United States of America
Cecil Richardson, Rotorcraft Navigation Pioneer
Born Feb. 22, 1940, in Manhattan, New York, Richardson attended All Hallows High School in the Bronx and Villanova University in Pennsylvania. Following graduation, Richardson started his career at Sikorsky Aircraft in 1961 and quickly was promoted to group leader of the Radar, TV and Navigation section where the special areas of interest were tactical navigation and search and rescue (SAR) sensor systems. Typical of his forward thinking, Richardson impressed the engineers and pilots at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base with his study on use of radar to navigate mountainous enemy territory under low-level flight. This study was prior to the later development of modern terrain-following radar for helicopters.
Richardson was an engineer with a deep curiosity related to furthering the role of avionics in helicopters. He was one of three engineers at Sikorsky who, in 1971, designed the S-67 Blackhawk gunship avionics system, which included a heads-up display, inertial navigation, film-based multi-scale map display, low-light-level TV, optically coupled helmet weapons sight, and a fire-control solution for the turreted gun and rockets. To this day, pilots say that the S-67 integrated system was as much as 20 years ahead of its time. Richardson’s formal analytic tradeoff papers were technically compelling and led to implementation of advanced navigation and SAR-related flight solutions on several flight platforms.
In 1972, Richardson transitioned to IBM Federal Systems in Owego, New York (today, also part of Lockheed Martin), and continued his advanced system design and analysis efforts for projects such as the SH-60B, TACNAV prototype, MH-53 PAVE LOW I and II, MC-130H Combat Talon gunship, A-10 cockpit weapons modernization, EH-101 mission system and the MH-60R. John Schubert, an IBM Owego engineer/manager, said that “Convincing Richardson to join IBM Federal Systems was the highest accomplishment of my career.”
One of Richardson’s outstanding characteristics was his willingness to share with other engineers the wealth of knowledge he had developed. As he once said to his friend and colleague Don Antilla, “A confident person will share their knowledge with other engineers.”
Richardson’s awards are many, including the prestigious VFS Honorary Fellowship (2004), which is granted to Society members whose career-based leadership and vision has significantly advanced the interests of vertical flight. He fits this description completely.
He was the author of several VFS papers related to tactical navigation in contested environments. In 1988, he produced a prescient paper on the growing complexity of software-based designs and the need for more structured processes to design, track and test systems with multi-million lines of code.
In retirement, Richardson and his wife moved to South Carolina and enjoyed long tours on his big Harley motorcycle, free from the high-tech office environment.
His colleagues remember him as “a generous man who shared his knowledge with others, a deep thinker, a visionary who advanced the operational value of vertical lift.
Cecil Richardson, a long-term member of VFS and a significant contributor to vertical flight, passed away peacefully on July 15, 2022.
VFS Update: 'In Memoriam,' Vertiflite, September/October 2022