Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Robert Coats, MBE - In Memoriam March 14, 1915 - October 23, 2009

Technology Pioneer - 
Chief Designer, QE2 Gas Turbine Propulsion System

My Uncle Bob passed away a couple of weeks ago. He was 94. He was my dad's last surviving brother of five. Bob and the rest of the Coats family live in England. It's difficult being in Canada, with no close relatives other than our immediate family, the five of us. So I'm posting this article about my Uncle Bob, written by my cousin Peter last week (which I have added to a little). God rest your soul Uncle Bob:

Robert Coats passed away peacefully in his sleep at home on October 23, 2009 aged 94 years. Bob is survived by his wife Dorthy (nee Edwards), brother Alan (my father), his sons Peter, Mick and Chris, their wives, and grandchildren.

Robert ( Bob) Coats, MBE

Bob was born 14 March 1915, South Shields, County Durham, England, the second of 5 sons of Thomas and Grace Coats. The other brothers were John, Thomas (Tommy), George and my father, Alan, the youngest. South Shields is a town on the east coast of northern England, at the mouth of the River Tyne. The closest major city is Newcastle. South Shields was a coal mining town, a busy seaport and the site of shipyards and ship building. It was in South Shields that the first lifeboats were invented and deployed by volunteers, for rescuing crew and passengers of wrecks on the stormy North Sea coast. (1915 was during the Great War - the "war to end all wars" - now known as the First World War).

Educated - South Shields High School. Graduated after taking School Certificate. Recently said it had been his intention to become a pharmacist but was found an apprenticeship at Parsons. Robert was the editor of the Harton Methodist Youth Newsletter. He qualified as Associate of the Marine Institute (AMI), Mechanical Engineer. After war work during the Second World War (1939-1945), which included assessing damage to torpedoed or shelled ships, Robert joined P.A.M.E.T.R.A.D.A. (Parsons And Marine Engineering Turbine Research And Development Association).

He had wanted to apply for another job but because of wartime labour controls, he had to get his manager’s approval. When he approached his manager he was told something else was coming up which would suit him better. Something else turned out to be PAMETRADA, which started up in a room over the Coach & Horses, a public house in Wallsend. (Wallsend is so named, being the eastern end of Hadrian's Wall, a defense rampart built across the width of nothern Britain by the Roman General Hadrian during the first century).

He met his wife Dorothy (Edwards) for the first time on a walking holiday in North Wales in 1938. After a courtship made difficult by wartime conditions and her travelling about with the Land Army / Forestry Commission, they married in 1943. They have three sons, Peter, Mick and Chris and he leaves behind many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The family moved to Ponteland in Northumberland in 1956.

Robert was instrumental in developing a standard approach to steam turbine design and rose to Chief Designer at PAMETRADA about the time the research side was hived off to BSRA (now British Maritime Technology). The last major project at PAMETRADA was the design of propulsion machinery for the QE2 - The RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 - for many years, the world's largest cruise ship. When the member firms, including John Brown’s, decided to wind PAMETRADA up, the ship was still under construction and Bob joined John Brown Engineering at Clydebank.

The QE2 - RMS Queen Elizabeth 2

In 1968, Bob and Dorothy with their youngest son Chris, moved to Helensburgh in Scotland (near Glasgow and next to the beautiful Loch Lomond). This was for his work at John Brown Engineering, which initially involved watching over the construction of the Q.E.2’s turbines, which had been designed by PAMETRADA as part of the standard range of turbines. The engines passed their trials but broke down during the shake down cruise due to blade failure. Bob Coats was on board as a senior representative of the engine builders and was able to ensure return to port under reduced power. The engines were returned to the Clydebank, repaired under his direction and reinstalled, and continued in use until their replacement by diesels many years later.

In his own words, on creation of the separate Marine and General Engineering Division he was appointed Technical Manager, with responsibility for introducing the Heavy Duty Gas Turbine for marine propulsion, in addition to the continuation of the Steam Turbine sales and design activities for marine steam turbines under PAMETRADA, Stal Laval and General Electric Licences. He developed a gas turbo-electric propulsion system which was the subject of John Brown’s first Merchant Marine gas turbine order.

Bob continued as Technical Manager at John Brown Engineering until 1980, promoting the use of gas turbines, under a GE licence, throughout the world; memorably in China where the price was going to be paid via trade, in millions of eggs. He developed new engineering systems incorporating gas turbines, for instance - Combined Power Systems for electricity generation where exhaust heat from a gas turbine is used to raise steam for a steam turbine generator. He supported the company’s sales and marketing efforts in China, Russia, Vietnam, Mexico, Thailand, Venezuela, India, Sri Lanka, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Trinidad and America. The interest in energy efficiency developed and continued in consulting activities after retirement from John Brown’s. It’s remarkable in this connection that global warming was mentioned as long ago as 1979.

Two years before his retirement Bob and Dorothy bought the house at Thursby near Carlisle (in the Lake District of northern England) where they lived until moving to Newport, Shropshire in the south in 1999. Bob continued to provide consultancy in the field of energy efficiency and related matters until 1985 (aged 70).

Robert Coats was made MBE, Member - The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, by her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in the New Year’s Honours for 1984, for services to industry.

Now my Dad is the last of the remaining brothers Coats. He will miss Robert dearly, as do I.

Alan & Bob (and Kip), 1935

L-R: George, Robert, Alan - 2000

Robert Coats - Professional Designations:
Fellow, Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology
Fellow, Royal Institute of Naval Architects
Associate Member, Institution of Mechanical Engineers
MBE - The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is an order of chivalry established on 4 June 1917 by King George V of the United Kingdom. The Order includes five classes in civil and military divisions. MBE is for a Member

1. Pametrada Turbines - Present Position and Future Outlook (IMarE Silver Medal, 19 April 1966)
2. With Ralph Fleeting, BSc CEng FIMA FBCS: Blade Failures in the HP Turbines of RMS Queen Elizabeth II and their Rectification (IMarE Silver Medal 21 April 1971)
3. Turbinas a Gas para Operaciones de Fundicion, Caracas 29 April 1976 (written and delivered in Spanish)
4. Marine Steam Turbines - Part 8 of Marine Engineering Practice, IMar E,
5. Marine Turbine Thrusts, North East Coast Institute of Engineers and Shipbuilders, 1965
6. (with J.A.Turner) Long Life Marine Gas Turbines , Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland, 1970