Apollo M.O. Smith, the last surviving member of the original group of Caltech students whose rocket testing in 1936 helped lead to the formation of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, died on May 1 after a short illness. He was 85 years old.
Smith, a graduate student at the California Institute of Technology, joined Frank Malina and several fellow students in conducting liquid-propellant rocket tests in the Arroyo Seco, a dry canyon wash near present-day JPL, between 1936 and 1938. Their studies, assisted by Theodore von Krmn, director of the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory at Caltech, helped generate the enthusiasm, interest and viability in rocketry that eventually led to the formation in 1944 of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
"It was clear that his work as one of the members of that tiny group of Caltech students was just the first step in a long and productive career in aerospace," said JPL Director Dr. Edward Stone.
Smith graduated from Caltech in 1938 with master's degrees in both mechanical and aeronautical engineering. After working for Douglas Aircraft Co. from 1938 to 1942, he went to the newly formed Aerojet Engineering Corp. as the company's first chief engineer.
In 1944, Smith returned to Douglas as assistant chief of the aerodynamics section, and was responsible for the aerodynamic design of the D-558-1 airplane, which for a time held the world speed record.
At the close of World War II, Smith was called upon by the U.S. Navy to travel to Europe and learn what developments the Germans had made in aviation and rocketry. As an indirect consequence of that work, he proposed and began studies of a swept-wing, tailless aircraft, culminating in the world record- breaking F4D-1 Skyray Interceptor.
From 1948 to 1954, Smith returned to Douglas as a supervisor of design research, spearheading the group that developed virtually all of the design and analysis methods used to create the Douglas DC-9 and DC-10 commercial aircraft. From 1954 until his retirement in 1975, Smith remained at Douglas holding several key positions, including chief aerodynamics engineer.
He served as adjunct professor at UCLA from 1975 to 1980, and continued to actively consult on aerodynamic theory until his health began to fail early this year.
Smith was born in Columbia, Missouri, on July 2, 1911. He is survived by his wife, Elisabeth; his sister, Athena; his brother, Hermes; three children, Tove Anne, Kathleen Roberta and Gerald Nicholas; and six grandchildren.
Memorial services will be held Monday, May 19, at 2:30 p.m., at the Athanaeum at the California Institute of Technology. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Caltech Alumni Scholarship Fund, addressed to California Institute of Technology, Apollo Smith Memorial Fund, MC 105-40, Pasadena, CA 91125.
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