Penn State mourns the loss of Barnes McCormick, Boeing Professor Emeritus

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Department of Aerospace Engineering has lost an alumnus, former leader and dear friend whose dedication, leadership and pioneering efforts helped shape not only Penn State Aerospace Engineering for decades, but also the aerospace industry. Barnes (Barney) W. McCormick Jr., Boeing Professor Emeritus and former department head of aerospace engineering, died on Oct. 29 at his home in State College, Pennsylvania, at the age of 91.

McCormick’s impact on the department, its faculty, students, industry and government spanned nearly 60 years, and his teaching inspired and guided the careers of numerous engineers at work today in the helicopter/vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) industry.

“We are truly saddened by the loss of one of the most influential individuals our department has ever had,” said Amy Pritchett, head of the Department of Aerospace Engineering. “The passion he brought to both the classroom and his research was infectious and admired by all.”

“No individual in the history of our department has contributed so significantly and so positively to Penn State Aerospace Engineering as Barney, and I am quite certain that no one will do so in the foreseeable future.”

-- Dennis McLaughlin, professor emeritus and former department head.

After receiving his doctorate in aeronautical engineering in 1954 from Penn State, which was then known as The Pennsylvania State College, McCormick joined the Penn State Department of Aeronautical Engineering as an associate professor of engineering research. However, wanting to gain industry experience, he left Penn State in 1955 to join the Piasecki Helicopter Corporation (renamed Vertol Corporation in 1956) as chief of aerodynamics.

McCormick rejoined academia in 1957 as department head of the University of Wichita (now Wichita State University). Following a brief stint there, McCormick returned to Penn State in 1959 in a joint appointment as professor of aeronautical engineering and a member of the Ordnance Research Lab (now the Applied Research Lab). In 1969, he was appointed head of aerospace engineering, holding the position for 16 years until he resigned to accept a distinguished professorship as Boeing Professor of Aerospace Engineering.

In 1990, McCormick officially retired from Penn State and was named Boeing Professor Emeritus, although he continued to teach on a regular basis for the next 22 years. McCormick also remained professionally active as a consultant to legal firms, as well as industrial and government organizations. He participated in approximately 60 litigations involving aircraft accidents, offering expert testimony in the first accident ruled to be caused by wake turbulence.

McCormick’s research areas of interest included low-speed aerodynamics, flight mechanics, aerodynamics of vertical flight, propeller design, hydrodynamics, noise and the behavior of vortex systems, including their interaction with aircraft and lifting surfaces.

In the mid-1960s, McCormick and his research team made the first measurements of the details of wake turbulence behind a full-scale airplane. A historical marker dedicated to McCormick and his team, commemorating this pioneering aeronautical research project, is located behind Hammond Building on the University Park campus.

Pritchett noted how instrumental this work was in aircraft operations.

“Any time we book an airline ticket, Dr. McCormick’s hand shapes the schedule of our flight,” said Pritchett. “He identified the safe distances between aircraft when landing and taking off, which has since determined how many aircraft can safely operate into and out of airports, both in the regulations of the Federal Aviation Administration here in the United States, and by air traffic facilities around the world.”

In 1967, McCormick developed a short course at Penn State relating to helicopters and VTOL titled "Aerodynamics of V/STOL Flight," which later turned into the Comprehensive Short Course in Rotary Wing Technology. The course is one of the longest-running short courses in the history of the University, and McCormick served as a lecturer and coordinator until 2013. It is estimated that he taught more than 700 participants in the course.

“It’s hard to overstate the impact that Professor McCormick and his research have had on our department and its reputation,” said George Lesieutre, associate dean for research, professor of aerospace engineering and former department head. “Barney was also the author of three widely-used aeronautics textbooks, and it is fair to say that he helped educate several generations of aerospace engineers—all over the world!”

McCormick’s work earned him numerous honors and awards throughout his career, including the AHS International Alexander A. Nikolsky Lectureship (2004), given to an individual who has a highly distinguished career in vertical flight aircraft research and development; the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’s (AIAA) F. E. Newbold V/STOL Award (2002) for contributions to V/STOL flight; and the Aerospace Division/AIAA Educational Achievement Award (1976) from the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) for his innovative contributions to aerospace engineering education. He was named an Honorary Fellow of AHS in 1992 and was also a Fellow of AIAA.

His professional service was extensive. McCormick was the editor in chief of the Journal of the American Helicopter Society (1970-1972) and associate editor of the AIAA Journal of Aircraft (1978-1982). He also served on the Congressional Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (1984-1987), was a charter member of the American Society of Aerospace Education, was past chairman of AHS’s Educational Committee, served on the Advisory Group for Aerospace Research and Development Flight Mechanics Panel and served on the Accreditation Board for Engineering Technology’s Board of Directors (1982-1984).

McCormick also authored and coauthored several books, including Aerodynamics of V/STOL Flight; Aerodynamics, Aeronautics, and Flight Mechanics; Aerospace Engineering Education During the First Century of Flight and Aircraft Accident Reconstruction and Litigation.

In addition to earning his doctorate from Penn State, McCormick also earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in aeronautical engineering from Penn State in 1948 and 1949, respectively.

“No individual in the history of our department has contributed so significantly and so positively to Penn State Aerospace Engineering as Barney, and I am quite certain that no one will do so in the foreseeable future,” said Dennis McLaughlin, professor emeritus and former department head. “As an aerospace educator, Barney was a giant in the field.”

In 2001, the McCormick Honorary Alumni Lectureship Award was established to honor McCormick. The lectureship is presented twice annually by a graduate of the department who has performed notably and distinguished himself or herself technically in aeronautics or astronautics.

McCormick is survived by his wife, Emily, his daughter, Cynthia Miceli, son-in-law, Ken Miceli, five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.


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Last Updated November 16, 2017