Charles Abell Named Lecture

The third Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS) Heathrow Branch named lecture commemorates Charles Abell, British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC)’s energetic Engineering Director, and takes aircraft maintenance as its theme. The proposal to honour him in this way was made in 1995 by Geoff Ratcliffe and is, in part, intended to foster the interest of Licensed Aircraft Engineers in the Heathrow Catchment since the 1987 merger of Society of Licensed Aircraft Engineers and Technologists (SLAET) with the Royal Aeronautical Society.

The young Charles Abell joined Imperial Airways at Croydon Airport in 1934 as a Maintenance Engineer, working on Handley Page “Hannibal” class biplanes and in the Engine Workshop. In 1941 he was a member of BOAC’s team in Seattle to accept delivery of the Boeing 314 flying boat aircraft and was instrumental in leading its maintenance and operation for seven years. A spell at Montreal followed, operating Liberators and Constellations. He was awarded the OBE in 1948 and the following year returned to the UK as manager of Number 3 Line, responsible for the Constellation and Stratocruiser fleets. He was head of BOAC’s engineering affairs for 25 years. During this time the fist jet airliners, the Comets, were introduced. Charles organised a significant part of the investigation into their fatal crashes, which led to the withdrawal of the Comet I aircraft from service.

Charles Abell was responsible for the maintenance, airworthiness and development of a large range of aircraft including the Britannia, Boeing 707, VC10, Boeing 747 and the Concorde, the world’s first supersonic civil aircraft. He also pioneered the introduction of the RR Conway into the 707. He was greatly respected, and consulted, by presidents if aircraft manufacturers and top commercial, operational, financial and engineering managers of the world’s airlines. His work in setting standards, procedures and management techniques formed the basis of sound and safe engineering practices that are still paying dividends in the industry today.

He was described by his former colleague, Jack Finnimore, as a man who “not only knew why – but also knew how”. Charles was highly regarded by the Airworthiness Registration Board, later the Civil Aviation Authority. He was President of the Society of Licensed Aircraft Engineers and Technologists, having joined the Society in 1952. He became a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society in 1954, receiving their Silver Medal for aeronautics in 1957. He became a member of Council in 1970 and was President of the Royal Aeronautical Society from 1976-7. At the Heathrow Branch, he was RAeS Chairman (1960-2) and President (1967-76). He died in 1992.

1999 CA lecture_lres

RAF Strike Command, No.23 Squadron, Waddington, visited Heathrow Branch with one of their E3-AWACS in November 1999. A visit to the aircraft followed their lecture. Photo by: Alan Holland-Avery [FRPS]

Previous Charles Abell Lectures

List of speakers at the Charles Abell Lecture:

  • 1995 – Bob Stone & James Angus – Rolls Royce Advanced Robotics
  • 1996 – Dick Le Clerq – KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
  • 1997 – Wee Siew Kim, President – Singapore Technologies Aviation Services Company (SASCO)
  • 1997 – Ahmad al-Zabin, Director General of Engineering Affairs – Kuwait Airways
  • 1998 – Professor Alexander Boksenberg – University of Cambridge
                 Topic on The Hubble Space Telescope & It’s Recent Discoveries
  • 2000 – Tony Ingham & Peter Ellison
                 Topic on “Alliance of European Airworthiness Alliances” &
                                “Shannon Aerospace: a Maintenance Alliance”
  • 2001 – David King, Principal Inspector of Air Accidents (Engineering) – AAIB
                 Topic on Air Accident Investigation – The Development of New Techniques
  • 2002 – Dr Helen Dudfield, Asst Director Cockpit Systems Engineering & Integration – DERA
                 Topic on The Cognitive Cockpit – The Future of Cockpit Design
  • 2003 – Les Brodle & Claud Freeman – British Airways
                 Topic on “Life in the (Very) Fast Lane” – A Tribute to Concorde
  • 2004 – Sir Michael Jenkins & Martin Dailey
                 UK President / VP Commercial Sales Europe – The Boeing Company
                 Topic on Boeing and the 7E7 in the UK
  • 2007 – Ken Smart, Chairman of the Board – Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB)
                 Topic on Learning by Accident – a Personal View of Advances in Aviation Safety
  • 2010 – Keith Armstrong – Consultant
                 Topic on The History and Application of Composite Materials
  • 2010 – Gary Copeland, Director of Engineering – British Airways
                 Topic on The Future of British Airways Engineering
  • 2011 – Stewart John [OBE FRAeS] – Aviation Board Member
                 Topic on Widebodies Over China
  • 2012 – Peter Richards, Chairman of Non-Corporate Grading Committee – RAeS
                 Topic on Towards Engineering Council Registration
  • 2015 – Warrant Officer Kevin Ball, Senior Engineering Officer – RAF BBMF
                 Topic on RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight – Maintaining Historic Aircraft
  • 2015 – Terry Holloway, Group Support Executive – Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group
                 Topic on Marshall of Cambridge -Past, Present and Future