MY THANKS go to the friends and family of Professor William Alfred Penny CBE, who died earlier this year aged 95.

Professor Penny was instrumental in developing the black box flight recorder which improved the safety of air travel.

The son of a police constable, who had served in the First World War, the family lived in a row of cottages (with an outside water pump) before moving to live at the police station in Amesbury.

Professor Penny attended local Amesbury schools and on leaving, he worked as a junior at the research facility Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment at Boscombe Down.

At Boscombe Down, Penny worked as part of a team developing instruments for the performance testing of aircraft, measuring air turbulence, humidity, the frost point and icing.

Although the job was demanding, he studied part time and eventually gained qualifications in aeronautical and mechanical engineering.

A decade later he became instrumental in developing the black box. This revolutionised air accident investigation and contributed enormously to airline safety.

Up until 1957 it had only been possible to record the pilot’s voice.

Penny developed transducers which could measure air speed and altitude acceleration, and control surface positions.

The information gathered was then recorded magnetically by the black box together with voices from the cockpit.

As his international reputation for innovation grew, he was appointed a CBE in 1989 for services to the industry and in 2010, Bournemouth University made him an honorary doctor of technology.

As a young man he taught himself to play the clarinet and saxophone and performed in various dance bands, meeting his wife Beryl through one band where she was the pianist.

Together with musician friends, they were very well received in and around the pubs of Brockenhurst, the town where they had lived since 1972.


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