Richard Joseph (Dick) Ifield



Dick enjoyed the usual preliminary social chat with Captain Irving and they experienced a mutual admiration, a close friendship which continued until Captain Irving's death in 1950. (they had common ground in their dislike of L. C. Ord and Irving was interested in Dick's comments on the 'Thunderbolt' record breaking car.) He admired Dick's inventive capacity, the quality of his drawings and the determination he had shown to achieve acceptance of his ideas. Dick admired him as a wise and kindly man, of proven engineering qualities.

Bendix entered into an Agreement with Dick without delay. This was in April 1938; three years to the month after his arrival in England. This Agreement was similar to the one he had with Rileys, with the exception that it included provision for the payment of a 100 pounds option fee to Dick, for each invention taken up by the Company, beginning with his differential. In fact they later paid two other similar option fees, one for a pump design, the other for his hydrostatic transmission design.

The option fee allowed Dick to move his family to a larger and nicer rented house in Solihull, where their fourth son William Robert, was born. Previously, on the rare occasion he had needed a motor car, the Freeman brothers had kindly lent him theirs. Now at a cost of 18 pounds, he bought a second hand Rover, which served him well for about twelve months, after which he sold it for 13 pounds, because he then had full use of a Company owned Riley Kestrel fitted with his differential.

Bendix seemed to be a collection centre for displaced leading engineers. In addition to Irving, displaced from Sunbeam as a result of a take-over; their design staff included the previous Chief Engineers of A.J.S. and Calthorpe, both also displaced as a result of a take-over. Trevor Lawrence, previously Chief Designer at Calthorpe, became a close friend and he was later concerned with Dick's work on jet engines, as the Resident Technical Officer for the RAF.

Bendix obtained the two prototype differentials from Rileys, one of these was fitted to a 1936 Riley Kestrel car for demonstration purposes; the other was prepared as an exhibit at the 1939 Earls Court Motor Show, where it aroused the interest of engineers from various vehicle manufacturing Companies. Dick's family still has the exhibition unit, but the other differential was lost, when Girling moved into the Bendix building.

There were frequent changes in the army technical staff at Farnborough and it was found that no one there had any knowledge of the previous demonstrations, or of the orders which had been placed. It was necessary to repeat the Farnborough demonstrations, using the Riley Kestrel for that purpose. These demonstrations were as successful as were the previous ones and an order was placed for one of Dick's differentials to be made and fitted to a Guy 'Ant' vehicle for full approval testing.

Dick quickly completed the design and details and the unit was quickly made by David Brown Limited; it was fitted to the vehicle and rushed to Farnborough, but their efforts were in vain. The gears had been made of KE 805 steel, as Dick had specified, but instead of his specified oil hardening and tempering, David Brown had water quenched them after passing them through a case hardening furnace, so they were as brittle as glass. As a result, all the gears broke up into small pieces on test at Farnborough.

David Brown replaced the broken parts at their cost, but it was too late. A new obstacle arrived at Farnborough, an 'abominable no man' named Sheryer, whose approval was required for all new equipment ordered for the army. After a series of tests, Sheryer agreed that Dick's differential may avoid the loss of some vehicles and their crews, but he claimed that its introduction would interfere with production and that this was of first importance. He therefore refused to give approval for production.

Farnborough continued to use the vehicle for special braking tests, because Dick's differential prevented independent locking of the wheels; this was one of its features, but Dick saw no value in testing brakes in this way.

Irving sought to gain the support of the vehicle manufactures supplying the army, because there was no other outlet for Dick's differential at that time. He arranged visits by Dick to Guy, Crossley, Daimler and Ford, who produced a variety of two wheel and four wheel drive vehicles for the army. All were convinced of the value of the differential and all claimed that its introduction would have no effect on vehicle production rates. In all cases, Dick was asked to prepare designs for their particular vehicles and they stated that they would fit them, with or without Sheryer's approval.

About that time, the newspapers showed photographs of army vehicles and ambulances bogged down, with the wheels on one side in muddy verges, resulting from attempts to pass one another on narrow French roads. It was claimed that many hundreds of vehicles were lost in this way and many of their crews were killed or captured. Dick and his colleges believed that this evidence of the need, plus the support of the vehicle manufactures, would prevail against Sheryer's objections. Dick completed the designs, but to no avail because in all cases, manufacture was prevented on Sheryer's orders. Finally, Bendix reluctantly gave up their option of Dick's differential.

Bendix were seeking to enter the market for hydraulic powered aircraft brakes. They had developed a system for approval testing, but they were dissatisfied with the performance and life of existing hydraulic pumps. Dick showed Irving his design for an internal helical gear pump and Irving, immediately took an option on it. Dick designed and detailed a small unit to meet their requirements and this little pump gave a performance far superior to competitive pumps. Bendix were delighted with the pump, but the hydraulic powered braking contract had already been granted to Lockheed and there was no way for Bendix to enter the market.

Bendix and Dick reluctantly cancelled their agreement in July 1940 and Dick was again without a sponsor or an income, but richer by the 100 pounds received as an option fee for his helical gear pump and he was armed with well presented drawings of a wide variety of useful inventions, which he had showed to Irving.

Irving said that he thought that Alvis would be particularly interested in Dick's invention for a harmonic crankshaft and he arranged an appointment for Dick to discuss this with the Alvis Chief Engineer, Captain Black, who was very interested. He asked Dick to prepare a design for an eight cylinder two litre engine, but said that they would not be allowed to develop such a new engine until after the war, so Dick did not follow this up.

Irving said that he thought Rolls Royce may be interested in Dick's ideas for a variable pitch airscrew and that his ideas for a double differential hydrostatic transmission would be particularly suitable as a variable speed drive for aero engine superchargers. He arranged an appointment for Dick to discuss his ideas with leading Rolls Royce engineers. At Rolls Royce, Dick met several leading engineers, with whom he was later associated in the development of jet engines. These included Dr. Stanley Hooker; Cyril Lovesey and Arthur Rubbra.

Unknown to the outside world, Rolls Royce and DeHavilland had co-operated in developing a greatly improved variable pitch airscrew, so they were not interested in Dick's proposal, but they were very interested in his variable speed drive for aero engine superchargers. Hooker produced theoretical evidence that this would considerably improve engine performance, fuel economy and engine life. Dick was asked to prepare a design scheme suitable for the Merlin engine, but soon afterwards they all became involved with jet engines and the proposal was forgotten. It should have been passed to other engineers to design and develop, because the Merlin engine remained the backbone of the F.A.F. throughout the war years.

The Advance Design Division of the Mechanised Army had learned of Dick's invention for the steering of track laying vehicles, through a hydrostatically controlled differential and they requested a meeting in London. Dick informed the meeting that he did not wish to become involved with the Mechanised Army, because of the stupidity of their rejection of his differential. They said that they were aware of the presence of destructive critics in 'the establishment' and that their Department had been formed especially to encourage the development of anything which would improve the performance and safety of military vehicles.

Dick disclosed his other ideas for a hydro-mechanical variable speed transmission system and he was asked to prepare a design for the transmission and steering for their A13 Mk 3 army tank. He completed this design, only to be informed that a larger and more powerful engine was to be employed and he was asked for a design of a transmission suitable for the greater power, but to fit in the same space. Dick completed this design and left it with them for their consideration.

About two months later, Dick received a series of telegrams requesting his presence at a meeting, to discuss his proposals and to determine the type of transmission and steering system to be adopted for future army tanks. By that time he was completely pre-occupied with the problems of jet engines. He explained this to Oliver Lucas, who was the Chairman of the Directorate of Tank Design and Production; Oliver Lucas said that the jet engine had the greatest priority and he informed the Mechanised Army that Dick could not be spared. Some years later, Dick learned from Dr. Merritt that the Merritt-Brown tank transmission and steering system had been adopted after considerable discussion about his proposal, which he said would most likely have been adopted if Dick had been present at the meeting and had been available to take charge of the design and development. Dick also learned later that he should have obtained a design contract for his work, but he knew nothing of such matters, so he was never paid for his work and he did not even recover the expenses he incurred on that project.

Early in September, Irving phoned Dick to say that Lucas were looking for an improved pump for some secret project and he had recommended Dick's helical gear pump for their consideration. He had arranged a meeting with Dr. E. A. Watson (Lucas Group Chief Engineer) at Bendix and he asked Dick to be present. Watson was impressed with the performance of Dick's helical gear pump, but said that it would not meet their requirements, which he was unwilling to state. A few weeks later, Irving again phoned Dick, saying he had learned something of the Lucas pumping requirements and had recommended the design of pump Dick had invented for his Hydrostatic transmission scheme. He asked Dick to bring his drawings, for another meeting with Watson at Bendix.

Watson was very impressed with the design of Dick's pump and immediately gave him the first of several Lucas design contracts. This was for the urgent design and detailing of a variable displacement pump, to operate on kerosene, delivering 250 gallons per hour at 3000 RPM and to stall off stroke (reduce displacement) at 400 PSI (pounds per square inch, pressure), but with the potential for development to operating at pressures up to 1000 PSI, or even 2000 PSI.

Dick engaged Frank Freeman to work with him on the design and details, in a room of his family home. On the completion of this contract, Watson asked if Dick could invent a new form of speed governor combined with the pump, to throttle the delivery at a predetermined maximum RPM; he gave Dick a second design contract for this. On the completion of the details, Watson gave him a third design contract, for a hand operated hoist, for raising the under-belly gun turrets of Boulton & Paul bomber aircraft. This was never made; Dick suspected that this was a means to further test his ingenuity and design skill, but also to keep his team profitably occupied until the pumps had been tested.

These designs and prototype manufacture were examples of what can be done in short time. The first design and detailing contract was completed early in October; it was made in Dr. Watson's tool room without a single question being necessary; it was on test in December and it was fully proved to meet the specified requirements by the 21 December, with no modifications found to be necessary. The detailing of the second pump, including an entirely new concept in speed governing was completed, manufactured with no need for any questions and it was proved on test, in mid January.

Lucas were delighted with the performance of these pumps. They had tested all existing makes and types; none had given such high volumetric efficiencies and all had failed quickly when operated under load on kerosene.

About mid January, Irving telephoned to inform Dick that Oliver Lucas desired a meeting with him at his office. He asked Dick to take all his coloured drawings of his inventions and to visit him on his way, for a preliminary chat. Irving informed Dick that Lucas wanted to purchase his Patent relating to his pump and that they wished to employ Dick, to take charge of the development of his pump and of other special equipment for a new secret project. He recommended that Dick should ask a moderate 1000 pounds for his pump Patent; this would ensure acceptance and Dick could anticipate greater rewards later, for his other inventions. He also recommended that Dick should ask for a salary of 1000 pounds per year for his services.

As affecting Dick's career, this was the last meeting he had with Irving, although he met him socially again in 1947 and in the year before his death in 1950. Dick said that he will always remember him with the deepest gratitude for his interest in his career and welfare, far exceeding his interest as the General Manager of Bendix. Without his efforts on Dick's behalf, he may never have achieved his ambitions. Dick said that he has sometimes wondered what would have happened if he had not endured the previous five years of disappointments.

If Rileys had supplied the ordered differentials to the army and if they had fitted them to all military vehicles, it is probable that they would have been fitted to most off the road vehicles, such as Land Rovers. Would Dick have been so concerned about protecting his royalty income, that he would have devoted all of his efforts to improvements, to keep his Patents alive? This also applies to his Bendix Agreement, if Sheryer had not prevented the production of his differentials.

If Dick had attended the War Office meeting and if his tank transmission and steering system had been adopted, he would have become an employee of the War Office in taking charge of the design and development of all tank transmission schemes. He would have received Royalties and perhaps after the war, the system may have been adopted for many industrial track laying machines. Would he have become a specialist on transmission and steering systems for track laying vehicles?

If a new engine had been developed around Dick's harmonic crankshaft invention, its advantage in size and efficiency may have resulted in its use for all internal combustion engines. If any one of several of his early inventions had been produced on a Royalty basis, Dick may have become a millionaire, but although he has never received one cent in Royalties, he believed that the path he was forced to follow in his career gave him the greatest scope for his inventive talents and for the achievement of his youthful ambitions.

...Back to Top of Page

© 2003 - Colin Ifield         Web Design by DMT - WEB Design