AHS Remembers Barney McCormick

AHS Remembers Barney McCormick (1926-2017)
Penn State Emeritus Professor and Esteemed Rotorcraft Researcher

Dr. Barnes McCormick poses with his cardboard doppelgänger, AHS Forum 69Dr. Barnes Warnock McCormick, Jr., Boeing Professor Emeritus at The Pennsylvania State University, passed away on Oct. 29 at the age of 91. At Penn State, McCormick’s impact on academia, industry and government spanned nearly 60 years, and his teaching inspired and guided the careers of countless engineers at work today in the global vertical flight technical community.

McCormick joined AHS in 1955. He was an Emeritus Member and part of the Gold Circle Club and the President's Club, having sponsored 100 new members over the course of his 62 years of membership. He was also an AHS Honorary Fellow (1992), the 24th Alexander A. Nikolsky Honorary Lecturer (2004), the 10th editor-in-chief of The Journal of the AHS (1971-1972), a member and past chairman of AHS’s Education Committee (beginning in 1984), and the former Technical Director of AHS.

Academic Career

McCormick was born in Waycross, Georgia, on July 1, 1926, the son of the late Edwina and Barnes McCormick, Sr. He graduated from West Chester [Pennsylvania] High School in 1944 and served in the US Navy. Honorably discharged in 1946, he and his wife, Emily, were married in Hazleton, PA. They settled in State College, PA, where he earned a B.S. (1948), M.S. (1949), and Ph.D. (1954) degrees in aeronautical engineering from The Pennsylvania State College, as it was then known. He was employed by Penn State’s Ordnance Research Laboratory (now Applied Research Laboratory) while pursuing his Ph.D., and then joined the Penn State Department of Aeronautical Engineering as an associate professor of engineering research.

However, wanting to gain industry experience, McCormick left Penn State in 1955 to join the Piasecki Helicopter Corporation [renamed Vertol Corporation in 1956, and acquired by Boeing in 1960] as chief of aerodynamics.

In 1958 he moved to Kansas where he was named Head of the Department of Aeronautical Engineering at the University of Wichita (now Wichita State University).

Following a brief, one-year stint there, McCormick returned to his alma mater, Penn State, in 1959 in a joint appointment as professor of aeronautical engineering and a member of the Ordnance Research Lab. In 1969, McCormick was appointed head of aerospace engineering, holding the position for 16 years until he resigned to accept a distinguished professorship as Boeing Professor of Aerospace Engineering.

In 1990, McCormick officially retired from Penn State and was named the Boeing Professor Emeritus, although he continued to teach on a regular basis for the next 22 years (until 2015, at the age of 89). McCormick also remained professionally active as a consultant to legal firms, as well as industrial and government organizations. He participated in approximately 60 litigations involving aircraft accidents, offering expert testimony in the first accident ruled to be caused by wake turbulence.

For many years he was also a private pilot (with an instrument rating) and a certified ground instructor.

Research and Service

McCormick’s research areas of interest included low-speed aerodynamics, flight mechanics, aerodynamics of vertical flight, propeller design, hydrodynamics, noise and the behavior of vortex systems, including their interaction with aircraft and lifting surfaces.

Emily and Barney McCormick in front of the wake turbulence historical markerIn the mid-1960s, McCormick and his research team made the first measurements of the details of wake turbulence behind a full-scale airplane. “Any time we book an airline ticket, Dr. McCormick’s hand shapes the schedule of our flight,” said Dr. Amy Pritchett, head of the Penn State Department of Aerospace Engineering. “He identified the safe distances between aircraft when landing and taking off, which has since determined how many aircraft can safely operate into and out of airports, both in the regulations of the Federal Aviation Administration here in the United States, and by air traffic facilities around the world.” A historical marker was dedicated to McCormick and his team in 2009, commemorating this pioneering aeronautical research project, is located behind Hammond Building on the University Park campus. The historical markers are erected “to honor major figures and accomplishments from the University’s past."

McCormick also authored and coauthored several books, including Aerodynamics of V/STOL Flight; Aerodynamics, Aeronautics, and Flight Mechanics; Aerospace Engineering Education During the First Century of Flight; and Aircraft Accident Reconstruction and Litigation.

In 1967, McCormick developed a short course at Penn State relating to helicopters and VTOL originally entitled, like his first book, "Aerodynamics of V/STOL Flight," which later turned into the Comprehensive Short Course in Rotary Wing Technology. McCormick served as a lecturer and coordinator until 2013, and it is still going strong today, 60 years later. It is estimated that McCormick taught more than 700 participants in the course.

In 2001, Penn State established the McCormick Honorary Alumni Lectureship Award to honor McCormick. The lectureship is presented twice annually by a graduate of the department who has performed notably and distinguished himself or herself technically in aeronautics or astronautics.

McCormick’s work earned him numerous honors and awards throughout his career, including:

  • 2004: AHS International Alexander A. Nikolsky Lectureship, given to an individual who has a highly distinguished career in vertical flight aircraft research and development
  • 2002: American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ (AIAA) F. E. Newbold V/STOL Award for contributions to V/STOL flight
  • 1997: American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Distinguished Service Award 
  • 1992: AHS International Honorary Fellow
  • 1976: The joint ASEE Aerospace Division/AIAA Educational Achievement Award for his innovative contributions to aerospace engineering education (now the J. Leland Atwood Award)
  • AIAA Fellow

His professional service was extensive. In addition to serving as the editor in chief of the AHS Journal, he was also an associate editor of the AIAA Journal of Aircraft (1978-1982), and had served as AIAA Vice President for Education (1984-1988). He also served as vice-president on the Congressional Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (1984-1987), was a charter member of the American Society of Aerospace Education, a former member and past president of the Aerospace Department Chair Association, and served on the Accreditation Board for Engineering Technology (ABET) Board of Directors (1982-1984). Beginning in 1988, he sat on NATO's Advisory Group for Aerospace Research and Development (AGARD) Flight Mechanics Panel, serving as the US Coordinator until 1997 when AGARD was disbanded by NATO. He also chaired a committee for the Department of Energy to review its wind energy program in 1985.

McCormick published some 50 technical papers in the fields of propeller theory, helicopters, aerodynamics, wake turbulence, hydrodynamics and education. He was well known throughout the aerospace industry and he served as a consultant to many companies. He presented invited lectures in Australia, Germany, Italy, Turkey, and Russia.

Barney McCormick in his office in 2011In 2004, McCormick gave the 24th Annual Alexander A. Nikolsky Honorary Lecture, "Hurricanes, Tornadoes, Wake Turbulence and BVI — Vortices Come in All Sizes," at the AHS International 60th Annual Forum & Technology Display. Selection for the Nikolsky award, one of the most prestigious from AHS International, is "given to an individual who has a highly distinguished career in vertical flight aircraft research and development, and is skilled at communicating their technical knowledge and experience, for whom a summary of their original work represents a valuable reference publication. The selection of the lecturer is based on the individual’s distinguished career, the significance and appropriateness of the subject matter, the lecturer’s ability to compose an archival lecture document and the lecturer’s willingness to present the lecture to the Society’s various regions."

McCormick is survived by his wife, Emily, his daughter, Cynthia Miceli, son-in-law, Ken Miceli, five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. His obituary notes that, "While he was a giant in the field of aerospace, he left a large footprint in his personal life as well. His kindness, wisdom, and humor will be greatly missed."

AHS International is accepting contributions to the Vertical Flight Foundation (VFF) towards the Barnes W. McCormick Scholarship. Please go to www.vtol.org/vff to make a donation.

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