Obituary: Charles Caliendi

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CHARLES CALIENDI was a pioneer aerospace systems engineer who began his career as a de Havilland apprentice and rose to become British Aerospace chief engineer at Hatfield. Proficient in aerodynamics and avionics, he was probably the first person to use a "black box" to find the cause of an aircraft accident. His final job was as chief architect of the 146/ AvroRJ systems design.

When he joined the de Havilland's aerodynamics department at Hatfield early in the Second World War, components and equipment were bought in and bolted on to the airframe. Today, systems and electronics are an integrated part of the total design, thanks to the vision of engineers like Caliendi.

He played an important part in developing the pioneering systems of the world's first jetliner, the de Havilland Comet, and of other innovative Hatfield aircraft including the Trident, the world's first automatic-landing airliner.

His proudest achievement was the setting up of the Sir Geoffrey de Havilland Memorial Fund, to which he devoted his last five years. He led the team which has so far raised more than pounds 250,000 for aerospace engineering scholarships in memory of the pioneer British aviator, whom he greatly respected. The scholarships were established by the University of Hertfordshire last July. Charles Caliendi officiated at the unveiling of Sir Geoffrey's statue by the Duke of Edinburgh in the university's Hatfield grounds.

He was born in 1919 in London to an Italian father and an English mother. He was educated at Ignatius College, Tottenham, and at the de Havilland Aeronautical Technical School, Hatfield, which he joined in September 1937 after a few months as a junior draughtsman on 7s 6d (37.5p) a week.

On graduating in 1941 he joined the de Havilland aerodynamics department at Hatfield. He took an active part in the Mosquito flight test programme, flying with Geoffrey and John de Havilland in the prototype, W4050, and in the many subsequent marks of the aircraft which made such a major contribution to the war effort.

His work in developing instruments for measuring performance and loads led to his appointment in 1944 as chief instrumentation engineer. He became personally responsible for the design of the instruments, data recorders and test rigs needed for flight testing as well as windtunnel work.

In September 1946 he was entrusted with the "V-g" recorder salvaged from the DH108 which crashed in the Thames estuary, killing the chief test pilot Geoffrey de Havilland junior. His analysis helped to determine the cause of the break-up at high Mach number. It was probably the first use of an automatic flight data recorder in an aircraft accident investigation.

At about this time Caliendi would be seen crawling under the jet blast of a Vampire fighter running at full power, trying to read the static thrust off a spring balance. From such beginnings he took flight performance measurement into the age of telemetry, delivering data direct from the air to the design office.

In 1961 he was appointed technical services manager with responsibility for about 200 engineers engaged in trial instrumentation and rig-testing of new systems. He became chief development engineer in 1965, selecting, testing and developing all the company's bought-out aircraft components and equipment. His responsibilities widened to include reliability and safety analysis. These subjects had always interested him and became his speciality.

In 1969 he was promoted to chief systems engineer responsible for the design of systems for all Hatfield projects. These would include the 125, 146 and the wings of the Airbus A300 and A310. The elegant and efficient systems design of the 146/Avro RJ - Britain's best-selling jetliner - was largely his personal achievement.

In 1972 he had been an expert witness at the public inquiry into the Trident accident at Staines. He worked long hours into the night to ensure that lessons were learnt and applied to the improvement of design and safety. Caliendi set industry standards for a disciplined, analytical approach to the subjects of reliability and safety. He gave many papers to professional bodies in Europe and North America, spreading the message that "reliability equals efficiency and safety". He served as chairman of an industry systems committee from 1978 to 1981 and was a founder member and chairman of Cranfield University's Safety Assessment of Aircraft Systems Course (now approaching its 20th year). He also joined the Hatfield Manpowered Flight Team which built and flew the Puffin.

In 1981 he was appointed chief engineer at British Aerospace Hatfield, responsible for managing the 146 airworthiness certification programme, a task accomplished on schedule. The 146 made history as the first aircraft to be certificated to European JAR-25 requirements, a process which often tested Charles Caliendi's famous sense of humour. He retired in 1984, becoming a consultant to the Ministry of Defence on the safety and reliability of military transport and combat aircraft.

Mike Ramsden and Ray Cherry

Stanley Charles Joseph Caliendi, aerospace engineer: born London 21 July 1919; married 1944 Phyllis Beale (died 1995; one daughter); died 1 March 1998.