“A slide rule, a wind tunnel and a dream. That’s all they had.” Computers as we know them today were thirty years away, as was the Internet. This brilliant team of engineers invented the technology that catapulted astronauts into manned space travel and lunar exploration in 1969 and beyond. This is the story of Bill Reed.
Born September 24, 1925 in Wellsville, Missouri, Wilmer Handy Reed III (Bill), whose lifelong work revolutionized the study of modern wind tunnel flight dynamics, died Thursday evening August 26, 2021 in Destin , in Florida. He was 95 years old. His leadership, work ethic, inventive curiosity and genius have contributed to the development of cutting-edge aeronautical engineering technologies that have literally changed the world.
He was a one-of-a-kind tour de force, who went on to become a Chief Scientist at NASA, contributing 28 worldwide patents, publishing 40 scientific papers, to the parental aeronautical invention that spearheaded our “Leap” giant for humanity “in the Apollo, the Saturn 5 rocket and early space shuttle programs, among others. He specialized in the analysis of aeroelacticity and charge, creating engineering solutions that made supersonic flight and space exploration possible and more efficient, by streamlining and redesigning rocket configurations and wing and damping vibrations (flutter). In other words, he was the one who flew rockets and planes. His many contributions have earned Bill NASA the NASA Outstanding Service Medal and 8 NASA Special Achievement Awards. He was an integral part of the largest team of engineers and scientists ever assembled. They were heroes whose combined inventive genius started the space age at the National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA). He collaborated and published with Dr. John Houbolt (Lunar Orbit Rendezvous), William Hewitt Phillips and others who created the Apollo Moon Landing missions.
When she was nine, her aunt gave her a model airplane and helped her build it. His infatuation with planes and flying became the trip of his life from that day forward. In his early teens he became an Eagle Scout. After high school, he enlisted in the Navy, became a naval aviator, earned his bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering at Auburn, and was hired directly by NACA at the Langley Research Center as an aeronautical research engineer in 1948. While studying at Auburn, he met Mary Catherine Draughon at Huntington College. on a blind date. Over the next 66 years of happy married life, they built their home, raised a family of three, and were the pillars of the first United Methodist Church in Hampton. His Master of Science in Aeronautical Engineering was conferred by the University of Virginia in 1953.
After retiring from NASA in 1982, he worked as a scientist, consultant and lecturer for Dynamic Engineering Inc. where he invented the “Flutter Exciter” making commercial and military aircraft more efficient and safer. He called it “the little idea that took off”. Bill was then a representative engineer for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) until his retirement in 1998. His professional peers awarded him 3 AIAA Engineer of the Year awards from 1995 to 1997, and in 2000 Engineer of the year by the Penninsula Engineers Council for, of which he was later elected vice-president. While his career was often global, she never fully defined him as a man. Through it all, he has remained a humble, loving and unpretentious mentor; a father. He gave back to his community by teaching robotics to students and leading the White Pelican Project: advising high school students in the Hampton area in 1993. Together they created the world’s largest paper airplane that was hung. at the Virginia Air & Space Museum. It was then in the Guinness Book of World Records.
He had many other talents: he built high quality furniture from walnut, mahogany and oak. Bill carved wooden ducks, eagles and other wildlife. He was an active artist who drew wild animals, seascapes, and used watercolors in many of his pieces. He was an avid cyclist who competed in the Bike Centennial in 1976 at the age of 51. In 1977, he and his wife Mary invested in a beachfront property in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, directly in view of the Wright Brothers National Memorial on the Outer Banks. . It was now their vacation and “the Mecca of family reunions”.
In 2014, Bill lost his beloved 66-year-old wife Mary. Two years later, he sold his home in Hampton, Virginia, and moved to Destin, Florida, where he spent his final years closer to his family. He was a man of vision and wisdom and faith in all that is good. While he was a world famous inventor and scientist, his family will always remember him as a life force who supported and available him. He was loved as a mentor and father.
He is survived by his children and their spouses: Patricia and David Waddle of Destin, Florida; Graham and Linda Mae Reed from Dauphin Island, Alabama; Dorothy “Dottie” Reed and Vickie Wheeler from Atlanta, Georgia. Grandchildren: Reed Waddle and (Mary Maloney) of Chantilly Virginia; Alison and (Chris) Passodelis from Nashville, Tennessee; Mitchell Reed of Denver, Colorado. Great-grandson: Oliver Dean Waddle of Chantilly, Virginia; Sister: Rosemary Freeze of Pasadena, California; Nieces: Linda Hall of Pasadena, California; Nancy Browning from Hagerstown, Maryland.
A memorial service will be held at the First Untited Methodist Church in Hampton, Virginia on October 4, 2021. Reverend Candee Martin will lead “A Celebration of the Life of Wilmer H. Reed III” at noon. A catered reception will follow in the library at the Virginia Air & Space Museum, one block from the church. In lieu of flowers, the family would like donations to be made to the First United Methodist Church, Hampton, Virginia.
Published by Daily Press on September 26, 2021.