Memorial Tributes: National Academy of Engineering, Volume 17
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  • DONALD J. JORDAN 1916–2008


    DONALD J. JORDAN, a pioneer in the development of jet engines in the US aircraft industry and former engineering manager at Pratt & Whitney, died November 10, 2008, at Holyoke Medical Center in Holyoke, Massachusetts.

    Born in New York City on January 1, 1916, Don graduated from New York University in 1937 with a BS degree with honors in aeronautical engineering. After graduation he went to work for Chance Vought Aircraft, progressing from apprentice engineer to chief powerplant engineer, responsible for the design and development of powerplant installation of a number of aircraft.

    In this position he played a major role in the process of selecting the engine for the Vought F4U (Corsair) Navy fighter during World War II, the P&W R2800. The Corsair was one of the outstanding US aircraft in the war in the Pacific. He was also a member of the Chance Vought team for the first Navy jet-powered fighter. Don had by then achieved recognition as an outstanding engineer, with excellent technical capability, in the aviation industry, and when Chance Vought left Connecticut and moved to Texas he was welcomed at Pratt & Whitney, entering into the deep engagement with the design and development of the jet engine that was a hallmark contribution of his career.

    He soon became a development engineer with senior management responsibility for the development of the J57, a turbojet engine used in a number of applications including the B-52, the U-2, and the F-100 Super Sabre; over 21,000 were built. The commercial version of the engine was the JT3C, the engine that powered the Boeing 707, the first American jet transport, which was then developed into the JT3D low bypass ratio turbofan. The J57 was also the forerunner to the J75, the engine for the F-106.

    A commercial version was developed into the FT4 engine for power generation. During the early 1960s, Don played a critical role in getting the JT8D turbofan engine adopted for the Boeing 727. The center engine for the aircraft had a long S-duct, and Don’s installation experience from Vought was key in not only giving him the confidence to support this configuration but also making sure that it would not pose a problem. Don rose rapidly through the company, becoming an assistant chief engineer in 1957, chief engineer, Advanced Gas Turbine Engines in 1967, and engineering manager in 1969 with responsibility for the commercial engineering programs.

    Through the 1960s he was part of the senior engineering executive team involved in the process of selecting Pratt & Whitney’s new engines to design and develop for both military and commercial aircraft. He was directly involved in the design and development of the JT9D turbofan engine, a high bypass ratio engine that powered the first wide-body “jumbo jet,” the Boeing 747.

    In 1974 he became engineering manager of the Power Systems Division of United Technologies Corporation, in charge of the design and development for the FT50 industrial gas turbine. What one of the authors (TGS), who was a colleague at Pratt & Whitney, remembers most about Don Jordan was his love of tackling major technical problems, and his ability to generate fresh ideas on how to solve them. An example was the encounter with “backbone bending” of the engine, which created variations in clearances and serious problems for the engine, early in the JT9D installation on the 747.

    Don played a key role in the design of a backbone stiffening structure between the engine mounts in the nacelle to overcome this problem. Don was a strong force behind Pratt & Whitney’s development of high-strength, high-temperature metal material for use in turbine blades and vanes. The work that he supported led to directionally solidified material for turbines and then to single crystal blades, making it possible to achieve higher turbine operating gas temperatures, reduce the cooling air requirement, and thus improve fuel consumption efficiency.

    He was a contributor to many committees, including a NASA subcommittee on internal flow, the National Research Council Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board, NASA advisory committees for airbreathing propulsion and advanced supersonic technology, and the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board. He holds seven patents related to different gas turbine engine components including thrust reversers, variable area nozzles, and coolant injection systems.

    After his retirement from United Technologies Corporation, Don was a consultant to the aircraft industry and an active participant, for ten years as a senior lecturer at MIT, in the teaching of undergraduate and graduate subjects in principles of gas turbine engines. The view held by students and faculty was that the professors lectured to the students on how the engine components were supposed to perform and then Don would show the students what actually happened.

    He did this through sharing his knowledge about gas turbine technology, with reference to parts whose critical features he would evaluate, and with incisive diagrams that made complex engine layouts intelligible to undergraduates. One of us (EMG) cotaught two subjects with him for several years and remembers not only learning a great deal from classes that Don led, but also feeling envious of the attention students paid and their subsequent end-of-term written reviews of the instructors.

    In retirement he enjoyed activities with his wife, Ruby (Brown), children, and grandchildren. His interests included singing with the Glastonbury (CT) Chorus, tennis, and sailing. In connection with the last of these, he developed a storm survival device for seagoing sailing yachts and fishing boats that is used in many parts of the world.

    He was predeceased by his first wife, Anne Willcox Jordan.He is survived by Ruby; daughter Lucy Jordan, of Utah; three sons and daughters-in-law—Donald and Jennifer Jordan of Massachusetts, Matthew Jordan and Kathy Holland of North Carolina, and Peter and Susan Jordan of Massachusetts; nine grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

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