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Stanford Report, April 26, 2000

Memorial Friday for aeronautics professor Richard Shevell


A memorial service will be held Friday, April 28, for Richard S. Shevell, a professor emeritus of aeronautics and astronautics, who died at his Atherton home on April 21 after an 18-year struggle with lymphoma. He was 79.

The service will begin at 2 p.m. at the Jennings Pavilion at Holbrook-Palmer Park, 150 Watkins Ave., in Atherton.

Shevell is known for his role in designing the DC-10 aircraft in the late 1960s while he was an aeronautics engineer at Douglas Aircraft, the predecessor of McDonnell Douglas. He strongly championed the aircraft's safety in the late 1970s after DC-10s were involved in a string of crashes. A January 1980 Federal Aviation Administration report ruled the craft was safe.

As an adjunct professor at Stanford University, Shevell was recognized for his outstanding abilities as a teacher of flight design and for his contributions to aerodynamic research. He developed a method for predicting airplane drag and analyzed the efficiency of air transportation. A 30-year Bay Area resident, Shevell also studied the effect of airport noise on communities and made calculations for the future air transportation needs of California.

Among his many contributions to aerodynamics was the invention of small devices called vortilons that improve the way aircraft behave at low speed by changing the flow of air over the wing. He wrote a textbook, Fundamentals of Flight, published in 1983, that still is used at Stanford and throughout the world. "It is one of the best introductory, college-level books on aeronautics," said Ilan Kroo, a Stanford professor of aeronautics and astronautics.

Among Shevell's greatest contributions at Stanford was his ability to convey to his students all aspects of aeronautics, from airplane structures to propulsion systems to economics, Kroo said. "One of the wonderful things about Professor Shevell was that he had both technical depth and great common sense," Kroo said.

Shevell, who was more comfortable in casual clothes than in a suit and tie, was known for his ability to communicate with people, said his son Steven Shevell. "He reveled in technological accuracy and engineering design, but his success was the way he worked well with people," the younger Shevell said. "He always had a sense of humor about everything. He infused an enthusiasm for any task, from the most minor to the most important, with humor and humanity."

Born June 6, 1920, in New York City, Shevell loved airplanes as a boy, making numerous sketches of them in a second-grade schoolbook. He earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in 1940 from Columbia University and a master's degree in aeronautical engineering in 1941 and a professional Aeronautical Engineer degree in 1942, both from the California Institute of Technology.

In 1942, Shevell joined the Stability and Control Group at Douglas Aircraft and began to work on the aerodynamics of the ROC-00 guided missile. In 1945 he was assigned responsibility for the complete aerodynamic design of the first Nike Ajax missile. Later, as supervisor of the Aircraft Performance Group, Shevell was in charge of drag determination for combat and logistic aircraft. In 1959, he was appointed chief of the Aerodynamic Section, in charge of the aerodynamic development of the DC-9 and several other DC planes. In May 1967, he was appointed director of the Commercial Advanced Design Department, charged with the development of the DC-10 aircraft. The first flight of the DC-10 took place the summer of 1970, about the same time Shevell joined the Stanford faculty.

He came to Stanford as a visiting professor of aeronautics. He became an adjunct professor, teaching courses in aircraft systems design and transportation analysis. He also taught introductory courses in aeronautics and astronautics and an ethics course on the role of the engineer in modern society. From 1972 to 1978, he served as chairman of the Stanford Transportation Research Program. He evaluated new aeronautical developments and worked on improving an automated system of airplane design.

While at Stanford, Shevell served as principal investigator on many research projects for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and for the Department of Transportation. He served as a member of the NASA Aeronautics Advisory Committee from 1978 to 1981 and of the AGARD Flight Mechanics Panel, a NATO advisory group, from 1973 to 1980. In 1980, he became a member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics' Aircraft Design Technical Committee. He was elected a fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics in 1982.

Shevell retired from Stanford 1987 but retained an active role in aerospace issues through newsgroup postings and occasional consulting positions. He also was involved in volunteer community service work. He and his wife, Lorraine, earned the Volunteer Couple of the Year award at the Jewish Community Center.

Shevell is survived by his wife, Lorraine King Shevell, of Atherton; son, Steven, of Chicago, with granddaughters Lee and Lauren; and daughters Jeanne of Redwood City and Diane of New Jersey.

Friends may make donations to the MidPeninsula Hospice Foundation, 65 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, CA 94025, (650) 948-4252, or to the charity of their choice. SR

Catherine Zandonella is an intern at the Stanford News Service.