AIAA Mourns the Passing of Professor Walter F. O’Brien Jr. Written 29 July 2019

CONTACT: Michele McDonald

Professor Walter F. O'Brien Jr. | Va Tech

July 29, 2019 – Reston, Va. –The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) mourns the passing of AIAA Fellow and Virginia Tech mechanical engineering professor Walter F. O’Brien Jr. on 25 July 2019.

O’Brien, 82, joined AIAA in 1960 and became a Fellow in 2016. He was an active member who published frequently in AIAA journals and served on technical committees.

He won the 2012 Air Breathing Propulsion Award in the Technical Excellence category, earning him the citation “for outstanding technical contributions, creativity, and generosity that have inspired hundreds of students to achieve bright careers in gas turbine and high-speed propulsion.”

O’Brien also received two best paper awards: one in 2010 in the Propulsion and Energy Group for “Instrumentation, Modeling and Testing of a Gas Turbine Engine Using Lean Premixed Hydrogen Combustion” and the second in 2012 in the Aerospace Sciences Group for “Application of Additive Manufacturing to Rapidly Produce High-Resolution Total Pressure Distortion Screens.”

A member of the Virginia Tech faculty for more than 52 years, he was the J. Bernard Jones Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Virginia Tech. During his tenure, he supervised the graduate work of more than 130 M.S. and Ph.D. students, and published more than 150 technical papers and journal articles in the field of propulsion. 

Virginia Tech noted O’Brien was the first Virginia Tech mechanical engineering professor to establish an identifiable research group, the Gas Turbine Research Institute, which he did as a junior faculty member. The effort marked a turning point in the department’s evolution from a well-respected regional teaching faculty into a nationally recognized research power. In 2002 he chaired a successful multi-university proposal to found the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA), a NASA-affiliated Research Institute in Hampton, Virginia.

“We are grateful for Walt’s influential contributions to the field of aerospace,” said Dan Dumbacher, AIAA executive director. “His dedication inspired others to become aerospace engineers. His legacy will continue for generations.”

About AIAA 
The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) is the world’s largest aerospace technical society. With nearly 30,000 individual members from 85 countries, and 97 corporate members, AIAA brings together industry, academia, and government to advance engineering and science in aviation, space, and defense. For more information,, or follow us on Twitter  @AIAA


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