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ARTHUR P. ADAMSON
Elected in 1980
“Creativity, inventiveness, and engineering in the design
ARTHUR P. ADAMSON
Elected in 1980
“Creativity, inventiveness, and engineering in the design and
development of aircraft gas turbine and other engineering apparatus.”
BY M.J. BENZAKEIN
ARTHUR PAUL ADAMSON died at age 95 on May 3, 2014,
in Philadelphia. He leaves behind a unique legacy at General
Electric and in the world of aviation.
Art was born March 14, 1919, and raised in rural Kansas,
where he was educated in a one-room schoolhouse. Engines
and machinery were part of his life since his boyhood on a
farm in Coffeyville, Kansas. He said he never had a doubt that
he would become a mechanical engineer. “Farm boys always
know a lot about machinery,” he said. “I like airplanes in par-
ticular. The engines are more fun than anything else.”
It wasn’t long before he succumbed to the call. After high
school, he spent two years at a junior college in Coffeyville
before packing his bags in 1939 and heading for Los Angeles.
He moved in with his aunt and enrolled in the University of
Southern California’s mechanical engineering program, sup-
porting himself with summer jobs in an aircraft plant and a
part-time job in the engineering school’s mechanical engineer-
ing lab. Sydney Duncan became his favorite professor; Thomas
(“Pop”) Taylor Eyre, then chair of the Mechanical Engineering
Department, was his inspiration. He graduated at the top of
his class in 1941.
He joined GE a month after graduation and spent his
early years working on rocket and jet engine programs in
4 MEMORIAL TRIBUTES
Philadelphia and then Schenectady. He also enrolled in GE’s
advanced technical training program, which allowed him to
move into technical leadership positions. This was the begin-
ning of his four-decade career at General Electric, where he left
a remarkable, long-lasting legacy.
In the late 1950s he became a technical leader on GE’s lift
fan program and manager of the J85 engine program. He
took a young Brian Rowe under his wing, and Rowe recalled
him as “probably the most intelligent person working” at GE
When the US Army awarded the GE12 demonstrator
program in 1967, Art led the team on the radically efficient
design. This led to a production contract in 1972, and the GE12
became the first version of the T700 helicopter program—
still going strong with more than 15,000 engines in service.
He also helped develop the TF34 family of turbofan engines
used in the Navy’s antisubmarine aircraft, the Warthog, and
in regional commercial passenger jets.
In 1955 he moved to Evendale, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati,
to oversee rocket engine development. In 1959, while the coun-
try scrambled to catch up with Sputnik-era launch capabili-
ties, he became chief engineer of the Vanguard rocket engine
program. A successful launch powered the first satellite into
an Earth-orbiting trajectory on 24,000 pounds of thrust.
“His creative genius led to several aircraft engine pro-
grams,” said USC classmate and fellow GE engineer Robert
Hoffman, a resident of Redwood City, California. “One of
them was the XV-5A lift fan for vertical launch, high-speed
helicopters. That was a very rewarding program and a great
vehicle to see take off.”
In 1967 GE Aviation was determined to reenter the large
commercial engine market in a big way. The company turned
to Art to lead the initial CF6 engine development effort, based
heavily on the TF39 military engine. Rowe soon led the CF6
project and worked closely with his engineering mentor, lead-
ing to the successful launch of the initial CF6-6 on the DC-10.
But the CF6 really came into its own with the higher-thrust
CF6-50. And again Art Adamson played a central role: he
ARTHUR P. ADAMSON 5
created the design concept that enabled the CF6-50 to grow
in thrust while keeping the turbine temperatures manageable.
As Rowe later said, the CF6-50 would not have been possible
without Art and his design team.
In the 1980s Art led the design team that created GE’s
ultra-high-bypass unducted fan (UDF) engine and became
the “father of the UDF.” The engine was a revolutionary con-
cept that addressed the needs for low fuel consumption in the
industry. Art’s team designed this new propulsion system in
cooperation with SNECMA of France. The team demonstrated
its performance in flight tests on the Boeing 727-100 and MD 80
aircraft. When fuel prices dropped, interest in the fuel-efficient
UDF engine waned and the unique engine never entered air-
line service. The concept, however, is being revived today in
advanced studies at NASA and in the Clean Sky program in
Art’s technology innovations on the program were extraor-
dinary. For example, without the composite fan blades devel-
oped on the UDF, it is unlikely that the GE90 ultra-high-bypass
ratio engine for the Boeing 777 airplane would have seen the
light of day. He and his team were awarded the Collier Trophy
for their achievements.
Art retired from GE in the late 1980s but continued for
many years as a consultant. In 1989 he was inducted into GE
Aviation’s Propulsion Hall of Fame.
Few engineers have influenced the jet propulsion industry
as Art Adamson. And he enjoyed more than most sharing his
creativity and wisdom with those around him. His years as a
consultant at GE were invaluable. He participated in “techni-
cal circuses,” which are technical reviews of newly developed
products; his comments were few and to the point. When Art
spoke, we all listened.
Through the years, he received some of the most prestigious
aviation industry awards around: GE’s Charles P. Steinmetz
Award for “concepts in developing electric motors, guided
missile autopilots, electronic controls, rocket propulsion sys-
tems, and the CF6, T700, and CF34 jet engines”; GE’s Perry
T. Egbert Jr. Memorial Award “for outstanding creativity in
6 MEMORIAL TRIBUTES
the development of the CF6-50 Commercial Jet Engine”; and
SAE’s Franklin W. Kolk Air Transportation Progress Award
for service to aviation (1985). He was elected to the National
Academy of Engineering in 1980, a recognition that he highly
Art had multiple interests when he was not working; he
was a devoted husband and father as well as an avid down-
hill skier, tennis player, world traveler, wood carver, and pro-
lific reader. He was married for 59 years to the late Florence
(Smith) Adamson, of Schenectady, and is survived by son
David Adamson, daughter Judith Adamson, five grandchil-
dren, two great-grandchildren, brother Charles Adamson, and
five nephews and five nieces.
He will be greatly missed.