CECIL COWDREY was born in 1897 in Ealing, London, the youngest of four brothers. After graduating at Regent Street Polytechnic he joined D Napier & Son in 1912 gaining experience in their method of metal airframe construction. He left in 1916 to join the 13th London Regiment (Kensingtons) however, having discovered he had been working for Napiers, Cecil was swiftly moved to the Royal Flying Corps ending up in 185 Land Torpedo Squadron based in Scotland.
After the war Cecil joined GWK Automobile Engineers as their Chief Draughtsman and later Fairey Aviation in 1923. Two years later he moved Hawkers as a Section Leader and becoming Chief Draughtsman. His knowledge from his early days at Napier allowed him to create metal airframes for Hawker aircraft. In 1933 he moved to Rolls Royce for seven years as their Chief Installation Designer.
In 1940 he moved back to D Napier & Son in 1940 heading up the Flight Development Establishment at Luton. Cecil was never very keen on his name and was always refered to as C.D.Y. at Napiers. In 1941 Winston Churchill visited the Flight Development Section at Luton meeting Cowdrey. During the visit Winston Churchill was examinging an engine when Cecil gave the order to start a second engine installed in a Fairey Battle aircraft. The engine was fitted with a cartridge starter and went off with a crack like a gun shot, horrifying the Prime Ministers bodyguard. Churchill himself was unmoved and simply carried on with his discussion with Cowdrey.
One of of C.D.Y.s successes came just after the Normandy invasion when Hawker Typhoons landing on temporary landing strips experienced engine problems. The air intake allowed the coarse Normandy dust and sand to enter the engine causing cylinder wear and causing serious damage. The Air Ministry contacted D Napier & Son where Cowdrey and his team designed, built and test flew a momentum type air filter that was 96% efficient in just ten hours. The filter was built and fitted to the aircraft in a matter of days, which permitted the Hawker Typhoons to be used in the Caen offensiveand the breakout through the Falaise Gap.
In 1957 C.D.Y. and his team began working on a project to break the world altitude record. A Canberra bomber was fitted with twin Scorpion rocket motors. The aircrft climbed slowly to 45,000 feet and then used the rocket boosters and within three minutes the aircraft had broken the record achieving 70,310 feet.
C.D.Y. was also the primary campaigner for getting the concrete runway at Luton and effectively opened the door to make Luton Airport the success it is today. One of his most impressive and lasting legacies was the invention and development of the Spraymat de-icing system at Luton. This enabled aircraft to fly at high altitudes without ice building up on the wings and other leading edges. The system was used on many aircraft including Concorde and forms the basis for all modern de-icing technology today.
Cecil Cowdrey, a fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society, died in 1979 aged 82.