
In 1939 Ewans joined the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough and worked on research and development programmes. After D-Day he was sent into north-west Europe and was attached to the Sixth Army Group to evaluate the German aircraft development programme.
After the war he joined the Blackburn Aircraft Company before moving in 1949 to AV Roe in Manchester, where he became the company’s chief designer. There Ewans assembled a team to design a medium-range regional airliner. The result, the Avro 748, a small twin turboprop aircraft, was eventually able to accommodate 44 passengers. Almost 400 sales were made, and 32 remain in service.
The aircraft was modified for RAF service as the Andover tactical transport. Two aircraft were operated for many years by the Queen’s Flight. In 1961 Ewans left Avro to move to the newly-formed British Aircraft Corporation, where he worked in conceptual design of military systems and project analysis. In 1967 he joined Fairchild Hiller in Maryland and worked as project engineer on the development of a small passenger jet. He was also involved in helicopter rotor research.
Ewans retired in 1982 and lived at St Mawes in Cornwall, where he pursued his interest in sailing; he later moved to Poole in Dorset and finally to Virginia Water. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society in 1957.
He married, in 1944, Enid Frayn, a mathematician. She died in 2005, and he is survived by their three sons and one daughter. He died on January 22.