Obituary - Arthur Stubbington FIMMM 1927–2012

Fellows' Lounge
15 Jan 2013

My first acquaintance with Arthur was in 1952 when he came to the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough having completed his period of National Service in the RAF. Like many of his generation, his studies had been interrupted by this interlude and he was now keen to take up a career in metallurgy. After a brief period in the Mechanical Testing Section of the Metallurgy Department, he was transferred to my section which had the responsibility for the metallurgical examination of failed aircraft components and structures, and longer term research topics relating to the service life of aluminium alloys. He soon became a valued and popular member of the team, and with the help and approbation of those founding fathers of the then newly formed Institution of Metallurgists, Leonard Rotherham, the Head of Department and George Meikle, our Division Leader, he obtained day release to start his studies for the Institution’s examinations at Battersea Polytechnic.      

We were, at that time, engaged in a metallographic study of the microstructural changes caused by fatigue loading, with particular reference to precipitation hardening aluminium alloys, and he proved himself to be a particularly able experimenter. Having virtually exhausted the capabilities of the various optical microscopic methods of examination, attention was turned to what was at that time the new approach of thin foil transmission electron microscopy. Arthur’s particular contribution was to develop a combination of mechanical trepanning and electrolytic polishing of specimens that perfectly retained the extremely thin surface layer containing the fatigue damaged microstructure. We already had some idea of what these changes might be from our surface examination, but this elegant work and his electron micrographs confirmed what had, up to that time, been supposition. He later extended this approach to examine the effects of test temperature and other variables, and worked on many other aspects of both fatigue and stress corrosion damage in aluminium alloys.      

With growing interest in the use of titanium in aircraft manufacture, a separate group had been formed within the Department to study its viability as a structural material, and he was appointed its leader. During that time he also became involved with the early introduction of that material into aero engines, making a somewhat hidden but important contribution on the dwell effect experienced by that material. He published widely on both his aluminium and titanium alloy work, and later in his career gained promotion to Metallurgy Division Head, which he led with characteristic enthusiasm. By this time he had made his mark as a member of various committees concerned with European collaboration in metallurgical research. He also participated in Civil Service Commission work, chairing various recruitment and promotion boards, a job that he continued to do for some years after his retirement from RAE in 1987.       

On a more personal note, Arthur was not only a valued colleague but a close friend. In our earlier days, we and several other members of the Department had a common interest in archaeology, an interest that he vigorously pursued, even participating in various digs. I recall him cheerfully barrowing loads of boulders, helping to dismantle a huge cairn at Kintraw in Argyll, a fortnight’s work with nothing unearthed except for one small jet bead, probably Victorian. The burial chamber was found the day after we came home.      

He also had a long standing love of cars, partaking in various Departmental competitions on fuel economy, but his real passion was hill walking in Scotland. He had an extensive knowledge of the Highlands, particularly of the Cairngorms where he and his wife Margaret spent most of their holidays exploring the high ground, even on occasion with me and my wife toiling behind, enjoying every minute.      

He will be sorely missed by his family, and also by his many friends and colleagues from earlier days.