Memorial Tributes: Volume 27
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  • VERNE L. LYNN (1930-2020)



    VERNE LAURISTAN LYNN, a prominent researcher and leader of research and development for national security, died on May 23, 2020, at age 89.

    Larry was born in Laurelhurst, Washington, on Sept. 5, 1930, to parents Eldin and Irma Lynn. He graduated from Tufts University in 1951 with a bachelor’s degree in physics. Following graduation, he served as an officer on a Navy ship from 1951 to 1953.

    In 1953 he began his civilian career at the recently formed Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory as a member of the technical staff. He had a multifaceted career for 26 years at the Lincoln Laboratory as an individual researcher, a group leader, and, for seven years, the associate head of a 300-staff division working on radar technology, tactical battlefield technology, and air traffic control systems.

    I first met Larry in 1963 as he gave a lecture on bouncing radar signals off the moon using a radar frequency in the millimeter-wave band, 35GHz. This was a startling accomplishment for a radar at this extremely high frequency. His experiment was aided by a 28-foot-diameter parabolic antenna whose high-accuracy surface was created by spinning a mold containing a viscous plastic that molded itself to an accurate paraboloid. The very narrow beam enabled the creation of high-resolution maps of the moon’s surface. (See photos.)

    I realized he was a first-class technical innovator, and I was pleased to join him a few years later on a major radar project that led us to the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

    The Lincoln Laboratory operates a very capable missile defense/offense test site at the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, located 4,300 miles from the coast of California. Larry served as a radar engineer there during the early 1960s and returned to lead an exciting new radar project in 1967 featuring a very wideband radar signal. I was his deputy on this challenging project. A year later Larry was promoted to manager of the overall site, assuming leadership of about 300 employees, and I continued the deployment of this wide-band radar, which served as the prototype of many missile defense and space surveillance radars.

    The Kwajalein responsibility illustrated Larry’s remarkable dedication to organization and his tireless energy in managing all aspects of this technical team and their families on a remote atoll in the Pacific. He was an accomplished “people person” as well as a gifted technical leader, and many on the team said they would follow him anywhere.

    In 1979 Larry left the Lincoln Laboratory to serve in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and lead the office that managed R&D in Defensive Systems for the secretary. His duties included technology developments in missile defense, air defense, and advanced space systems.

    In 1982 Larry was appointed deputy director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and assumed a leadership role in this world-renowned technology development agency.

    In 1985 Larry was the co-founder of the Atlantic Aerospace Electronics Company and served as vice president and chief operating officer until 1993, when he was called back to the Department of Defense to serve as deputy undersecretary of defense for advanced technology.

    In 1995 President Clinton appointed him director of DARPA, and Larry returned to this agency, which has given us the internet, GPS, microcircuits, and many other military and civilian technologies. Among his many accomplishments was the establishment of an organization to foster the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to support a wide range of military activities.

    In 1998 Larry returned to private life but remained firmly attached to issues in national security by serving as a consultant to a wide variety of Department of Defense agencies. He served on the Army Science Board and the Threat Reduction Advisory Council. He also served as an international advisor to the Defense Science and Technology Agency of Singapore.

    Larry served as a member of the Defense Science Board (DSB) for more than 14 years. His understanding of radar technology, tactical systems, surveillance systems, and weapon system engineering made him a highly sought-after member for DSB task forces. He chaired or co-chaired six task forces and participated in 11 others. He led the Task Force on the Defense Biological and Security Program and co-chaired the Task Force on Lessons Learned During Operations DESERT STORM and DESERT SHIELD.

    Larry authored more than 40 technical publications on radar, tactical, and strategic surveillance systems and weapon systems. He was elected an IEEE fellow in 1999 “for leadership in development and application of military radar surveillance technology and processing.”

    He received many awards for his accomplishments over the years:

    •      Secretary of Defense Meritorious Civilian Service Medal, 1986
    •      Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service, 1995
    •      Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service, 1997
    •      Singapore Defense Technology Distinguished Fellowship, 2002
    •      Secretary of Defense Eugene C. Fubini Award and Medal, 2013

    He received the prestigious Fubini Award (2013), which was instituted by the Secretary of Defense to recognize outstanding and continuous contributions by a civilian advisor to the department. It was Larry’s proudest award.

    Larry was a valued colleague and friend to many leaders in national security. The current Secretary of the Air Force, the Honorable Frank Kendall, cited his advice over the years and called him his “role model.” Former DARPA director and former DSB chair, Craig Fields (NAE 2022), cited Larry’s abilities in civilized and productive dialogs, which made him a pleasure to deal with.

    DARPA colleague, David Whelan (NAE 2007), credits Larry with leading the concept of advanced technology demonstrations wherein a new technology concept was rapidly handed off to the war-fighter’s hands for evaluation. He also credits Larry with introducing the new technology of unmanned air vehicles to the services.

    Colleague Kent Kresa (NAE 1997), former CEO of Northrop Grumman Corporation, adds: “Larry was a great team leader as well as great fun enjoying south sea island living. The bonds he created with us all carried through his career until the day of his passing.”

    I was close to Larry throughout major elements of his outstanding career, and I witnessed all of these features of Larry Lynn, which made him a good friend, a mentor, and a role model for many people and enabled him to smoothly accomplish many advances in national security.

    Larry is survived by his beloved wife of 32 years Shirley (Pieczynski) Lynn, his son Stuart (Aimee Weeks), and his daughter Allison Lynn. He has two stepsons and seven grandchildren. Larry and Shirley shared a common interest in travel and outdoor activities, which took them to many delightful places around the world. He shared his love of these outdoor adventures with his grandchildren on the many trips they took together.

    Larry clearly relished his years in the national security arena and the many lasting friendships he forged along the way. He would be glad to hear the accolade from our key software engineer at Kwajalein: “The best leader I ever had.”