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Irv Culver - An engineer's engineer

The English language doesn't contain enough superlatives to adequately describe the man, Irv Culver. In any case, any superlative would append the word, "engineer", for Irv was considered an engineer's engineer.  Willis Hawkins, formerly Vice President, Engineering, for the Lockheed Aircraft Corporaton, once publicly identified Irv as the "young genius who saved Lockheed's bacon more than once during some of the company's darker days".

In any collection of engineers Irv was held in awe. He was the PRESENCE, the Big Kahuna, the Top Banana, THE MAN. When Irv talked, people listened, and listened carefully for here was a man who's grasp of aircraft design problems and their solution was unparalleled. His specialty was in dynamics, a highly mathematical endeavor, and his mastery of this abstract art had to be seen to be appreciated.  He was always involved with the design of fast, spectacular airplanes.His contributions to Lockheed and aeronautical science in general are legion. One example: He was instrumental in solving a fatal flaw in the history-making P-38, which, before Irv discoverd and fixed the problem, killed several pilots by failing to recover from high speed dives. Many experts claim the P-38 won WWII.

He was the designer of the ultra-thin wing on the F-104, the fastest military fighter in the world for its time.

For fun, he designed and supervised the construction of the three famous, tiny "Cosmic Wind" Goodyear (now called Formula One) racers. But while his professional mind was dedicated to improving airplanes his heart was really in soaring, for he designed the diminutive "Screamin' Weiner" series of sailplanes, one of which resides in the National Soaring Museum in Elmira. He was the aerodynamicist to whom Volmer Jensen listened when he designed the "Swing Wing", an early, highly successful, fixed wing hang glider.

He was the aerodynamicist to whom Jim Maupin listened when he designed the famous "Woodstock" and "Carbon Dragon sailplanes and the "Windrose"motorglider.

In short, Irv Culver could always be found in the very center of whatever exciting was happening in aviation, powered or unpowered. And the advancement seen in both categories is due in no small measure to the towering engineering intellect provided by Irv Culver. And it is stunning to realize that this intellect was developed without the benefit of a university education. Irv did it by hitting the books, talking to people smarter (temporarily!) than himself, rolling up his sleeves and getting his hands dirty in the shop. He learned it by DOING it.

To employ a couple of overworked expressions, Irv was one of a kind, a man for all seasons.But somehow these expressions fit Irv better than anyone else I can think of. But alas, he is gone.

Without you, Irv, where do we go from here?

Goodbye, friend. Godspeed.

Stan Hall

Posted: 9/1/1999


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