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Letitia Chitty

Letitia Chitty
Born (1897-07-15)15 July 1897
Died 29 September 1982(1982-09-29) (aged 85)
Nationality English
Occupation Engineer
Known for Aeronautics

Letitia Chitty (15 July 1897 – 29 September 1982) was an English engineer who became a respected structural analytical engineer, achieving several firsts for women engineers, including becoming the first female fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society and the first female recipient of the Telford Medal.

Chitty was spotted as a talented mathematician in her teens. During World War I, when still a maths student, Chitty was recruited as a teenager to do war work with Alfred Pippard at the Admiralty Air Department. She subsequently changed subjects, studied engineering, and graduated from Newnham College Cambridge with first class honours in the Mechanical Sciences Tripos, 1921, the first woman to do so.

Her early career focused on analysing the stresses of airframes, airships and civil engineering structures, initially with the Admiralty Air Department and then, after graduating, at the Air Ministry with Richard Southwell and Alfred Pippard.

W. G. Tarrant, previously a timber merchant, designed a massive bomber at the end of World War I, the Tarrant Tabor. The original biplane design had to be altered to triplane to accommodate more engines, and the Admiralty Air Department was asked to check its structural strength. Chitty was given this task.

In her own words:

"Mr. Tarrant was an inspired timber merchant who dreamed of a super-Camel. It hadn't a chance. It was too big, too heavy - that wasn't its fault, but Grade A spruce had by now run out and it had to be built of American white wood (tulip). In my language, 3,500 instead of 5,500 lb/sq in."

Tragically, her mathematical analysis was not heeded. The plane crashed nose down during its first take-off, from the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough on 26 May 1919, killing both pilots and seriously injuring the other six people on board.



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