May 28, 1910–August 11, 1999
BY WALTER G. VINCENTI
THE PLANFORM OF THE wing of every high-speed transport one sees flying overhead embodies R. T. Jones’s idea of sweepback for transonic and supersonic flight. This idea, of which Jones was one of two independent discoverers, was described by the late William Sears, a distinguished aerodynamicist who was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, as “certainly one of the most important discoveries in the history of aerodynamics.” It and other achievements qualify Jones as among the premier theoretical aerodynamicists of the twentieth century. And this by a remarkable man whose only college degree was an honorary doctorate.
Robert Thomas Jones—“R.T.” to those of us fortunate enough to be his friend—was born on May 28, 1910, in the farming-country town of Macon, Missouri, and died on August 11, 1999, at age 89, at his home in Los Altos Hills, California. His immigrant grandfather, Robert N. Jones, after being in the gold rush to California, settled near Macon, where he farmed in the summer and mined coal in the winter. His father, Edward S. Jones, educated himself in the law and practiced law in Macon; while running for public office, he traveled the dirt roads of Macon county in a buggy behind a single horse. R.T. later contrasted this with