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Internal News - 06 October 2006

Obituary: Dr Stan Butler (1926-2006)

Stan Butler was an engineer of the traditional type, more used to developing ideas on the “back-of-the-envelope” and in the test laboratory, than on the computer.

He began his career in 1948 at what was then the Bristol Aeroplane Company, following a degree at Newcastle. At BAC he worked on the design of the wing-fuselage joint of the stretched version of the Britannia – a fine structural example to cut the teeth of the young engineer.

In the years that followed he gained responsibility for future projects, and soon became involved with early material and structural development for the various forms of supersonic transport being considered in Bristol towards the end of the 1950s. This work culminated in the Concorde, and Stan’s contribution – particularly on thermal loading and thermal fatigue – provided considerable understanding of the effect that the demanding flight cycles had on the airframe.

Around 1967 Stan moved from BAC to the young University of Bath, which was in the process of relocating from Ashley Down to the developing campus at Claverton Down. He was appointed by the late Professor Joe Black to look after the Structures Group within the School of Engineering. It was during this time that he submitted his thesis on “the creep and failure of compression structures” and was awarded his PhD.

There then followed over 20 years of academic life. Stan took to the challenges of teaching and research with typical enthusiasm. He established a well equipped and active laboratory and was awarded further work on Concorde thermal problems as well as a significant contract on the GRP hull structure of the Navy’s new class of minesweeper.

Consultancy formed a significant part of Stan’s activities at the University and into retirement. His contribution is summed up in the words of one Managing Director: “Stan became a vital part of our work … and helped me out of many a deep hole that seemed insurmountable at the time. To me he was unique because he combined huge academic capacity with great practical ability, so when he came back with solutions they were always cost effective as well as clever.”

As in all areas of his life, Stan’s approach to teaching was practical. He preferred to use examples that his students would understand rather than pure theory. Hence, direct operating cost was firstly described in terms of bicycle or car before aircraft. His breadth of experience, combined with an ability to recall stories whilst sharing his broad Yorkshire grin, enthused a generation of engineering students.

Stan was a man of faith, and read through the Bible from cover to cover on a regular basis. He is survived by his dear wife Joan, their four children, eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Stan Butler died suddenly at his home on Monday 25 September 2006.