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AEDC Fellow William MacDermott’s contributions to the Complex remembered

William “Bill” MacDermott

William “Bill” MacDermott


AEDC Fellow William “Bill” MacDermott will be remembered for his contributions to Arnold Engineering Development Complex following his passing on Dec. 5, 2020, at the age of 95.

MacDermott is credited with demonstrating exemplary leadership and technical innovation over the course of a career with AEDC that spanned more than 40 years. He was honored as an AEDC Fellow in 2007. The AEDC Fellows program, established in 1989, recognizes AEDC personnel who have made substantial and exceptionally distinguished contributions to the nation’s aerospace ground testing capability.

A native of Lansing, Michigan, MacDermott joined the U.S. Army in 1943 during World War II. He trained as an airplane mechanic, crew chief and flight engineer. He spent two years in the 3rd Emergency Rescue Squadron of the 5th Air Force in the Pacific Theater. This experience compelled MacDermott to author a book titled “A Walk through the Valley: A History of the 3rd Emergency Rescue Squadron 1944-1946,” which detailed the history of the unit.

MacDermott returned to his home state following WWII, graduating from the University of Michigan in 1949. He earned bachelor’s degrees in aeronautical engineering and mathematics. MacDermott earned his master’s in aeronautical engineering in 1950.

He spent several working years at a naval aircraft factory and a year at Sverdrup & Parcel in St. Louis, Missouri. He relocated to Tullahoma in 1953, the same year he began his 42-year AEDC career.

Among his accomplishments at AEDC, MacDermott contributed to the design of the nine-stage air compressor for what was initially known as the Gas Dynamics Facility. The GDF was renamed the von Kármán Gas Dynamics Facility, a hypersonic wind tunnel test capability, following an October 1959 dedication ceremony.

MacDermott worked in the design of the plant ducting and the rupture disk safety system.

He also developed a technique optimizing flexible nozzle contours by an influence method that is still in use. Furthermore, MacDermott conducted studies defining the effect of air liquefaction on model testing in unheated, low-Mach-number wind tunnels.

MacDermott was among those responsible for the early development of the arc-heated “hotshot” tunnels and the unique instrumentation required for testing in the impulse facilities. This work produced the technology that led to the development and acquisition of Tunnel F.

The first “hotshot” tunnel was placed in operation in the mid-1950s in the GDF. The tunnel was capable of realistically simulating the 11,000 mile-per-hour and 15,000-degree temperatures then predicted for future long-range missiles and aircraft. It was used to explore possible methods for cooling the surface of missiles or aircraft as they encounter speeds in the thermal barrier area and for investigating methods to withstand high pressures and temperatures. The tunnel worked by creating a powerful electrical explosion and then controlling, stabilizing and measuring the effects of its temperatures and forces as it passes over a scale test article.

MacDermott’s activities outside of work included veterans’ affairs, serving a stint as commander of the Tullahoma American Legion Post 43 and on the board of VFW Post 4188. He was also active in the Tullahoma Community Playhouse and served as chairman of the Tullahoma Bicentennial Commission in 1976.