On this day in history : 8th March 1909 – The birth of Beatrice Shilling – aeronautical engineer and amateur racing driver – who during WW2 designed and developed ‘Miss Shilling’s Orifice’…!

Beatrice Shilling – Woman Engineer Journal, vol.10, Summer 1969 – Public domain

Beatrice, a butcher’s daughter, was born in Waterlooville, Hampshire….and at the age of 14 bought her first motorbike, which she loved to tinker with…. She already knew that she wanted to be an engineer….

On leaving school in 1926 she went into an apprenticeship at an electrical engineering company run by Margaret Partridge, a founder member of the Women’s Engineering Society…. Here Beatrice installed and wired generators but Margaret, keen for women to progress in engineering, encouraged her to go to university – even giving her an interest free loan to cover her tuition fees….

Margaret Partridge – Woman Engineer Journal, vol.10 Spring 1968 – CC BY-SA 4.0

Beatrice attended Manchester’s Victoria University to study electrical engineering, for which she gained her bachelor’s degree in 1932…. She was one of only two women engineering undergraduates at the university…. She then went on to attain a Master of Science degree in mechanical engineering…. It was whilst at university that she took up racing after joining the motorcycle club….

After working briefly as a research assistant at Birmingham University Beatrice joined the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, initially as a technical writer…. She later worked in an engineering role, then becoming a Senior Technical Officer…. She worked at the RAE until her retirement in 1969….

When she wasn’t working she could often be found racing…. She won many races, including against professional riders – and won Brooklands’ Gold Star – after lapping the Brooklands circuit at over 100mph…. She was later to lap it at 106mph – making her the fastest woman to ever go around the track….

Beatrice on her Norton motorbike, 1930s – Fair use

In September 1938 Beatrice married George Naylor, a colleague at the RAE…. He was to serve as a bomber pilot during WW2, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross…. It was also during the War that Beatrice designed her ‘orifice’….

During the 1940 Battle of Britain pilots commonly experienced and complained of serious problems with fighter aircraft with Rolls-Royce Merlin engines – such as Spitfires and Hurricanes…. When embarking on a nose dive and experiencing negative gravity the engine’s carburettor would flood, causing the engine to stall…. German aircraft used fuel injection and so did not have the same problem…. They soon started to take advantage – Britain needed to find a solution….

Rolls-Royce Merlin engine – Public domain

Beatrice developed a restrictor to solve the problem…. A type of brass, thimble shaped device with a hole in it, that could be simply fitted into the carburettor…. It would then limit the fuel flow and prevent flooding…. She then led a small team of engineers and they travelled between RAF bases fitting the devices into the Merlin engines – meaning the aircraft did not have to be taken out of service…. It served as an effective stop-gap until the introduction of the pressure carburettor in 1943…. Pilots affectionately named it ‘Miss Shilling’s Orifice’ – or even more simply as ‘Tilly’s Orifice’….

After the War Beatrice and George became involved with car racing….modifying and maintaining their vehicles in their own home workshop…. They started out with a Lagonda Rapier, which was heavily modified….and then between 1959 and 1962 they raced in an Austin-Healey Sebring Sprite – often at Goodwood….

Beatrice was awarded an OBE in 1947 in recognition of her work and in 1970 she received an honorary doctorate from the University of Surrey….

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