Irv Culver

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Irv Culver
BornMay 11, 1911[1]
DiedAugust 13, 1999
Engineering career

Irven Harold Culver (May 11, 1911 – August 13, 1999) was an American aeronautical engineer.[2][3]

Most notable of all his accomplishments, Culver is credited for solving a fatal flaw in the Lockheed P-38, related to high-speed compressibility problems which killed a test pilot.[4]

A humorous episode during World War II resulted in giving the very secret Lockheed Advanced Development Projects division the name "Skunk Works". A phone call from the U.S. Department of the Navy to W. A. "Dick" Pulver was misdirected to Irv Culver who answered the phone with "Skonk Works, inside man Culver" and the name stuck.[5] Another variant of the story relates that the original Skunk Works was located in a circus tent adjacent to the Lockheed plastics fabrication facility which smelled bad and reminded the engineers of the L'il Abner comic strip. Reportedly, Culver showed up for work wearing a civil defense gas mask as a gag and when he answered the phone he said "Skonk Works" referring to the cartoon. "Kelly overheard him and chewed out Irv for ridicule: "Culver, you're fired," Johnson roared. "Get your ass out of my tent." Culver showed up for work the next day and Johnson never said a word.[6] Kelly Johnson referred to Culver as "a brilliant designer" in his autobiography [7]

Culver was interested in a variety of aircraft configurations and developed guidelines for laying out the twist distribution on tailless aircraft.[8] He also helped to design an experimental helicopter, distinguished by a forward-sweeping blade, that was extremely easy to fly. In 1966, Culver, Thomas Hanson and Lance Hook were awarded a patent (US3261407) for a rigid rotor system which set world speed records for Lockheed helicopters and laid the foundation for aerobatic rotorcraft.[9] It earned Culver the Dr. Alexander Klemin Award from the American Helicopter Society.

In recent years, Culver was noted by Dan Armstrong, President of Experimental Soaring Association, for his work with Jim Maupin designing gliders intended to be built by craftsmen from plans. Culver is a well-known aerodynamicist.[10] He published a 13-page paper on the design analysis for the Windrose 15-meter glider that he designed with Maupin.[11]

Aircraft designs collaborated on[edit]


  1. ^ "The Birth of Irven Culver". California Birth Index. Retrieved September 23, 2021.
  2. ^ "Irven Culver Obituary mentions Hanson". September 20, 1999. p. 12 – via
  3. ^ "Skunk Works' Irven Culver Dies". Los Angeles Times. September 17, 1999.
  4. ^ Hall, Stan. "Final Glide". SSA.
  5. ^ Capp, Al. "F-117A: The Skunkworks". F-117A The Black Jet. n/a. Retrieved April 10, 2012.
  6. ^ Rich, Ben (February 1996). Skunk Works. pp. 111–112. ISBN 0316743003.
  7. ^ Johnson, Kelly (December 17, 1989). Kelly More Than My Share of it All. p. 98. ISBN 0874744911.
  8. ^ "Culver Twist Distribution".
  9. ^ "Skunk Works' Irven Culver Dies". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 4, 2015.
  10. ^ O'Neill, Kevin. "Designs that fly" (PDF). Paper: Presented to SIG-Learning Sciences. Retrieved April 11, 2012.
  11. ^ Culver, Irv. "Transcription of Irv Culver's Analysis for Windrose 15m". Self. Archived from the original on May 11, 2021.
  12. ^ Whal, Paul (May 1974). How they are engineering a whole new breed of HANG GLIDERS. Popular Science. Retrieved April 11, 2012.