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Ohio State aviation pioneer Gerald Gregorek remembered

hand-drawn blueprint of Aerodynamic Lab at Don Scott Field1960 blueprint of Aerodynamic Laboratory by Gerald GregorekIn 1960, an idea for a custom-constructed Aerodynamic Laboratory at The Ohio State University was hand-sketched by doctoral student Gerald Gregorek. That drawing served as a blueprint not only for the expansion of the lab, but also for Gregorek’s future as a pillar in Ohio State’s aerospace research.

Gerald “Jerry” Gregorek earned three degrees from Ohio State in aeronautical and astronautical engineering (BS ’58, MS ’59, PhD ’67). He then went on to serve as the chair of the Department of Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering (1991-1999) and director of the Aeronautical and Astronautical Research Laboratory (Aerodynamic Laboratory). With his recent passing on October 3, 2019, we celebrate his impactful accomplishments.

50 years of research

Gregorek’s life passion was aviation research and he was known internationally as a leader in applied aerodynamics. His most notable projects include designing a transonic laminar flow airfoil for the Piaggio Avanti, an Italian executive aircraft.

“Jerry tackled many innovative research programs over the years,” commented James Gregory, professor and director of the Aerospace Research Center, today’s Aeronautical and Astronautical Research Laboratory. “He played an influential role in designing various parts of the Piaggio Avanti, which went into production in 1986. Jerry designed the aircraft’s front and rear airfoils and was recognized for the innovative structure aimed at achieving drag reduction.”

Smiling faculty members stand in front of a parked Piaggio Avanti.Gregorek (right) and Gregory with a Piaggio Avanti at The Ohio State University Airport.

With the Aeronautical and Astronautical Research Laboratory located next door to The Ohio State University Airport, Gregorek was able to test many of his applied experiments on campus.

“From its beginning the airport supported aviation research,” said Airport Director Douglas Hammon. “But it was Jerry who initiated applied flight testing at Ohio State, which gave airport leadership the idea of expanding its use to be multidisciplinary.”

Gregorek’s experimental projects ranging from general aviation tests to several NASA flight test programs took flight at the airport. And Gregorek, along with Professor Stacy Weislogel, developed a flight testing course that is still being taught at Ohio State.

“Jerry kept aviation alive at Ohio State,” recalled Hammon. “He initiated the practical application of flight testing and opened students’ understanding of its importance.”

Although Gregorek retired from Ohio State in 2010 after serving the university for 50 years, he continued to be engaged in research projects at the Aerospace Research Center and mentored younger faculty until his passing.

Associate Professor of Practice Clifford Whitfield was Gregorek’s final graduate student and a lifelong mentee. "Jerry, or Dr. G. as he’s remembered by most, has positively impacted the lives of countless students,” he commented.

Gregorek and Weislogel bend over an aircraft wing during inspection.Gregorek (right) and Weislogel inspect an aircraft at The Ohio State University Airport

“You would be hard-pressed to find a Buckeye aerospace engineer that graduated in the past 60 years and does not have fond memories of Dr. G. in the classroom. He continually provided support and encouragement to become impactful engineers, pilots and educators. As a mentor, Dr. G. had the rare ability to inspire the best out of you, without having to say a word."

That inspiration lives on at the Aerospace Research Center, where Gregorek’s thoughtful leadership left an indelible mark.

“Jerry had a remarkably profound impact on the Aerospace Research Center—his legacy is present wherever we look in ARC,” said Gregory. “He was extremely kind, bright and creative, and a wonderful role model for faculty and students. He was also an outstanding educator who had endless fascinating stories that would inspire students and colleagues alike.”

by Holly Henley, Ohio State University Airport