Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Ludwig Bölkow 1912-2003

Born in Schwerin, in north-eastern Germany in 1912, Bölkow was the son of a foreman employed by Fokker, one of the leading aircraft constructors of that time.

Bölkow’s first job was with Heinkel, the aircraft company, before studying aero-engineering at the Technical University in Berlin. On graduation, in 1939, he joined the project office of Messerchmitt AG in Augsburg, where he served initially as a clerk, later as a group leader for high-speed aerodynamics, especially for the Messerchmitt ME-262 and its successors. In January 1943, he was appointed head of the Messerchmitt ME-109 development office in Vienna. A year later, Bölkow returned to the Messerschmitt project office, which had meanwhile moved to Oberammergau. There he set up a program for the development of the Messerschmitt MeP1101 jet fighter.
In 1948, he founded his own engineering office for construction and automation in Stuttgart where he developed innovative construction methods, large-sized automated machines and new construction machinery among other things. After sovereignty over its airspace was restored to Germany, Bölkow began to focus again on the design of defence missiles, airplanes and helicopters in 1955.
In 1968, Bölkow merged with Messerschmitt, and one year later they formed the air and space company Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm which was integrated into DASA, in 1989, before merging to form EADS in 1999.
The Bölkow group developed innovations in aeronautics, military systems, satellites and transport systems.
Bölkow was recognised as a visionary in the field of future energy systems as, for example, the solar hydrogen technology. In 1983, the Ludwig Bölkow Foundation was set up at his initiative. It deals with research in the fields of renewable energies, solar hydrogen technology, transport systems and environmental protection.

Alexander de Seversky 1894-1974

After acquiring an aeronautical engineering degree, Alexander Prokofieff de Seversky was commissioned a lieutenant in the Imperial Navy of Russia in 1915. On his first combat mission he lost his right leg. Less than a year later he was back in the air, flying 57 missions, and downing 13 German aircraft to become Russia's top Naval Ace.
In 1917 de Seversky came to the
USA, offering his services to the War Dept, making outstanding contributions to our production of the British-designed SE-5 fighter and serving as a test pilot. In 1921 he and General Billy Mitchell worked together staging the bombing tests that graphically demonstrated the vulnerability of battleships to airplanes. Then, following his invention of the in-flight refueling method, he worked with the Sperry Gyroscope Co, to produce a gyro-stabilized bombsight in 1923 that was acclaimed the world's best. He was commissioned a major in the USAAC, and founded Seversky Aircraft Corp in 1928.
In 1930 de Seversky again made a most important contribution to his new country's air efforts in the all-metal P-43 fighter, predecessor of the historic P-47 Thunderbolt. Many of its new concepts are universally accepted construction principles for today's aircraft. Capable of speeds over 300 mph, the P-43 gave long-range and high-altitude protection to US bombers. He also developed an advanced design amphibian in which he set world speed records 1933-35, and an all-metal monoplane that set speed records at the 1933-39 Nationals, as well as a transcontinental speed record in 1938.

The outbreak of WW2 found our air arsenal pitifully neglected. To bring the magnitude of this problem to public attention, de Seversky wrote his best-seller book, "Victory Through Airpower." Also made into a movie, it awoke people to the need for better airpower. For that, and for his counsel on the strategic use of air power, he was awarded the Medal of Merit by President Truman.

By then he had become world renown as an expert in the areas of airpower and defense. His Seversky Electroatom Corp of 1952 directed its efforts to defending the
USA against nuclear attack, and to extraction of radioactive particles from the air. Research in that area led to the discovery of the Ionacraft, an aircraft that derived lift and propulsion from ionic emissions. For serving as a special consultant to the Chiefs of Staff of the USAF, he received the Exceptional Service Medal in 1969

William (Bill) Powell Lear 1902 – 1978

William Powell Lear was born June 26, 1902, in Hannibal, Mo. He was an only child; his parents separated when he was 6. Lear came up with his own bluprint for success by the time he was 12.

"I resolved first to make enough money so I'd never be stopped from finishing anything," Lear said later. "Second, that to accumulate money in a hurry - and I was in a hurry - I'd have to invent something that people wanted, and third that if I ever was going to stand on my own feet, I'd have to leave home."

He ran away from home after graduating from the eighth grade. He lied about his age and joined the Navy but didn't like regimentation and got an early discharge.

In 1919, Lear quit a $40-a-week job to be a mechanic at Grant Park Airport in Chicago, servicing many of the first air-mail planes. He was rewarded with flying lessons in place of a paycheck. Lear then formed the first of a string of companies. He was president of Quincy Radio Laboratory in Quincy, Ill., from 1922 to 1924; president of Lear Radio Laboratory in Tulsa from 1924 to 1928; and part-owner of Radio Coil and Wire Co. and Galvin Manufacturing Co., both of Chicago, from 1926 to 1930. About this time, Lear developed the first car radio at Galvin, which was to become the Motorola Corp. Motorola successfully mass-produced the car radio.

In 1930, Lear took his profits and founded Lear Developments, which became Lear Inc. and later Lear Siegler Inc. The companies specialized in aerospace instruments and electronics.

Some have called Lear's 32 years as president and later chairman of the board his most creative time. In 1935, Lear invented the Lear-O-Scope, one of the first commercial radio compasses. He received the Frank M. Hawks Award for designing the Learmatic Navigator in 1940.

In 1950, President Harry Truman gave Lear the Collier Trophy for development of the F-5 autopilot, the first ever for jets. The city of Paris presented Lear its Great Silver Medal for his aid in developing the autopilot for the Caravelle jetliner in 1962. By 1962, his company, headquartered in Santa Monica, Calif., had 5,000 employees and plants in California, Germany, Michigan and Ohio. But Lear and company officials had a falling-out and that year Lear sold his interests for $14.3 million.

Lear had come up with the idea of building a small, fast and cheap business jet in 1959. Now, with 30 years of experience and cash in the bank, he had the money and freedom to go ahead with his newest dream. "When I designed the Learjet, I didn't design it because I wanted to make a jet aircraft but because I needed an airplane that would compete with the airlines and would be economical enough that I could afford to operate it."- Bill Lear, 1972.

Lear formed a company in Switzerland and began working on the design of the Learjet there. Then he surprised nearly everyone by deciding in 1962 to build the new Learjet in Wichita.

The city agreed to help finance Learjet Corp. and issued its first-ever industrial revenue bonds. Lear set up shop next to Wichita Mid-Continent Airport and began working on the first Learjet Model 23, a simple, sturdy seven-place business jet that would fly 500 mph.

On June 4, 1964, during a routine certification flight, the first Learjet crashed and burned in a cornfield after takeoff. The Federal Aviation Agency test pilot at the controls and the Learjet test pilot riding along weren't injured in the crash, believed to have been caused by human error.

The good news was that the $500,000 insurance policy on the plane enabled the company to make its payroll and gave it financial breathing room. Another Learjet was completed and certified by the FAA just nine months after the crash.

Lear had an odd sense of humor and willingness to try the extraordinary; he once imported a team of midgets from Californa to work inside the slender fuselages of the first Learjets built in Wichita. But by late 1966, hard work and devoted employees weren't enough. Learjet was on the verge of bankruptcy, partly because Lear had branched out too fast into avionics and stereo sets and plastic products.

The company had built 146 Learjets before Lear sold it to the Denver- based Gates Rubber Co. on April 10, 1967. Although Learjet was about $13 million in debt at the time of the sale, Lear eventually made about $18 million from the sale.

In 1968, Lear bought the old Stead Air Force Base at Reno, Nev., for $1.3 million and established Lear Motors Corp. and LearAvia Corp. There Lear worked on a low-pollution engine that could run on steam, hoping to make the internal combustion engine obsolete. The project fizzled.

Returning to aviation, he designed the Learstar 600, a 12-place business jet. Canadair bought the manufacturing rights and renamed it the Challenger. Lear was working on the Model 2100 Learfan, a radical seven-passenger plane with two turboprop engines powering a propeller on the tail, when he died of leukemia May 14, 1978.

Lear was posthumously inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton, Ohio, on July 22, 1978.