A Role in the Dawn of the Jet Age

  By Steve Whitaker “No problem is too tough if you’re willing to spend enough time on it.” These are words by which John (Jack) Wimpress, Wesley Homes Des Moines resident, has lived his life. In the last week of October, Jack was blessed to receive the prestigious 33rd Annual Pathfinder Award for engineering, given by the Museum of Flight to recognize Northwest professionals who have made a significant contribution to the field of aeronautics. Jack’s path to becoming a preeminent aeronautical engineer for The Boeing Company started early. “I was a lucky guy who took advantage of opportunities that arose by being prepared,” said Jack. In high school, he recognized that he needed particular coursework to achieve his goals. During his senior year, he passed an exam administered by the Navy. The following year the Navy sent Jack to Rice University in Houston, Texas, where he spent one year. He again passed an all-important Navy exam. He was then sent to Georgia Tech and started in the engineering program and continued his path to aeronautical engineering. Jack was privileged to be placed in the V-12 officer training program. He and thousands of other men were training as officers and preparing for an invasion of Japan. Jack quipped, “As it turned out, I came in at the end of the war.” He was prepared for a war that he never got to see. From Georgia Tech, Jack went on to Cal Tech to earn his masters in aeronautical engineering. He then had a year at Douglas Aircraft Company from 1946 to 1947. Jack worked on the satellite program, which was the first serious study in satellite technology in the United States. As a research team member, Jack was the first person to calculate the proper trajectory of an object entering Earth’s atmosphere. This discovery became a significant leap that propelled the space program forward. After Douglas, Jack became a designer with Boeing working on the B-47 and the flying boom for the KC-135 refueling tanker aircraft. He helped alleviate control issues on the B-52, 707 and Boeing transports that followed. Through hard work, Jack eventually became chief of all Boeing Aerodynamics. A vice president of Boeing once said that he was scared to talk to one of Boeing’s best aerodynamicists but found Jack to be an unassuming, humble man who enjoyed playing a major role in mentoring young engineers. Jack also received the prestigious American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Aircraft Design Award in 1978. Retired in 1986, Jack has kept busy. He was a Wesley Homes Board of Trustees president in the 1980s and is now serving again as a Board member. Today, Jack is a docent at the Museum of Flight, where he continues to share his knowledge and love of aircraft.