George S. Schairer

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George S. Schairer
Born (1913-05-19)May 19, 1913
Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania
Died October 28, 2004(2004-10-28) (aged 91)
Kirkland, Washington
Citizenship United States
Alma mater Swarthmore (BS 1934), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MS 1935)
Occupation Aeronautical engineer
Known for Aircraft design
Spouse(s) Pauline
Children George, Mary, Sally, John
Awards Daniel Guggenheim Medal (1967)

George S. Schairer (May 19, 1913 – October 28, 2004) was an aerodynamicst at Consolidated Aircraft and Boeing whose design innovations became standard on virtually all types of military and passenger jet planes.

Early life[edit]

George Swift Schairer was born in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, on May 19, 1913.[1] His father, Dr. Otto Schairer, was one of the founders of KDKA, the first commercial broadcasting station in the U.S., and also a pioneer in electronic television.[2][3] He received a bachelor's degree in engineering from Swarthmore in 1934 and a master's degree in engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1935.[1]

Early career[edit]

After working for Bendix Aviation he joined Consolidated Aircraft,[3] where he led the aerodynamic design effort of the Consolidated XP4Y Corregidor and the Consolidated B-24 Liberator. In particular, he was one of the engineers responsible for the incorporation of the Davis wing in these designs.[4] At Consolidated Aircraft, he also gained extensive experience in the design of controls for aircraft.[5]

Career at Boeing[edit]

In 1939, Edmund T. "Eddie" Allen hired Schairer to be chief of the aerodynamics unit at Boeing, replacing Ralph Cram, who had been killed in the crash of the Boeing 307 prototype.[6] In this position, he helped develop and test the Boeing 307 Stratoliner, the first pressurized airliner, including the redesign of the vertical tail in response to the March 18, 1939 crash of the prototype.[5][7] He also was involved in the development of the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, in particular, the incorporation of aerodynamically balanced control surfaces on the B-17E, replacing spring tabs.[5] During the design of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress he was responsible for the incorporation of the Boeing 117 wing airfoil, previously designed for use on the Boeing XPBB Sea Ranger. Working with the head of the company's Research Division, test pilot Edmund T. "Eddie" Allen, he also helped defend the use of a much higher wing loading (69 lbs/sq foot) on the B-29 than had been used on previous designs. This was accomplished by the use of a powerful flap system that allowed good low-speed performance.[8]

Boeing adoption of swept wings[edit]

In 1945, Schairer was part of a team of engineers led by Theodore von Kármán responsible for searching through technical data at captured German research centers. At the Völkenrode research center, he found test results showing the drag reduction offered by swept wings at transonic speeds. On May 10, Schairer wrote a seven-page letter to Boeing colleague Bob Withington that included a drawing of the swept wing and, in cramped handwriting, presented the key mathematical formulas.[9] To avoid delay, Schairer wrote "Censored" on the envelope and mailed it. Upon returning from Germany, Schairer led an effort to overhaul Boeing's design for what became the Boeing B-47 Stratojet by incorporating wings that were swept back 35 degrees. The swept wing proved to be crucial in Boeing's efforts to win the design competition to build the B-47. In addition, he is credited with the incorporation of the podded engine concept on the B-47.[10]

Birth of the B-52[edit]

On Thursday, October 21, 1948 Schairer and Boeing engineers Art Carlsen and Vaughn Blumenthal presented the design of a four-engine turboprop bomber to the Air Force chief of bomber development, Col. Pete Warden. Warden, looked over the turboprop data and was clearly disappointed. He asked if the Boeing team could come up with an updated proposal for a four-engine turbojet bomber. Joined by Ed Wells, Boeing vice president of Engineering, the engineers worked that night in the Hotel Van Cleve and redesigned Boeing's proposal to be a four-engine turbojet bomber. On Friday, Col. Warden carefully looked over the new charts and graphs and asked for a better design. Returning to the Hotel Van Cleve, the Boeing team was joined by Bob Withington and Maynard Pennell, two top Boeing engineers who just happened to be in town on other business.[11]

By late Friday night, they had laid out what was essentially a new airplane. The new design featured a wing that was swept back at 35 degrees with a 185-foot span. More significantly, it featured eight jet engines. After a Saturday morning trip to a local hobby shop for balsa wood, glue, carving tools and silver paint, Schairer set to work building a model. The rest of the team focused on weight and performance data. Wells, who was also a skilled artist, completed the aircraft drawings. On Sunday, a stenographer was hired to type a clean copy of the proposal. On Monday, Schairer presented Col. Warden with a neatly bound 33-page proposal and a beautiful 14-inch scale model on a stand. The result was a contract to build what became the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress.[11]

Development of the 707[edit]

In October 1949, one year after the creation of the B-52 concept, Schairer and Ed Wells were in Dayton Ohio examining wind tunnel data of an improved wing for the B-52 with Boeing aerodynamicist John Alexander. Their conversation turned to the concept of a civil jet transport. On the spot, they designed and sketched out a low-wing transport using essentially the B-52 wing design, with jet engines in separate pods on swept-back wings and a tricycle landing gear that retracted into the body. When the three engineers returned to Seattle, they passed their design on to the preliminary design group.[12]

After the US Air Force in November 1950 asked Boeing to look at tanker/transport aircraft that would be a significant improvement over the Boeing KC-97 Stratofreighter, design studies were begun. This design eventually evolved into the Boeing 367-80, which Schairer was heard to observe was not different than design he, Ed Wells and John Alexander had sketched in October 1949.[12] Schairer, who became the head of the technical staff at Boeing in 1951, oversaw the development of the 367-80, KC-135 Stratotanker and Boeing 707 airliner.[13][14]

Later career[edit]

As Assistant Chief Engineer, Schairer led Boeing's design efforts for what was then called "Weapon System 110A", a supersonic bomber for the US Air Force. In the end, North American Aviation won the contract to build what was named the North American XB-70 Valkyrie.[12] He was also involved in the design of the Boeing 727,[15] Boeing 737 and Boeing 747.

From 1959 to 1973, as vice president for research and development at Boeing, Schairer oversaw Boeing's technical staff, including the engineers who conducted structural analyses and tested a plane's flight controls, hydraulics and electrical systems. He retired from Boeing in 1978.[1]

In 1957, he received the Daniel Guggenheim Medal, whose previous recipients included Orville Wright, Charles Lindbergh and William Boeing. He received the Spirit of St. Louis Medal in 1957 and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1968. He received an honorary doctorate in engineering from Swarthmore in 1958.[1] Schairer was the recipient of the prestigious Pathfinder Award, bestowed by Seattle's Museum of Flight in 1985.[16]


  1. ^ a b c d George S. Schairer, Aerodynamics Expert, Dies at 91 Retrieved 3 August 2011.
  2. ^ Meyers, William Starr, Prominent Families of New Jersey, Volume 1, Clearfield Company, 2000.
  3. ^ a b Daniel Guggenheim Medal Medalist For 1967 Retrieved 3 August 2011
  4. ^ Vincenti, Walter G., What Engineers Know and How They Know It; Analytical Studies from Aeronautical History, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990.
  5. ^ a b c Abzug, Malcolm J. and Larrabee, E. Eugene, Airplane Stability and Control; A History of the Technologies That Made Aviation Possible; Second Edition, Cambridge Aerospace Series, 2002.
  6. ^ The Boeing 367-80; Jet Transport Prototype Mechanical Systems Retrieved 3 August 2011.
  7. ^ Schairer, George S. "Directional Stability and Vertical Surface Stalling", Journal of the Aeronautical Sciences, Vol.8 No.7.
  8. ^ Essay about Eddie Allen by R. Bobbins Retrieved 3 August 2011.
  9. ^ Meirer, Hans-Ulrich, editor German Development of the Swept Wing 1935-1945, AIAA Library of Flight, 2010. Originally published in German as Die deutsche Luftahrt Die Pfeilflügelentwicklung in Deutschland bis 1945, Bernard & Graefe Verlag, 2006.
  10. ^ Fedden, Sir Roy, "The Podded Engine Saga", Flight International, January 6, 1969.
  11. ^ a b B-52 Design: Dayton Hotel Birthplace of Jet-powered Bomber Archived January 29, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 3 August 2011.
  12. ^ a b c Geer, Mary Wells, Boeing's Ed Wells, University of Washington Press, 1992.
  13. ^ Cook, William H., The Road to the 707; The Inside Story of Designing the 707, TYC Publishing Company, 1991.
  14. ^ Schairer, George, "The Engineering Revolution Leading to the Boeing 707", presented at the AIAA 7th Annual Applied Aerodynamics Conference, Seattle Washington, July 1989.
  15. ^ "Boeing 727; US Competitor for the D.H. Trident Announced", Flight International December 16, 1960.
  16. ^ Pathfinder Award Wall of Fame and Database Retrieved 3 August 2011.