26 April 2021
Robert Pleming was born in north-west London. He was awarded an RAF Flying Scholarship at the age of seventeen that cemented his lifelong love of aviation.
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.
With a first class honours in Physics and a PhD in Electronic Techniques in High Energy Particle Identification from Oxford University, a young Dr Pleming joined IBM as a Systems Engineer. He went on the spend the next 17 years at the company working in a variety of roles, working ultimately as AIX Software, Service & Support Brand Manager for IBM Europe.
In 1994 he moved to Cisco Systems as Technical Director – UK where among other duties he set up the technical support aspects of new Cisco subsidiaries in Denmark, Finland, Norway and South Africa, including the recruitment of the Country SE Managers, and the establishment of standards, processes and facilities.
In 1999 when he was working as Technical Director, EMEA Service Provider Line-of-Business, for Cisco, he took a three month leave of absence to explore the feasibility of returning Vulcan XH558 to flight. He returned to work as Director of Special Projects EMEA for Cisco Systems Corporation until March 2000 when he left his high-flying post to work on his mission of returning the Avro Vulcan to flight.
Robert worked tirelessly on the project setting up the Vulcan to the Sky Trust to return the last potentially airworthy RAF V-force aircraft, Avro Vulcan XH558 to flight. In 1997, when the idea first came to him, he built a Project Steering Team from key members of the aerospace establishment and former members of the RAF’s Vulcan Display Flight.
Against all the odds, Robert and the team succeeded in their mission, raising millions of pounds in donations and returning XH558 to flight. The Vulcan to the Sky project succeeded spectacularly on 18 October 2007, with the first test flight of the restored Vulcan, some 14 years after its last flight, and after nearly two years of intense engineering activity.
She went on to appear in front of air show and event audiences totalling over 10 million people, around the UK, and in Holland and Belgium; Robert took great pleasure in the joy that watching her fly brought to the supporters. XH558 made her final flight on 28 October 2015.
In May 2016, Robert was elected chairman of the British Aviation Preservation Council and 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.
Robert was appointed a Trustee of the Transport Trust (now the National Transport Trust) in 2017, having been the recipient of its prestigious Preservationist of the Year award in 2007 for his work on the Vulcan.
On 21 March 2018 his proposal to create an All Party Parliamentary Group for Aviation Heritage was partially accepted and on 23 March of that year Robert became a Freeman of the City of London as a member of the Guild of Coachmakers and Coach Harness Makers.
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. This put aviation heritage on the Parliamentary agenda.
Since 2015, when XH558 was grounded, Robert, determined that her story would live on to inspire future generations of engineers, created the vision for The Vulcan Experience and within that The Green Technology Hub. He wanted this to be a place where people could honour the past and inspire the future. His team are working to fundraise for this project to ensure that Robert’s legacy is created, and his vision becomes a reality.
Robert was a true visionary and the hours he dedicated to this project and his plans for the Green Technology Hub as a space for the younger generation to explore, investigate and create solutions to the climate change challenge will not be forgotten.
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 target shooting (he was chairman of Itchen Valley Shooting Club) and he enjoyed cricket, good food and the company of friends and family.
The Vulcan to the Sky Trust is registered with the Fundraising Regulator
Registered Address: Vulcan to the Sky Trust, Unit 4 Delta Court, Third Avenue, Doncaster Sheffield Airport, Doncaster, South Yorkshire, DN9 3GN Company No. 4478686. Charity Reg No. 1101948