From biplanes to the Space Age

Walter Vincenti
Walter Vincenti

A lifelong passion can be sparked by anything.

For WALTER G. VINCENTI, professor emeritus of aeronautics and astronautics, the spark was lit during a visit to a movie theater.

“In 1927, I was at a Saturday afternoon movie for children,” Vincenti explained. “In those days, during the movie, if there was something important in the world, they would come on the screen with a printed slide telling you what had happened.

“In the middle of the Saturday afternoon movie, a printed slide came on the screen saying, ‘Charles Lindbergh has just landed in Paris,’ and we all stood up and cheered,” Vincenti told an interviewer working with a NASA oral history project.

“Then I got interested in building model airplanes,” Vincenti continued. “From the time I was 10 years old, I built model airplanes and got more and more interested in aeronautics.”

Vincenti’s passion and contributions to aeronautics were recently recognized with the Daniel Guggenheim Medal for lifetime achievements in the advancement of aeronautics. He is the sixth Guggenheim Medal award winner from the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford School of Engineering.

The 99-year-old earned his undergraduate degree in engineering at Stanford in 1938 and his master’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1940. He was a research scientist with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), working at the Ames Aeronautical Laboratory at Moffett Field until he joined the Stanford faculty in 1957. He co-founded Stanford’s Program in Values, Technology and Society (VTS) in 1971 and served several terms as its chair. The VTS program evolved into the Program in Science, Technology and Society.

In presenting Vincenti with the Guggenheim award, the committee cited his “seminal pioneering supersonic wind tunnel research, education in high-temperature gas dynamics, and exceptional contributions to the history of engineering technology.”

Read more about the life and times of Vincenti.

Search Vincenti’s papers, which are housed in the Stanford University Archives.