David Keith-Lucas was one of the sons of Keith Lucas, who invented the first aeronautical compass. He was educated at Gresham's School, Holt, and at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he read engineering.
He was an apprentice and engineer with C.A. Parsons and Co. from 1933 to 1940, then moved to the aerodynamics office of Short Brothers, Rochester, famous for their flying boats, becoming their chief aerodynamicist in 1944.
From 1945 to 1965 he was with Short Brothers and Harland Ltd in Belfast, holding the posts of chief designer, technical director and research director. His work included research on swept-wings which culminated in the Short SB-5 research aircraft. Other projects included the Short Belfast heavy freighter, the Short Skyvan, and the SD-330 and SD-360 freight-commuter series.
The Short SB.1 was a shoulder-wing, cantilever, tailless monoplane glider designed by David Keith-Lucas and Professor Geoffrey T.R. Hill and built by Shorts as a private research venture to test the concept of the aero-isoclinic wing; it was the first aircraft to incorporate this feature. After initial tests, at the end of which the SB.1 crash-landed as a result of problems while being towed behind the Short Sturgeon, the SB.1 was further developed into the Short SB.4 Sherpa, powered by two Blackburn Turbomeca Palas turbojet engines.
In 1951, Keith-Lucas designed the Short SB-6 Seamew as a lightweight anti-submarine platform.
While in Belfast, he served on the Senate of the Queen's University, Belfast.
In 1965 he was appointed Professor of Aircraft Design at the College of Aeronautics, Cranfield, later the Cranfield Institute of Technology, and welded together the departments of Aerodynamics, Aircraft Design and Flight into a new College of Aeronautics. In 1972, he became its Professor of Aeronautics and also Chairman of the College, which now forms part of Cranfield University.
On retirement in 1976, he was appointed Professor Emeritus and awarded an Honorary Doctorate.
Career in brief
- Chief Aerodynamicist, Short Bros 1940-49
- Chief Designer, Short Bros & Harland Ltd. 1949-58
- Technical Director, Short Bros & Harland Ltd. 1958-64
- Director of Research Short Bros & Harland Ltd. 1964-65
- Member of the Senate of the Queen's University, Belfast, 1960–65
- Professor of Aircraft Design, Cranfield Institute of Technology 1965-72
- Professor of Aeronautics, College of Aeronautics,1972–76
- Chairman, College of Aeronautics 1972-76
- The Shape of Wings to Come (1952)
- President of the Royal Aeronautical Society, 1968
- Honorary Doctorate Queen's University, Belfast, 1968
- Commander of the Order of the British Empire, 1973
- Honorary Doctorate, Cranfield University, 1976
- Emeritus Professor, College of Aeronautics, 1976
- Gold Medal of the Royal Aeronautical Society, 1975
- Member of the Council of the Air Registration Board, 1967–1972
- Chairman of the Airworthiness Requirements Board, 1972–1982
- Member of the Roskill Commission for the Third London Airport, 1968-1970.
In 1942, Keith-Lucas married firstly Dorothy de Bauduy Robertson, and they had two sons and one daughter. In 1979, he and his wife visited Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, where the Wright brothers had made their flights. His wife was killed there in a road accident, and Keith-Lucas himself was seriously injured. In 1981, he married secondly Phyllis Everard Whurr.
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