J. C. Hunsaker Award in Aeronautical Engineering

2020 J.C. Hunsaker Award Acceptance Remarks

Mr. Alan C. Brown
2020 J. C. Hunsaker Award in Aeronautical Engineering Winner
Acceptance Remarks

It is a very great honor to receive the J. C. Hunsaker Award. My first reaction is to note that I worked at Lockheed with a very talented, hard-working group of engineers, and so have to comment that one has to be lucky as well as reasonably competent to have been chosen for this award.

The luck came in several forms. Lockheed was working on a new program in the Skunk Works, known as Have Blue. This was a very low observable research airplane headed up by Dick Scherrer and  Leo Celniker. I had worked for Leo back in the sixties in advanced design at Lockheed in charge of propulsion integration for new aircraft, and Leo asked me to come over and try to come up with a propulsion system that would have the required low radar cross-section and still operate efficiently. The Skunk Works propulsion group had not been able to meet requirements – they were looking at SR-71 and D-21 variants – and Leo wanted a fresh look. He figured it would take me about six weeks – in fact I stayed at the Skunk Works for fourteen years!

The next item of luck was good for me and bad for Dick Scherrer. Dick suffered a stroke and was sidelined for over a year, and I had to take his place on the design team as the integrator of aircraft design with low observability.

The third item of luck came after we had won the low observable competition with Northrop, at which point the U.S. Air Force wanted to make a military airplane based on the new technology, which became the F-117A fighter (really, attack) aircraft. Colonel Jack Twigg wanted to be sure that the chief engineer was not the typical aerodynamics or structural person, but the person who had the most knowledge of integrating stealth into the aircraft design, and so insisted to Lockheed that I should be put in charge of the airplane design. Lockheed, in the form of Ben Rich, then head of the Skunk Works, agreed, and so I became chief engineer for the airplane.

I was fortunate to have two very experienced assistant project engineers in Bill Taylor (systems) and Ed Baldwin (structural design) assigned to the program, both of whom had long Skunk Works experience, and so we were able to produce an airplane in two and a half years from receipt of go-ahead, which was essentially invisible to radar and infra-red detection.

The fourth item which demonstrated the aircraft very well was the Gulf War in 1991. Here the F-117A showed its capability as an attack bomber, essentially for all the world to see, which wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

So, in conclusion, I thank the National Academy for this award, which I regard as a great honor.