Jeffrey Roger Munk 1947 – 2010. An Appreciation
Roger Munk died of a major heart attack on Sunday morning 21st February 2010. He was only 62. He is sadly missed by all at Hybrid Air Vehicles, his family and the worldwide airship community.
Jeffrey Roger Munk was born on 2nd May 1947 in Harrow, Middlesex. He was educated at Woking Grammar School, Brooklands Technical College and Southampton College of Technology and studied as a Naval Architect specialising in shipyard management during his early working years at John I Thornycroft and at Ship Division (High Speed Group) of the National Physical Laboratory.
In 1969 he joined J Bannenberg Ltd., the international motor yacht designers, and within six months was appointed Chief Naval Architect being responsible for the technical design of several advanced, high speed motor yachts and was one of the first designers to employ aerodynamic materials in planning craft.
In 1971 he left to become joint founder, Technical Director and Chief Designer of Aerospace Developments Ltd, a predecessor company to Airship Industries Ltd. During the formative years he led the design of a giant rigid monocoque airship for transporting natural gas in gaseous form for Shell International Gas Limited. In 1979 he led the design team for a pressure cabin for Julian Nott's successful World Altitude Record for Hot Air Balloons, and made his first lighter-than-air flight to an altitude of 35,000 ft over India, being one of the first to fly a hot air balloon in a high speed jet stream. Later, in 1980 he designed the very sophisticated pressure cabin and support system for Nott's successful altitude record of circa 55,000 ft in Denver, Colorado.
3 February 1979 saw the flight of his first airship, the non-rigid AD 500 prototype. This was the world's first modern technology airship which included a number of revolutionary features including the use of composites for all primary structures, vectored thrust, high technology engines and the latest plastics technology single-ply fabric envelope.
With the formation of Airship Industries Ltd in 1979, when Aerospace Developments was absorbed into Thermoskyships Ltd following the non-viability of their saucer-shaped design, he became Technical Director and Chief Designer, being responsible for the development and civil passenger certification of the modern technology, vectored thrust Skyship 500-02, the 500-03 which was assembled in Canada, and three further models. They were followed by the Skyship 500HL, basically a Skyship 500 with a Skyship 600 envelope, and, in March 1984, by the first of ten Skyship 600's which were sold around the world.
He then concentrated on a far larger non-rigid design, the Sentinel 5000, and headed up the joint venture Westinghouse/Airship Industries team, Westinghouse Airships Inc., which in June 1987 won the major $170 million US Navy Airship contract for the YEZ-2A. The half linear flying scale model in the US Navy programme, the Sentinel 1000, first flew in June 1991. It was a sophisticated design that incorporated tri-cycle landing gear, fly-by-light flight control system and achieved FAA Transport Category certification. It was the largest airship in the world at that time. Initial trials proved successful, but the US Navy programme came to an end when a hangar fire at Weeksville, North Carolina, destroyed the airship and nearly all the company's assets. Westinghouse Airships Inc. was forced to close down. Roger and his team returned to England and created a new company, Airship Technology Services which in turn became the Airship Technologies Group (ATG) in 1996.
Significantly however, in 1993 Roger began developing concepts for lifting body hull forms for remote piloted potential programmes being studied by Westinghouse. Also in 1998 ATG (at that time called Airship Technologies) was contracted by Lockheed Martin Skunk Works (LM) to participate in their Aerocraft programme to develop a design concept for a large lighter-than-air aircraft incorporating a hull form with enhanced aerodynamic lift features. ATG produced a 1/30th scale flying model, but towards the end of 1998 the programme was terminated owing to shortage of funds by LM at that time.
With ATG, Roger developed his ideas for three new types of airship. In 1997 he was requested by the Japanese company IHI for ATG to partner with them on a major new Japanese government programme for a stratospheric airship. This started a long term collaboration with IHI on stratospheric airship development. A scale model of the unmanned, stratospheric StratSat , which was designed to operate at 60,000 ft for up to five years at a time powered by a unique combined diesel and solar powered/electric propulsion system, was built and flown in 2002. The AT-10, a 5-seat, diesel-engined, non-rigid airship to a design requested by Virgin Lightships, also in 1997, was built, flown, and eventually exported to Asia. The AT-04 (powered by a newly developed 750 hp lightweight diesel engine for which he had ultimate design responsibility). AT-04B and AT-08 designs evolved into the SkyCat hybrid lifting-body airship, with its hovercraft cushion system. An unmanned 40 ft scale model, SkyKitten 1, was successfully flown and tested on 23 July 2000 with take-off and landing achieved from both land and water. Shortly after he filed a patent application for the concept. In addition ATG also successfully completed a DTI Civil Aeronautics Research And Development programme on Aero Diesel Engines and the Phoenix Unmanned Air Vehicle re-engine demonstration programme for BAE Systems.
Roger then accepted the invitation to join the SkyCat Group Ltd as President and Technical Director of a design team that comprised extremely experienced ex-Finmeccanica designers and his established ATG team. Subsequent disagreement on investment policy between the Italian and UK group’s caused this entity to be replaced by Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) in August 2007.
ATG thus effectively became HAV in 2007 and Roger's team commenced detailed wind tunnel research, development and test flying of a third and larger hybrid flying scale model SkyCat called HAV-3, including detailed design studies with BAE Systems for commercial applications. This remotely-piloted test vehicle required no ground crew and can operate from both land, water, snow, sand or tundra and is capable of vertical take-off and landing operation. Thus it overcame many of the interface problems and ground crew requirements of all previous airships. His final work included the US Long Endurance Military Program (LEMV) programme in partnership with Northrop Grumman, the large American defence contractor.
As a person, Roger worked hard and expected the same of his team, but he was always approachable and acceptable of new ideas. Any problem as far as he was concerned, could be solved and often he thought of a way of doing so, and having done it, thought of an even better way. He had a natural engineering gift and a foresight which inspired and energised others. Colleagues said that he was always cheerful, but firm when it was necessary.
He was awarded the British Silver Medal for Aeronautics by the Royal Aeronautical Society in 1988 - “In recognition of his outstanding initiative in advancing airship technology over more than two decades and for his engineering leadership in the successful development of airships”.
Roger's interests outside his work were many. He maintained his interest in marine craft which had been his father's business as he grew up. At one time he lived on a converted fast patrol boat. He used to race a power boat in which he fitted ever more powerful engines. He enjoyed possessing a few exotic sports cars in his earlier days and at one time thought of even setting up to build his own design. His family were never far from his thoughts and he leaves his wife Annie and two sons, James and Alex.
Modern technology airships would not be the same without the serious design development work that he undertook. Trained and working as a naval architect, he switched to lighter-than-air and was recognised world-wide as a leader in the field during his forty years involvement with airships.
He deserves a place in history for all the design innovations he originated.
Arnold W L Nayler MAIAA MRAeS