Memorial Tributes: Volume 27
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  • DONALD C. BERKEY (1919-2019)



    DONALD CLAYTON BERKEY, retired vice president and general manager, Energy, Systems and Technology Division, General Electric (GE), died Aug. 17, 2019, at age 99.

    Don was born on Dec. 14, 1919, in Somerset, Pennsylvania, to Levi Clayton and Bertha Edna (Manges) Berkey. He received a B.S. (1942) and an M.S. (1943) in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The day after graduation he married Doris Lillian MacGillivray. He went to work for GE Gas Turbine Division, where he was a cooperative engineering student throughout his college years.

    He started in the combustion research laboratory, where he contributed to the TG180, later designated as the J35, which was the United States’ first axial flow compressor jet engine. This engine marked the leading edge of the modern jet engine, that is, compressor, combustion, and high-pressure turbine. In 1950 he became manager of GE Power Plant Design & Combustion. In 1954 he moved to Aircraft Engines and headed the preliminary design of small aircraft engines. He managed design engineering for the T58 engine, culminating in successful testing in 1956, a landmark for high-performance helicopter propulsion. Don continued his pioneering work in the large jet engine department developing supersonic jet engines, including managing the J93 engine through its flight qualification test and the J79 engine to reliable Mach 2 flight status.

    As part of GE’s selection process, competitive preliminary design teams competed to define the next engine concept. From the U.S. Air Force requirements for a large capacity transport, GE established three teams to define a new high-bypass engine. Don headed the preliminary design team that proposed and received the go-ahead for the architecture of the first high-bypass engine — the TF39 with an unprecedented 8:1 bypass ratio. Don not only headed the competitive design team, but was also in charge of the demonstrator engine effort and the project that qualified the engine for flight.

    Don then became manager of advanced strategic technical plans development at Advanced Engines Engineering in GE’s facility in Lynn, Massachusetts. He directed the design of the T700, a unique axial centrifugal compressor engine. He led the development of the winning proposal for the J101, which became the F404 powering the Navy F18 fighter. Don left Advanced Engines Engineering in 1975 to become vice president and general manager of the Energy Systems & Technology Division ― Power Generation Group, where his work focused on advancing technologies for solar energy, coal, and nuclear power.

    Throughout his career, Don left his mark as a highly creative engineer and very competent business executive. His engineering prowess alone on the TF39 high-bypass engine configuration set the stage for the high-bypass fans of modern aviation products. He retired as a vice president of GE in 1982.

    His publications include “Design Features of a 5000-HP Gas Turbine”1 and “Combustion System for Burning Bunker ‘C’ Oil in a Gas Turbine.”2 He had six patents from 1951 to 1970, all relating to component and system designs for gas turbine engines.

    He was active as a fellow in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). In the Society of Automotive Engineers, he was a fellow and chairman of the Technical Board, Board of Directors, and the Aerospace Council. He was a member of the American Helicopter Society and served on the Board of Directors of the Coordinating Research Council for the Aircraft Industries Association of America.

    In 1965 he was awarded the ASME/Gas Turbine Power Division Testimonial in Recognition of Advancement in the Art of Gas Turbines. In 1968 he was a co-winner of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Goddard Memorial Award for “an outstanding contribution to aircraft propulsion through development of the high-bypass-ratio turbofan engine.” In 1979 Don was elected to membership in the National Academy of Engineering, and in 1985 he was inducted into the GE Propulsion Hall of Fame.

    Don and his wife Doris established a professorship in the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT. In Don’s words, “I feel that MIT did a great thing for me. I appreciate the education I got there. I found that when I left the Institute and began to work in industry, I had a great background and was very proud of my education. We made this gift because it is important to give back.”

    Don and Doris enjoyed their retirement, alternating time in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and in Naples, Florida. They enjoyed golfing, boating, and competitive duplicate bridge. They raised three sons: Donald K., John C., and Neil S. On Aug. 8, 2017, Doris preceded Don in death. They were married for 74 years.

    1Buckland BO, Berkey DC. 1952. Design features of a 5000-hp gas turbine. Transactions of the ASME 74(5):655-60.
    2Buckland BO, Berkey DC. 1948. Combustion system for burning bunker ‘C’ oil in a gas turbine. ASME Pre, 48-A-109.