Engineer Propels Rotorcraft Technology for 70 Years

by Julie Barr on August 7, 2017 · 0 comments

in Alumni Life, Engineering, Research, Science, Transportation

Robert G. Loewy SM ’48

Robert G. Loewy SM ’48 became interested in aerospace engineering at a young age, and today, at age 91, he is still working to advance the field.

“My father had a book about Eddie ­Rickenbacker—famous race car driver and fighter pilot, the WWI ace of aces,” he recalls. “I read it as a child and knew that something involving aircraft was what I wanted to do.”

After earning his undergraduate degree at ­Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), his master’s degree at MIT, and his PhD at the University of Pennsylvania, Loewy did just that, holding positions including chief technical engineer at Boeing Rotorcraft Systems (formerly Boeing Helicopters) and chief scientist for the U.S. Air Force. Then he began a career in academia and research, where he continued to explore the technical side of aerospace engineering. He took a position as an assistant professor at the University of Rochester, where he eventually became dean of the college of engineering.

In 1974, Loewy returned to RPI and spent four years as provost and 16 years as Institute Professor of Aeronautical Engineering and Mechanics, a senior teaching and research position. During his time at RPI, he founded the Rotorcraft Technology center there and served as its director for five years.

Helicopters and other rotorcraft, a longtime interest of Loewy’s, pose distinctive engineering challenges, he explains. “When the blades of a rotor are rotating, they come back into the wake they produce,” he says. “Since the rotor blades enter their own wake, the pertinent aerodynamics is more difficult because they are always experiencing velocities variable in space and time.”

In 1993, Loewy moved to Georgia Tech and became the William R.T. Oakes Professor and chair of the School of Aerospace Engineering, a position he held for 15 years. Today, he still serves on the school’s advisory board. He is also known as an expert on aeroelasticity, vibrations, and vertical flight.

Though he was not at MIT long, he values the Institute’s impact on his life. “I spent just three semesters at MIT,” says Loewy, “and met the people that were my lifelong friends.”

A member of the National Academy of Engineering, he earned the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal and is a three-time recipient of the Department of the Air Force Decoration for Exceptional Civilian Service.

He and his wife, Lila, live in Philadelphia and enjoy spending time with their three children and six grandchildren.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2017 issue of MIT Technology Review magazine.

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