Robert Richmond is going on one-hundred and two years of age in 2021, making him the oldest Michigan Aerospace alumnus to date. Born and raised in Canada, Richmond always found himself fascinated by planes. It wasn’t until his family drove down to Detroit to fix their car that he discovered that engineering could turn his love for aviation into a livelihood.
He began his academic career at the University of Michigan in the Aerospace Department in 1939. During his time at the university, he worked on the wind tunnel under the advisorship of the former department chair, Professor Stockard. Over the summers, he worked at National Steel Car Co., Malton, Ontario, on the production of Westland Lysander leading-edge wing slats, and elevators. Once he graduated, he continued his research on wind tunnels, working in the Mechanical Engineering Division of the National Research Council where he developed flight test projects and low drag skis for the Hurricane aircraft as his first job.
Throughout his career, he also worked as Chief of Aerodynamics and Chief Development Engineer for Fairchild Aircraft Ltd, in Longueuil, Quebec. Here, he drafted a preliminary specification for a jet trainer with unprecedented features such as pressurization and ejection seats that became the groundwork for the Canadair CL-41, the Tutor jet trainer used by the Royal Canadian Air Force Snowbird Acrobatic Team. In 1956, he was appointed Vice President of Missile and Systems Division to develop the Sparrow II Missile for DND and in 1960, Richmond joined Canadian Pratt and Whitney Aircraft (later known as Pratt and Whitney Aircraft Canada ([PWAC]) as Vice President of Operations. In 1970 he joined McDonnell Douglas of Canada as President, and was named a Corporate Vice-President of the parent company.
Among these outstanding roles, Richmond’s greatest career achievement was his work with Spar Aerospace, a Candian aerospace company that produced equipment for the Canadian Space Agency to be used in cooperation with NASA’s Space Shuttle program. He joined as President, Chief Operating Officer and Director in 1974 and worked there for six years. During his time at Spar, he established the Canadarm program, which was a remote manipulator system used on the Space Shuttle orbiters to deploy, manoeuvre, and capture payloads. After leaving Spar in 1980, Richmond returned to CanadaAir as Executive Vice President of Operations and later advanced to Chief Operating Officer before retiring in 1988.
Now, Richmond’s successful children and grandchildren carry on his legacy as doctors, teachers, and lawyers. As a proud and successful retired aerospace engineer, the advice he has to give to the engineers of the future is to work hard, because it is the best way to achieve your goals.