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The University of Southampton

Farewell to Southampton’s ‘Father of Aeroacoustics’

Published: 24 September 2015
Professor Geoffrey Lilley

Tributes are being paid to Professor Geoffrey Lilley OBE, head of Aeronautics and Astronautics at the University of Southampton from 1964 to 1983, who has died at the age of 95.

Known to many of his contemporaries as ‘the Father of Aeroacoustics’, Professor Lilley inspired many of today’s leading aerospace engineers. Over seven decades, he pioneered research in a number of areas such as jet engine noise reduction, sonic boom and even human-powered flight, alongside industrial partners including Rolls-Royce, British Aerospace, Lockheed, Boeing and NASA. He is one of the very few who have flown the Gossamer Condor human-powered aircraft operated by pedal power, demonstrating an impressive power-to-weight ratio.

During his time at Southampton, Professor Lilley retained his earlier connection with the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough. Through this link, he managed to obtain the large R.J.Mitchell wind tunnel for the University, since used extensively by Formula 1 teams to test racing car aerodynamics as well as by students and academics. He worked closely with the University’s newly-established Institute of Sound and Vibration Research (ISVR), was responsible for the development of Ship Science as a discipline and established the precursor of the Wolfson Unit for Marine Technology and Industrial Aerodynamics which now collaborates with clients from around the world including America’s Cup yachting syndicates.

Professor Geoffrey Lilley OBE
Professor Geoffrey Lilley OBE

Throughout his career, Professor Lilley was directly involved in significant developments in aviation and was awarded six patents for his work. From 1955 he was a member of the UK Government’s Supersonic Transport Aircraft Committee, which led to the design of Concorde. He received an OBE in 1981 and was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Aeronautical Society and the Aeroacoustic Medal of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics in 1983. Although he retired from the University that year, as an Emeritus Professor he was frequently seen on campus, contributing to seminars up until a few years before his death. One of his abiding and more unusual areas of interest concerned how owls can fly so silently. Outside the classroom, Professor Lilley was a founder member and Life President of the University’s Light Opera Society (LOpSoc). He was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Science at Southampton in 2004.

The University hosted a one-day Symposium on noise and turbulence in 2009 to mark Professor Lilley’s 90th birthday. He spoke with humour of his experiences in persuading politicians on both sides of the Atlantic that noise levels from Concorde were acceptable. A booklet was produced for the occasion and leading academics and professionals contributed their memories of their colleague, including:

Bob Westley, Cranfield University:

"Throughout his life he has been a raconteur of wonderful stories about his experiences in research and aeronautics, often turning the joke on himself."

Phil Boyle, President of the Solent Branch of the Royal Aeronautical Society:

“His unassuming but patently obvious academic brilliance is an inspiration to us all. He provides the most amazing role model because we all hope that we will still have the energy and clarity of vision that Geoff possesses today when we in our turn reach his age.”

Professor Ian Castro, University of Southampton:

“Many lives would have been poorer by far without personal knowledge of Geoff Lilley; his enthusiasm for science and life, his generosity of spirit and his irrepressible sense of humour have been – and indeed continue to be – an inspiration to countless students, colleagues and friends.”

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