Momentum Member Spotlight – May 2013
AIAA Congratulates Sol Kreisler – W.W. II Design Veteran and One of AIAA’s Longest Tenured Members
By Duane Hyland, AIAA Communications
The AIAA Member Spotlight for May 2013 shines on Sol S. Kreisler, AIAA Senior Member, and a retired former engineer for TRW and the Douglas Aircraft Company. Kreisler joined AIAA 1 January 1940, making him one of AIAA’s longest tenured active members, currently celebrating his 73rd year of AIAA membership.Born in New York City in 1915, only 12 years after the invention of powered flight, Sol, the child of immigrant parents who had fled pogroms in their native Austria, lived a childhood straight out of the pages of Henry Roth’s “Call it Sleep," experiencing life in the slums of New York first hand as he struggled with neighborhood bullies, the loss of both parents, and hard work at odd jobs to help support his family. Despite the conditions of his life, Sol still found time to visit his local library and “read everything they had about airplanes!” But it was that iconic headline ‘Lucky Lindy Made It!’ celebrating Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean, that was “ingrained permanently in my mind, and made me start out down the path to working in aerospace."
Sol’s dream came to fruition when he was able to skip three grades and start college at New York University (NYU) at the age of 16, in the school’s Aeronautical Engineering department. Sol shared an experience which framed just how desperate the economic time of the 1930s were: “Walking to NYU each morning, I would take the subway and then walk across the Harlem River Bridge where I looked out on the river and didn’t see anything moving. No smoke from the stacks, nothing. America was shut down!” Braving those cold walks every school day - Sol said that “on some days you had to protect yourself from frostbite," he came to understand that America and its economy were in dire straits. He graduated from NYU in 1935, and found that the only job available to him was a work co-op arrangement in Maryland where he was “allowed to work for no pay, in fact, I had to pay them a bit toward my board and for the work experience, but hey, it was airplanes, I was working on airplanes and I got experience to put on my resume, not bad for those times.” However, after a short time on that job, Sol returned to NYU to pursue a Master’s Degree, which he earned, graduating to an American industrial plant still mired in the Great Depression. He was lucky to find a job in the drafting department at Parker Kalon, a sheet metal manufacturer, and while working there, Sol was offered a job with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics at Langley Field, Hampton Roads, Virginia. He soon found himself rooming with a local family, and working in the facilities’ wind tunnel with model aircraft, to which he would attach weights to measure lift/drag ratios. He reminiscence “the wind tunnels were hot and humid, and combined with the natural atmosphere; you had to consider that the equipment generated its own heat. It was hot!”
By 1939, Sol had left NACA to go to work at Brewster Aeronautics, in Long Island City, NY, where he did mid-wing design work on Brewster’s SB2A1 “Buccaneer” scout bomber, which would go on to see service in World War II in numerous allied air forces, but in 1940, with the enticement of friends,Sol went west to California. With the outbreak of war in 1941, a newly married Sol left Brewster to go to work at Douglas Aircraft Company in Long Beach, Calif., where he would spend 21 years, starting out as a “Design Specialist,” working on some of America’s most famous planes. He worked on an array of aircraft that saw service in World War II. His first role at Douglas was as a design engineer, and later as a group leader, on the C-47 “Skytrain” transport, or, as he noted, “the workhorse of the war, according to General Eisenhower.” While on the C-47 project, Sol worked on most of the major parts of the plane’s fuselage and wing and tail section, even “the heating system – we did it all!” After World War II, Sol also worked on the XA26-F “Invader” attack bomber, “Douglas’ first jet, and only the second jet aircraft in the U.S. at the time” as a project engineer; the Douglas Aircraft Radio Controlled Life Raft, as a Chief Preliminary Designer; the C-124 Globemaster II, as the chief preliminary design engineer, a role he also had on the C-133 “Cargo Master,” and finally, as a project engineer on the ground support system of the Thor Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM).
Sol’s time at Douglas gave him two great career memories, one delightful, the other harrowing: “My first came with the C-124, and it was the only aircraft of its time capable of transporting heavy equipment such as tanks and bulldozers without disassembly. I remember showing General Mark Clark and Donald Douglas the mock-up of the C-124, and getting my picture taken with those distinguished gentlemen.” “My second memory occurred during a flight test. We were testing the C-47, plane #463 in fact, and it caught fire at 10,000 feet while we were testing the heating systems I was responsible for. We were ready to bail out, but we were able to make a forced landing into a bean field in Anaheim. We scraped a wingtip on the landing, and the cockpit burned out, but we made it out safe. That was an exciting day.”
After 21 years at Douglas, and work on some of America’s most iconic designs, Sol moved on to TRW – “My friend, Bill Duke, who had originally enticed me to come out to California, was now an executive vice president at TRW, and since it was located in South Bay, and had this modern, ‘think-tank’ like campus, I said, ‘why not give it a try.’” “TRW was an interesting place, especially when you consider how the American aircraft industry had matured between my entry to it in the 1930s and the way it was in the 60s, wow!” While at TRW, Sol was in the thick of the space race, working on systems for the Apollo Lunar Excursion Module (LEM), as well as in the thick of Cold War defense planning, working on the Atlas and Titan II missiles, and later the LGM-118, “MX,” and Minutemen missiles.
When asked what he would tell kids in school today who might be thinking of aerospace as a career, Sol advised: “If you have it in your blood to play a role in part of man’s quest to expand our knowledge of space travel, I would say ‘don’t let anyone stop you, this is America, where dreams come true!’”
Sol stressed the value of AIAA to America’s aerospace professional. Since joining AIAA on 1 January 1940, and continuing his membership through 73 consecutive years, Sol said “AIAA has been the primary resource for knowledge and understanding of what our industry is doing. AIAA is part of my DNA; I would never consider giving up my membership!”
Sol summed up his life to this point: “Maybe I’m the luckiest guy in the world, born in poverty, lost both my parents, survived a tough neighborhood, was inspired by Lindbergh’s flight, got the college degrees I wanted, and got to play my own role in the history of aviation from the moment I arrived in California in 1939 to landing Americans on the Moon just 30 years later. And Wynn – [Sol’s wife], and my boys, and my grandchildren, are still here with me. It’s all beyond my wildest dreams of anyone’s imagination!”
Sol was recently honored by his family and friends, along with the Los Angeles Section of AIAA, and representatives of The Boeing Company, at a tribute on April 28th at the Santa Monica Museum of Flight, Santa Monica, CA. Sol’s name can be found on the National Aviation and Space Exploration Wall of Honor at the Stephen F. Udvary Hazy extension to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Dulles, Va., along with that of his boyhood idol Charles Lindbergh.
AIAA congratulates Sol S. Kreisler for his selection as the AIAA Spotlight Member of the Month for May 2013, and offers sincere thanks for a long record of service both to AIAA and to the aerospace profession!