William Rees Sears

Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame
Enshrined 1996

William Rees Sears was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Pilot, engineer, educator, indeed, a giant in the field of aerodynamics and aircraft design, he perhaps best known as a principal designer of the Northrop “Flying Wing,” precursor of the USAF B-2 “Stealth” bomber. He pioneered the early development of “inherently unstable” aircraft. Today’s advanced high performance aircraft embody this design concept and achieve controlled flight only with the aid of an integrated system of sophisticated on-board computers. He studied aeronautical engineering under the legendary Theodore von Karmen at the California Technical Institute, earning his degree in 1937.

Joining Northrop as a consultant, he became the company’s chief of aerodynamics and flight test four years later. His achievements in academe are equally noteworthy. At Cornell University (19461974) he founded the Center for Applied Mathematics and the Graduate School of Engineering. From 1974 to 1990 he was professor of Aeronautical Engineering at the University of Arizona, where he is now professor emeritus. In 1995 he received one of his professions highest honors, the National Academy of Science Award in Aeronautical Engineering, awarded but once every five years.