Harry Hurt: Another Great Lost

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As Drew Steketee noted in his blog earlier this week, aviation has its share of notable people, and Ed Stimpson's death marks the passing of just one. Quite by happenstance, another of the greats died this week, although not all of us will recognize the name.

To any naval aviator trained during the 1960s, the name Harry H. Hurt will ring a bell. Some may not remember exactly where they heard the name, but they'll have relied on his work. Hurt wrote the landmark volume, Aerodynamics for Naval Aviators, a text that remains one of the best general technical treatises on the science of flight. My copy is dog-eared and stained from years of use, and I would guess I refer to it at least a half dozen times a year. If you need to know the relationship of load factor to stall speed or speed to range or any of a hundred other questions, Aerodynamics is the place to find it.

Hurt was also a naval aviator himself, having joined the service toward the end of World War II. He earned his wings, but the war ended before he could get into combat. He went on to study at Texas A&M where he earned a degree in aeronautical engineering before eventually moving on to the University of Southern California. At USC, Hurt authored Aerodynamics and although it's somewhat dated in appearance, it's a text that every pilot should have in his or her essential library.

Hurt was interested in transportation in general, but as a lifelong motorcyclist, he made a huge impact in two-wheeled safety by researching and publishing in 1981 what became known as the Hurt Report. It was based on an exhaustive study of nearly 1000 motorcycle accidents in Los Angeles between 1976 and 1977.

Hurt's work also provided a disciplined methodology for investigating motorcycle crashes and this became instrumental in understanding accidents and improving rider safety, especially helmet design. As a lifelong motorcyclist myself, I refer to Hurt's research in this area almost as frequently as I use his aviation writing.

It's probably an overstatement to suggest that no one does the type of work Hurt didóbasic research into safety segments heretofore ignored. But few pursue it with the passion and dedication to the scientific method that Hurt did. It's certainly no overstatement to say that some people are alive today who wouldn't be had Harry Hurt not done the work he did.

Comments (4)

I believe that Harry was an instructor in The USAF Flight Safety School at USC in the late 1960's. A great teacher and an excellent person.

Jack Pehler

Posted by: JOHN PEHLER | December 7, 2009 11:00 AM    Report this comment

Though he didn't fit the image of professor, Harry Hurt was a great teacher. I learned more practical information about aviation from talking to him for a few mintes than I ever did from hours reading books or magazines. My job is in the motorcycle business, where his work has doubtlessly prevented thousands of deaths and injuries. His intellect was stunning but he could relate what he knew to anyone, and his enthusiasm for both activities was evident. I don't know of anyone in aviation or motorcycling who met him that wasn't impressed.

Posted by: Art Friedman | December 7, 2009 12:13 PM    Report this comment

Huh. A multi-talented man. I was avidly motorcycling in the 80's and I remember when the Hurt Report came out, it was a Big Hairy Deal and was VERY helpful to me (even as digested by the motor mags) to roll up something near 700K miles accident-free. His passing is a tremendous loss.

Posted by: Beach Comer | December 7, 2009 12:47 PM    Report this comment

I was a motorcycle instructor when I attended the USC Aviation Safety Program in 1998. The motorcycle safety research lab was at the other end of the hall and I would wander down during breaks. It was a real joy to meet Harry and talk about motorcycle safety. His nonassuming way made him accessable to anyone interested in safety and his passion for his field was obvious. I also enjoyed watching some of the testing underway during the weeks I spend at USC.

Posted by: David Dodson | December 9, 2009 7:42 AM    Report this comment

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