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Harry J. Hillaker

Harry J. Hillaker


Harry J. Hillaker was born May 9, 1919 in Flint, Michigan. Called the "Father of the F-16," he championed the philosophy of a lightweight fighter aircraft and made significant contributions to aerospace in design, development, and leadership.

The flight of Lindbergh's first plane over his hometown inspired an ambition to fly and design airplanes. His color-blindness precluded a flying career, so he became focused on design. After studying aeronautical engineering at the University of Michigan, he obtained employment with General Dynamics (then Consolidated Aircraft) and in 1942 was sent to Fort Worth, Texas to work on the B-36 conceptual design.

In a career spanning 44 years, Hillaker's skills played a critical role in such projects as the production of the B-36, the world's first intercontinental bomber; the YB-60, a swept wing, jet powered bomber; the B-58 Hustler, the world's first supersonic bomber; and the F-111, the world's first variable-swept wing combat aircraft.

His most important and impacting achievement, however, was the design, development, and management of the F-16 Fighting Falcon. Hillaker initiated the Lightweight Fighter Program in 1965, served as Deputy Chief Engineer on the YF-16 until appointed Director of F-16 Marketing in 1974.

He was next assigned responsibility for Advanced F-16 Programs as Chief Project Engineer until 1980 when he became Vice President, Deputy Program Director F-16XL. He was the source of YF-16 development concepts which resulted in a set of state-of-the-art advances in flight control systems, a variable camber wing, a high-"G" cockpit, and early application of composites.

Hillaker received the Aircraft Design Award for 1985 from the AIAA and the University of Michigan's Board of Regents' Outstanding Achievement Award, was elected to the National Academy of Engineering, and designed a Distinguished Fellow by his high school in Flint, Michigan. He has also been inducted into the General Dynamics Hall of Fame.

Hillaker was enshrined on August 21, 1993 for outstanding contributions in the design and development of military fighter aircraft. He died in Forth Worth on February 8, 2009.

Smithsonian Institution Affiliations Program