Frederick W. Lanchester

October 23, 2017 – March 8, 1946

Brief Biography

Frederick Lanchester

Born in London, England, Frederick William Lanchester was an engineer who made important contributions to automotive engineering, aerodynamics and co-invented the field of operations research.

Lanchester entered Hartley University College (now the University of Southampton) in 1891, and then the National School of Science at Imperial College. His first post-school work was a theory of aerodynamics, which he developed in 1892 but was persuaded not to publish, as his theories in this "outlandish" field would ruin his reputation as an engineer.

He joined the Forward Gas Engine Company of Birmingham in 1889, and in 1893 set up his own workshop. In 1896 he and his brother built the first petrol car in England, a single cylinder 5hp internal combustion engine with chain drive. As a perfectionist in design, the Lanchester redesigned and re-built the engine the next year into a two cylinder horizontally opposed version using his new wick carburetor design to improve both performance and speed.

Lanchester and two of his brothers started the Lanchester Engine Company in 1900 to sell his designs on the market. Many features of the original were retained in their production models, including the mid-mounted engine between the front seat that led to the lack of a "hood" area. The transmission was based on his own compound epicyclical gearing, giving three forward speeds, and drove the rear axle through his own Lanchester worm gearing. The transmission also included a system similar to modern disk brakes that clamped the clutch disk for braking, rather than using a separate system as in most cars.

Lanchester continued to make changes to the design. A water-cooled engine appeared in 1902, and a larger 18hp model in 1904. The same year he also introduced a slightly larger 20hp four cylinder design, for which, in order to get the smooth running he demanded, he had to invent the system of twin balancing shafts that are used today on modern designs. A 38hp six was introduced in 1907, requiring another invention for smooth running, the crankshaft damper.

During this period he also experimented with fuel injection, turbochargers, added steering wheels in 1907 and invented the accelerator pedal, which previously would not turn off if the operator had problems. He invented detachable wire wheels, stamped steel pistons, piston rings, hollow connecting rods, the torsional vibration damper, and the harmonic balancer.

Rudyard Kipling was an early owner who used them as a plot device in one of his short stories. The cars were particularly well known for their smooth operation, due to Lanchester's unwillingness to leave well enough alone, tinkering with each completed design to tune both the engine and suspension until it was "perfect". The company sold about 350 cars of various designs between 1900 and 1904, when they went bankrupt due to the incompetence of the Board of Directors. It was immediately reformed as The Lanchester Motor Company.

George Lanchester took over as chief engineer in 1914 when Frederick turned to war efforts. After the war they introduced the more conventional Forty, a rival for the Rolls-Royce 40/50 hp; it was joined in 1924 by an ohc 21hp six. In 1921 Lanchester was the first company to export left-hand drive cars. Tinted glass was also introduced on these cars for the first time. A 4440 cc straight-eight was launched at the 1928 Southport Rally, again with overhead cams: it proved to be the last "real" Lanchester, for in 1931 the company was acquired by Daimler, and Lanchesters became merely re-clothed Daimlers.

Lanchester's true interest remained mechanical flight, which he had been studying since the early 1890s. Lanchester developed a model for the vortices that occur behind wings during flight, which included the first full description of lift and drag, although the formulation was somewhat complex and would have to wait for Ludwig Prandtl's version before becoming generally useful. He then turned his attention to aircraft stability, aerodonetics, developing Lanchester's phugoid theory which contained a description of oscillations and stalls. During this work he outlined the basic layout almost all aircraft have used since then.

He published Aerial Flight in 1907-08 and was invited to join Prime Minister Asquith's advisory committee for aeronautics on its formation 1909. An experimental aircraft co-designed by Lanchester did not survive its trial flight 1911, and he abandoned the practical side of aviation.

He did, however, continue with studies into aviation. During World War I he was particularily interested in predicting the outcome of aerial battles. In 1916 he published Aviation in Warfare: The Dawn of the Fourth Arm, which included a description of a series of differential equations that are today known as Lanchester's Power Laws. The Laws described how two forces would attrit each other in combat, and demonstrated that the ability of modern weapons to operate at long ranges dramatically changed the nature of combat -- a force that was twice as large had been twice as powerful in the past, but now it was four times, the square of the difference.

Lanchester's Laws were originally applied practically in the United States to study logistics, where they developed into operations research.

Adapted from Lanchester biography article was derived fully or in part from an article on - the free encyclopedia.