VFS Mourns the Loss of Dr. Dick Bennett

VFS is saddened to inform the vertical flight community that Dr. Dick Bennett, VFS Technical Fellow and Emeritus Member, has passed away. At Bell Helicopter (1966-2001), he led work in rotorcraft aerodynamics, dynamics, fuselage vibration, rotor stability and flight simulation. In parallel (1980-2005), he was an adjunct faculty at the University of Texas, where he typically taught two evening courses in the fall and one in the spring semester, including Advanced Mechanical Vibrations, Helicopter Analysis and Design, Optimum Structural Design, Optimum Mechanical Design and Aeroelasticity. After retirement, he continued giving short courses and guest lecturing at numerous universities.

His friends and family have written this fitting tribute to someone who was a sharp of mind as he was sharp of wit:

In Memoriam

Richard Bennett, RIPDr. Richard L. “Dick” Bennett, husband, father, colleague and friend resided in Fort Worth, Texas, and was 84 when he died on April 25, 2022 from complications of pulmonary fibrosis. Dick’s second wife Helene and first wife Charlene both preceded him in death in 2020; Dick’s daughter Anne Oswalt, son-in-law John Oswalt, step-daughter Lara Smith Horner, son-in-law Rich Horner, and their son Hunter Horner survive him today. But an army of friends, colleagues and students who he taught by example the finer points of rotorcraft and living a full life also survive him.

Dick grew up in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and attended the University of Arkansas from 1955 to 1961, getting his B.S. (isn’t that the truth!) in Industrial Engineering and his M.S. in Engineering Mechanics. Then, while working at DuPont, Dick and his new bride Charlene moved to College Station so Dick could attend Texas A&M, which he proudly said was back when the letters “A&M” meant something. In 1965, Dick received his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering but felt no shame in admitting he was a doctor, just not the kind that helped people. Nature blessed Dick with a keen mind and a wicked sense of humor.

In December 1966, Dick joined Bell Helicopter, and rose through the ranks to become a staff engineer and curmudgeon-in-chief by the time he retired in 2001. But he accomplished more in that 35 years than most could in two lifetimes. Dick led the development of the rotorcraft industry standard for helicopter modeling and analysis, as well as pursuing applications of advanced control technology.

Not content with having just one captive audience at Bell Helicopter, Dick taught as an adjunct at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) and presented short courses at Penn State University’s renowned Short Course in Rotary Wing Technology. His short courses were designed to be understood; Dick called them “ding-dong school” and he made it a point to present difficult topics “in agricultural terms” — a nod to his Aggie education. Dick also presented his short course several times at the Vertical Flight Society (then “AHS”) Annual Forum, reaching an audience eager to get an education from the horse’s mouth. Many universities — including Iowa State University, Purdue University, The University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Arizona — invited Dick to lecture as a guest. To say that Dick was well-respected by those in the industry is a supernatural understatement.

Dick wrote over 20 peer-reviewed scholarly papers on subjects as diverse as active noise control, tail rotor design, flight simulation and optimal design applications to rotorcraft problems. Speaking of optimization, Dick once noted that his first e-mail address at Bell Helicopter had misspelled his name. He chalked it up to a cost-cutting action, which he explained to a colleague: “BHTI is in the middle of a cost cutting mode. They, in their infinite wisdom, have decided that they can save $.00356/decade by eliminating the second ‘t’ from my name. Therefore, my email address is: dbennet@bellhelicopter.textron.com.” But, if nothing else, Dick was fair and gave credit to BHTI when they corrected their mistake: “Please be informed that BHTI has found the financial resources to add the second ‘t’ to my email name. It is now: dbennett@bellhelicopter.textron.com.” Fair and balanced.

After retiring from Bell, Dick joined AVX Aircraft corporation as a consultant where he continued to mentor engineers new to rotorcraft and to find solutions to problems not yet encountered. Among the many lessons he taught was this gem: “We put truth and integrity high on a pedestal — that way we won’t bump into them in daily activity.”

But Dick also managed to balance his professional life with a home life and hobbies. His canoe trips are the stuff of legend and his business excursions into a dance studio with his daughter brought interesting stories to his work family.

Family, friends and colleagues will miss Dick. A celebration of life is planned for later this year.

The VFS Vertical Flight Foundation (VFF) is accepting donations on behalf of the “Richard L. Bennett Scholarship.” VFF is a 501(c)(3) charitable non-profit, and donations are tax-deductible in accordance with current IRS guidelines.