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Aircraft engineer James Raisbeck remembered

Boeing engineer, Robertson STOL designer, Museum of Flight Pathfinder Award recipient was 84

Seattle-based commercial and general aviation aircraft engineer, Robertson STOL pioneer, and philanthropist James Raisbeck was remembered by industry leaders for his significant aviation achievements, philanthropy, and lifelong dedication to education after he died at age 84 on August 31.

James Raisbeck was an aviation engineer, philanthropist, and community leader. The Raisbeck Aviation High School outside of Seattle was named in his honor. Photo courtesy of Ted Huetter/The Museum of Flight, Seattle.

Museum of Flight President Matt Hayes said Raisbeck was a “hard-charging aerodynamicist who possessed a comprehensive understanding of the interaction between technological and economic implications in airplane design.”

The museum presented the engineer with a Pathfinder Award in 2007, an honor bestowed on those in the Pacific Northwest who have significantly contributed to aeronautics and astronautics. Previous recipients include Jeff Bezos, William Boeing Jr., and Clay Lacy.

Raisbeck Aviation High School—located across the street from the museum and adjacent Boeing Field in the Seattle suburb of Tukwila—was named in Raisbeck’s honor in 2013. The high school is an early adopter of the AOPA Foundation’s You Can Fly High School Aviation STEM Curriculum and has been recognized as one of the top high schools in Washington.

Raisbeck’s early engineering career included positions at the Boeing Co. before he moved on to GA projects. He performed pioneering work with Robertson STOL (short takeoff and landing) design modifications for single- and twin-engine Cessnas and Pipers and founded Raisbeck Engineering in 1973. Raisbeck helped design systems for the Rockwell International Sabreliner 65 series, improved the wings on the Learjet aircraft family, and designed enhancements for Raytheon's line of Beechcraft King Air turboprops.

In the commercial aviation realm, Raisbeck’s firm engineered the Raisbeck Stage 3 Noise Reduction Systems for Boeing 727s and developed bulletproof door assemblies for Boeing 737 and 757 jetliners.

The National Business Aviation Association awarded Raisbeck a lifetime achievement award in 2002. Purdue University bestowed on Raisbeck an honorary doctorate in engineering degree in 2005. He received a Living Legend of Aviation award for a lifetime portfolio of aviation and aeronautics advances in 2008.

Raisbeck and his wife, Sherry, contributed $1 million to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2015 that helped create an endowed professorship in applied engineering.

Hayes praised Raisbeck for “going well beyond philanthropy” and said the aviation engineer’s “legacy was in becoming woven into the fabric of the educational experience of those on our campus.” Hayes recalled that Raisbeck’s “compassion and enthusiasm for the students—and those that supported the students—was on full demonstration” during “each and every interaction. Having experienced dozens, if not hundreds of such interactions, I am not sure who brought more joy to the equation. And although James often thought in equations, it was his innately human side that had the most impact. Whether you saw him on a day when he was bigger than life or whether he was quietly sharing his words of wisdom, James has left his stamp on us and the world.”

David Tulis

David Tulis

Content Producer
AOPA Media Content Producer David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a private pilot with single-engine land and sea ratings and a tailwheel endorsement. He is also a certificated remote pilot and co-host of the award-wining AOPA Hangar Talk podcast. David enjoys vintage aircraft ad photography.
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