Attention NAE Members
Starting June 30, 2023, login credentials have changed for improved security. For technical assistance, please contact us at 866-291-3932 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For all other inquiries, please contact our Membership Office at 202-334-2198 or NAEMember@nae.edu.
Click here to login if you're an NAE Member
Recover Your Account Information
This is the first 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.
BY ADOLF BUSEMANN
Antonio Ferri, Vincent Astor Professor of Aerospace Sciences at New York University, President of General Applied Science Laboratories Inc., and Senior Vice-President of Marquardt Corporation, died on December 28, 1975, of a heart attack at his home on Long Island at the age of sixty-three. His death means a great loss to the National Academy of Engineering and to the national and international societies of aerospace engineering in which he was a very active and knowledgeable member throughout his forty years of professional life.
Dr. Ferri was born on April 5, 1912, in Norcia, Italy, and, during his youth, Italy was one of the most successful participants on the Schneider Cup Races for seaplanes, being the first country to win the cup a second and also a third time. Therefore, his choice to study electrical engineering (Ph.D., 1934) and also aeronautical engineering (Ph.D., 1936) at the University of Rome was quite appropriate for a student of his interests. But, when Great Britain became the first country to win the cup a fourth time in 1929 and Italy's new airplane for the last race in 1931 could not participate because of engine troubles, the Italian Air Ministry decided to build a new research center in Guidonia near Rome. Dr. Ferri received an appointment at the center when it was finished in 1935.
For the center's opening event, the Royal Academy of Italy selected "High Speed Flight" as the subject of its Fifth Annual Volta Congress in Rome. Participants included famous scientists such as L. Prandtl, Theodore von Karman, and G. I. Taylor, as well as two organizers of the Schneider Cup competition from England. The purpose of the Congress was to discuss the past experience of and future expectations for subsonic and supersonic flight.
Such an exposure to the latest ideas of the experts, as well as having the opportunity to test their reality and limitations on the most advanced wind tunnels, is certainly the fastest way to make a new engineer able to stand on his own feet in this new field of applications. In 1937 Dr. Ferri became the Head of the Supersonic Wind Tunnel of Guidonia.
During World War II high-speed flight got even a greater priority, and he was charged with building new facilities for investigations. He had to destroy them when, in 1943, Italy wanted to surrender to the victorious Western Allies, but Germany tried to prevent it. However, with the fall of Rome in 1944 the Allies succeeded, and the Office of Strategic Services of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (now a part of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) offered him a chance to continue his research at the Langley Research Center, near Hampton, Virginia. His earlier and new experience was very much appreciated, and in 1949 he advanced to the Head of the Gasdynamics Branch. He was also allowed to bring his wife, the former Renata Mola, and his children to Hampton, and his admittance to U.S. citizenship was legally complete in June 1952.
In addition to his research publications for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, Dr. Ferri wrote a well-known book, Elements of Supersonic Aerodynamics, which was published by the Macmillan Company, New York, in 1949. About that time the universities realized that they needed fresh blood in their aeronautics departments and new wind tunnels for the laboratories, and in 1951 Ferri joined the faculty of the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn as Professor for Aerodynamics. He became in 1954 the Director of their Aerospace Institute, and in 1957 he became Head of their Department of Aerospace Engineering and Applied Sciences. He was also President of the General Applied Sciences Laboratories, Inc., which was founded with Professor Theodore von Karman in 1956. In 1964 Dr. Ferri joined the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, School of Engineering Sciences, of the New York University.
The change from a government employee to a university professor in a city like New York gave Dr. Ferri plenty of opportunities to become a consultant for the private airplane industry and to realize their problems caused by the advancement of flight. Besides that, he was also a consultant for the Air Force and other government agencies.
The second half of Dr. Ferri's professional career became even more interesting and diversified by the addition of space flight and of hypersonic aerodynamics, overlapping at the reentry maneuvers of space vehicles into the atmosphere. A new element at such extremely high velocities is the surface heating of the vehicle by the air. At smaller hypersonic velocities an airbreathing jet propulsion is very advantageous if the combustion can be accomplished at supersonic speeds; but a normal shock ahead of the entrance of the duct can change the entrance speed from supersonic to subsonic.
Dr. Ferri invented an air inlet to recover automatically from such shocks. He also helped solve the supersonic combustion problems for the jet. Even the surface heating by the air at speeds up to satellite speeds gave him plenty of ideas like separating the air from the surface by a jet or by a heat shield and how to minimize the cooling costs.
In his last years, Dr. Ferri was also working on the commercial supersonic airplanes and the changes they need in order to reduce the noise level and the air pollution in the upper atmosphere, and he was convinced that the second generation of the SST will be able to comply better with reasonable limits on these two ecological items.
Dr. Ferri, with his excellent combination of theoretical and experimental talents to solve the most difficult problems in engineering, was also an admirable teacher and a wonderful demonstrator of the facts in the laboratory, as well as an experienced leader of a research team on new problems. Though he earlier had been a committee member for the National Academy of Sciences, he was elected as a Member of the National Academy of Engineering in 1967 and became a great help in solving acute problems in several committees of purely technical or even sociotechnical character. He was also honored by many prizes and awards of national or international societies, beginning with the Premio dell' Accademia d'Italia (for science) (1938); the Scientific Achievement Award (1954); the Italian Historical Society Award of America (1959); the Historical Society Award of America (1965); and the Akroyd Stuart Prize from the Royal Aeronautical Society (1965). He further received in 1966 the Department of the Air Force Commendation for Meritorious Civilian Service in recognition of his contributions to the U.S. Air Force as a member of the Scientific Advisory Board. In 1970 he received the Department of the Air Force Office of Aerospace Research Award for outstanding contributions to research. In 1975 he received the Sylvanus Albert Reed Award from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
Antonio Ferri will long be remembered by his friends, associates, and students as one who had what it takes to make a new branch of engineering blossom and grow.