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Aerospace, Post WW II – Greatest Half-Century of Achievement – And North American Aviation’s Role!
Among the few aerospace companies that emerged from World War II, North American Aviation (later the Aircraft Division of Rockwell International. Corp.) soon became one of the pioneering leaders of the emerging industry. in aircraft. Other famous US companies are Lockheed Aircraft, Grumman Aircraft, etc. But upon graduating from the Illinois Institute of Technology with a BS degree in Mechanical Engineering, class of ’43 (3.93 avg,, Honor Man of All Departments), I was offered and accepted. a North American position as Stress Analyst “B” ($1.01 per hour) in their Los Angeles plant.
During the last years of World War II, North American produced the P-51 Mustang fighter plane for England; his superior speed and performance quickly achieved a kill ratio of 10:1 among German fighters; Then, shortly after that, the NAA produced the first jet fighter, the F-86.. Working with other specialized Engineering groups: Aerodynamics, Thermodynamics, Load Analysis, Dynamics, etc., and always focusing on increasing performance and reducing weight, the Design, Stress and Material / Process groups began researching the reduction of structural weight through higher strength-to-density materials (aluminum, steel, magnesium, titanium) and more efficient structural concepts (for example, sandwich configurations). Encouraging the NAA group-team optimization approach, the US Aerospace Technology Conferences are held, showing technological advances in all fields, with the enthusiastic participation of the NAA. (In my tenth year, I got an MS, a degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Southern California, night school – over the years, also got promotions in the position – my current title is Chief of Structural Sciences.)
A noteworthy North American achievement was the first plane to reach supersonic speed, the Mach 1 F-100. From that technology soon came the first supersonic trainer aircraft, the T-28. (Note: An interesting personal anecdote developed from that program – a major damage occurred during the machining of the lower main spar cap – which carried the largest load on the aircraft. As Chief of Structures , I approved the repair. Months later the Chief Engineer called me, “Remember that T-28 spar cap joint you signed off on – well, there’s an Air Force captain who says he wants the d-mn engineer who OK’d it to sit in front of him while he pulled the max Gs!” He waited a few seconds, then added, “I hope you’re sure of your analysis – you’re flying to his airfield tomorrow morning !”
Exciting but OK: there was a jeep and two enlisted men waiting for me when my plane landed; I was immediately taken to the airfield; a 25-year-old no-nonsense Captain shook my hand, mumbled a greeting, had his men parachute my business suit; and helped me climb the T-28. He actually joked, “You know you trust your analysis with your life!” (Note: Mach 1 was exciting, as was max G pullout. Spar-cap repair and wing stopped. We landed safely. Captain bought me a drink.)
As a result of the Second World War and the final emphasis on nuclear bombs, the US Department of Defense decided to expand the nuclear reach by using the US Navy – it asked for proposals to build a medium bomber, capable of launching and intercepting. -hook landed on an aircraft carrier – while carrying an A-bomb. A few months later he called me that we won. “Oh, by the way,” he added, “Be prepared, your friends will tell you that the FBI is asking some personal questions about you!” Soon, he explained, “You and I will get ‘Q Clearances’ to go with our Top Secret – if the NAA builds a bomber that carries the A-Bomb, someone has to tell us how much it weighs and where. to get it!”
While the hypersonic performance of the X-15 greatly exceeded the B-70’s Mach 3 in speed and altitude, the NAA’s B-70 technology had a great impact on my subsequent career, In the international scene of commercial aviation, England and France decided. to combine their aerospace technologies and finances – to surpass the US – and build a Mach 2 commercial jet aircraft, the Concorde. Unfortunately for the program, a failure occurred, the Aft Engine and Thrust Reverse Structure. While a failure in France and England, there were risk-taking entrepreneurs, however, who saw it as an opportunity. One such person is Leopold S, Wyler, CEO of a small but successful NYSE company (TRE Corp.) that makes lock hardware for homes, and has a small division with a patented aerospace-type structural sandwiches; Brought to France but with strong knowledge of NAA’s B-70, he made two separate but contingent offers: – the first was French and British – that his company would fund a redesign and build one structural test unit, which – if it meets the weight and performance goals, will win for him the production contract for Concorde structures. His second offer was to me (he would let his Stresskin Div. President know who was in charge of the B-70 Structure). The offer was to hire me a dozen of my EXISTING B-70 engineers; give us a 30% raise to leave NAA and join him – if we produce one test unit in a year. Amazingly, in retrospect, it all worked out: the dozen NAAs all joined me (all moved to Orange County); Wyler built a large new plant; we ended up hiring a lot more ex-NAA associates – and we built all the Concorde production structures.
Like my “late-career” involvement with Concorde a dozen years ago, my “late-career” involvement with NASA’s Space Shuttle Program began with a memorial to North American Aviation – this is how it is remembered still the voice of my former NAA Senior Program Manager, Charlie XXXX, now President of Rockwell’s Space Division. “I need you – or someone like you – in my Shuttle Program. Come tomorrow – I’ll give you a job.” (See Ezine Article: “NASA’s Space Shuttle Secret – Diligent Pursuit of Perfection – Tiles!”)
I saw Charlie the next day, he offered and I accepted the position of Asst.Chief Eng. for the Space Shuttle Program of Rockwell’s Space Division. Always wanting to be part of a NASA space project, I found the long hours, the constant travel, very satisfying. Finally NASA conducted the fist flight FRR (Flight Readiness Review) – I was very happy when I presented to NASA the detailed briefing of the Administrator (top NASA official, reporting to the US President). After three successful flights and three years, I left the program and NAA Rockwell, returning to Wyler’s TRE. In 1982, I was awarded the Public Service Award and NASA Medal.
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