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American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics



    AIAA Mourns The Death Of Honorary Fellow James W. Plummer
    Served as Director of the National Reconnaissance Office Under Presidents Nixon and Ford

    February 1, 2013 – Reston, Va. – The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) mourns the death of AIAA Honorary Fellow James W. Plummer, a former under secretary of the Air Force, and director of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) under Presidents Nixon and Ford. Plummer passed away January 16, in Medford, Ore.; he was 92 years old.

    Plummer served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, where he pioneered the development of radar tactics from carrier based aircraft, while serving in aircraft-operating squadrons on the USS Enterprise. After the war, Plummer worked from 1947 to 1995 at the U.S. Navy Test Center, Patuxent, Md., where he evaluated airborne communications and navigation equipment. In 1955 he joined the Lockheed Missiles and Space Company, where he held a wide variety of positions, being appointed vice president and general manager of Lockheed’s Space Systems division in 1969. During his time at Lockheed, Plummer led the development of the Corona and Discoverer reconnaissance satellites, which revolutionized the ability of the United States to gain intelligence data during the Cold War period. In 1973 Plummer was appointed under secretary of the U.S. Air Force and director of the National Reconnaissance Office, serving from 1973 to 1976. From 1984 to 1992 he served as chairman of the Aerospace Corporation.

    AIAA President Mike Griffin stated: “We mourn the passing of James W. Plummer, who through his naval service in World War 2, his management of the development of the Corona and Discoverer satellite reconnaissance systems while with Lockheed Missiles and Space Company, and with his leadership of the NRO and the Aerospace Corporation, dedicated himself to using his engineering and leadership skills to better the national security of the United States. While we are saddened by his loss, we salute his efforts to ensure a stronger United States and a more peaceful world.”

    In addition to being an AIAA Honorary Fellow, Plummer was also a Fellow of the American Astronautical Society, and was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1978. Plummer was the recipient of the 2005 Charles Stark Draper Prize, which recognizes outstanding contributions in the field of engineering that significantly benefit society. Plummer was honored for his ground-breaking work on the Corona project, the world's first photo-reconnaissance satellite. Plummer’s other honors include the 1992 AIAA Goddard Astronautics Award, AIAA’s highest award for significant contributions in astronautics, for “his sustained contributions to space technology and to innovative national security space systems,” as well as an U.S. Air Force Meritorious Achievement Award, and the Aerospace Corporation’s Doolittle Award.


    AIAA is the world’s largest technical society dedicated to the global aerospace profession. With more than 35,000 individual members worldwide, and 100 corporate members, AIAA brings together industry, academia, and government to advance engineering and science in aviation, space, and defense. For more information, visit



    American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
    1801 Alexander Bell Drive, Suite 500, Reston, VA 20191-4344
    Phone: 703.264.7558 Fax: 703.264.7551