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Walter B. LaBerge

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Walter B. LaBerge
Walter B. LaBerge.jpg
United States Under Secretary of the Army
In office
July 1977 – February 1980
PresidentJimmy Carter
Preceded byNorman R. Augustine
Succeeded byHarry Spiro Jr.
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Navy
Years of service1944-1946
US Navy O6 insignia.svg

Walter Barber LaBerge (1924–2004) was an aerospace engineer and defense industry executive who served as United States Under Secretary of the Army from 1977 to 1980.

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  • ✪ How Do Airplanes Fly?


Airplanes stay in the air because of one simple fact: there is no net force on them. And with no net force, an object at rest stays at rest, and an object in motion stays that way – even if it’s in midair 10 km above the earth’s surface. Now of course it’s not like there aren’t forces acting on the airplane; gravity pulls down on the plane itself plus all of the people and baggage inside, and every single air molecule that is shot through the engine or collides with the fuselage or wings pushes on the plane as well. But if all of these forces are balanced – in particular, if the air molecules push the plane UP enough to counteract gravity – then the plane stays up. Getting air molecules to push the plane up is the crucial part of flying, and planes do this by making sure the undersides of the wings crash into more air molecules more violently than the upper sides of the wings. When a plane is parked on the ground, air molecules bounce off of the top and bottom of the wings in roughly equal amounts, or with “equal pressure.” No lift. But in motion, the curved shape of the wings and their slightly inclined angle means that the bottoms smash into more air molecules than before (and smash harder into those molecules), so the pressure on the bottom of the wing goes up. In addition, fewer air molecules now strike the top of the wing and those that do strike it less forcefully, partly because it’s being “shielded” by its own forward motion (the way running into the rain keeps your back drier) and partly because a curving stream of air has lower pressure on the inside of the curve since the molecules get thrown centripetally to the outside. But whatever the reasons, the pressure on the top of the wing goes down. So, low pressure on the top plus high pressure on the bottom, and the plane has lift. And if the pressure/force imbalance is big enough, it can lift the plane up into the air against gravity! Now, all this crashing into air molecules to lift the plane also pushes to slow the plane down – which it would, if not for engines. Engines also push air (in this case, backwards), either via a propellor, or a jet, or a jet driving a propellor. For various reasons, it turns out that you want to have a really big propellor driven by a really small jet for the most efficient engine. But even in inefficient engines, the spinning fan blades get their horizontal lift, which we call “thrust,” by moving quickly through air with a curved shape and a slightly inclined angle – they’re essentially mini-wings. And so an airplane is essentially a meta-wing: it flies by moving mini-wings fast enough to push air molecules backwards, which moves the plane forward fast enough that its big wings push air molecules down. Whoa. Wingception.


LaBerge was born in Chicago in 1924. His father was a salesman selling industrial brushes for the Osborn Brush Company. He was educated at the University of Notre Dame, receiving a degree in Naval Science in 1944.

After graduating, LaBerge joined the United States Navy (then in the midst of World War II) and was posted to the yard minesweeper USS <i>YMS-165</i> based in Palau. He was promoted to the rank of Captain in 1946.

Upon leaving the Navy, LaBerge returned to Notre Dame, and shortly thereafter married Patricia Sammon of River Forest, Illinois. He received a B.S. in Physics from Notre Dame in 1947 and a Ph.D. in Physics in 1950.

In 1950, LaBerge became Program Engineer for the AIM-9 Sidewinder at the Naval Ordnance Test Center in China Lake, California. He was promoted in 1955, becoming Program Manager of the Sidewinder program.

In 1957, LaBerge moved to Philco as Director of Engineering at its Western Development Laboratories in Palo Alto, California. (Philco was acquired by the Ford Motor Company in 1961, becoming Philco Ford.) Beginning in 1962, LaBerge headed up the Philco Ford team that designed and installed the instrumentation of the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston. During this period, he worked closely with NASA officials, and got to know several of the original United States astronauts. In 1963, he was promoted to Director of the Philco Ford's Houston operation. He returned to Palo Alto in 1966 as division vice president, then vice president for the Electronics Group, at Philco Ford's Western Development Laboratories.

LaBerge returned to Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake (as the Naval Ordnance Test Center had been renamed) in 1971 as deputy technical director and then as technical director.

In 1973, President of the United States Richard Nixon nominated LaBerge as Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (Research and Development). He held this post until 1976, when he became Assistant Secretary General (Defense Support) at NATO in Brussels.

In 1977, President Jimmy Carter nominated LaBerge as United States Under Secretary of the Army and he subsequently held this office from July 27, 1977, until February 28, 1980. On February 15, 1979, he also became Principal Deputy to the Under Secretary of Defense (Research and Engineering), and continued to hold this post until 1981, even after he relinquished his office as Under Secretary of the Army.

Upon leaving the United States Department of Defense in 1981, LaBerge became an executive at Lockheed, serving as corporate vice president of the Lockheed Missile and Space Company in Sunnyvale, California, from 1981 to 1985, and then as Lockheed's Vice President of Advanced Planning at Calabasas, California, from 1985 to 1989.

LaBerge retired in 1989. In retirement, he served as chair of the Army Science Board. He also held several academic appointments, including Senior Researcher at the Institute of Advanced Technology at the University of Texas at Austin; visiting professor at the Defense Systems Management College at the Defense Acquisition University in Fort Belvoir, Virginia; and Visiting Professor of Physics at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.

A genealogy enthusiast, LaBerge traced his genealogy back to Robert de La Berge, one of the original settlers of New France.

LaBerge died in Santa Cruz, California, on July 16, 2004. He was 80 years old.


Government offices
Preceded by
Norman Ralph Augustine
United States Under Secretary of the Army
July 27, 1977 – February 28, 1980
Succeeded by
Harry Spiro, Jr.
This page was last edited on 1 February 2020, at 13:36
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