Col. Robert Lee McDaniel, 88, a retired officer of the U.S. Army, veteran of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, and pioneer in the growth of modern Army aviation, passed away February 9th Alexandria, VA.
Bob McDaniel (or "Mac" as he was often known) was born on July 13, 1924 as an Army brat at Fort Bliss, TX, then a horse cavalry division post. He was named for his godfather, General Robert L. Howze, Jr., the division commander, whose son, General Hamilton H. Howze, is considered by many to be the father of modern Army aviation — a connection that helped shape young McDaniel's future career path and contributions. He spent much of his childhood in Asia, an experience that proved valuable throughout his many deployments. He received his bachelor’s degree from the United States Military Academy, a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology, and a master’s degree in international affairs from George Washington University and concurrently with his attendance at the Air War College, Maxwell Air Force Base, AL.
His military career spanned 28 years. Upon graduating from West Point in the class of 1945, he served with the 11th Airborne Division in the final days of World War II and the occupation of Japan. He returned to Japan during the Korean War with the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team. As a Rifle Company commander, he participated in the parachute assaults near Sukchon and Sunchon in North Korea and other missions; later, deploying from strategic reserve in Japan, he participated in the suppression of the Koje-do prisoner rebellion. For his service in Korea, he earned the Combat Infantryman’s Badge and a Commendation Ribbon for Valor.
His critical role in Army aviation began when he wrote and taught the Army's first Air Mobility manual. From this, Col. McDaniel was selected by General “Ham” Howze to attend Georgia Tech to gain expert aeronautical engineering knowledge needed by Army decision makers. As a testimony to his academic prowess, he was elected to Sigma Gamma Tau, honorary Academic Society, for Aerospace Engineering, in recognition of his achievement in the field of aerospace.
Upon receiving his graduate degree in Aeronautical Engineering he transferred to the Pentagon and became totally immersed in the Air Mobility division of the Army Office of the Chief Research and Development. This vital 1961-64 period included the Howze Board, the transformation of the experimental 11th Air Assault Division into the 1st Cavalry Division for immediate deployment to Vietnam, the new LOH and UH1 helicopter programs, and type classification of the CH-47. His forte was in a wide range of vertical/short take-off and landing advanced development programs including the Bell XV-3 tilt rotor, the Lockheed XV-4A Humming Bird, the General Electric XV-5A Fan-in-Wing and the Hawker Siddeley XV-6A Deflected Thrust predecessor of the Harrier and many others. He became a leading advocate and proponent for the Sky Crane and the Heavy Lift Helicopter. He earned a reputation among the Army, the Air Force, other Services, the Joint Staff and the Office of Secretary of Defense as a bright and dynamic aeronautical engineer officer who strove to place Army aviation on the best path for the future. He was recognized with his first Legion Merit.
In 1964 to 1966 as commander of the 3rd Aviation Battalion, 3d Infantry Division, one of the largest aviation units in West Germany, he earned his second Legion of Merit. He was next placed in command of the 13th Combat Aviation Battalion supporting the Vietnamese IV Corp in 1967. While air assaulting the Vietnamese soldiers into battle against the Viet Cong across the entire Mekong Delta, he merged his battalion with all of the separate aviation units in the Delta into the 164th Combat Aviation Group. Fortuitously, the group activation in January 1968 occurred several weeks before the Battle of Tet, allowing unified Army aviation to apply overmatching force to crush the enemy at the major battle locations. During his combat aviation commands, he was awarded the Silver Star, a third Legion of Merit, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, 42 air medals and the Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry.
Upon return to the Pentagon for further duty in the 1968-74 period, Col. McDaniel joined the Office of Defense Development Research and Engineering, supporting the Director, DDR&E, Dr. Johnny Foster, furthering the best vertical lift approaches to support the country in the long term. His staff responsibility included all DoD helicopter and transport airplane developments, as well as many surface transportation systems. His work led to the approval, management, and funding for several major helicopter and transport aircraft programs, including the Utility Tactical Transport Aircraft System (Blackhawk), the Advanced Attack Helicopter (Apache), the Joint Heavy Lift Helicopter (YCH-62), and the Advanced Military STOL Transport (C-17). He also led an international program for the interchange of technology for rotorcraft and Vertical/Short Take Off and Landing aircraft. Although McDaniel did not win all of the decisions, he did ensure that the competing options were heard. Upon retirement he was recognized with his fourth Legion of Merit.
After leaving the military, Col. McDaniel continued to provide analytic and engineering services to the Army, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and OSD, as well as service on the Army Science Board. His assessment of the Comanche helicopter development contributed to the Army decision to terminate the $6B program and reallocate those resources to higher priority Army aviation needs.
He was known to have written a number of articles, under a nom de plume, examining current and future Defense vertical lift activities for the Armed Forces Journal and other publications. He was also an active and regular contributor to major technical and military journals including 10 articles in Vertiflite, the technical voice of the American Helicopter Society International, of which he was a member for over fifty years. He was especially active with the AHS, where he was known for challenging the University of Maryland students who presented papers monthly as part of an information exchange and mentoring program. In May 2012, the Society honored him with an award for a lifetime of dedication to the advancement of rotary wing aviation and placed him among their initial 150 Who’s Who of rotorcraft pioneers and prime movers. That month, for his many contributions to Army Aviation across six decades, he also received the Order of St. Michael from the Army Aviation Association of America.
If you would like to contribute to an AHS Vertical Flight Foundation (VFF) scholarship in his name, please go to www.vtol.org/vff.