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Meet a Rotorcraft Pro - Ray Prouty
By Steve Goldsworthy


RPM: Ray, how did you get your start as an aerodynamicist?

Ray: I really started when I was growing up, building model airplanes. First it was airplane kits and then I wanted to start designing my own! I went to college at Washington State College for mechanical engineering, and then transferred to University of Washington because they had an aerodynamics course.

RPM: So what got you started in helicopter aerodynamics?

Ray: McDonnell Aircraft had a helicopter program and needed some calculations done for their wind tunnel testing. I got involved and ended up doing my master’s thesis on wind tunnel wall corrections.

RPM: Where did you work after your masters degree?

Ray: In 1952 I went to work for Hughes Helicopters in Culver City, Ca. I was working on the flying crane program, the XH-28.
(Ed note: The XH-28 was an intended upgrade of the XH-17 heavy lift helicopter program. The XH-28 was designed with a maximum gross weight of 104,000 pounds).

RPM: Where did you go from there?

Ray: I moved around a bit, from Sikorsky, then Bell and then in 1966 I moved to Lockheed Helicopters in Van Nuys, Ca. I was working on the XH-51 project. We had some challenges with the original 3-blade rotor system and so it ended up with a 4-blade rigid rotor system. Then that became the Lockheed Model 286 which received its’ FAA type certificate in 1966. Most people don’t know that Lockheed had a civilian certified helicopter, but they did and built them right here in Van Nuys. It was a great helicopter.
(Ed note: A modified XH-51A achieved a forward flight speed of 263 knots in 1967.)

RPM: So what happened to the 286 program?

Ray: They never were successful selling any. Eventually, someone bought out the few that were built and were hoping to sell them commercially. The hangar they were stored in caught fire and that was the end of the program.

RPM: Are there any left to see?

Ray: The Army Museum (Fort Rucker) still has one. After the XH-51 program I worked on the RAH 56 Cheyenne project.

RPM: Where did you go when you left Lockheed?

Ray
: Back to Hughes, working on the Apache program for 15 years.  I stayed there from about 1973 until I retired in 1987.

RPM: I started flying back in the late 1980’s. My instructor told me to go buy a copy of “Helicopter Aerodynamics” which you wrote. How many books do you have out now?

Ray: I think it must be about six now. I have another one I am working on that is also a compilation of the monthly columns I used to write.

RPM: I know you’re not a pilot, but have you ever flown?

Ray: I soloed in a Piper Cub when I was in high school. I only got to fly a helicopter once. I was able to hold a hover for about 15 seconds and then we started swinging in a pendulum.

Posted in: Human Interest

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