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The University of Southampton

1964: Professor Geoffrey Lilley

'The Father of Aeroacoustics'

16 November 1919 – 20 September 2015

In 1964 Professor Geoffrey Lilley, known by many as ‘the Father of Aeroacoustics’, joined the University of Southampton as Professor of Aeronautics, succeeding the pioneering Elfyn Richards, the first Professor of Aeronautical Engineering at the University.

Professor Geoffrey Lilley was not only an aerospace engineer but an inventor, who became an expert on aircraft noise and whose study of the supersonic bang laid the foundations of Concorde and saved it from abandonment.

Concorde, made a reality by Geoffrey Lilley
Concorde, made a reality by Geoffrey Lilley

Before joining the University, as the leader of the Concorde technical team, Lilley was heavily involved in the design of Concorde. He persuaded the Port Authority of New York that the new supersonic aircraft could meet strict US noise restrictions, despite their concerns about sonic booms. Without Lilley’s work, Concorde would not be the iconic aircraft that it is today, having only made it as far as the scrapheap.




Geoffrey Lilley
Geoffrey Lilley

Lilley developed the University’s relationship with the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE), Farnborough, facilitating collaboration with academics and research scientists at Farnborough, and forging links between the University’s teaching and research and the government.

Thanks to Lilley, the RAE presented one of their wind tunnels to the University in 1981, later to be named the R.J. Mitchell Wind Tunnel, which has since been used extensively by Formula 1 teams to test racing car aerodynamics, as well as for education, research and enterprise.

One of his more unusual areas of research was into the flight of owls. He was fascinated by how owls flew so silently and used this for the basis of research into how to reduce noise pollution for aircraft approaching airports.

Whilst at Southampton, Lilley also founded the University’s Light Opera Society, continuing to support the society long after his retirement as the Life President.

Professor Lilley remained with the University for the rest of his career, inspiring his students and leading the department to world-class status. Two years before his retirement in 1981, he was awarded an OBE.

After his retirement, Lilley was a regular visitor to the campus as an Emeritus Professor, and in 2004 he was awarded an honorary doctorate degree from the University. Professor Geoffrey Lilley sadly passed away on 20 September 2015, and will be remembered for his scientific achievements as well as his enthusiastic and generous spirit.


The Telegraph - Professor Geoffrey Lilley, aeronautical scientist - obituary

Nash, S. and Sherwood, M. (2001) The University of Southampton: An Illustrated History. James & James Publishers Ltd, London.

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