Robert M.Stanley 1912-1977
An aptitude for building model ships and skills that he learned as a Sea Scout helped the 19-year-old Stanley to gain employment as a loftsman with Douglas Aircraft Corporation. In 1931, this company installed the first model loft in the aircraft industry. In the Experimental Department, Stanley participated in the creation of the DC-1 and DC-2 aircraft, the forerunners of the long line of Douglas transports. To finance his college education, Stafford retained a part-time position at Douglas, participating in the design of the DC-3, DF-I (flying boat), Y-1043, XFD-1 (Navy fighter) and TDD (torpedo plane), which was the Navy's first low-wing monoplane designed for shipboard use.
During his student years, Stanley invented and obtained U.S. patents on a mechanically controlled, reversible pitch propeller. Although this propeller never reached production in the United States, the Germans adopted it and mass-produced it for their Luftwaffe (Air Force) during World War II.
Immediately after graduation in 1935, Stanley entered flight training at the Naval Reserve Elimination Base in Long Beach, California, and was sent to Pensacola, Florida, for further training. He received his wings as a Naval Aviator in 1936. Stanley's first assignment was to the aircraft carrier USS Ranger, which conducted fleet exercises in Hawaiian waters in the summer of 1937. On its return to San Diego, Stanley reported for duty aboard the USS Lexington to search for the missing Amelia Earhart. He received a commendation for his work as the ship's cartographer for the search in the vicinity of Howland Island, an effort which was abandoned after seven days. During the course of the search, the Navy developed a technique which continued to be the standard operating policy of looking for aircraft downed at sea.
Stanley was an instrument instructor for the Navy's flight training program at Pensacola for the 15 months prior to his discharge in October 1939. While in the fleet, he disclosed to the Bureau of Aeronautics details of a guided missile. This ultimately turned into Project Kingfisher, one of the Navy's earliest guided missile efforts. Late in 1939, Stanley took a position with United Aircraft Corporation, demonstrating the company's new dive bomber in Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires. On his return, he was assigned to its Vought-Sikorsky Division as an aircraft designer. Stanley left that position in June 1940 to become the chief test pilot and to establish the flight research department of Bell Aircraft Corporation in Buffalo, New York. He hired and supervised an aerodynamic section, and directed hangar mechanics and test pilots, overseeing up to 20 test airplanes flying simultaneous programs.
During World War II, Lawrence Bell was developing a jet airplane in secrecy, and Stanley was given the task of establishing the experimental flight program for the jet. He was also in charge of completing living and working facilities for the crew. This was an especially demanding task in the desolate desert area where the crew was based, near Muroc, California. On October 1st, 1942, Stanley made the maiden flight of the XP-59A jet fighter. He reported that, except for sluggishness in takeoff, the airplane's performance was "quite ordinary." From this beginning, the jet aircraft industry became a major endeavor in the United States. In the middle of the U.S. participation in World War II, the government selected Bell Aricraft to operate a plant in Marietta, Georgia, for the construction of the new Boeing-designed B-29 bomber. Transferring some of his staff from the Niagara Falls plant to Marietta, Stanley established the flight test operation there.
As World War II neared its end, Stanley earned a promotion to the positions of Chief Engineer and, subsequently, Engineering Vice President at Bell, guiding the transition from airplane production to guided missiles, rockets, avionics and helicopter engineering. In his new capacity, Stanley was responsible for a number of "firsts". These included the design and manufacture of America's first swept-wing fighter aircraft and the design, manufacture and flight testing of the world's first supersonic airplanes, the rocket-propelled X-1 and X-2. In connection with the X-1 and X-2 projects, Stanley supervised the design and testing of the first liquid-oxygen rocket motor in America. It exceeded 10,000 pounds of thrust, and was responsible for the design and manufacture of the world's first supersonic airplane to exceed Mach I, Mach II and Mach III. Both the X-1 and the X-2, having speeds in excess of 1,500 and 2,500 miles per hour respectively, pioneered the airplane launch and retrieval systems that later aircraft such as the North American X-15 utilized.
Stanley left Bell Aircraft in July 1948 to form Stanley Aviation Corporation, of which he was President until the end of his life.