Saturday, November 14, 2015

Book Review: Ed Heinemann - Combat Aircraft Designer

Edward H. Heinemann and Rosario Rausa
Ed Heinemann: Combat Aircraft Designer
Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1980
Category: Aerospace Engineering - Biography

Rating: 4-Stars

Ed Heinemann was the chief designer at Douglas Aircraft's El Segundo division from 1936 to 1960, responsible for leading the design of every Douglas attack aircraft from the SBD Dauntless dive bomber - which played a decisive role in the Battle of Midway - to the A-4 Skyhawk, as well as such experimental aircraft as the D-558-2 Skyrocket - the first airplane to exceed Mach 2.  Decades later famed aircraft designer Burt Rutan, known for the design of Voyager - the first airplane to travel non-stop, unrefueled around the world - and SpaceShipOne, would describe Ed Heinemann as one of a handful of engineers who were “the pioneers who provided my inspiration.”

Ed Heinemann's autobiography provides unique insight into the life of a leading engineer during these pivotal years for aircraft development, as well as lending his voice of experience and wisdom to future generations.  In my own experience as an engineer and manager, I have often reflected back on some of his words of wisdom:

  • Tell people what is expected of them.
  • Tell them in advance about changes that will affect them.
  • Let those working for you know how they are getting along.
  • Give credit where credit is due, especially for extra effort or performance. Do it while it's hot. Don't wait.
  • Make the best of each person's ability.
  • Beware of office politicians.
  • Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
  • Do what is right rather than who is right.
  • A great many people think they are thinking when they are really rearranging their prejudices. Beware of these.
  • Respect the specialists - those who are masters of a particular phase of the operation. But be wary of allowing them to make big decisions.
  • Avoid lengthy committee meetings.

Ed Heinemann was a legend of the early era of aircraft, the lessons of which are still equally alive and relevant today.

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