Elected in 1981
“For outstanding contributions in aerospace engineering, sound guidance of
research and technology programs, and innovative institutional guidance.”
BY WILLIAM F. BALLHAUS, JR., AND GLENN BUGOS
CLARENCE A. SYVERTSON, or “Sy” to his friends, was an extraordinary engineer and leader. He was a pioneer in hypersonic aerodynamics, both theoretically and experimentally, and led one of America’s great research institutions.
Syvertson was a native of Minneapolis, born January 12, 1926. He earned his bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering (with distinction) from the University of Minnesota in 1946, served as a private for a year in the U.S. Army Air Corps, and then earned a master’s degree in 1948. Sy kept in touch with his friends at the university and throughout his career mentored its graduates. The University of Minnesota awarded him an Outstanding Achievement Medal in 1982 and an honorary doctorate in 2004.
Syvertson arrived at the Ames Aeronautical Laboratory of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in 1948 as an aeronautical research scientist in Harvey Allen’s high-speed research division. At Ames he joined a famous group of aerodynamicists who extended aeronautics beyond the supersonic and into the hypersonic regime. As a NACA aerodynamicist, Sy matched his theoretical insights on hypersonic airflow with brilliant experimental work. In 1951, after three years at Ames, he became assistant chief of the 10-