Aeronautical engineer and civil servant;
Born: May 2, 1923; Died: May 24, 2012.
Sir James Hamilton, who has died aged 89, had a distinguished career in aircraft design in the immediate post-war years and then was a major influence on the revolutionary swept-back delta wing design that brought Concorde such world-wide fame for its grace and engineering innovation. It was a project Sir James led with much distinction for five years. He then joined the civil service where, while at the Department of Trade, Concorde was again one of his responsibilities. In the 1970s he was appointed deputy cabinet secretary and then promoted to the Department of Education and Science, working for Shirley Williams.
James Arnot Hamilton was born in Penicuik and attended the newly-opened Penicuik Academy. He was dux of the school in 1939 and then read civil engineering at Edinburgh University, graduating in 1943. Sir James was immediately transferred to research the development of anti-submarine weapons at Helensburgh. The centre was also Britain's principal seaplane test area and Sir James joined the Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment, continuing to work at Helensburgh and at Felixstowe after the war. The research centre at Helensburgh tested new planes on the Clyde (including a floating Spitfire) and on Loch Lomond while many aircraft were built further up the Clyde at Beardmores (Dalmuir) and Denny/Blackburns (Dumbarton).
In 1965 Sir James was appointed Project Director at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough which became a joint Franco-British project and led, in 1972, to the building of the Jaguar fighter aircraft.
The success of that co-operation led to the joint venture to develop the supersonic airliner and an agreement was signed to share its development in 1963. Three years later Sir James became director-general of the Concorde project. It was an inspired appointment as Sir James' experience and specialized knowledge in the complexities of wing design ensured the project remained on track – despite delays and mounting cost.
It was his calm and reassuring professionalism that led to Concorde being hailed as a design and engineering phenomenon. Concorde looked sleek and simple: in fact it was a hugely advanced piece of aeronautical engineering. Sir James's particular aptitude was in understanding the characteristics of steep descent and high-speed flight and his colleagues regard the design for Concorde's wings to be the peak of his career.
Sir James moved in 1971, five years before Concorde's maiden flight, to be deputy secretary for aerospace in the Department of Trade. He was immediately involved in controversial issues such as the cancellation of the Black Arrow rocket programme and the nationalisation of Rolls-Royce's aero engine division.
From 1973 Sir James served as deputy cabinet secretary to both Edward Heath and Harold Wilson, but when James Callaghan became Prime Minister Sir James was moved to the Department of Education. He visited schools and held in-depth discussions with headmasters and staff. On occasions Sir James visited a school incognito by joining a party of school inspectors.
With the arrival of Margaret Thatcher Sir James had to cope with added pressures in the department. There was unrest in the profession and strikes were called. He also had to implement many cuts in the educational budget which caused disquiet amongst teachers and colleagues in Whitehall.
After he retired in 1983 Sir James joined the board of several engineering companies and wrote reports on the future of the industry (the Fairclough Study). He was made CB in 1972 and KCB in 1978.
Sir James married, in 1947, Christine McKeen in Glasgow; the marriage was dissolved in 1977. He is survived by their three sons and by his partner, Marcia Cunningham.
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