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Keith Henry
(Phone: 757/864-6120, 757/344-7211)
h.k.henry@larc.nasa.gov

RELEASE NO. 03-007
 


Jan. 29, 2003

NASA AERONAUTICAL INNOVATOR PASSES AWAY

Laurence K. Loftin, Jr., who helped ensure a vibrant NASA aeronautical research program in the shadow of America’s space race in the 1960s and early 1970s, died Monday, Jan. 27, at the age of 83.

Loftin came to work at Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., in 1944, one year after graduating from the University of Virginia in mechanicalengineering.

Laurence Loftin Jr.
Laurence K. Loftin, Jr.
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Influenced by the need to make aircraft fly faster and farther during a time of war, he soon established himself as an accomplished aerodynamicist. His first assignment was to the Low Turbulence Section where he helped conduct wind tunnel tests. Later, he made significant contributions to making all manner of aircraft safe from the effects of wing flutter, a coupling of structural frequencies that tore wings off aircraft in extreme cases. He also advanced the understanding of supersonic flight — flight at greater than the speed of sound.

In time, Loftin would lead and encourage others in all aspects of aeronautical research into both military and civilian aircraft.

"He is one of a handful of exceptional innovators in Langley’s early days whose minds weren’t constrained by what could or could not be done. He helped invent the tools for aeronautics research," said Dr. Jan Roskam, a frequent top-level NASA advisor and the Ackers Distinguished Professor of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Kansas. "He was a great researcher, a very astute manager as well as a true gentleman," he added.

Loftin rose to be the Director of Aeronautical Research at NASA Langley, a leading aeronautical research lab within NASA. Before retiring in 1974, he authored Quest for Performance: The Evolution of Modern Aircraft, a highly valued reference for aviation historians.

"In my 22 years as an aerospace historian, no one I’ve encountered had a deeper or more profound understanding of the dynamic relationship between the form and function of a flying machine than Larry Loftin," said Dr. James R. Hansen, former Langley historian. "If he had to leave us, it seems right that it happened in the year celebrating the 100th anniversary of his heroes, the Wright brothers."

Loftin was born in Lynchburg, Va., in 1919.

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