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A. Warner Robins

B.S., Aeronautical Engineering, Virginia Tech, 1949

When Warner Robins was growing up on a dairy farm near the Langley Field in Virginia, he would see everything from balloonists to biplanes to dirigibles soaring over his head. He recalls that when the young pilots were training, they would perform “ridiculous” maneuvers, buzzing low over the fields, scaring both farmers and livestock.

When he graduated from high school in 1942, World War II was in full battle, and he trained at Camp Lee to be an aviation cadet. After receiving his wings, he trained as a bomber co-pilot at the Kingman Air Force Base in Arizona and at Biggs Field in Texas. From the winter of 1945 until May 1945, he flew as a pilot or a co-pilot on six missions over wartime Europe.

He safely completed his military tour, and enrolled at Virginia Tech. When Mr. Robins left Virginia Tech with degree in hand, he immediately joined NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) as an aeronautical engineer. By 1961, Mr. Robins was leading a group of some 20 research professionals as the supervising Aeronautical Research Scientist. NACA had morphed into NASA, and in the two decades that he led this group, Mr. Robins held a leadership role in the understanding of the nature of supersonic flows and the engineering of supersonic aircraft. “Much of what we consider to be standard knowledge regarding supersonic aircraft configurations was developed during the 20 years Warner Robins led that group,” says Christopher Hall, former department head of the aerospace and ocean engineering department.

In the 1970s, Mr. Robins was involved in the technical analysis that led to the now-famous “747-Orbiter Piggyback Concept,” used to transport the space shuttle orbiter. Mr. Robins and one of his colleagues estimated the aerodynamics and vehicle performance of a 747/Orbiter Piggyback configuration, which indicated the “pitch maneuver” (for early flight testing) and the cross-country ferry missions could be accomplished, using the new, high-thrust, GE Cf-6 engines.

When Mr. Robins retired in 1980, he was NASA Langley’s Assistant Head of the Supersonics Aerodynamics Branch. It ran the Unitary-Plan Wind Tunnel, a supersonic tunnel also used by the military and their contractors since few, if any companies, had an equivalent facility at that time. Its speeds ranged from Mach 1.87 to 4.63. After retirement, Mr. Robins remained a consultant to NASA through his employee/subcontractor relationship to Kentron Aerospace Technologies Division’s Planning Research Corporation until 1986.

Robins passed away in March 2020 at his home in Yorktown.