Paul Bikle

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Director Paul F. Bikle, at NASA's Flight Research Center (FRC) in 1959 (from NASA Photo E-4875)

Paul F. Bikle (June 5, 1916 Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania – January 19, 1991 Salinas, California) Director of the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Dryden Flight Research Facility from 1959 until 1971, and author of more than 40 technical publications, has been associated with major aeronautical research programs including the supersonic X-15 rocket plane, and also was a world record setting glider pilot.

Civilian career[edit]

Before graduating from the University of Detroit in 1939 with a B.S. degree in aeronautical engineering, Bikle's activity in the student chapter of the Institute of the Aeronautical Sciences (IAS), and the school gliding and flying club, led to flight instruction and a pilot's license from the C.A.A., the predecessor to the FAA. He later became a fellow in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the successor to the IAS. Mr. Bilke worked for Taylorcraft Aircraft in Ohio before beginning his government service career.

Air Force career[edit]

His career with the U.S. Air Force began in 1940 when he was appointed an aeronautical engineer at Wright Field. In 1944 he was named Chief of the Aerodynamies Branch in the Flight Test Division there. While working closely with other government agencies in establishing the first flying qualities specifications for aircraft, he also wrote AAF Technical Report 50693 Flight Test Methods, which was used as a standard manual for conducting flight tests for more than five years. During the World War II years he was involved in more than 30 test projects and flew over 1,200 hours as an engineering observer.

In 1947, Bikle was appointed Chief of the Performance Engineering Branch, and directed tests of the XB-43 Jetmaster, the first U.S. jet bomber; the Convair XC-99, and the F-86A Sabre. With the transfer of this part of the flight test mission to the newly formed Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards AFB, he advanced to Assistant Chief of the Flight Test Engineering Laboratory in 1951.

NASA career[edit]

Paul Bikle was technical director of the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base in September 1959, when he was named Director of the NASA Flight Research Center (FRC) at Edwards, California. In July, 1962, he was awarded the NASA Medal for Outstanding Leadership for his part in directing flight operations and research activities on the highly successful rocket-powered X-15 program. After Paul's retirement on May 31, 1971, The FRC became the Dryden Flight Research Center in 1976.

During his nearly 12 years with NASA he was responsible for several major aeronautical research programs, including those involving the X-15, the supersonic XB-70, the fleet of wingless lifting bodies that contributed to development of the Space Shuttles, and the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle that paved the way for successful Moon landings by Project Apollo astronauts.

Just before 1961 Christmas Paul Bikle gave directive to Charles Richard to quickly and cheaply design and build what would become the template for wing used for 'Standard Rogallo' hang gliders in modern hang gliding. Following such directive and successful test flying of the paraglider research vehicle and more versions, hundreds craftspeople made their own hang gliders with various fuselage solutions including the use of the Gottlob Espenlaub: see 'Espenlaub 11' for his 1921 hang glider triangle control bar solution (side-struted or cabled), parallel-bar solution, full-cockpit solution, trike solutions, powered-pilot solutions, and even a no-fuselage hanging-pilot solution. Paul Bikle's directive synergistically birthed a wing that would dramatically change personal aviation in powered and unpowered realms.


Bikle was a veteran of 23 years of soaring, and was president of the Soaring Society of America (SSA). He established two world soaring records on February 25, 1961 while flying his Schweizer SGS 1-23E[1] near Lancaster, California, achieving an altitude of 46,267 feet and a total-altitude-gained mark of 42,300 feet.[1] Both marks were certified by the National Aeronautic Association, and the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. Bikle still holds the record for gain in height.[2] He flew a Prue Standard to a world record distance of 557 mi (896 km) in 1963, the longest ever made by a sailplane up to that date.[3] He became a member of the Soaring Hall of Fame in 1960 and was awarded the FAI Lilienthal Gliding Medal, the highest award in international soaring, in 1962.[4]

While director of the Dryden Flight Research Facility, Bikle designed and completed his own sailplane, the Bikle T-6, flying it to fifth place in the 1970 US Nationals.[5][6]

Other soaring accomplishments[edit]

  • Barringer Trophy 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956
  • U.S. Diamond badge #3 (International #7) 1953;
  • Symons Three Lennie award #11
  • Eaton Trophy 1964
  • Tissandier Diploma 1968
  • Tuntland Award 1970, 1971
  • OSTIV Plaque/Klemperer Award 1972
  • World/National Competition
  • Smirnoff Derby
  • Sailplane Performance Studies/Tests


  1. ^ a b Schweizer, Paul A: Wings Like Eagles, The Story of Soaring in the United States, page 183. Smithsonian Institution Press, 1988. ISBN 0-87474-828-3
  2. ^ FAI web site on the gain in height record
  3. ^ Rogers, Bennett: 1974 Sailplane Directory, Soaring Magazine, page 34. Soaring Society of America, August 1974. USPS 499-920
  4. ^ "The Lilienthal Gliding Medal". 
  5. ^ Activate Media (2006). "HP-13 and HP-14 HP Aircraft, LLC". Retrieved 27 April 2011. 
  6. ^ Said, Bob: 1983 Sailplane Directory, Soaring Magazine, page 37. Soaring Society of America November 1983. USPS 499-920