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American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics

    Momentum Member Spotlight – December 2016

    AIAA Profiles Ron Gray

    By Duane Hyland, AIAA Communications
    14 December 2016

     

    Ron GrayAs the temperatures drop here in Reston, Virginia, the Spotlight decided to keep its beam shining on the west, swiveling from Colorado, to light up Dayton, Nevada, and highlight Ron Gray, a retired member of the aerospace community.

    A 1956 high school graduate, Gray joined the U.S. Navy, which stationed him aboard the USS Hancock (CVA-19), an Essex class attack aircraft carrier. While on the Hancock, Gray worked on the starboard catapult crew for the duration of his four-year enlistment. Discharged from the Navy in 1959, Gray went to work for North American Aviation and worked on the “Hound-dog” guided air missile and its Pratt & Whitney J52-P3 jet engines. In 1963, North American assigned him to the Apollo “Man-on-the-Moon Program,” where he worked on the project’s Launch Escape System and supported engineering on the program’s Command and Service Modules. In December 1965, he left North American to work at Douglas Aircraft Company, which sent him to the Philippine Islands to install electronic counter measures on carrier-based A-4 Skyhawks. He returned to the United States in 1966 and began working in flight test on Douglas’ DC-8 as a flight engineer during the plane’s final acceptance trials and delivery.

    In 1979, Gray returned to North American Aviation to begin working on the B-1B Bomber as the coordinating manager for the Centrally Integrated Support System, the first fully automated test facility then in existence. In 1988, he left North American for what he thought would be a semi-retirement, but soon after he received a call from Northrop Aircraft Company and accepted their offer to become the integrated logistics systems manager, over verification and validation of all support systems interfacing with the B-2A bomber. Gray described his work on the B-2A as a “wonderful experience” and opined that the B-2A is “one remarkable aircraft.” Gray retired from Northrup in 1999.

    We began our talk discussing Gray’s earliest memories of exposure to aerospace, which occurred when he was seven or eight years old. “I was playing in my front yard in Gardena, California, when an airplane flew very low over my house. It looked like a boomerang, I could see landing gear and things moving at the trailing edges of the wing. I stared at it until it flew out of sight. Then I said to myself, ‘I don’t know what keeps it in the air, but I’m surely going to find out what makes it work.’” Gray continued, “30 years later I met the guy who in all probability was at the controls that day. His name was Max Stanley, Jack Northrop’s Chief test pilot of the YB-49, the original ‘flying wing.’ We went on to become close friends.”

    When I asked Gray about his favorite career memories, he pointed out that after 45 years in the industry it would be hard to choose just one. “Looking back, I might say that one of my more exciting memories was during the reinstatement process of the B-1B Bomber. My assigned responsibilities as the coordinating manager of the first completely automated test facility was coordination of all design, fabrication, installation, and functional operations at the Air Force Plant 42, in Palmdale, California. North American Aviation was the prime contractor and Standard Manufacturing, along with H. K. Ferguson, were subcontractors, each responsible for support equipment and facility design. The fully up and running combined systems test facility was completed, ahead of schedule, and I was one happy camper.”

    With such a lengthy career, Gray had more than one memory to convey, adding, “My second exciting memory took place on the B-2A bomber program. I was manager of support equipment integration at Edwards Air Force Base. My responsibilities were verification and validation of all support systems delivered with each aircraft. As fabrication progressed, I realized we were approaching a critical Gantt chart milestone for the first aircraft delivery. The subcontractor for the weapons bay equipment could not satisfy the Air Force requirements to remove and replace a battle-damaged door in 60 minutes, due to a faulty design of support equipment. Things were going south fast and corrective action was necessary or Northrop was facing an expensive contract slip date. When we recycled the compatibility test we removed and reinstalled the weapons bay door in 35 minutes. What a great feeling to have dodged that bullet for Northrop.”

    RonGray-AIAA-RingWhen it came to his advice for young professionals and students, Gray responded: “Hang in there! The industry may not be as strong as it was in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, but it will return, full force, even stronger than before. The airplane will be somewhat different, but services will be basically the same – passengers, cargo, etc.” He also reminded them that a career in aerospace is really lifelong and can go beyond one’s retirement. “I’ve spent almost all of my career trying to stay abreast of aircraft propulsion system – Resips, Jet, Scramjet, Ramjet, and Rocket – and today being retired and having AIAA as a consulting source, I’m fully engaged in my research on hypersonic and space travel propulsion, which means the younger generation can continue their career after they retire, if they choose to.”

    When I asked Gray his thoughts about AIAA and its value to aerospace professionals and the profession at large, he replied, “Receiving this Spotlight Honor from AIAA has special meaning to me. Getting recognition from such a group of professionals is an honor in itself. There is no other society that I have been a part of, or know of, that offers its members such advanced technological information.”

    He then poignantly stated: “After my retirement in 2003, my wife and I moved from the southern California area to northern Nevada. After her passing in 2011, I found myself alone without any direction, that is, until I discovered AIAA. It was at that point in my life that I decided to write a story about my aerospace services, entitled ‘My Journey in Aerospace.’ It all fell into place when I found AIAA’s online data sources and I became a member.”

    It had come to the Spotlight’s attention that Gray had a ring made to signify his membership in AIAA, and so I asked Gray to tell me a little bit about the ring and what it signifies. “I was so impressed with the professional atmosphere of AIAA that I decided to have a ring made, not as an advertisement, but as a conversation piece. You’d be surprised, the number of people you meet and begin a conversation talking aerospace and you look up and they are gone. Basically, with the ring, I’m saying ‘do you speak aerospace?’”

    When I asked Gray to take a look at the future of aerospace, he had this to say: “My thoughts of AIAA’s future in aerospace? They will be there when all others are gone.” He went on to say: “I think Neil Armstrong said it all, using our time frame from 2016 to 2026, ‘one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” He continued, “You know, we can look back on our past aerospace history, first there’s Orville and Wilbur Wright and then the seven original astronauts: Alan Shepard, Wally Shirra, Deke Slayton, Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, Gus Grissom, and John Glenn, as well as those of the Apollo missions and, in honesty, I must remember Yuri Gagarin. They all had very risky assignments and I must say I was very proud to be part of the Apollo ‘Man on the Moon’ program, sitting in a safe office. In the future there will be other exciting times – going to Mars, mining asteroids, orbiting other planets and in general, space travel.”

    AIAA congratulates Ron Gray for his selection as the December 2016, spotlight subject, and wishes him the best as he continues to research propulsion systems.