Elected in 1971
“For development of ingenious mathematical solutions to
practical problems of aircraft and space vehicle design and testing.”
BY ALAN BROWN
RONALD SMELT, or Roy as he was generally known, retired corporate vice president and chief scientist of the Lockheed Corporation, died on February 17, 2005, at the age of 91.
Roy was one of four children of Henry and Florence Smelt, born in the coal mining village of Houghton Le Spring in County Durham, England, on December 4, 1913. He was educated at King’s College, Cambridge University, and earned B.A. and M.A. degrees in mathematics in 1935 and 1939, the latter while working at the Royal Aircraft Establishment in Farnborough, England. He completed his education in 1961, earning a doctorate in aeronautical engineering from Stanford University for his dissertation on determination of the drag characteristics of orbiting vehicles.
His career at the Royal Aircraft Establishment from 1935 to 1948 spanned the initial development of the jet engine and World War II and its aftermath. He worked with Sir Frank Whittle on the first flight of Sir Frank’s jet engine while he was chief of high-speed flight from 1940 to 1945. Roy determined the characteristics of the German V-1 missile and how to combat it and was a member of the team that came to the United States to procure aircraft for Britain prior to the U.S. entry into World War II. From 1945 to 1948 he was head of the guided-weapons department, prior to his emigration to the United States in what is colloquially known as the postwar “brain drain.”