DEREK Mack, who was involved in the Black Knight and Black Arrow rocket programmes, has died aged 88.

Born on February 8, 1933, at Queen Charlotte’s Hospital in Hammersmith, Derek’s earned an apprenticeship in his teenage years with Vickers Armstrong, the aircraft makers in Weybridge, where being a year underage, he began as shop boy in their wind tunnel department.

This fortunate turn of events proved pivotal to his entire career, as it set him among a team of research scientists and engineers whose talents and enthusiasm awoke his lifelong attraction to aerospace research and development.

Four years of formal guided weapons training taught him to service electronic flight systems and the related explosives hardware before moving on to assist live firing trials at the Aberporth and Larkhill missile ranges.

Derek joined Saunders Roe on the Isle of Wight in 1957 for the Black Knight earth re-entry project, where he set up static firing recorders at Highdown.

He spent eight weeks running engine static firings to proof test the Woomera, Australia 5A launch site.

On November 21, 1964, Derek married his wife Anne and moved to Norton Green.

While working with the British Hovercraft Corporation (BHC), Derek was honoured by the French government for his work in the French space program.

Derek had overseen the build of Diamant at Cowes, Bordeaux, and each launch at Kourou in French Guiana.

He travelled to Paris with his family to receive a Diploma of Merit from the president of the French National Centre for Space Studies.

Derek did not realise he was just one of six people in the industry to be honoured until his arrival.

Derek joined the Falstaff space exposure rocket trials, where he was appointed quality controller for all firings.

To cover the Falstaff trials, Anne and the family joined him at Woomera village, for two and half years, before returning to the West Wight.

Derek presided as chief designer at BHC, and worked at Westland Aerospace, where he was known by the nickname Danger Mouse.

Among his projects was the in-service Wessex helicopters, A330 Airbus composite engine bypass casing and the SAAB 2000 engine nacelle design teams.

Retiring early in 1993, he and his wife Anne spent many years travelling, enjoying cruises.

Derek’s book, called Black and Wight Fireworks and released in September, 2018, was a first-hand a taste of daily life during his 15-year period at the High Down and Woomera rocket test sites.

Isle of Wight County Press: Derek's book, and the Black Arrow launch in Woomera, Australia.

His family said he was always the life and soul of the party, was game for a laugh, and loved sailing.

Derek leaves his wife, son and daughter.