Robert Farman is a former student of the school when it was known as Lowestoft Grammar School.
Throughout his life, Robert has been involved in engineering, and has attempted to describe the sheer range and complexity of this, and to emphasise just how the world of engineering is “richly rewarding” for all young people, girls included!
A European and Chartered Engineer, Eur Ing Robert Farman first took an interest in aircraft at The Dell Primary School and later joined Lowestoft’s 469 Squadron, Air Training Corps (ATC). In the Squadron, he learnt about aircraft and their operation and went on annual camps, where he saw aircraft such as the Vulcan and Hercules, as well as flying in RAF aircraft. Like all the half dozen or more cadet and scouting organisations, the ATC taught many other more general skills and Robert would advise anyone at school to join one of them.
During his time at the then Lowestoft Grammar School, Robert decided to study aeronautical engineering. After applying for university, he was shocked to read that he had chosen the most difficult of all degrees, but what a wonderful world that opened up. It was an exciting time in aerospace, where Robert attended a short series of weekly evening lectures from the University of Cambridge on how the United States would land men on the moon.
At City University, London, the Head of the Department of Aeronautical Engineering was Professor Grigori Tokaty. Until he had upset him and had to flee the Soviet Union, Professor Tokaty had been advisor on rocket engineering to Joseph Stalin, who then ran the USSR. He had very good connections with NASA – the US’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration – and may well have known Dr Wernher von Braun, who masterminded the Apollo space programme to land men on the moon. Thanks to Professor Tokaty, Robert met the first men to drive on the moon, the crew of Apollo 15, when they came to City University and showed a film of them using the Lunar Rover.
Engineering is the most extensive and creative of all the arts, where the word is derived from the same sources as the words ‘genius’ or ‘ingenuity.’ Tracing its history back to at least the Norman-French ‘engigneors’, who built 500 castles across England and Wales after the invasion in 1066, engineering pre-dates the emergence of modern scientific method that began in the 13th century and gained momentum in the 16th century, thanks to people such as Roger Bacon and Galileo Galilei. Increasingly, it is based on mathematics, which could be described as the language of engineering and science, as well as all the sciences themselves.
With 35 professional engineering institutes in the UK for all the different disciplines, the Apollo programme is an excellent example of how they come together to produce something hugely innovative. Except for a geologist, all the astronauts that went to the moon were test pilots, who have to have an engineering degree. They each led an aspect of the design, which required: aeronautical engineers for the aerodynamics and structure; mechanical engineers for the rocket engines and fuel systems; electrical engineers for the electrical and avionic (aviation electronics) systems; chemical engineers for kerosene and liquid hydrogen fuels and for liquid oxygen to burn them; civil engineers for the buildings to assemble the Saturn V rockets – 111 metres tall – and the launch pads and tracks bearing the weight of rockets weighing 3,000 tonnes; and building services engineers to provide systems in Mission Control, Houston and training facilities, such as a pool six times as large as an Olympic swimming pool to simulate weightlessness. The Apollo programme was one of the first to use integrated circuits – electronic chips – and essentially kick-started Silicon Valley into being. Today, chips are used in all mobile phones, tablets, laptops etc, most of them designed by ARM in Cambridge only 80 miles from Lowestoft.
After graduation, Robert spent a year training in leadership, management and aircraft maintenance engineering. As an aircraft maintenance engineering manager, he worked in 10 different roles, mainly, in the UK, but also Germany and the Sultanate of Oman. After that, he began his career in facilities management (FM) – the art of running buildings and other services that organisations require – with British Telecommunications plc (BT). He then became a research and development (R&D) commercial manager at BT’s Adastral Park, Martlesham, Ipswich in the early days of the internet and saw the seeds sown for “wearables” and platooning of driverless vehicles.
Returning to FM, he joined Mapeley on its Private Finance Initiative (PFI) for the HM Revenue & Customs estate. He then accepted a position with Jones Lang LaSalle in a Critical Engineering Team at Canary Wharf, maintaining building services (uninterruptible electrical power, air conditioning, fire protection, etc) to data centres processing £100Bns per day, and next transferred to CB Richard Ellis. Later, he became a Consultant Engineer and undertook work for Faithful & Gould, which was leading the development of policy nationally on maintenance and whole life costing of buildings. Robert then was an agent for Hydromx® UK.
Within the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE), Robert was Programme Secretary for the East Anglia Region and later belonged to the Building Information Modelling (BIM) Steering Group. As a member of the Maintenance Task Group, he reviewed two of the 17 chapters of the new CIBSE Guide M Maintenance Engineering and Management, which was launched on 19 November 2014 at the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE). A member of the British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM) Expert Panel and, until recently, Deputy Chair (North) of the BIFM East Region, he was a founder member of the BIFM Government Soft Landings (GSL) and BIM Working Group and a BIFM Award judge. For seven years, Robert lectured annually on The Strategic Development of FM to the MSc in Intelligent Buildings at the University of Reading.
To encourage school children to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), he has been a voluntary STEM ambassador and an Arkwright Scholarship Trust mentor for sixth formers identified as future engineering leaders. It is a small way of repaying the debt he owes to his teachers at the former Lowestoft Grammar School for what continues to be an interesting and varied career. Like himself, two of his fellow sixth formers became professional engineers, married people from overseas, with one now living in the Netherlands and the other in New Zealand. We all benefited, in particular, from those who taught us in sixth form: Miss Wimpenny, applied maths; Mr Copping, pure maths; Mr Rymer and Mr Wilton, physics; Mr Chamberlain, general studies politics module; and general studies Russian literature module.
Miss Wimpenny also helped to formulate the whole timetable for the school, using a huge paper chart, and, at weekends, flew the Tiger Moth biplane aircraft. My own children both had women maths teachers and my daughter became one herself before qualifying as an actuary. There is no difference between men and women’s brains and, during both the First and Second World Wars, many women became technicians and engineers while men served in the forces. In the old USSR, 50% of engineers were women, whereas in the UK, only 7% are, the worst gender imbalance in the whole EU, and the UK needs to strive towards encouraging more girls and women to become technicians and engineers, where we have a looming shortage.
Similarly, more girls and women should go into science. Anyone leaving the James Paget Hospital should look at the plaque near the main entrance commemorating its opening by Professor Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin. She went to the Sir John Leman School, Beccles, and remains the only British woman to have won a Nobel Prize for science. Amongst her achievements are enabling the mass production of penicillin, the world’s first antibiotic and developing the techniques in X-ray crystallography that were used by Dr Rosalind Franklin, Dr Maurice Wilkins, Dr Francis Crick and Dr James Watson to reveal the structure of DNA. One of her students went onto become the first scientist to be British Prime Minister and the first woman to hold that position, Mrs Margaret Thatcher. It is significant that the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, the first woman to hold that post, has a PhD in Physical Chemistry.
From earlier years, Robert remembers with fondness Miss Fordham, his form teacher for the first two years, who taught English in a very nice, precise way and said we must watch the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill on television, because it was such an important part of our history; she retired shortly after.
Robert recalls, “Mr Spalding taught history in a wonderful engaging way and I learnt as much from his stories outside the syllabus as within it, such as his reminiscence of commanding the soldiers guarding Mahatma Gandhi in prison, who would work 16 to 18 hours a day, getting through a huge amount of correspondence; the mark of highly motivated leader as I have heard similar things said about, for example, Baroness Margaret Thatcher. My favourite and best subject was geography, which Mr Thurger taught, where I particularly enjoyed the ordnance survey maps and the way the landscape is shaped through geology and meteorology. Mr Mitchell taught music and I recall his producing Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta The Mikado. Mr Patterson taught me trumpet, which I also played in the ATC. There are teachers, whose names I cannot recall, but I remain grateful for the opportunity that the school gave me for a fantastic journey through life.”
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