Mississippi State's Raspet Flight Research Laboratory will be designated as a National Landmark of Soaring Nov. 1 to recognize a half-century of motorless flight history and some of the gliding pioneers who made it possible.
Glider pilots and builders from MSU and across the country will gather at 9 a.m. at Starkville's Bryan Field airport for the 1 p.m. dedication ceremony, which will designate the flight lab as one of only 13 such sites established nationwide since 1980 by the National Soaring Museum. MSU will be the only such site in the Southeast.
Paul MacCready of Pasadena, Calif., internationally known as the "father of human-powered flight," will be keynote speaker for an evening banquet. Named the Hall of Science and Exploration's Engineer of the Century, he will discuss "Continuing the Exploration of Efficient Flight." A Raspet protégé, MacCready is a Yale University physics graduate and 1956 world soaring champion who founded Aero Vironment Inc. in California in 1971.
Morning activities will be highlighted by a 10:30 a.m. take-off of a vintage sailplane piloted by Bob Ball, with Katherine Wood of the U.S. Postal Service as a passenger. The plane will land 30 minutes later carrying special postmarked mail.
Several other vintage aircraft also are expected for the event. Persons interested in participating may call Jo McKenzie at (662) 325-3274.
The plaque officially marking the soaring landmark will pay homage to the late August Raspet for his "pioneering drag reduction and suction boundary layer research." Raspet founded and led the MSU flight research program from 1947 until his death in a 1960 plane crash at the same airfield.
"August Raspet was considered a god among the technical soaring people," said George Bennett, retired former Raspet lab director and a longtime glider pilot. "He had an international reputation in drag reduction (research) and essentially started engineering research at MSU."
The plaque also will honor Richard Johnson of Dallas, Texas, a former Californian who was among early sailplane enthusiasts attracted to Starkville by Raspet's national reputation. As an MSU student, he undertook a meticulous performance improvement of his own sailplane, the RJ-5, which he used to win the 1950 national soaring championship.
Subsequently, Johnson set a new soaring distance record of 545 miles from Odessa, Texas, to Salina, Kan., in 1951. The RJ-5 made use of a laminar airfoil section, an innovation that is viewed by aerodynamicists worldwide as one of the more important changes in sailplane design over the last 60 years.
In 2001, Johnson donated money for the purchase of two modern, fiberglass gliders for the MSU Soaring Club. Club members now fly weekly under the guidance of Bennett and MSU aerospace engineering instructor Tom Hannigan.
Since Bennett's retirement in 2001, the Raspet Lab has been directed by David Lawrence--a former test pilot, 1976 MSU graduate and retired president of Tracor Flight Systems Inc. The lab falls under the administrative umbrella of the university's 70-year-old department of aerospace engineering, which is a part of the Bagley College of Engineering.
Lawrence will serve as master of ceremonies for the afternoon dedication ceremony, which also will feature remarks by MSU Interim Vice President for Research Jonathon Pote, engineering dean A. Wayne Bennett and aerospace department head Tony Vizzini. Representatives of the National Soaring Museum, Soaring Society of America and Vintage Sailplane Association also will speak.
Soaring luminaries Bruce Carmichael, Mel Swartzberg, Charles Cliett, and David Raspet (August Raspet's son) will join MacCready, Bennett and Johnson at a 2:30 p.m. round-table session at the lab's Honda Annex, located adjacent to the lab at 114 Airport Road. They will discuss August Raspet's contributions with flight lab faculty, staff and students.
Bryan Field is located in West Starkville, just south of Highway 12 near the Wal-Mart Supercenter.
For additional information on the ceremony, telephone Lawrence at 325-3274.
NEWS EDITORS/DIRECTORS: While not a public event, the 7 p.m. banquet at the Honda annex featuring Mr. MacCready is open to all interested members of the news media. To assure adequate seating, attending reporters are asked to notify Mr. Lawrence in advance.