He was a son of William T. Piper, who made the Piper Cub a synonym for any airplane that was neither military nor an airliner, but he did not live in the shadow of his more famous father, having made his own, if less-known, name in aviation and beyond.
Bill Piper Jr., a man of quiet accomplishment, easy jocularity and deep compassion, died Aug. 24 at the age of 95. He would have been 96 on Sept. 8.
He left, as one friend said, with “a passing of wings on a sunny summer day” as a formation of bright yellow Cubs flew over the Piper family mausoleum while a trumpeter played a jazz-inspired rendition of Piper’s favorite song, “A Closer Walk With Thee,” and one of the Cubs peeled away from the rest of the group in a Missing Man salute. An earlier memorial service at the Piper Aviation Museum drew a crowd of about 400, ranging from aviation luminaries to townfolk of Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, for whom he was always one of their own.
“Piper Aviation left Lock Haven 25 years ago, but Bill never left, and his family never left,” commented Jay Claster, a Piper friend who was master of ceremonies for the memorial service. “This marks the end of an extraordinary era,” he said, adding that it also “marks the end of an era in general aviation.”
John Merinar, a former president of the Piper Museum board, took a different view: “I don’t think this is the end of an era,” he said. “As long as the museum is here, the tradition will continue.” Merinar added that Piper, whom he knew for 40 years, was “very proud of what’s here” at the museum, to which this writer can attest. During a visit several years ago, a friendly and welcoming Bill Piper took me through the exhibits, delightedly offering details of Piper history that only a Piper would know, in no hurry to get rid of an unannounced visitor.
A general aviation pioneer in his own right, upon graduation from Harvard in 1934 he joined the company founded by his father. He became its president in 1968 and in 1970 became chairman of its board. By that time, the Piper Aircraft Co. had built some 86,000 planes, many of them during World War II. He remained chairman until 1973, when the company was sold and moved to Vero Beach, Florida.When general aviation manufacturers decided to break away from the large airline and military manufacturers, he helped to organize the General Aviation Manufacturers Association and was involved in general aviation in numerous other ways, often very influentially.
Bill Piper was described by almost everyone who encountered him as quietly gregarious, an unassuming and giving man, unfailingly gracious and respectful of others. He felt that cheese and crackers constituted a good meal and he was equally humble about his business accomplishments and contributions to local culture, education and public health under the Piper Foundation, through which he and his family supported a variety of projects.
Among the memorial service mourners was Nathan Reish, Piper’s former lawn boy, who said his one-time boss was easy-going enough to shrug off the occasional mishap. “One of the first days I worked for him, he told me to mow down by his boat dock,” Reish said. “It took me extra time, and when I got back he said to me, ‘Well, that took you a while,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, there were weeds that were really high,’ and he said, ‘That was my asparagus patch.’ I thought he was going to fire me, but instead he said, ‘Well, it’ll grow better next year.’”When Reish graduated from high school Piper sent him to Letourneau University, paying his full tuition and all of his expenses.
Claster ended the memorial service with a story he said he heard from a woman who was the Piper housekeeper for many years.”There’s one thing I’m never going to forget,” she told him. “Bill loved newspapers. He read them every day and he’d get ink all over his fingers, and his fingerprints were always all over the house.’ And she said, ‘I’m going to miss those fingerprints.’
“It struck me that we’re all going to miss his fingerprints. All over this town, all over the world.” nDr. Paul MacCready passed away in his sleep at his home in Pasadena, Calif., Aug. 28.
His death occurred less than one week after the 30th anniversary of the record-setting flight of his human-powered airplane, the Gossamer Condor.
“The world has lost a man of unique vision,” said Tim Conver, chairman, president and CEO of AeroVironment, a company MacCready founded in 1971. “Paul was an inspiration to so many people around the globe who were touched by his accomplishments and his innovative approach of ‘doing more with much less.’”
MacCready was nicknamed the father of human-powered flight after his Gossamer Condor made the world’s first sustained, controlled flight powered solely by a human.
MacCready was named Engineer of the Century by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and Graduate of the Decade by the California Institute of Technology. He was named one of the 100 greatest minds of the 20th century by Time Magazine.
Born in 1925 in New Haven, Conn., MacCready was always fascinated by flight, designing model airplanes as a boy. He earned his private pilot’s license at the age of 16.
He entered Yale in 1943, signing up for training as a Navy pilot at the same time. The war ended before he graduated. In 1947, he bought an Army surplus glider and soon became an accomplished glider pilot. The following year, he earned a master’s degree in physics at Caltech and won the first of three national soaring championships.
In 1951, he founded Meteorology Research Inc., which became a leader in weather technology and the manufacturing of remote-controlled aircraft for atmospheric research.
MacCready received a doctorate in aeronautics from Caltech in 1952, and in 1956 he became the first American to win the World Champion Soaring Contest.
Several years later, he founded AeroVironment, which produces electronic systems, surveillance aircraft and experimental, energy-efficient cars and boats. The firm also builds systems to monitor and reduce air pollution and hazardous waste.
His development of the Gossamer Condor was spurred by a cash prized offered by British entrepreneur Henry Kremer to anyone who built a human-powered plane capable of sustained, controlled flight.
After years of refinements, the Gossamer Condor made its successful flight Aug. 23, 1977, allowing MacCready to claim the $100,000 prize money. The Gossamer Condor now is on exhibit at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
He next developed the Gossamer Albatross, which he described as a “next-step clone” of the Condor, to fly across the English Channel. It made that trip successfully on June 12, 1979, garnering MacCready another $213,000 in prize money.
Next came the Gossamer Penguin, an ultralight powered by a 2.75-hp motor that ran on electricity generated by solar panels on top of the fuselage. In 1981, MacCready’s Solar Challenger flew 180 miles from Paris to Kent, England.
Later inventions included the Helios, an unmanned, solar-powered plane with 14 electric motors and a 200-foot wingspan that climbed to more than 96,000 feet, the highest altitude ever achieved by a propeller-driven aircraft. He also designed small surveillance planes, some the size of a man’s hand.
MacCready is survived by his wife, Judy; three sons, Parker, Tyler and Marshall; and two grandchildren. His family requests that anyone interested in commemorating MacCready’s life consider making donations to charities that benefit future generations.