John Westmoreland

I was very sorry to hear from Peter Roberts that John Westmoreland had died on 25 June. He was only 68. John (in Electronics Department) and I had worked together in the 9x7 Low Speed Wind Tunnel in 25 Hangar for many years, starting in the very late sixties; I'd always assumed he was quite a bit younger than me but I hadn't realised I was actually ten years older than he was.

He created our first computer-based data acquisition system to replace the ancient first-generation transistor-based kit which was collecting tunnel data when I joined BAC in early 1967. John had used a PDP-8 minicomputer as the basis of the design - this was a 12-bit processor having just 4k of memory and a DEC RK-05 data storage disk - a big disk over a foot in diameter but with a capacity of only 2.5 megabytes. The processor memory was made up of tiny ferrite rings, one for each bit of data, with fine wires threaded through them, and I've kept the one out of our PDP-8 at home as an historic artefact.

John wrote all the software for our system, using the very fundamental Assembler language, which was quite a feat in itself.  Thinking back, I'd have been about 28, meaning John must only have been 18 at tye time!  Computer programmers of that calibre were rare in those days. He even had to write the processes to access the disk and read and write the data, as there was nothing suitable available at the time. Once the system was up and running, we'd often have to call on John to came and change something or correct an obscure fault and he would arrive with a clipboard of machine code, crouch on the floor in front of the machine and flip the twenty-or-so panel switches up and down for several minutes before standing up and telling us that all was now well. He was an absolute expert on this machine, which was the first commercially-successful minicomputer ever made, at a time when the massive IBM360 was Warton's mainframe computer - a hugely expensive machine, which had a tiny fraction of the power of a modern smartphone.

I never met John socially and didn't know anything about his home life or background - whenever we met it was always to discuss the jobs we were involved in. There was, unfortunately, a rather strained period when I was project supervising a new data acquisition system for the new 13x9 tunnel just relocated from Weybridge. John was strongly of the opinion that his department's ADASS system should be used but I was very much opposed.  It was designed for aircraft use and it would have taken a lot of development to make it anything like suitable for Wind Tunnel, particularly in the software area.  I won the argument, but I didn't see much of John for quite a while after that.

Funnily enough, long after I'd retired in 2001 and joined the Probus Club of St Annes, he came to the Club in November 2012 to give a talk and visual presentation entitled 'In the Steps of Gustav Mahler'.  Not a lot about Mahler the musician, but a really memorable slide show of Mahler's favourite places in the Salzburg area.  Beautiful photography and probably the best quality of projected presentation I've ever seen.  We had a chat afterwards, about old times at BAC and we were soon back to our old familiarity as we'd been in the early days, but that was the last time I saw him.

Cliff Elliott  September 2018