Professor William Penny is an internationally acclaimed engineer and entrepreneur in the field of measurement and control. He is best known for his leading role in developing the 'black box' flight recorder, which has contributed immensely to the safety of air travel. He is co-founder of Penny and Giles, an aerospace and industrialtechnology company based in Christchurch, UK.
In 1943 William Penny started as a junior at the Aircraft and Armament Experimental Establishment at Boscombe Down, working in a team developing instruments for the performance testing of aircraft, measuring air turbulence, humidity, frost point and icing. Meanwhile he was also studying part-time for professional qualifications in aeronautical and mechanical engineering. He left Boscombe Down to broaden his experience, first in process control instrumentation and then again in aerospace, notably at Kelvin Hughes which developed and manufactured aircraft instruments. Here, as Assistant Chief Engineer, he met Jim Giles, who was an instrument maker, and this partnership led to the foundation of Penny and Giles in 1956.
At this time the aviation industry increasingly needed reliable, high-precision instruments for use in aircraft flight-testing, and Penny and Giles quickly made a mark in this specialised field. Their most notable early success was in the recording of flight data for use in accident investigation. Until 1957 it was possible only to record the pilot’s voice, but William Penny had developed transducers which could measure airspeed, altitude, acceleration and control surface positions, all of which were then available to be recorded magnetically in the ‘high survival potential’ device popularly known as the 'black box' data recorder which revolutionised air accident investigation and has made an enormous contribution to airline safety. During 1963, the UK Ministry of Aviation gave notice of a mandatory requirement for passenger carrying civil aircraft to be equipped with accident data recording systems, and Penny + Giles were well placed to supply sensors and recorders for these systems. In the decades following, Penny and Giles built an international reputation for technological innovation, creative design and manufacturing excellence, serving many industries and markets. Some of its developments, including motor controllers for powered wheelchairs, paperless chart recorders, and trackerballs for computer interfacing, led to the development of separate, autonomous business units, so that by 1975 P&G had become a diversified group of advanced technology companies. At its peak the company employed 1,200 people, mainly in the Christchurch area, where it has made a large contribution to the local economy, and also in Blackwood, South Wales. Penny + Giles is now wholly owned by the Curtiss-Wright Corporation of Parsippany, New Jersey, USA.