John Michael Owen, 23rd July 1938 – 25th December 2021

Mike Owen in 1977

John ‘Mike’ Owen, Emeritus Professor of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Bath, died on 25th December, aged 83, from the type of lung cancer caused by asbestos.

Born in South London, he started a sea-going student apprenticeship in marine engineering at the age of 16 and followed this by service with the Esso company on steam-turbine tankers.  After reaching the senior watch-keeping position of second engineer, Mike realised he was more academically inclined and he entered King’s College Newcastle in 1961 to read Mechanical Engineering.  King’s College was at that time the science campus of the federal University of Durham, becoming the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in 1963.  In 1965, after taking the more difficult mathematical options, Mike graduated with Class 1 honours, taking a Durham degree.

In 1965, he was appointed research engineer in fluid machinery in Vancouver but a year later was invited to join Fred Bayley’s research team at the newly established University of Sussex to work on a project funded by Rolls-Royce on the fluid mechanics of rotating discs, a subject that occupied the rest of his life, graduating with a DPhil in 1969 and later a DSc.  He was described by Rolls-Royce as an intellectual heavyweight and was appointed Research Fellow, Lecturer and Reader in quick succession.

Over his 20 years at Sussex he supervised many research students, grants and contracts, and became the Director of the Thermo-Fluid Mechanics Research Centre, which he and Fred Bayley founded with a grant from the then Science and Engineering Research Council (SERC, later to become EPSRC).  His research work was funded by SERC, the MoD, and by a number of international gas turbine companies including Rolls-Royce, GEC, Sulzer, Siemens and MTU.  Mike Owen merited a chair before the age of 40 but strange academic politics intervened, and he took the Chair of Mechanical Engineering at Bath in 1989.

During his time at Sussex and Bath, Mike produced over a hundred high-quality journal and conference papers, and several books, two of which, with the late Ruth Rogers, entitled Flow and Heat Transfer in Rotating Disc Systems established him as a world authority on rotating flows.  He favoured integral methods rather than the sledgehammer approach of Computational Fluid Dynamics, arguing that this method was more economical and gave greater insight.  He continued this experimental and theoretical work at Bath, developing the now world-renowned centre for rotating flows and researching the three key areas for rotating flows in jet engines: pre-swirl, ingress and buoyancy.  He held several academic posts at Bath, including Head of School as it transitioned to a Department within the faculty of Engineering.

Once asked when he was going to retire, he replied ‘never’ and indeed he was working on two scientific papers right up to his last few days.  Prior to the cancer, he was very fit and strong, cycling up and down the hills around Bath and walking miles at weekends.  He had a real sense of humour, liked funny stories and, in common with most engineers, enjoyed jokes with an unexpected twist.  Mike was well read and often brightened engineering design meetings with a literary quotation.  He was an excellent mentor, generously giving his time to PhD students and junior academics.  He was happily married for 57 years and is survived by his wife Doreen, two daughters and seven grandchildren.

Alan Turner

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