Robert Widmer, Supersonics Pioneer, Dead At 95

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Aeronautical engineer Robert Widmer, a pioneer in the development of supersonic aircraft and fly-by-wire computerized flight control, died on June 20 in Fort Worth, Texas, The New York Times reported on Sunday. Inspired by Chuck Yeager's supersonic flight in 1947, Widmer was determined to design the first supersonic bomber. His bosses at Convair weren't interested, according to the Times, so Widmer spent two years working on his own time. When the Air Force asked for proposals, Widmer was ready, and Convair won the contract. The resulting B-58 Hustler could fly up to Mach 2 and 80,000 feet. Widmer also took lead roles in creating the designs for the B-36, a six-engine nuclear bomber; the F-111, a versatile jet fighter with variable-geometry wings; the F-16 "Fighting Falcon" jet fighter; the Tomahawk cruise missile; and more.

Widmer worked secretly on the F-16 project, according to the Times, in defiance of his bosses at General Dynamics, who said there was no market for the airplane. He hid prototypes in hangars, and when the Pentagon finally decided to seek out a lightweight fighter, his team had a head start and won the contract. Armand Chaput, a former colleague at General Dynamics, told the Times that besides his pioneering designs, Widmer was known for his salty personality. "He swore like a sailor," Chaput said. "People were afraid of him, but they really respected him." Widmer retired from General Dynamics in 1981, after 42 years with the company, and worked as a consultant for another 15 years.