Distinguished Alumni Awards

Robert H. Liebeck

Robert H. Liebeck
To Robert H. Liebeck, engineer, researcher, and educator, for his original contributions to engineering and superb leadership in the development of a unique class of high-lift airfoils.

McDonnell Douglas Fellow, McDonnell Douglas Corporation, Long Beach, California

  • BS, Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering, 1961
  • MS, Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering, 1962
  • PhD, Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering, 1968

Robert H. Liebeck’s primary contribution to knowledge in the field of aeronautical engineering is his development of a highly successful and widely used class of airfoils, which provide very high lift at low drag. This work began at UIUC as the topic of his doctoral dissertation. These airfoils have been so successful that the term Liebeck airfoil has been universally adopted, and sections describing Liebeck airfoils appear in most modern textbooks on aerodynamics.

The impact of the airfoil work is evident in a variety of engineering applications. The wing and propellers of the Boeing Condor high-altitude airplane use Liebeck airfoils designed at McDonnell Douglas, wings for Indianapolis and Formula 1 racing cars have used the Liebeck airfoils with good success, and Liebeck airfoils were recently designed for the keel of the America sailboat, which won the America’s cup in 1992. Variants of the Liebeck airfoils were used on the MacReady Gossamer Condor and Albatros humanpowered airplanes, and a Liebeck airfoil was designed for the Smithsonian-sponsored flying replica of the giant pterosaur.

In addition to his work at McDonnell Douglas, in 1977 Liebeck became an adjunct professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Southern California, where he teaches courses in aerodynamics, flight mechanics, and airplane design and supervises graduate these students. Several of his government-sponsored research projects have funded his graduate students, and he recently developed a cooperative research plan in which graduate students are funded by McDonnell Douglas.

Robert Liebeck is active in the American Institute of Aeronautical and Astronautics (AIAA) and received the 1987 AIAA Aerodynamics Award for his airfoil work. In 1988, he was elected McDonnell Douglas Fellow, received the Outstanding Engineering Merit Award from the Institute for the Advancement of Engineering (IAE), and received the Department of Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering Distinguished Alumnus Award. He is a fellow of both the AIAA and the IAE. He served on the National Research Council Naval Studies Board and is currently on the National Science Foundation site-visit team. In 1992, he was elected to the national Academy of Engineering.

Current as of 1994.