Dr Robert William Pleming – FRAeS MIET MBCS CITP
16th April 1951 – 2nd February 2021
Robert Pleming was born and brought up in north-west London. His lifelong interest in aviation received an early boost when, as a Cadet at the age of seventeen, he was awarded an RAF Flying Scholarship. His career though took a different direction and during 17 years at IBM, followed by 6 years at Cisco Systems, Robert built extensive general, technical and project management experience.
After gaining a BA in Physics and Doctorate at the Department of Nuclear Physics at Oxford University, Robert started a career in IT. He held technical, sales and management roles in IBM, latterly with responsibility for Open Systems in Europe.
In 1994 he moved to become the UK Technical Director for Cisco Systems, at a time when the company had only 18 employees in this country. Over the next few years, Cisco UK grew dramatically with the spread of the Internet and e-commerce. Robert’s responsibilities included resolution of the many problems resulting from this rapid growth, from acquisition of new buildings and customer issue management through to recruitment and training. From 1997, he was Technical Director for Cisco's Northern Europe operation, and latterly Special Projects Director for Cisco Europe.
In 1997 Robert agreed with David Walton, Managing Director of C. Walton Ltd, of Bruntingthorpe, Leicestershire, the owner of Avro Vulcan XH558, that a last attempt should be made to determine the feasibility of a project to return this aircraft to flight, based on sound management practice and a professional approach. In the evenings and weekends, Robert built a team to guide the project’s direction, and established sufficient credibility with the Vulcan’s Design Authority, BAE Systems, for the formal decision to be taken to proceed with the activities necessary to achieve the return to flight.
In April 2000, Robert moved on voluntarily from his Cisco career to the role of full-time Director for the Avro Vulcan XH558 Return-to- Flight Project. His lifelong enthusiasm for aviation, allied to his project management experience, gave Robert the capabilities needed to maximize the probability of a successful return-to-flight for this historic aircraft.
The “Vulcan to the Sky” Project succeeded spectacularly on 18th October 2007, with the first test flight of the restored Vulcan from Bruntingthorpe Airfield, some 14 years after its last flight, and after nearly two years of intense engineering activity.
Since then, Vulcan XH558 has appeared in front of airshows and event audiences totalling over 10 million people, around the UK, and in Holland and Belgium, and relied on the donations from an adoring public for the £2+million annual operating costs. Sadly, XH558 made her final flight on 28th October 2015, the last flying example of a British four-engined jet aircraft from an era when Britain led the world.
From 2012 to 2017 Robert was also a Trustee of Young Engineers UK, and in 2016 was awarded the Air League's Scott-Farnie Medal for services to Air Education.
Having been a member of the Executive Committee since May 2007, in May 2016 Robert was elected Chairman of the British Aviation Preservation Council and set about his new responsibilities with determination to promote the best interests of BAPC Member organisations. He soon increased the number of committee meetings so that more could be done to raise the profile of the organisation.
The BAPC became Aviation Heritage UK in October 2017 at its 50th anniversary meeting where Robert laid out his new vision for the future of the organisation becoming the “go to” place for anything to do with aviation history.
Also in 2017, Robert was appointed a Trustee of the Transport Trust (now the National Transport Trust), having been the recipient of its prestigious “Preservationist of the Year” award in 2007 for his work on the Vulcan.
In March 2018 his proposal to create an All Party Parliamentary Group for Aviation Heritage was partially accepted.
At a meeting of the APPG for General Aviation, chaired by The Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP, a Heritage Working Group was established. Robert Courts MP was elected as Parliamentary Chair of the Group and Robert was elected unanimously as Sector Chair, with the two co-chairing the Group. For the first time, aviation heritage was on the Parliamentary agenda.
Over the past year Robert has been driving an initiative through the APPG Heritage Working Group to get aviation heritage put on a par with its maritime equivalent, with a full-time secretariat funded by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS).
A proposal written by Robert and John Brown of the Imperial War Museum was submitted to DCMS late last year, and Robert was overseeing the finalising of a promotional video on the subject at the time of his death.
In recent months Robert had also represented AHUK on the Mobile Heritage Advocacy Group of The Heritage Alliance, a multidisciplinary coalition of more than 150 independent UK heritage organisations.
Robert was married to Suzanne and lived in Alresford, near Winchester in Hampshire. His outside interests included photography and following developments in the physical sciences.