Memorial Tributes: Volume 26
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  • ROBERT M. DRAKE JR. (1920-2020)



    ROBERT M. DRAKE JR. passed away February 20, 2020, at his home in Lexington, Kentucky, with his family around him. He was 99 years old, born December 13, 1920, in Eagle Cliff, Georgia.

    His early schooling was in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Lexington. After completing high school, he attended the University of Kentucky College of Engineering and obtained a BS in mechanical engineering in 1942. He joined the US Army Air Corps and was stationed at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio. Subsequently he enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley and obtained his MS in 1946 in mechanical engineering. He resigned from the Army Air Corps in 1947 and returned to UC Berkeley, where he received his PhD in mechanical engineering in 1950 and then joined the faculty of the College of Engineering.

    While at Wright Field he had met E.R.G. Eckert (NAE 1970), a German engineer brought there as part of Operation Paperclip. The two men collaborated to produce the landmark textbook, Introduction to the Transfer of Heat and Mass (McGraw-Hill, 1950)—probably the first to formalize the subject for teaching undergraduates in American universities. It remains a classic in the field and has been reissued in several editions.

    In 1954 Drake left Berkeley for General Electric Aircraft Gas Turbine Division in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he was an engine design specialist, focusing on hot section turbine design for gas turbine engines. Three years later he was hired as a faculty member in the Mechanical Engineering Department at Princeton University. He went on to become chair of the department and of the faculty committee that created Princeton’s Computing Center.

    He left Princeton in 1963 to serve as senior staff consultant with the Arthur D. Little Company. A year later, he was called to serve his alma mater, UK Lexington, where he joined the faculty of the Mechanical Engineering Department. In 1965 he was appointed chair of the department and a year later dean of the College of Engineering, a position he held until 1971. During his tenure, the college recruited some of the brightest and most highly accomplished faculty, established doctoral programs in several departments, and greatly expanded laboratory facilities for faculty to conduct cutting-edge research. He also led the development of guidelines for the recruitment, evaluation, and promotion of faculty. All of these measures substantially elevated the stature of the University of Kentucky.

    In 1971 he again left academia and joined Combustion Engineering Inc. as corporate vice president of research and development. He returned briefly to the University of Kentucky in 1975 before becoming corporate vice president of technology at Studebaker-Worthington in New York. In 1981 he cofounded Projection Inc. and served as its chief executive officer; the company was subsequently acquired by Hughes Aircraft. During his career he cofounded four other high-tech companies.

    He was a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and served on technical committees for both. He was a registered professional engineer in the states of California and Kentucky. And he was named by the Agency for International Development to the steering committee for creation of the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur (the author of this tribute is a product of that institution).

    Bob Drake was a dynamic combination of excellent scientist, outstanding teacher and mentor, visionary academic and corporate leader, and entrepreneur. He made seminal contributions in fluid mechanics and heat transfer—his work on high-speed rarefied gas dynamics, heat transfer in high-speed flows, and heat transfer to elliptical cylinders at transitional Knudsen numbers is now classic. He authored or coauthored more than 100 technical papers and reports as well as three books.

    Among his honors for his contributions to the engineering enterprise, he was elected a fellow of the American Society of Professional Engineers in 1973, and a year later elected to the National Academy of Engineering. In 1975 he was elected to UK’s Hall of Distinguished Alumni, and in 1995 inducted into the UK College of Engineering Hall of Distinction.

    He was an avid golfer and enjoyed woodworking. His first wife, Jane M. Drake, predeceased him, as did their daughter Diane E. Drake. He is survived by his wife Georgia M. Martin and children Kevin R. Drake (Cincinnati), Janet Martin Snapp (Lakewood, Florida), and Thomas G. Martin Jr. (Brevard, North Carolina); and 8 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.