Prospero/Black Arrow | ‘GAMMA – The Early Days ‘: An Insight into Early Work on the Black Arrow Gamma Engines at Westcott

Date: 28 October 2021

Time: 14:30-15:00

Location: Crowdcast

This presentation shows a design evolution of the early Gamma engines that were later to be used on the 1st and 2nd stages of the Black Arrow launch vehicle.

Whilst some work was carried out in the UK using hydrogen peroxide for potential torpedo propulsion prior to World War II, all activities in this field ceased until War’s end.

The genesis of some of the design features of Gamma can be traced back to work carried out in Germany during World War II and for a short period afterwards at the Ministry of Supply site at Trauen, Germany.

When in 1946 rocket activities commenced at Westcott, Buckinghamshire, Trauen was shut down and many of the German engineers and scientists there were relocated to the UK. These individuals had a strong influence on what was to become the Gamma engine.

In 1955 Westcott transferred a complete design pack for Gamma to de Havilland and Armstrong Siddeley and, with one notable exception, work returned to focus on research and development. It was Armstrong Siddeley (later Bristol Siddeley then Rolls Royce)  who refined the design of the engine, eventually becoming a safe and reliable propulsion unit for both Black Knight and Black Arrow.

The exception was that an adapted twin Gamma unit was used at Westcott to help determine the design parameters for the Blue Streak missile silos.


John worked for some 30 years at the Rocket Propulsion Establishment at Westcott. Initially working on Polaris/Chevaline, the work meant working on aspects of both solid and liquid propellant propulsion systems. At the behest of RAE Farnborough SW4 Department, the work expanded into studies and exploitation of foreign systems which itself led on to a lengthy period supporting the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) mainly in New York and Iraq. In the 1990’s John was Chief Inspector on many UNSCOM missions ending up as an instructor running training sessions for inspectors throughout Europe, North and South America.
After the privatization of the R&D Establishments John took the decision to become an independent consultant supporting many of the large aerospace organizations in the UK, Europe and the US.
Returning to Iraq in 2003 with Coalition forces he headed up the Delivery Systems Team looking for Weapons of Mass Destruction before returning home in 2004.
John retired at the end of 2017 after a long period as a consultant for Aerojet Rocketdyne.