Memorial Tributes Volume 3
Membership Directory
PublisherNational Academies Press
ReleasedFebruary 5, 2020
Memorial Tributes: National Academy of Engineering, Volume 3

This is the third volume in the series of Memorial Tributes compiled by the National Academy of Engineering as a personal remembrance of the lives and outstanding achievements of its members and international members. These volumes are intended to stand as an enduring record of the many contributions of engineers and engineering to the benefit of humankind. In most cases, the authors of the tributes are contemporaries or colleagues who had personal knowledge of the interests and the engineering accomplishments of the deceased.

This is the third volume in the series of Memorial Tributes compiled by the National Academy of Engineering as a personal remembrance of the lives and outstanding achievements of its members and international members. These volumes are intended to stand as an enduring record of the many contributions of engineers and engineering to the benefit of humankind. In most cases, the authors of the tributes are contemporaries or colleagues who had personal knowledge of the interests and the engineering accomplishments of the deceased.

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    Raymond L. Bisplinghoff, an internationally distinguished aeronautical engineer, who was renowned for his teaching, research, engineering writing, and institutional leadership in universities, government, and industry, died on March 5, 1985, of cancer. Before his death, the last of his many distinguished posts was director and senior vice-president of research for Tyco Laboratories. Raymond Bisplinghoff's personal integrity, his professional competence, energy, and thoroughness, and his sense of the important were qualities on which he built his life. He also imbued many students, colleagues, family, and friends with these same qualities.

    Highlights from his numerous and varied accomplishments would certainly include Raymond's research, professional papers, and textbooks, which were and are preeminent in the fields of aeroelasticity, structures, and structural dynamics; his academic administrative work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Missouri at Rolla; his career-long contribution to the U.S. military services, first as an officer in World War II and later as an adviser and leader of research programs; and his executive service at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the 1960s and the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the 1970s.

    The son of a flour mill proprietor, Raymond Bisplinghoff was born on February 7, 1917, in Hamilton, Ohio, where he lived with his parents through his high school years. His stay at the University of Cincinnati, where he spent seven years earning an aeronautical engineering degree and a master's degree in physics and serving as a graduate research fellow in X-ray defraction, resulted in the beginning of a practical engineer's life for Bisplinghoff. For it was during this period that he also worked in a student cooperative program for two and one-half years at Aeronca Aircraft Corporation investigating the stress analysis, design, aerodynamics, and flight testing of aircraft.

    The onset of World War II interrupted Bisplinghoff's pursuit of a Ph.D. in physics at the University of Cincinnati. He served a short stint at the U.S. Army Air Corps' Wright Field working on aircraft flutter and engine vibration. This assignment was followed by three years of service as a naval officer assigned to the Bureau of Aeronautics in Washington, D.C.

    Raymond Bisplinghoff's aeronautical engineering experience was rapidly broadened during these three years with the navy. He is remembered even today by the old-timers in the aircraft industry who went to him often to exchange views on problems of aircraft structures, loads, and dynamics. During this same period of wartime service, Ray married Ruth Doherty of Cincinnati. They later had two sons, Ross and Ron.

    Because teaching was one of his favorite activities, he was delighted when, following World War II, MIT gave him an appointment as an assistant professor in aeronautical engineering. He repaid this honor with sixteen years of distinguished service: two years as an assistant professor, four as an associate professor, and ten as a full professor. Ray's real contribution during his MIT stay, however, was the renewed life and vitality given to the subject of aeronautical engineering through his leadership in teaching, research, and writing and departmental management. It was also in this period that Bisplinghoff was principal coauthor (with his four students—later professors and colleagues—Holt Ashley, Robert L. Halfman, James W. Mar, and Theodore H. H. Pian) of three exceptional textbooks: Aeroelasticity (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1955); Principles of Aeroelasticity (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1961); and Statics of Deformable Solids (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1965).

    While at MIT, Bisplinghoff also showed that he did not like unfinished tasks. He took a leave of absence to finish his doctoral studies and received his Ph.D. from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in 1957.

    Bisplinghoff authored and coauthored many research papers and established himself as a preeminent expert in the fields of aircraft structures and structural dynamics. Flutter and dynamic response, especially those resulting from the gust loading of aircraft wings, were intriguing subjects during the 1950s. Bisplinghoff contributed substantially to the solution of these and other vexing problems faced by aircraft designers. During this period, he was a frequent consultant to the aircraft industry.

    Certainly one of Bisplinghoff's greatest gifts to the field of aeronautics and later to the aerospace profession was his role in the education of numerous students who went on to leadership posts in industry, government, and other universities. Ray was more than their teacher, and they went on to be more than his students, becoming colleagues, lifelong friends, and, not surprisingly, his great admirers. He helped some of them in their business connections and one in particular, Lawrence Levy, with the foundation of Allied Research Associates. With one of his colleagues, H. Guyford Stever, Bisplinghoff conducted an extensive three-year research program on the effects of nuclear blasts on flying aircraft; their studies included participation in the Eniwetok Atoll bomb tests in 1951 and 1952.

    In 1962 Ray Bisplinghoff broadened his engineering interests and increased his administrative responsibilities by taking a leave of absence from MIT for four years to serve as an assistant administrator of NASA. While at NASA, he led the agency's program in advanced research and technology and held a post that was key to the progress of aerospace engineering. Later, Ray became a special assistant to NASA administrator James Webb. Although he enjoyed these four years and contributed mightily to NASA's achievements, the attraction of MIT continued, and he returned to succeed Charles Stark Draper as head of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

    In these early stages of the U.S. space program, MIT's ''Course Sixteen'' (aeronautical engineering department) was a busy place, particularly for guidance and control, a field that played an important role in developing the equipment for the Apollo moon landing project. Bisplinghoff's close ties to NASA made his leadership of the department very effective. He was personally involved in the planning efforts for many of the Apollo missions (nos. 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12). His contributions thus spanned the period that saw flights circling the moon to those that successfully landed on it. Bisplinghoff's last two years at MIT, from 1968 to 1970, were spent as dean of the School of Engineering. He subsequently left again for government service in Washington.

    As deputy director of NSF from 1970 to 1974, Ray Bisplinghoff made outstanding contributions to the foundation's programs. At that time, NSF was under pressure from both the White House and Congress to strengthen its contribution to applied science and engineering. The agency was then and still is principally a sponsor of basic scientific research, but in the late 1960s and early 1970s some government leaders were beginning to recognize the early signs of a loss in the competitive strength of U.S. industries vis-à-vis their foreign counterparts. In these confusing times, NSF was asked to strengthen engineering research and its application of newly emerging science to useful technologies.

    As deputy director of NSF, Ray served with director William McElroy and later with Ray's former MIT colleague Guy Stever. In this position, he took the lead in strengthening the NSF Division of Engineering (now the Directorate for Engineering) and in establishing the RANN (Research Applied to National Needs) program. Many of the most effective of our current governmental programs to increase U.S. international competitiveness, such as the cooperative industry-academic research centers, grew out of the ideas and experiments of those days.

    Another major package of applied research begun at that time was the solar and renewable energy program. NSF carried the program for several years, expanding its budget from $1 million to $50 million annually. It was later transferred to the Energy Research and Development Agency (now the Department of Energy).

    In 1974 Bisplinghoff was again attracted to a top academic administrative post, the chancellorship of the University of Missouri, Rolla campus. Then, in 1977 Bisplinghoff became director and vice-president for research at Tyco Laboratories. In this position, he directed the varied research and development efforts of the laboratories, one of which was a large program in solar energy materials, an outgrowth of the work he had led at NSF. While working at Tyco, he still found time to teach a winter course in aeroelasticity at the University of Florida. Bisplinghoff retired from this post the year he died.

    As he traveled along the fruitful path of his half century in engineering, Ray undertook myriad part-time jobs. One of the most significant was as chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board of the U.S. Air Force from 1979 to 1982. Yet that position was only representative of many such tasks for numerous government departments and universities.

    Everywhere he served, he was richly honored. He received the Exceptional Civilian Service Medal from the U.S. Air Force, the Distinguished Service Award from NSF, the Extraordinary Service Medal from the Federal Aviation Administration, the Distinguished Service Medal from NASA, and an honorary doctorate from the University of Cincinnati. He also received numerous medals and awards for his professional engineering work, including the Godfrey L. Cabot and the Sylvanus Reed awards.

    He was frequently invited to prepare distinguished addresses, including the Wright Brothers Lecture and the Theodore von Karman Lecture. In addition to membership in the National Academy of Engineering since 1965, Bisplinghoff was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was also an honorary fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society.

    Most of all, Ray will be remembered by his many friends and colleagues for his thorough, professional engineering approach to his many jobs, a practice in which he had no superior.

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