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In memoriam: Legendary professor and pillar of aerospace research John Lee remembered

The Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering celebrates the life and contributions of Professor Emeritus John Lee. A kindhearted leader and exceptional researcher, Lee is remembered by colleagues for his enduring passion for aerospace education and research. He passed away in April 2019.

Photo of John LeeBorn in Canada, Lee became a fighter pilot in WWII for the Royal Canadian Air Force at age 18 and afterward completed his studies at the University of Toronto. At the conclusion of his service, he followed his interests and joined the faculty of The Ohio State University in 1952 as an assistant professor in the Department of Aeronautical Engineering. He excelled, holding the positions of associate professor, professor and professor emeritus during his career.

As a founding director of the university’s Aeronautical and Astronautical Research Laboratory at Don Scott Field, Lee designed and built many of the lab’s state-of-the-art wind tunnel facilities, which were emulated by other institutions nationwide. His expertise led to collaborative research projects sponsored by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, Department of Defense and many industry partners.

Notably, Lee played a significant role in the design of the propeller and airfoils of the Piaggio Avanti, a fast turboprop aircraft still flying today. His creativity and thoughtfulness continue to inspire subsequent generations.

“We remember Professor Lee’s generous spirit, his kind heart and his love for aerospace,” said Professor Jim Gregory, director of the Aerospace Research Center, AARL’s successor.

Lee’s dedication to education, service and research spanned his lifetime. Even after retirement he remained a steadfast figure at the Aerospace Research Center. He often visited the center and happily shared his wisdom with faculty and students through age 94.

“I continue to be amazed at how Professor Lee regularly (almost daily!) came into the office, up until very recently, and how he was always happy to discuss student and faculty questions,” shared Gregory. “He will be sorely missed.”

Additional departmental achievements realized by Lee include serving as director of the National Center for Hypersonic Training and Research and establishing the General Aviation Design and Analysis Center.