Memorial Tributes: Volume 27
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  • MEYER J. BENZAKEIN (1938-2023)
    MEYER J. BENZAKEIN

     

    BY ERIC H. DUCHARME

    MEYER JACQUES BENZAKEIN, a giant in the aviation propulsion world who led the development of game-changing sustainable technologies and jet engines, passed away on Feb. 17, 2023, at age 84.

    Mike’s early years laid the foundation for a career filled with enduring international impact on the world of aviation propulsion. Born in Alexandria, Egypt, on Feb. 23, 1938, he was educated in Switzerland and in the United States and was fluent in five languages. Mike’s engaging manner, technical insight, and multicultural fluency helped build successful international partnerships, including CFM International (a joint venture between GE Aviation and Safran Aero Engines), as well as industry-leading jet engine programs, such as the CFM56 and the GE90.

    His insight toward, and tenacity to deliver on, what would become the next leaps in innovative propulsion technologies made him a highly respected and sought-after leader across the aviation industry. He built trusted partnerships across the U.S. government (e.g., NASA, Department of Defense, Federal Aviation Administration, Environmental Protection Agency), the world’s major aviation companies (e.g., Boeing, Airbus, Lockheed Martin, and Northrup-Grumman), and the world’s technologically trendsetting airlines.

    Mike was the only child of Solomon and Rosette (née Belilos) Benzakein. His father was an ophthalmologist, educated at the University of Paris and the Rothchild Eye Institute. Because he was the eye doctor to the American ambassador, his family was provided immigration visas to the United States. Their move from Egypt was prompted by the political unrest and antisemitism of those times.

    Mike earned his Dipl. Ing. from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich in 1960, his M.S. in mechanical engineering from Columbia University in New York in 1962, and his Ph.D. in engineering mechanics from Wayne State University in Detroit in 1967. His doctoral thesis was on “An investigation of 3D compressible turbulent boundary layers.” It was at Wayne State that he met the love of his life, Beverly Smith, and they were married in 1966.

    As a newly minted Ph.D., Mike joined GE Aircraft Engines (now GE Aerospace) in 1967 as the manager of acoustic research and development. There he developed designs and methods to minimize for rotor noise and multiple pure tones (the buzzsaw noise that sometimes occurs at take-off). He also led the GE efforts on the NASA-GE Quiet Engine Program.

    In 1973, Mike was a key founding member of the technical team that launched the GE/Snecma CFM International cooperation program. This highly successful international 50:50 joint venture would set the standard for effective and enduring global partnerships, with more than 40,000 engines in service. As the GE leader for CFM56 Engineering, he led the effort to re-engine hundreds of KC135/E3 airplanes with CFM56-2 (designated F108) engines, thereby greatly increasing aircraft range, payload, and reliability.

    Mike subsequently led the GE execution of the design of the CFM56-3 engine for the Boeing 737-300, -400, and -500 airplanes. This engine set the industry standard for commercial engine reliability and availability. He also led GE engineering efforts for the design and certification of the CFM56-5CA/B engine on the Airbus A320 and A321 and the CFM56-5C engine on Airbus A340-300.

    In early 1993, Mike assumed engineering leadership for the GE90 program, the world’s largest aircraft engine, powering the Boeing 777. He led the program into 1995, through final development and toward Federal Aviation Administration certification. The GE90 engine had a number of differentiated technology innovations, including the first successful application of a large composite fan, an industry-leading 27:1 high-pressure ratio compressor (leveraged from the NASA-GE Energy Efficient Program), and a dual annular combustor that reduced NOx emissions by 50%.

    The GE90 engine would grow to become the GE90-115B, providing exclusive power for Boeing 777-200LR and -300ER airplanes and becoming the standard of excellence for large twin commercial aircraft engines with more than 2,800 engines built. The GE90 would also provide the technical foundation for its successors: the GE9x (power for the Boeing 777x), the GEnx (power for the Boeing 787 and 747-8), and the GE portion of Engine Alliance GP7200 (power for the Airbus A380).

    Mike subsequently assumed responsibility for GE Aviation Systems Engineering and then in 1996 for the Advanced Technology Operation. In this role (effectively as the chief technology officer for the business), he led all research and development and technology efforts across commercial and military product lines, including aerodynamics, thermal and cooling technologies, acoustics, aeromechanics, turbomachinery systems technologies, and controls. He focused GE’s efforts on the emergent propulsion needs of commercial and military customers for safety, reliability, performance, and sustainability. During this period, his technology developments contributed to the successful launch of 10 GE commercial and military jet engines. Mike retired from GE in 2004, after a distinguished and productive career of 37 years.

    Continuing in his passion for developing technology and people, Mike then joined The Ohio State University as the Wright Brothers Institute Professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering. Also at The Ohio State University, Mike was the director of the Propulsion and Power Center and the assistant vice president for Aerospace and Aviation. He chaired the Aerospace Engineering Department from 2005 to 2010, adding five key faculty positions and doubling the number of graduate students. Mike and his wife Beverly were also avid supporters of the Ohio State Buckeye football team. He retired from The Ohio State University in 2022.

    Mike was an active and engaged member of the National Academy of Engineering, elected in 2001 and serving on the Committee on Aviation Safety Assurance, the Committee on Propulsion and Energy Systems to Reduce Commercial Aviation Carbon Emissions, the Aeronautics & Space Engineering Board, and the Aerospace Engineering Peer Committee.

    His accomplishments and leadership have been recognized and honored broadly and globally. He was a fellow and honorary fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society and received its Gold Medal of Honor. He was a fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics & Astronautics and received its Reed Award in Aeronautics. He received the International Cooperation Achievement Award from the International Society of Air Breathing Engines, as well as an honorary doctorate from the University of Poitiers, France. He was also inducted into the GE Aviation Propulsion Hall of Fame and received the GE Chairman’s Award for Technology Leadership. He was especially proud of, and committed to, his membership in the National Academy of Engineering.

    Mike enjoyed cuisine of all types, especially desserts such as chocolate and ice cream. He traveled the world extensively, both for work and leisure. He also found great interest in politics and was a staunch supporter of people in need around the world, especially refugees. He was an engaging and supportive mentor to many engineers, including this author. In addition to his beloved wife of 57 years, Beverly, Mike will be greatly missed by his son, Ariel, his daughter-in-law, Huong, his grandchildren, Alyssa and David, and all who knew him.