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William Jolly Duncan

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Professor William Jolly Duncan, aeronautics and fluid mechanics at Glasgow University

1894 April 26th. Born


1961 Obituary [1]

Professor William Jolly Duncan, C.B.E., D.Sc., F.R.S., who died on 10th December 1960, was a pioneer of research into problems of aeroelasticity and air 'flutter'.

He was educated at Allan Glen's School, Dulwich College, and University College, London. Immediately after his graduation on the outbreak of the 1914-18 war, he enlisted and served in Flanders and France. In 1916 he joined the Aeronautical Inspection Department of the Ministry of Munitions. After the war he spent seven years with his father's firm, Ross and Duncan, but returned to aeronautics in 1926 when he was appointed to the scientific staff of the National Physical Laboratory, Aerodynamics Department. This was the beginning of his main career in teaching and research, and led to his appointment as the head of the newly formed Aeronautics Department at University College, Hull, in 1934. Four years later he became Wakefield Professor of this subject at the College.

During the 1939-45 war, Professor Duncan served in the Royal Aircraft Establishment and in 1945 he went to the College of Aeronautics, Cranfield, as Professor of Aerodynamics. He was appointed to the Mechan Chair of Aeronautics and Fluid Mechanics in the University of Glasgow in 1950, a post he held until his death.

Throughout his academic career, he was concerned with the effect of aerodynamic currents on elastic bodies. His special knowledge made him a most valuable member of the team of three assessors engaged in the 1954 inquiry into the loss of the original Comet aircraft over the Mediterranean and his magnificent work in the field of aeronautics will make him remembered with gratitude by future generations of designers.

Professor Duncan became a Graduate of the Institution in 1913, transferring to Associate Member in 1925 and to Member in 1942. He was a well-known figure in the Scottish Branch. He also served on several committees of the Aeronautical Research Council, of which he was appointed Chairman in 1957. Professor Duncan was a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society, and in 1947 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. He was awarded the C.B.E. in 1953.

He was a prolific author. He collaborated with Mr R. A. Frazer of N.P.L. and Professor A. R. Collar of Bristol University to produce a textbook on matrices which has become a mathematical classic. His other published works included The Principles of the Control and Stability of Aircraft, and numerous scientific papers and reports.

In spite of his many responsibilities, he was always ready to help and advise his colleagues and students. Behind a shy and apparently forbidding exterior, there was a man of great charm, courtesy and friendliness.


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Sources of Information

  1. 1961 Institution of Mechanical Engineers: Obituaries