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Memorial Tributes: Volume 22 (2019)

Chapter: ALEXANDER H. FLAX

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Suggested Citation:"ALEXANDER H. FLAX." National Academy of Engineering. 2019. Memorial Tributes: Volume 22. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25543.
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Suggested Citation:"ALEXANDER H. FLAX." National Academy of Engineering. 2019. Memorial Tributes: Volume 22. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25543.
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Suggested Citation:"ALEXANDER H. FLAX." National Academy of Engineering. 2019. Memorial Tributes: Volume 22. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25543.
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ALEXANDER H. FLAX

1921–2014

Elected in 1967

“Solid and fluid mechanics and aerodynamics.”

BY EARL DOWELL

ALEXANDER HENRY FLAX passed away June 30, 2014, at age 93 after a long and distinguished career as an engineer and scientist, a leader in government and industry, and a valued advisor. He was NAE home secretary from 1984 to 1992.

Al was born to David and Etta Flax on January 18, 1921, in Brooklyn, New York. A high school teacher inspired his interest in mathematics and, after he graduated at age 16, he went on to receive his BS in aeronautical engineering from New York University and PhD in physics from the University of Buffalo.

His career was largely in the world of aerospace, aviation, and defense, beginning with employment at Curtiss-Wright Corporation, Piasecki Helicopter Corporation (later acquired by Boeing), and Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory (now Calspan Corporation).

At Curtiss-Wright (1940–44) he introduced analytical methods for developing and using ground and flight instrumentation in aircraft design, development, and flight testing, applying these methods to problems in vibration, flutter, and structural leads for flight dynamics. He spearheaded the development and adoption of electric strain gauges in aeronautical instrumentation and provided insights to address “the compressibility effect” (excessive vibration) in aircraft at high speeds.

Suggested Citation:"ALEXANDER H. FLAX." National Academy of Engineering. 2019. Memorial Tributes: Volume 22. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25543.
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In his work at Piasecki (1944–46) he headed a group of engineers who developed twin-rotor tandem helicopters, which are still in use (the Boeing CH-47 Chinook). He also led the technical effort that yielded aerodynamic structures testing and weight control, including the development of methods of design analysis and testing.

At Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory (1946–59 and 1961–63) his analytical and flight test correlations contributed to flight stability and helicopter blade design. He led research in supersonic aerodynamics, flight control, and ram-jet propulsion, and significantly enhanced wind tunnel capacity for supersonic and hypersonic testing.

He served as chief scientist of the Air Force (1959–61) and then assistant secretary of the Air Force for Research and Development (1963–69) under Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. He was the third director of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) at a time when the second generation of imaging systems became operational and important in US intelligence during the Cold War. He advocated major growth in NRO funding and personnel, oversaw the production of signals intelligence collectors from space, and promoted the development of an electro-optical imaging system for US reconnaissance satellites. From there he became president of the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA; 1969–83).

In addition, he was a long-time consultant to the Defense Science Board (DSB; 1974–87) and President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (1982–87).

He was a member of numerous government and university advisory boards, committees, and panels. He served on the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, DSB, and Federal Emergency Management Agency advisory board, and chaired the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) advisory committee.

He was also active in the work of the NAE and National Research Council, as a member of the Panel on the Impact of National Security Controls on International Technology Transfer (1985–87), Committee on a Commercially Developed Space Facility (1988–89), and Committee on NASA Scientific and Technological Program Reviews (1981–93), among others.

Suggested Citation:"ALEXANDER H. FLAX." National Academy of Engineering. 2019. Memorial Tributes: Volume 22. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25543.
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Page 105
Suggested Citation:"ALEXANDER H. FLAX." National Academy of Engineering. 2019. Memorial Tributes: Volume 22. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25543.
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Page 106
Suggested Citation:"ALEXANDER H. FLAX." National Academy of Engineering. 2019. Memorial Tributes: Volume 22. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25543.
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Page 107
Suggested Citation:"ALEXANDER H. FLAX." National Academy of Engineering. 2019. Memorial Tributes: Volume 22. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25543.
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This is the 22nd Volume in the series Memorial Tributes compiled by the National Academy of Engineering as a personal remembrance of the lives and outstanding achievements of its members and foreign associates. These volumes are intended to stand as an enduring record of the many contributions of engineers and engineering to the benefit of humankind. In most cases, the authors of the tributes are contemporaries or colleagues who had personal knowledge of the interests and the engineering accomplishments of the deceased. Through its members and foreign associates, the Academy carries out the responsibilities for which it was established in 1964.

Under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering was formed as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. Members are elected on the basis of significant contributions to engineering theory and practice and to the literature of engineering or on the basis of demonstrated unusual accomplishments in the pioneering of new and developing fields of technology. The National Academies share a responsibility to advise the federal government on matters of science and technology. The expertise and credibility that the National Academy of Engineering brings to that task stem directly from the abilities, interests, and achievements of our members and foreign associates, our colleagues and friends, whose special gifts we remember in this book.

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