Richard Carlson

United States of America


Richard “Dick” Carlson was an acknowledged leader in the development of aviation technology for 50 years. In a lifetime of technical achievement, few people have impacted the aerospace technology field in the triad of industry, government, and academia as Dick Carlson. His personal contributions to the field of rotorcraft technology have greatly advanced and benefited the domestic and international Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) community. His mentorship had a great impact on a legion of practicing engineers and aviation professionals.

Born in Preston, Idaho, Dick Carlson graduated from the University of Washington. After completing Naval service, he gained his initial experience in fixed-wing engineering at Convair and Douglas Aircraft, and in exploratory research at NASA Ames working in the 12-ft pressure tunnel. In 1950, he joined Hiller Aircraft Corp., rising from a structures engineer to manager of the Aerostructures Dept. from 1956 to 1964. Concurrently, he attended Stanford University and received his Ph.D. in Engineering Mechanics in 1960. The genesis of his deep involvement with rotary-wing aircraft was at Hiller. He was instrumental in providing technology and design contributions to a generation of helicopters, particularly in the early application of composite structures, and in developing unique aircraft configurations (such as tilting thrusters).

In 1964, he joined Lockheed-California Co. in Burbank where he served as an advanced design division engineer, responsible for aerodynamics, dynamics, structures, and weights development analyses for the AH-56 Cheyenne compound helicopter. While continuing to encourage development and use of composites in VTOL aircraft, Dr. Carlson was assigned by Lockheed to support ongoing fixed-wing projects (C-5A wing problems, L-1011 empennage, and SST development), and as a consultant to the Advanced Development Projects (ADP) activity.

He also served as a Lecturer at Stanford University from 1958 into the 1970s, as he commuted from Southern California during his Lockheed years. There he developed and taught a full helicopter curriculum at the undergraduate and graduate levels. These courses covered VTOL aerodynamics, dynamics, aeroelasticity, and design.

Leaving industry, Dr. Carlson went to work for the US Army at NASA Ames Research Center in 1972. Beginning as chief of the Advanced Systems Research Office, he rose to the position of Director of US Army Air Mobility Research and Development Laboratories in 1976, managing all rotorcraft research activities for the Army. He was a leader and a force behind such technology development programs as the Advanced Digital-Optical Control System, Advanced Rotorcraft Transmission, and the Advanced Composite Airframe Program.

His personal expertise and successful guidance of the research and development program for the XV-15 Tilt Rotor program is in no small part the foundation of the V-22 Osprey, a third type of VTOL aircraft (after the helicopter and jet lift) to attain production status. Dr. Carlson retired from the Government in 1995 but continued his professional career serving as an Army Emeritus volunteer and as a Designated Engineering Representative (Structural) for the FAA (since 1952) until his death.

Dr. Carlson has a Presidential Rank Meritorious Executive Award and received three Army Meritorious Civilian Service Awards. He is an author of 25 technical papers on circular frames, helicopter rotor blade structural analysis, and the application of composite material to rotorcraft structures. He is also an Honorary Fellow of the American Helicopter Society and is a recipient of its Alexander Klemin Award for notable achievement in the advancement of rotary-wing aeronautics, it's Paul E. Haueter Award for significant contributions to the development of VTOL aircraft other than helicopters and its Alexander Nikolsky Lectureship Award.  He received the Nikolsky Lectureship award for his lecture "Helicopter Performance – Transportation's Latest Chromosome." He was a Fellow of the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), a Fellow of the British Royal Aeronautical Society, a member of the Swedish Society of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and a member of the National Academy of Engineering. He also served with distinction as a member of the original W-76, AIA, Committee on Commercial Aircraft Fatigue Strength Certification, the AIAA Technical Committee for VTOL Aircraft Design, the AHS Technical Council, the AGARD Structures and Materials Panel, and as a three-term appointee to the Congressional Advisory Committee on Aeronautics.

AHS Update: Vertiflite Fall 2004