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Liebeck to receive Guggenheim Medal

AeroAstro professor's award one of aerospace's highest
Robert Liebeck, Professor of the Practice of Aerospace Engineering
Robert Liebeck, Professor of the Practice of Aerospace Engineering
Photo: Bill Litant

Robert Liebeck, Professor of the Practice of Aerospace Engineering, will receive one of the most prestigious awards in aviation: the Daniel Guggenheim Medal. Jointly sponsored by the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics, American Society of Mechanical Engineering, the American Helicopter Society and the Society of Automotive Engineers, the medal recognizes individuals who make profound contributions to advancing aeronautics. Liebeck’s award cites him for “distinguished engineering as evidenced by the conception and development of Liebeck airfoils and blended wing body aircraft.”

Philanthropists and aviation supporters Daniel and Harry Guggenheim established the Guggenheim Medal in 1929. Its first recipient was aviation pioneer Orville Wright. Over the ensuing years, recipients have included some of the greatest names in aerospace such as William Boeing, Igor Sikorski, Charles Lindberg, Charles Goddard. Many were or are MIT faculty and alumni such as Jerome Hunsaker (founder of MIT aeronautics), Donald Douglas, Charles Stark Draper, Robert Seamans Jr., and Eugene Covert.

Liebeck is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a world-renowned authority in the fields of aerodynamics, hydrodynamics and aircraft design. He attained world recognition starting in the 1970s with his novel designs for high-lift “Liebeck airfoils.” He has made substantial contributions to a variety of related fields, including propeller design, windmill analysis, wing design for supersonic transports, and the design of high-altitude unmanned aircraft.

A 48-year Boeing employee, Liebeck is program manager of Boeing’s Blended Wing Body project, developing a 500-passenger flying wing advanced concept subsonic transport aircraft that offers a 30 percent reduction in fuel burn when compared to a conventional tube and wing configuration. The BWB X-48B, a subscale prototype with a 21-foot wingspan, is undergoing development by Boeing and NASA.

In his spare time, Liebeck has designed wings for Indianapolis 500 and Formula One racing cars, the keel for the 1991 America’s Cup winning yacht, and the wing for a World Aerobatics Championship airplane.

Liebeck was appointed the AeroAstro faculty in 2000. “There exist few schools that compare to MIT,” he said. “MIT has some unique and special students.”

Professor emeritus and former AeroAstro Department Head Earll Murman, who nominated Liebeck for the Guggenheim Medal, says, “Bob brings incredible aircraft design experience and wisdom to the classroom, and is always eager to work one-on-one with our students. He’s a wonderful mentor to young people and young faculty. We are really fortunate to have Bob as part of our faculty.”

Liebeck received BS, MS and PhD degrees in aeronautical engineering from the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign.

Liebeck will receive the Guggenheim Medal at a ceremony in Washington next May.

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