Peter Hearne, Past-President of the Royal Aeronautical Society, 1980-1981, President Cranfield Society 1981-1985 and Vice President British Gliding Association from 1998.

He spent a lifetime in a widespread variety of professional aviation activities at all working level from shop floor, flight shed and cockpit to Chief Executive and Chairman of the Board.

His early aviation experience began as a cadet in WW2 which led to flying training in gliding and later in powered aircraft. His professional training began in an undergraduate course at Loughborough College of Technology where he specialised in aircraft engineering in an intensive three-year ‘Thin Sandwich’ course which also included hands-on experience in the wartime aircraft industry in aircraft manufacture, maintenance and flight shed activities.

After working in the design and flight test groups at Saunders-Roe on advanced flying boat designs, Hearne was one of the earliest postgraduates at the College of Aeronautics Cranfield (later Cranfield University) obtaining his Masters degree and specialising in stability and control and flight test methods.

In 1949 he joined the Development group of British Overseas Airways Corporation where he was deeply involved in the engineering and operational development of new types of aircraft including the pioneering work on the introduction of the world’s first jet transport, the Comet 1, into passenger service.

On promotion he moved to British European Airways to head up the engineering and operational development of civil helicopters. In this post he was responsible for a large amount of innovatory flight development work on all-weather operations which led to his appointment as Programme Manager of the UK Joint Civil-Military All Weather helicopter programme. In turn this established the foundation of much of the operational philosophy for today’s North Sea operations.

In 1959 he was invited to join Elliott Brothers (London) Ltd to head up one of its first groups involved in the development of electronic systems (i.e. avionics) for advanced aircraft. During the next 30 years after the company was absorbed by the GEC Marconi group he was promoted to a series of increasingly senior appointments, becoming Assistant Managing Director in 1986 and CEO of all GEC aviation activities. Subsequent appointments included President of the US operations of GEC Marconi’s billion-dollar turnover US business (based in Washington) where he was also the prime GEC interface with US Government affairs. He retired as Chairman of the aviation groups in 1994, since when he worked as a consultant and expert witness.

During his 34-year career in GEC and its predecessor Hearne was responsible for a number of major developments, including much of the early development of digital systems in aircraft which among other programmes led to the introduction of the head-up display. This rapidly became a world-leading system and at one time captured over 60% of the world market.

Throughout his whole career since leaving Loughborough he had maintained a keen continuing personal interest in operational flying and had logged over 4,500 flying hours. His active life in gliding was equally illustrious. In 1949 with a few others he formed the Silver Wings Gliding Club for employees of BOAC and BEA and persuaded the Air Ministry to allow them to operate from Booker airfield. He owned a number of high performance gliders and the past 20 years had been an active member of the Lasham Gliding Society, now the world’s largest gliding site.

Sadly he had suffered stroke four years ago but happily had recovered speech and some mobility.

Walter Kahn



10 February 2014