Elected in 1968
“For contributions to research and practice of aerodynamical engineering.”
BY GEORGE SUTTON
WILLIAM R. SEARS, one of the leading aerodynamicists and educators of the 20th century, died on October 12, 2002, at the age of 89.
Bill received his undergraduate degree from the University of Minnesota in 1934, then studied under Dr. Theodore von Kármán at Caltech, where he received his doctorate in 1938. His forte was analysis of aerodynamic flow, long before computer simulations were developed.
Bill was a warm, kind, interested person who helped and mentored many people. While at Caltech, he married Mabel Rhodes, Dr. von Kármán’s secretary, and wrote his thesis on unsteady flow around airfoils. During World War II, he became the chief of aerodynamics and flight testing at Northrop Aircraft, Inc. Later, he headed the team that designed the first flying-wing aircraft (many of today’s military aircraft are essentially flying wings) and the P-61 (the famous Black Widow). Near the end of the war, Bill visited and debriefed German engineers and scientists.
Bill Sears then chose to return to academic life. In 1946, he became the first director of the Graduate School of Aeronautical Engineering at Cornell University. In addition to working on unsteady aerodynamic flows with his students, he contributed to the development of one of the first high-temperature shock tubes, which made it possible to measure