ROBERT HERBERT WHITBY
CEng DIC ARCSc FRAeS
A member of the Air Transport Group of the Royal Aeronautical Society to an advanced age, Bob Whitby brought to the Society his unusually wide experience, not only in aircraft performance and analysis, but also planning, in most aspects of airline work.
His air transport career was spent entirely with British European Airways/British Airways from 1946-1981, mostly in the Project & Development Branch, analysing and specifying current civil passenger aircraft performance – noise, weight, balance and cost of aircraft projects prior to possible purchase.
He was awarded an RAeS Silver Medal in 1980 in recognition of his valuable contribution to civil aviation over many years and, particularly for his work in analysis, assessment and evaluation of commercial aircraft projects.
Robert Herbert Whitby (Bob) was born at Upminster in Essex on 17 October 1917 and in 1935 he became a Royal Scholar at Imperial College London where he obtained a First Class Honours degree in Physics with Mathematics Subsidiary followed by a Diploma in Aeronautical Engineering with research in Fluid Dynamics, becoming an Associate of the Royal College of Sciences in 1940.
In 1940 he joined the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough and spent six years during WW2 in research on Aerodynamics, latterly as head of Project Division of the Aerodynamics Department with 20 Degree level staff under him. Here he produced ten papers on wind-tunnel tests and theoretical studies and 15 papers and numerous smaller investigations on Project Analysis, developing a system for estimating aircraft operating costs.
In 1945-46 Bob did an Intermediate BSc in Economics at London University and in 1946, attracted by the challenge of post-war civil air transport, he left RAE and joined the embryo BEA and became truly an airline man. Airlines succeed or fail by their choice of aircraft and this is the field in which Bob led his small project analysis team which played a leading role in specifying aircraft requirements for 35 years, until his retirement in 1981.
1946-72 BRITISH EUROPEAN AIRWAYS
1946-53 ASSISTANT CONTROLLER RESEARCH & SPECIAL DEVELOPMENTS
1953-68 PERFORMANCE & ANALYSIS MANAGER
The Research and Special Developments department covered long-term technical and economic aspects of air transport including studies of operating costs, use of jet aircraft, motion sickness and accelerated life testing of aircraft equipment.
Bob’s principal job was as staff officer to the Helicopter Experimental Unit with responsibility for planning and execution of the research programme. This gave him first-hand experience of aircraft operations including accident investigations and working with pilots. It involved both planning and study of experimental scheduled operations, producing the world’s first passenger helicopter schedule and the design and execution of numerous test flights covering blind flying, navigation, heliport aids and performance measurements. From 1962 he was the only non-pilot member of Flight Operations’ Operating Standards Group which incorporated operating experience into training methods and flying staff instructions.
By 1963 the Ministry of Defence research Establishments were capable of dealing with the necessary helicopter work. This coincided with the formation of BEA helicopters, concentrating on commercial activities, notably the Penzance-Scillies scheduled passenger service and North Sea oil operations. Thus closed 17 years of fruitful helicopter research in BEA.
1968-1972 - CHIEF PROJECT & PERFORMANCE ENGINEER - BEA
Here work for the operational side included preparation of Operations Manual volume I – performance and handling flight tests, noise measurements and procedures, accident investigations and analysis of flight recorders, loading instructions, capacity advice data and maintenance and inspection requirements.
Project aircraft work led to association with the planning work of other departments and with aircraft and engine manufacturers with whom performance, balance and noise guarantees were negotiated and a small team under his management produced BEA’s first fleet model.
1972-81 - GROUP PLANNING CO-ORDINATOR TECHNICAL - BA
During this period few new aircraft were appearing but Bob took charge of the development of an invaluable tool for evaluation of fleet procurement, the Fleet Cost Model, while maintaining contacts with the manufacturers and working with the Protection of the Environment Committee on new noise requirements.
Within BEA/BA he was on many interdepartmental committees including Supersonic Transport Aircraft, Low Cost Short Haul aircraft, a working party on all forms of UK inter-city travel and the Joint Study Review Group (VTOL, STOL and RTOL)
Throughout his working life Bob produced many papers, mostly for the Royal Aeronautical Society and was involved in a range of professional and other activities – he was on several Aeronautical Research Council Committees as an independent member – Powered lift, Applied Aerodynamics and on the Performance Committee as Vice Chairman. He was also BEA nominee on the Noise research Committee and vice Chair of the Civil Aircraft Research Committee as well as on the Ministry of Defence-Department of Environment joint committee.
He became a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society in 1957 and was awarded its Silver Medal in 1980.
The National Aerospace Library holds Bob’s collection of reports issued during his career 1953/1976.
1981 -2015 - RETIREMENT
Bob was loyal, forthright and seldom wrong, with an analytical mind and amazing factual memory coupled with a good sense of humour. Following his retirement in 1981 he was able to spend more time on his non- professional interests – Art, theatre, cooking, wine-making, gardening, bricolage, entertaining and European travel. He bought a plot of land near Assisi in Italy and built a cabin there, to which he retreated for a few weeks every year, and he studied Economic History and History of Art and Architecture at Birkbeck Extra-mural college, obtaining their Diploma at the age of 90.
His wife Emily died in 1986 and he lived in his house in Hampstead for 68 years with his daughter, Sue, and grandchildren and great grandchildren. He retained his excellent health and energy up until the last year of his life when a nuclear palsey affected his speech and physical strength and he died at home in July 2015.