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Professor Emeritus Norman D. Ham, helicopter rotor design expert, dies at age 80

MIT Professor Emeritus Norman D. Ham SM ’52, AE ’57, ScD ‘68
MIT Professor Emeritus Norman D. Ham SM ’52, AE ’57, ScD ‘68
Photo: AeroAstro collection.

MIT Professor Emeritus Norman D. Ham SM ’52, AE ’57, ScD ‘68, an aeronautical engineer who was internationally recognized for his expertise in helicopter rotor design, died at home on Feb. 13, 2010. The Brookline, Mass., resident was 80 years old.

Known to many in the aeronautical industry as the “father of individual-blade-control,” Ham contributed extensively to the rotorcraft community. A 1951 graduate of the University of Toronto, he received advanced degrees in aeronautics from MIT. After nearly a decade of work in the aircraft industry in Canada, he continued his career in the United Kingdom as senior engineer for the Fairey Aviation Co., focusing on the design of the Rotodyne compound helicopter.

He returned to the United States, where he was employed by Doman Helicopters in Danbury, Conn., to assist in certification of the Model LZ-5 helicopter, a particularly unique design that was advanced for its time and was later incorporated into the V-22 Osprey. At Doman, he contributed to the design of the Doman-Fleet DF-7 for the Royal Canadian Navy. Ham joined the faculty of the MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics in 1962. At MIT, he founded and directed the VTOL Technology Laboratory, and conducted pioneering research on dynamic stall, stall flutter, individual blade control and gust response for helicopter rotors. His skill as a lecturer at MIT was reflected in the warm and longstanding relationships he held with many of his former students up to the time of his death.

Before and after Ham’s retirement, industry leaders and litigators regularly solicited his technical knowledge. He consulted extensively for NASA and for aircraft companies including Boeing, Honeywell and Raytheon, and regularly presented papers for AHS International, a Vertical Flight Society.

Ham wrote more than 40 scholarly papers and received numerous industry awards. In 1953, he won the Cierva Memorial Prize from the Helicopter Association of Great Britain. In 1995, he was recognized with a Certificate of Appreciation by the NASA Ames Research Center, and in 2001, he was honored by the American Helicopter Society for his outstanding achievements and contributions to vertical flight technology. In 2002, he was selected as an Honorary Member of the Society’s Education Committee.

A natural athlete, Ham played tennis regularly for most of his life and was a skilled competitive curler. His team represented Massachusetts at the Men’s National Curling Championships in 1968 in Wisconsin and again in 1981 in Alaska, and he was chairman of Canadian Club of Boston Curling for many years. He was known by all for his thoughtful intellect, warm sense of humor and gentlemanly manner.

Ham is survived by his wife of 56 years, Kathryn Ham; his daughters, Marilyn Ham of Princeton, N.J., Kathryn Ham of Edgartown, Mass., and Joslin Ham Murphy of Brookline; his sons in law, Michael Paluszek, Davis Yetman, and Robert W. Murphy; and his grandchildren, Eric, Hailey, and Skye. Services were private.

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