Dr. Bradford W. Parkinson
Dr. Bradford W. Parkinson Draper Prize
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  • Draper
Charles Stark Draper Prize for Engineering
Go To Award

Dr. Bradford W. Parkinson, distinguished Edward C. Wells Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Stanford University, was responsible from program start to space operation for both leading the final concept and bringing to practice the satellite based, worldwide navigation system known as NAVSTAR GPS (Global Positioning System). Today, GPS is utilized in many worldwide applications, such as national defense, air traffic control, mechanized farming, search and rescue, and tracking environmental change.

Bradford W. Parkinson was born in 1935 in Wisconsin. He served in the U.S. Air Force from 1957 to 1978, retiring as a colonel. Early in his career, he headed the Department of Astronautics and Computer Science at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Dr. Parkinson created and ran the NAVSTAR GPS Joint Program Office from 1972-1978, during which time he received the Defense Department Superior Performance Award as the best program director in the Air Force. As the program’s first manager, he has been the “chief architect” of GPS throughout the system’s concept, engineering development, and implementation.

Since 1984 at Stanford University, Dr. Parkinson continues to teach and research new and innovative ways to take advantage of the GPS technology’s extraordinary centimeter-level accuracy capability. Recently, under FAA sponsorship, Dr. Parkinson and his students developed a fully blind landing system for aircraft, a technology whose trial resulted in more than 100 successful landings of a Boeing 737 without human assistance. The same principles were used in the development of a robotically guided and driven farm tractor, capable of tracking a predetermined line within 2 inches on an unmarked field. In the months and years to come, these and other of Dr. Parkinson’s pioneering efforts will bring real benefits worldwide, helping to increase economic productivity and improve public safety.

Today, Dr. Parkinson is the chairman of board of trustees of The Aerospace Corporation and serves as co-chair of the JPL Advisory Council. He is a member of several associations and committees including AAS, IEEE, The Presidential Commission on Air Safety and Security, and The Royal Institute of Navigation. Dr. Parkinson has also received many distinguished awards such as the Discover Innovation Award, NASA’s Distinguished Public Service Medal, IEEE Simon Ramo Award, and the AIAA Von Karman Lectureship and Aerospace Contribution to Society medal.

Dr. Bradford W. Parkinson received his Bachelor of Science degree in general engineering at the U.S. Naval Academy in 1957, and his M.S. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in aeronautics and astronautics in 1961. In 1966, He received his Ph.D. from Stanford University in aeronautics and astronautics as well. He resides in Mountainview, Calif. with his wife Virginia.

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  • Draper
  • 2003
  • Concept and development of the Global Positioning System (GPS).