Richard (Dick) Fisher – 1945 – 1989
The Fisher Redshift – the first and only British high performance, Schnuerle ported 10cc engine.
I first met Richard in the early 1970s (I always called him Richard although to most of his friends and acquaintances he was Dick). He had by that time progressed to radio control and he was flying a forty size aircraft popular of the period, at a local field known as Wales Bar. Richard had progressed through rubber powered, then free flight and control line and finally radio control. In the early days Richard specialised in contest power and he often related his success with his dixilander, I think using an ETA 29.
I wish I could have been closer to those aircraft, so finely balanced to cope with the explosive vertical climb with the engine on song (and open exhaust), then the delicate and serene transition into the glide, then disruption to the flight again as the DT deployed before finally settling into the unlikely horizontal sink to the ground, surely the ultimate trimming scenario in our sport. The memory of that noisy climb brings shivers to the old spine, but then I was to learn that many other contributions Richard made to the world of aeromodelling would have the same effect.
Richard left university after only a very short time in his own independent way and joined the family transport business. During this time Richard was becoming a very competent self-taught engineer by making all sorts of weird and wonderful model engines, a Wankel engine, a 20cc inline cylindrical engine and several others. (early Redshift with built in silencer).
It was not until the middle seventies I became aware of Richards building and flying standards. Richard was determined to make some contribution to the sport through his innovative models, although not all were successful (Solar Wind). This was his first encounter with tuned pipes using an OPS 60 but it was short lived. It was the first model I had seen finished in glass cloth and it was superb. Richard had shown us aeromodelling in a new dimension. His models were usually powered at this time by the very impressive OPS 60, but Richard had other thoughts.
Richard equipped himself with the prestigious Kraft Signature Series radio gear. The transmitter had a gold plated front cover which bore Dick’s signature and reference to customising by Phil Kraft. However Dick being the person he was, the memory of him re-tuning the TX to get better range will stay with me forever, he was fiddling about in the back of his transmitter with his padder (nylon screwdriver) while his high performance aerobatic model was airborne, but Richard took it all in his stride.
Over the next few months, several engines were brought to the field for testing, some on the test bench, and others in models, we were impressed, very impressed! but we had no idea what was in Richards’s mind. Almost casually one day he mentioned he intended to make the best 60 in the world.
It was not long before Richard had decided that a conventional layout engine made to very high standards was the way to go and six pre-production engines were made. I was lucky enough to be given one of these engines with sand cast crankcases to try. Richard flew one himself, Terry Otter, Gordon Evans and Tony Woodhouse all put these engines through their paces with resounding success, handling, power on straight fuel, slow running and low wear rate were exceptional. It wasn’t long before, in level flight it pulled the wing off my Taurus which had flown happily for years with a Merco 61. The sixth prototype was sent to Peter Chinn (link to RCM&E test report).
It was time to go into full production, but a name had to be decided before advertising could be finalised. Richard thought Blueshift or Redshift were good astronomical terms. It was some time later that Richard realised that Redshift was an anagram of his son T. D. Fisher. Redshift it was! (Tim in 2022 is the Chairman of Coventry City Football Club and CEO of Stirling Education).
I bought my first engine from Richard in 1978 (Tony Woodhouse bought No 1 (60001)) and it was not long after this that Kath and I agreed to field all telephone enquiries for the engine following our first advert in the RCM&E.
Peter Chinn completed a review for the RCM&E. I believe this was the first engine Mr Chinn had received for testing without first been run. A telephone call from Peter Chin to Richard confirmed that this was not a mistake on Richards part, it just confirmed the confidence Richard had in his engines. He always said that if he knew how the make a better engine for a test review then all his engines would be made this way. It was about this time when Keith Outram of Sheffield Hobbies Centre was also flying aerobatics using a piped OS 60, the competition between the Redshift and the renowned OS was interesting to say the least. It was about this time when the club presented Richard with an engraved tankard recognising his achievements.
Ken Binks used Redshifts to win the majority of aerobatic competitions for several seasons, and so many other users come to mind, Dave Milner, Dave Smith, Bert and Kevin Caton, Stuart Mellor, Trevor Treadwell, Sam Wragg, Noel Barrett, Mark Redsell, and there were many others, please forgive me for not mentioning all by name, but I am sure there would be many others who would like to be remembered.
Richard was determined not to allow quality to suffer at the expense of quantity. In one way it was unfortunate that this whole development happened just before CNC machines were affordable, as it meant Richard stood at his machines and made every cut. Small batches of engines were produced to satisfy orders with development fitting in between batches. Richard was grateful for some help. Taking the display box around the model meetings to spread the word and listening to competitors engines performing through their schedules, was an exciting time for me. During the next eighteen months Redshift engines were posted to all corners of the world. One memorable package being wrapped to complete an order from Japan, it was sent with some trepidation as we thought we could guess the real destination.
During this time the IFM (internal fuel metering) system was developed. This fuel system alleviated the need to have the tank close to the engine, it eliminated the in-flight mixture control (an interim solution for poor fuel needle adjustment which added another servo and linkage to a already crowded fuselage), and no flooding when the engine stopped. All previous engines and systems suffered from this which meant many bent conrods from using an electric starter on a flooded engine. The ED carburettor which had proved so good, suffered from leaks and therefore this was replaced by a Fisher carburettor which allowed to engine to breath like the ED with good atomisation and although the system needed some tank pressure were no leaks. The IFM Redshift pressurised the tank to lower crankcase pressure from a tapping under the front housing, the regulator did the rest by monitiring fuel demand from exhaust pressure. The IFM regulator was playing its part. Clean filtered fuel was essential, but the system had become as close as you could get to fit and forget.
At the same time a range of marine Redshifts were developed . A helicopter version with a compression release valve in the cylinder head to aid starting, an opposite rotation version for use on twins and a scale version timed to take larger props were all available in standard cylinder timing, tuned pipe or the Aresti version. The latter version was a tuned piped cylinder liner but without the wild exhaust timing of the full tuned piped engine giving more torque at lower RPM, it was quieter and consistent in all weather conditions.
The day we spent with Mike Billington (link to Mike Billington’s report) at his Santa Pod test site was an interesting day. Tuned pipes came in to complicate testing for the first time. I think I can say we all learned a lot that day about the effect tuned pipes had on normal test procedures, and atomisation in carburettors. The Redshift not only held together through all the tests on some quite volatile fuels, but it came through with flying colours and yet another glowing report. Incidentally similar reports appeared in the American magazines such as Model Airplane News.
Richards model flying activities were all centred around the Redshift, so it was no surprise that we had to test the marine engines in a boat, it was fast, very fast, but Richard injured his back pulling on the starting rope and finished up in hospital for well over a week, so that was that. Later he had much more success when testing the helicopter version of the Redshift, with no time to build he bought a second hand model and installed his engine and gear, that was Sunday morning, by the end of the same day he had hovered it, flown it around and after gaining some height offered me a few minutes on the sticks.
Richard wanted to fly full size and it was not long before he was assembling a microlight, this being the cheapest way of getting airborne. ( there was one earlier occasion when I and Cyril Slater made our own hang gliders, Richard flew Cyril’s on one occasion, but trees and a broken leg came into the story so we will leave this tale for another day). I think the microlight was a Falcon. (see photo). We were very happy to ground all models of a short time on Sunday afternoons so that Richard could land for a chat and cup of tea. Richard in his inevitable way soon converted the Redshift fuel system for the microlite so he could fly it inverted and it was at this stage he added a parachute to the airframe. I think it is fair to say we were all relieved when Richard signed up at Netherthorpe, our local airfield, to train for his PPL. With hind sight we wish he had stuck to producing Redshifts.
Full size aerobatics is what interested Richard, and as a member of a small group, he rebuilt a Skybolt (engine and airframe) to a very high standard, it was superb. He was entering competitions and spending most of his spare time in the air. The aircraft and Richard died together on the 7 August 1989 through no fault of Richard or the aircraft he had so lovingly restored.
Matthew my son, Richards’s godson, and I, fly Redshifts to this day with a great deal of pride. June 2000.
I did not expect there to be a sequel to this tribute: but Matthew with his own designed aircraft and a rear exhaust Redshift build by Richard in the early 1980s, practiced the Great Britain R/C Aerobatic Association, standard schedule most weekends from the middle of 2000. He used a fully cowled rear exhaust Redshift with efficient cooling ducts, running on straight fuel and turning an APC 11 x 11 propeller at a little over 10,000 rpm on my own design tuned pipe. Noise levels were under the limit and the engine performed faultlessly through out the year. A diaphragm and an ‘O’ ring were the only new parts fitted. The result of all this was that over the August Bank Holiday weekend of 2001 Matthew won the Yvonne Weller Trophy and was GB R/C AA Standard Schedule British National Champion. A Redshift had won the Nationals again, it was my turn to feel proud again, but this time on two counts.
The trophies were presented by Kath Watson the retiring Chairman of the British Model Flying Association
A further tribute to Richard and the Redshift was included in a “Time Works” project in 2004.
A sculpture which depicts past activities in Beighton Village (near Sheffield where the engine was made) was erected by the traffic island at the Beighton approach to Crystal Peaks.
A rough casting of the Redshift crankcase is located at one corner of the bronze sculpture by David Mayne. (Link to David Mayne)
An un-run Redshift in its original box was auctioned on ebay during October 2004 and sold for £117.00.
Later information received confirmed it was sold by Harvey a past NASA club member.
A further development has come to light in the Redshift story when I was talking to Don and Sue Turner (good friends of Richard) a few weeks ago (October 2007).
Don told me he had seen a Fisher Turbine Engine in the South Yorkshire Air Museum ‘AeroVenture‘ This was a revolutionary experimental engine designed and built by Richard’s Father Donald in 1937, some 40 years before Richard launched the Redshift. I was not aware that this engine existed or indeed it had sat in Richard’s garage for all those years. Donald, Richard and the Fisher family were involved in running their bus company “Booth and Fisher” operating a public passenger transport service from Sheffield to the North Derbyshire area. I understand that Donald hoped a development of this engine would be used as a new propulsion unit for Omnibuses.
Comments from Richard’s sister Pauline: “Richards father was a good engineer. He had his Diploma in Mechanical Engineering from Sheffield Technical College while in his teens. I well remember how long and industriously he worked to develop his gas turbine, completing it in 1937. The news was splashed across the Sheffield papers at the time. He took the engine to exhibitions in London, but it never sparked development. Then the war started in 1939”.
Although this engine is labelled as a Turbine Engine, the nearest I could describe the engine is a forerunner of the Wankel engine (The link to wikipedia is here) . You will see from this reference that the Wankel engine was first developed in 1951 and ran in 1954. This was some 37 years after Donald Fisher had run his engine and exhibited at the Sheffield Coronation Exhibition of 1937, where it was reported that “this could be a significant development in the aircraft industry”. (You will see from the Wikipedia link above that NSU was the first company who eventually developed the Wankel engine for commercial use).
It would appear that Donald was not totally satisfied with the porting of the original engine but by all accounts no further developments were made. You can see from the photographs that the engineering of the engine is superb, a description applied to the Fisher Redshift 60 some 40 years later.
‘Aero Venture’ is where the Fisher Turbine Engine is displayed and is well worth a visit . The link to their web site. AeroVenture
2 September 2011 by e-mail
I was just doing some nostalgia searching on the web and came across your excellent tribute to Richard.
I was delighted to see your site, as Richard was one of my best close friends in Beighton, throughout our childhood and school days. I recall spending many hours, in his very early model aircraft days, trying to start his engines with him. I wasn’t really into planes myself (train spotting was more interesting for me) but Richard always dragged me off into the fields close to our house. We remained very close friends until we both left for University and then we only saw each other when I came home. Richard went to London University for Aeronautical Engineering but left after his first term. The academic life was really not for him. He excelled in maths and science at school though, but he had better and more interesting things to apply his brilliant engineering talent towards.
I left the UK in 1970 and came to Canada where I still live, but Richard was the first person I would always go to see on visits home throughout the 70s and 80s. Richard was also godfather to my son, Derek.
I still keep a photo of Richard on my phone desk, standing beside the biplane he so lovingly re-built.
(I thank David for also updating some detail in this tribute in 2022)
Thank you David, so pleased to keep getting new information on Richard, I wonder where British engines would be today if Richard had been able to peruse his dream.
July 2018 – spending some time at the BMFA National Flying Centre I came across the following reference in the library/archives, a publication by Mike Clandford.