We often define the pioneers of aviation in terms of pilots, such as Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart and Chuck Yeager. While being the first to set a record or fly a new type of aircraft carries a certain glamour, such efforts would not be possible without a large number of unsung heroes in the form of designers, engineers and technicians to take a plane from a mere drawing to it’s first flight. During this blog, we’ll follow the life of one of these heroes.
William Guy Redmond Jr. grew up in Dallas, earning a BS degree in Mechanical Engineering from Southern Methodist University in 1944. Mr. Redmond then served as a Radar Electronics Officer in the United States Navy, receiving advanced radar training at both Bowdoin College and the Massachusetts Institute Of Technology (MIT) in 1945. After his discharge from the navy in 1946, Guy worked as an engineer designing and maintaining pipe organ systems. The following year, he went back to SMU, serving as a faculty member until 1949, earning a BS in Electrical Engineering from the university the same year. Guy then left SMU in order to pursue a graduate degree in Electrical Engineering, which he received from MIT in 1951.
The 1950s was a time of intense development for both aviation and rocketry. Jet aircraft were now capable of flying faster than the speed of sound while rockets were able to reach the fringes of space. Mr. Redmond began his aerospace career with Vought Corporation in 1951 as a servo engineer. He both designed and invented a number of flight servo relays, inventing a servo trim system used in the F4J Fury and RA5C Vigilante naval aircraft and later the popular Lockheed L-1011 jetliner. He later served as Electronics Project Engineer on the F-8 Crusader, the predominant naval fighter aircraft of the era. In 1958 Guy’s career branched out into missile development, serving as head of advanced missile controls. During that time he created a flexible rocket engine flight control system, which provided both thrust vector control off the launcher, as well as aerodynamic control with airspeed. Subsequent tests led to Vought producing the Lance missile for the US Army.
In 1960 Guy became Chief Of Automatic Flight Control Systems for Vought, which proved to be an assignment of historic proportions. The following year President Kennedy addressed a joint session of Congress with the stated goal of sending astronauts to the moon and safely returning them by the end of the decade. Many technical issues loomed from this announcement, most notably a propulsion system which could function in an airless environment, in which the aerodynamic features of an aircraft were of no use. Also, a sophisticated guidance system was necessary to achieve a precise landing on the lunar surface, in addition to docking with the lunar orbiter. Mr. Redmond began work on such a guidance system, utilizing automatic throttles and electrical system monitors actuated by computerized signals – a fly- by- wire system. A fly-by-wire control is a purely electrically signaled control system, necessary in the environment of space. The FBW system is interposed between the astronaut/pilot and the control surfaces of the spacecraft/aircraft. The computer is able to modify the manual inputs of the pilot in accordance with programmed control parameters. Gyroscopes fitted with sensors are mounted in the spacecraft to sense movement changes in the pitch, yaw and roll axes. A fly-by-wire system also utilizes several backup computers, in case of failure of the main guidance system. Guy’s efforts bore fruit with first successful flight of the Lunar Module in 1964. He later contributed to the design of digital fly-by-wire systems.
Mr. Redmond served as Avionics Engineer on the Space Shuttle program, both designing and developing a number of innovative solutions. He retired from the Lockheed Martin Missile And Fire Control Division at the age of 89. During his 65 years in the field of engineering, he received 12 patents, as well as a Technical Innovation Award from NASA, in addition to recognition from both Congress and the Governor Of Texas – making him a true hero of aviation.
I wish to express my appreciation to Nicole Van Schaick, granddaughter of Mr. Redmond, who provided valuable documentation in preparation of this blog.
This blog is the first of a series about the heroes of aviation.