William H. Avery (engineer)

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William Hinckley Avery
Born (1912-07-25)July 25, 1912
Died June 26, 2004(2004-06-26) (aged 91)
West Yarmouth, Massachusetts
Congestive heart failure
Alma mater Harvard University
Thesis I. Viscosity in relation to photo-chemical reaction. II. Certain photo-chemical reactions of hydrogen sulfide. (1937)
Doctoral advisor George Shannon Forbes
Known for
Influenced Frederick S. Billig

William Hinckley Avery (July 25, 1912 – June 26, 2004) was an influential aeronautical engineer. He designed the propulsion mechanism known as the ramjet, and was known for heading the Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion program which generates electricity from the temperature differential between shallow and deep ocean water.[1]

Early years[edit]

Avery was born on July 25, 1912.

After studying chemistry and physics at Harvard and working as a private research chemist, Avery turned to rocket science during World War II. He directed a division of the Allegany Ballistics Laboratory in Cumberland, Maryland, that developed solid fuels for rockets later used to launch guided missiles and spacecraft.[1]


Avery moved to Johns Hopkins University in 1947 and soon became head of propulsion research at the Applied Physics Laboratory. Over the next several decades, his research laid the foundation for understanding combustion in rocket and jet engines. His group invented the propulsion system for Talos, the first surface-to-air missile to use a ramjet engine.[1]

While at the Applied Physics Laboratory, Avery mentored Frederick S. Billig, the scramjet pioneer.[2]

Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion[edit]

In 1973, Avery began leading the Applied Physics Laboratory's work on emerging technologies. Searching for alternative sources of energy, he helped develop the Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion program, which used the temperature difference between shallow and deep tropical seawater to generate electricity.[1]


Avery retired from the Applied Physics Laboratory in 1989.


Avery died on June 26, 2004 of congestive heart failure. He was survived by his wife of 66 years, Helen, his daughter Patricia, of West Barnstable, Mass., his son, Christopher, of Washington; two grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.


  1. ^ a b c d Hoffman, Jascha (July 12, 2004). "William Avery, Jet Engine Scientist, Dies at 91.". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-04-26. William H. Avery, an aeronautics researcher whose work led to new ways to propel missiles and aircraft and who helped develop a method of generating energy from the ocean, died June 26 at a retirement home in West Yarmouth, Mass. He was 91. 
  2. ^ Ben T. Zinn and Joseph A. Schetz (2008). "Frederick S. Billig, Ph.D. (1933-2006)". Memorial Tributes: National Academy of Engineering. National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 2010-04-30.