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Hall of Honor Highlights Exceptional Figures from NASA Langley’s Past

The Langley Research Center NACA and NASA Hall of Honor inducted 19 storied figures from the center’s past into its inaugural class Aug. 13. One of the two living inductees, 101-year-old John Becker, was in attendance. Credits: NASA/Gary Banziger

History walked the halls of the newest building at NASA’s Langley Research Center on Thursday.

John Becker, who is 101 years old, was at NASA Langley in Hampton, Virginia, for the first induction of the Langley Research Center NACA and NASA Hall of Honor.

John Becker

Becker and 18 other prominent figures from the center’s history were honored at the ceremony, which was held in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the NACA, which became NASA in 1958. The next induction is planned for 2017 in celebration of NASA Langley’s 100th anniversary.

[For full bios and photos of all 19 honorees, visit our Hall of Honor website.]

“The men and women we celebrate today were pioneers and explorers,” said state Sen. John Miller. “They set the bar high and they paved the way for us to be leaders in space.”

Becker, who was born in 1913 in Albany, New York, got his first taste of aeronautics at a county fair in 1919. That’s when he saw his first airplane.

“The airplanes were new,” he said, “and for the first time man was able to fly. It was very exciting.”

A few years later, in 1922, at another county fair, Becker’s father paid $10 for him and his brother to take a flight in a biplane. Becker remembers feeling scared as they climbed in.

“But when we got up and saw that it was going to be safe, I remember that my brother clapped his hands,” he said. “We flew around the fairgrounds a couple of times and landed. They were flying out of a cow pasture.”

In the late 1930s, Becker came to the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, where he had a long, impressive career. He contributed to the development of the slotted-wall wind-tunnel concept and the X-1 rocket-powered research aircraft. He crossed paths with Orville Wright (“a stodgy old man,” according to Becker), Howard Hughes and Charles Lindbergh.

He also met his wife at Langley. Rowena Becker came to the center as part of the computing pool, then moved to the 8-Foot High-Speed Tunnel, where she would take readings and work out formulas while tests were running. John and Rowena married in 1946. She passed away in 1995.

Becker’s most lasting contributions at Langley were to hypersonic flight. Today, Becker is known as the father of the X-15, which set the world’s unofficial speed and altitude records of 4,520 mph (Mach 6.7) and 354,200 feet.

[For more images from the ceremony, visit our Flickr gallery.]

Carol Childress

Thomas Shepperd, a member of the York County, Virginia, Board of Supervisors and former Air Force fighter pilot, said he was grateful for the work many of the inductees had done to make high-speed flight possible. He remembers his first time going supersonic at 50,000 feet.

“I’ve got a thin layer of metal and of glass, and that’s the only thing between me and eternity,” he said. “I want to thank those of you in aviation who created this stuff, who created the forms, who created the bottle shape, who created the X-15 that allowed me to go faster than the speed of sound.”

Other officials in attendance included Virginia Delegate Mamye BaCote, Hampton Mayor George Wallace and Poquoson City Councilman Charles “Bud” Southhall.

Former NASA Langley center directors Jerry Creedon and Del Freeman were also in attendance. Deputy Director Clayton Turner opened the ceremony and, along with NASA Langley retiree and Hall of Honor committee member David Throckmorton, presented awards. NASA Langley retiree and aerospace history author Joe Chambers talked about the many lasting contributions the inductees have made to the aeronautics and aerospace industries.

Becker and Christopher Kraft are the only two living inductees, and Becker was the only one able to attend.

Family members of several honorees were in attendance, though, including Carol Childress, granddaughter of honoree Henry J.E. Reid, who was director of Langley from 1926 until 1960. He passed away in 1968.

Childress recalled her grandfather as a loving man who “had his ways to do things,” and has fond memories of him blowing up paper bags and popping them to startle her and her brother.

“It made my brother and I jump and squeal,” she said, “so he went from being Grampy to being Pop.”

Childress was grateful for the opportunity to attend the induction on her grandfather’s behalf. “I’m honored. I’m very proud,” she said, her voice cracking. “It brings tears to my eyes.”

Becker, whose 102nd birthday is Aug. 18, was still trying to process it all.

“It still doesn’t have the touch of reality to me,” he said. “It’s like a dream.”

Below are the citations for the Hall’s first class of honorees:

Max M. Munk              
In recognition of development of thin airfoil theory and the revolutionary Variable Density Wind Tunnel.

Pearl I. Young             
In recognition of enduring contributions to the NACA and NASA resulting from her personal establishment of systems that ensured the accuracy, thoroughness, and quality of technical publications.

Fred E. Weick            
In recognition of pioneering full-scale propeller research, development of the low-drag NACA engine cowling, and spin-resistant aircraft design.  

Eastman N. Jacobs     
In recognition of pioneering development of the NACA series of airfoils–especially the laminar flow series–and design of important Langley wind-tunnel facilities.

Theodore Theodorsen 
In recognition of groundbreaking research on the phenomenon of aircraft flutter, and development of the use of Freon in wind tunnels to enable aeroelastic testing in simulated flight-like environments.

Robert T. Jones          
In recognition of extraordinary contributions to the fundamental understanding of aerodynamic principles, and development of the ‘swept-back’ wing enabling efficient supersonic flight.     

Samuel Katzoff           
In recognition of pioneering contributions to the theoretical understanding of fundamental aerodynamic phenomena and leadership to ensure the quality of NACA and NASA research publications.  

Robert R. Gilruth      
In recognition of pioneering contributions to the quantitative understanding of aircraft handling qualities, concepts for flight testing in lieu of wind-tunnel testing, and leadership of America’s manned spaceflight program.

John P. Reeder           
In recognition of an exemplary career as NACA and NASA’s preeminent test pilot and his critical role in the development and implementation of the Terminal Configured Vehicle Program.”  

John C. Houbolt         
In recognition of single-handed, unwavering advocacy of the lunar-orbit-rendezvous concept that enabled accomplishment of President Kennedy’s objective of a manned mission to the moon and back during the decade of the 1960s.

Maxime A. Faget        
In recognition of extraordinary engineering insights and innovation that enabled Project Mercury and technical leadership of development of NASA’s manned space systems from Mercury to the Space Shuttle.

John V. Becker           
In recognition of pioneering contributions to the technology of hypersonic flight, including design of the 11-Inch Hypersonic Tunnel and visionary leadership that culminated in the X-15 research aircraft.

Henry J. E. Reid          
In recognition of development of the NACA V-G Recorder and exemplary leadership during a storied career as ‘Engineer-in-Charge’ of the NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory and Director of the NASA Langley Research Center.

John Stack                   
In recognition of pioneering research and leadership related to the challenges of supersonic flight, including leadership of the X-1 Program, and contributions to development of the slotted-wall wind tunnel. 

Ira H. Abbott              
In recognition of outstanding contributions to the development of the NACA series of airfoils, and exemplary leadership of NACA and NASA programs of critical national importance.

W. Hewitt Phillips    
In recognition of pioneering research in aircraft flight dynamics and development of multiple, unique simulation technologies at Langley—specifically, the Lunar Landing and Differential Maneuvering Simulator Facilities. 

Richard T. Whitcomb   
In recognition of revolutionary contributions to the science of aerospace—the area rule, supercritical wing, and winglets—that enabled supersonic flight of military aircraft and energy-efficient flight of commercial aircraft.  

Christopher C. Kraft 
In recognition of early research in aircraft handling qualities and subsequent creation of the concepts and processes for the planning, execution, and control of manned spaceflight missions.

Eugene S. Love           
In recognition of pioneering contributions to the technology of lifting bodies for controlled entry from space—especially the HL-10—and leadership of Langley’s critical roles in development of the Space Shuttle.