Elected in 1986
“For outstanding engineering achievements in advancing
small gas-turbine-engine technologies, and for
major contributions to aeronautical and automotive propulsion.”
SUBMITTED BY THE NAE HOME SECRETARY
SAM B. WILLIAMS, an aerospace pioneer who left his mark on both military and civil aviation, died on June 22, 2009, at the age of 88.
Sam was born in Seattle, Washington, on May 27, 1921, and grew up in Columbus, Ohio. After earning a mechanical engineering degree from Purdue University in 1942, he worked for Chrysler, designing and developing the engine for its turbine car. When Chrysler’s enthusiasm for turbine cars began to wane, Sam left in 1955 to found Williams Research (later renamed Williams International). He was convinced that if his new company developed small, simple, affordable turbines, new markets would follow.
Turbine technology had advanced rapidly since its invention in the run-up to World War II, but most of the progress was in large, complicated engines for fighter planes, and then airliners. Sam steered turbine technology in a new direction, developing miniature turbines that were far simpler thanks to his genius for replacing many parts that each perform one function with a single part that performs many functions.
New markets did follow. Thanks to Williams, turbojets were now small enough, and affordable enough, that they powered drones the U.S. Navy used for target practice. And once Williams demonstrated a fuel-efficient twin-spool