Norman E. Nelson, born 6 April 1918, father of Pat O’Brien, Wendy Eloe,and Nancy O’Brien; grandfather of Christopher, Peter, and Amy O’Brien, and Corey, Leigh Ann, and Tyler Eloe; and father-in-law of Steve O'Brien, Allan Eloe, and Patrick O'Brien, passed away on Friday, August 22, 2003.
Our Dad was quite a guy. Smart and thoughtful, honest and quick to respond, he'd listen and he always had something to say. Norm loved life and almost always had a smile on his face. He genuinely liked the people he met and he knew many and treasured that knowledge. His memory was prodigious about both his work, his family and any number of things concerning the world around him.
To his family, he gave the desire to know and to excel. He was supportive of our desires for independence and provided wisdom and support to our queries. His voice while to the point, was warm and he always genuinely was glad to hear from all of us, inquiring about our genuine welfare.
Norm excelled throughout his whole life: from studying aeronautical engineering at the University of Cincinnati during the Great Depression; to starting his own toy company after WWII in Dayton, Ohio; to teaching weather at the University of Dayton during a brief stint in the 1940's.
During WWII he worked at Wright Field again in Dayton and followed that with active duty during the Korean War. Interestingly, he was stationed in Hollywood and spent a good part of his time taking the train up and down the coast of California. He traveled both to UC Berkeley and their war programs and to Boeing in Seattle. Following the Korean War, he left the Air Force as a captain and went to Doak Aircraft, where he became vice president in charge of engineering. The company produced an early VTOL aircraft which now resides at the Smithsonian.
After Doak was sold to Douglas Aircraft in 1961, he was recruited by the CIA to work at the Lockheed Advanced Development Products company, the Skunk Works, on the A-12/YF-12/SR -71 Blackbirds with Kelly Johnson. He became a regular Lockheed employee and eventually served as chief of advanced design at the rotary wing branch.
After Lockheed, he worked at McCullough Aircraft Company and at Hughes Tool Company running a number of interesting projects including a small single person aircraft, a gyrocopter, for McCullough and the Glomar Explorer project for Hughes. Much of this time was spent at various locations throughout the U.S.
From Hughes, he returned to the Skunk Works in 1976 and became program manager and chief engineer of the stealth fighter programs, working with Ben Rich. Out of this came the F-117 Stealth Fighter, which served so successfully in the first Gulf War. In 1984, he became vice president and general manager of the Skunk Works and held that position until he retired in 1988. He enjoyed many dedicated hours in his visionary role at Lockheed.
In later years, Norm remained a consultant to Lockheed and had an active interest in airplanes, flight, and the aircraft industry. He received numerous prestigious awards, including the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Aircraft Design Award in 1990.
Norm was modest and knew he was part of a team, but he also knew that he'd done a good job. At his retirement dinner the audience recognized his contributions to the aircraft industry and to the work that he had performed. While late in contrast to early aviation pioneers, he to was a pioneer in his own right. His work and life spanned many generations of people in the air and of the machines, craft and technology that put them there and kept them moving forward.
He loved a challenge, especially when that challenge asked that he solve it in a novel way. In many ways he was ahead of his time and always a vital part of it.
He meant the world to us his family and we will miss him always.
In Norm Nelson's memory, his family has established a fund
to help young students study in the aeronautical field. Gifts can be given
Norman Nelson Memorial Aeronautics Scholarship
c/o/ Malaga Bank
2514 Via Tejon
Palos Verdes Estates, CA 90274