Photo of Richard T. Whitcomb

Richard T. Whitcomb

  • National Medal of Science
  • Engineering
For his discoveries and inventions in aerodynamics which have provided and will continue to provide substantial improvements in the speed, range and payload of a major portion of high-performance aircraft produced throughout the country.

After World War II, a Massachusetts child took over his parents’ basement for building model airplanes – using rubber bands to increase the power of propellers.rnrnThat boy, Richard T. Whitcomb, later became an aeronautical engineer, influencing nearly every large commercial flight in the sky today.rnrnIn 1951, Whitcomb – looking to reduce the air drag on jets – introduced “area rule,” the idea of shaping an airplane’s body like a Coke bottle to improve aerodynamics.rnrnThe design helped increase the speed of planes by up to 25 percent without any additional engine power.rnrnIn addition, Whitcomb introduced the idea of winglets – small panels on tips of wings – which reduce drag and improve fuel efficiency.rnrn“There’s been a continual drive in me ever since I was a teenager to find a better way to do everything,” Whitcomb said in 1969. “If a human mind can figure out a better way to do something, let’s do it.”