Beatrice Shilling OBE PhD MSc CEng (8 March 1909 – 18 November 1990)[1] was a British aeronautical engineer and amateur racing driver. A schoolgirl with a penchant for motorcycling when she answered Margaret Partridge’s advertisement for an apprentice engineer, she got the post and went on to study engineering at Manchester University. She spent most of her working life at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, where she invented a fuel device crucial to aerial success in the Second World War, affectionately known as ‘Miss Shilling’s Orifice’.

During the Second World War, Shilling designed and developed "Miss Shilling's orifice" to restrict fuel flow to the carburettor of the Rolls-Royce Merlin engines in the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire fighters. Previously the pilots had experienced a loss of power or even complete engine cut-out during combat manoeuvres, posing a potentially lethal disadvantage in the Battle of Britain. Shilling raced motorbikes at Brooklands in the 1930s, one of only three women awarded a BMCRC (British Motorcycle Racing Club) Gold Star for lapping the circuit at over 100 miles per hour (160 km/h). After the war, she raced cars, mostly at Goodwood Members' Meetings.

Shilling was born at Waterlooville, Hampshire, the daughter of a butcher.[2] At age 14, she bought herself a motorbike, which she tinkered with; she was already determined to become an engineer.[3] After completing secondary school, she worked for an electrical engineering company for three years, installing wiring and generators.[4] Her employer, Margaret Partridge, encouraged her to study electrical engineering at the University of Manchester; she received a bachelor's degree in 1932 and stayed on for a year to get a Master of Science degree in mechanical engineering.[4] Jobs were hard to find in the Depression; she worked as a research assistant for Professor G. F. Mucklow at the University of Birmingham.[4] In 1936 she was recruited as a scientific officer by the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE), the research and development agency of the Royal Air Force (RAF) in Farnborough, Hampshire. Her first position was as a technical author with the Air Ministry’s technical publications department. She was allowed to transfer to doing work on aircraft engines. On 1 November 1939 she was promoted to become technical officer in charge of carburettor research and development and later promoted again to principal technical officer. She worked at Royal Aircraft Establishment until her retirement in 1969.[5]

Portraits of three women engineers: Margaret Rowbotham, Beatrice Shilling and Margaret Partridge

In the 1930s, Shilling raced motorbikes. She beat professional riders, such as Noel Pope, and was awarded the Gold Star for lapping the Brooklands circuit at 106 miles per hour (171 km/h) on her Norton M30.[12] After World War II, Beatrice and husband George turned to racing cars, which were tuned and modified extensively in their home workshop. Starting off their exploits with a much-lightened Lagonda Rapier, between 1959 and 1962 they raced an Austin-Healey Sebring Sprite, most frequently at Goodwood Members' Meetings, scoring a number of third places and even one race win. George's driving career became more serious with the 1961 acquisition of an Elva 200 Formula Junior single-seater, but there were accidents for both of them, and the Elva was converted into a Mk VI sports car.[13] In 1967 Beatrice Shilling was brought in to help Dan Gurney solve overheating problems with his Eagle Mk1 Formula 1 racing car.[7]

Shilling married George Naylor in September 1938.[14] He also worked at the RAE. According to anecdote, she refused to marry him until he also had been awarded the Brooklands Gold Star for lapping the circuit at over 100 mph.[4] During the Second World War he was a bomber pilot with No. 625 Squadron RAF, reached the rank of Flight Lieutenant and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC).[15] He volunteered for an extra tour of bombing missions, over and above what was expected of him. He suffered tinnitus and other health problems in later life as a result of his wartime activities.

Shilling worked on many projects for RAE during World War II. During the Battle of France and Battle of Britain in 1940, RAF pilots discovered a serious problem in fighter planes with Merlin engines, such as the Hurricane and Spitfire. When the plane went nose-down to begin a dive, the resulting negative g-force would flood the engine's carburettor, causing the engine to stall. German fighters used fuel injection engines and did not have this problem. So in action, a German fighter could evade a pursuing RAF fighter by flying a negative g manoeuvre which the RAF plane could not follow.[6] Shilling devised the R.A.E. restrictor to solve this problem. It was a brass thimble with a hole in the middle (later further simplified to a flat washer), which could be fitted into the engine's carburettor without taking the aircraft out of service. The restrictor limited maximum fuel flow and prevented flooding. By March 1941, she had led a small team on a tour of RAF fighter stations, installing the devices in their Merlin engines. The restrictor was immensely popular with pilots, adopting the affectionate nickname 'Miss Shilling's orifice' or simply the 'Tilly orifice', given to the restrictor by Sir Stanley Hooker, the engineer who led supercharger development at Rolls-Royce at the time.[7] It continued in use as a stop-gap until the introduction of the pressure carburettor in 1943.[8]

After the war, Shilling worked on a variety of projects including the Blue Streak missile[4] and the effect of a wet runway upon braking.[1] Shilling was once described by a fellow scientist as "a flaming pathfinder of Women's Lib"; she always rejected any suggestion that as a woman she might be inferior to a man in technical and scientific fields. However, her brusque manner and contempt for bureaucracy led to an uneasy relationship with management. In 1956 Shilling joined the Institution of Mechanical Engineers under her married name of Naylor, and was elected as an Associate Member, enabling her to use the letters CEng (for Chartered Engineer) after her name. In her application she outlined her contribution to the R.A.E. restrictor.[9] Shilling worked for the RAE until 1969, rising to a senior post in the Mechanical Engineering Department.[4] She held an honorary doctorate from the University of Surrey awarded in 1969.[10] She was a member of the Women's Engineering Society, which she joined as a teenager.[11]

In 2011, the Wetherspoon chain of public houses opened a pub in Farnborough named the Tilly Shilling in her honour, though the nickname 'Tilly' was never used to her face and was probably an unflattering reference to her appearance, being distinctly utilitarian: the wartime Tillies were low-powered pick-ups produced by British car manufacturers for use by the armed forces.[16][17] In 2015, a collection of her racing badges and trophies was bought by the Brooklands Museum.[18] In September 2018 Shilling was included in Winchester Heritage Open Days 'Extraordinary Women of Hampshire' exhibition, which celebrated notable Hampshire women, past and present.[19] On the 110th anniversary of Shilling's birth, 8 March 2019, the Mayor of Waterlooville unveiled a plaque at Waterlooville Library to commemorate her achievements.[20] On 27 March 2019, Royal Holloway University opened the Beatrice Shilling Building, home to its new department of Electronic Engineering.[21] In March 2020, Havant Borough Council announced the unveiling of a memorial plaque by The Mayor of Havant, Councillor Diana Patrick, at Shilling Place, Waterlooville on Monday 9 March - the day after Beatrice’s birthday and International Women’s Day. [22] Shilling's biography was published by the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography on 9 May 2019[23] as part of their support for the Women's Engineering Society's centenary.[24] Coventry University’s Beatrice Shilling building opened on the city centre campus in Autumn 2020.[25][26]

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