The aviation world was shaken last week as it was shared that James Raisbeck had passed away on Tuesday, August 31st, 2021.
Over the years, we at King Air Nation had worked with James on several community questions projects, and we were always appreciative of the kindness and wisdom he brought forth. Like us, he genuinely loved all things King Air, and the insights he gave from his years of knowledge consistently astounded us. James, you will be greatly missed.
The following eulogy was posted to the Raisbeck Engineering website, commemorating the life of James Raisbeck:
It is with heavy hearts that we share the passing of our Founder, James Raisbeck who passed away Tuesday, August 31st, 2021, and will be greatly missed. James has been an iconic figure in the aviation industry with a career that spanned sixty-seven years. Over nearly seven decades, James made countless contributions to the industry and his community. While Raisbeck Engineering was acquired by Acorn Growth Companies in 2016, James continued to be active both at work and through multiple philanthropic interests.
“I am honored to lead the company that bears James Raisbeck’s name. I enjoyed meeting and getting to know James and I valued his input, insights and wisdom. We will miss James tremendously and our hearts reach out to his family and friends,” said Hal Chrisman, the President of Raisbeck Engineering.
Rick Nagel, Managing Partner of Acorn Growth Companies, said, “James was an iconic figure in the aviation industry, best known for King Air modifications, but his influence reached well beyond that segment of the market. James established and built a company we worked with as a channel partner for two previous Acorn companies before acquiring Raisbeck into our portfolio, allowing us the opportunity to continue James’ legacy of developing products that improve aircraft performance and safety. The entire Acorn and Raisbeck teams will miss his unwavering passion for the aerospace sector and are deeply saddened with his loss. We offer our deepest condolences to his family at this difficult time.”
While it is impossible to encapsulate a career as long and deep as James’ in a few words, we will try to hit the high points.
In 1954, James started his aviation career in the U.S. Air Force as an Airman Basic E-1. Even at that early stage of his career, James exhibited the tenacity that he has long been known for by fighting hard to earn his A&P license. James spent many long hours maintaining many different military aircraft before winding up as a flight engineer on the B-36.
James left the U.S. Air Force and enrolled in Purdue University to pursue his dream career — aircraft design. James graduated from Purdue in 1961 with his coveted degree in Aeronautical Engineering. Shortly thereafter, James landed a job as a Research Aerodynamicist with The Boeing Airplane Co. where he worked as part of a team that designed and flight tested an innovative trailing-edge flap system that gave Boeing’s new 707 airliner the ability to fly at speeds as low as 60 knots. This was technology that, along with other products developed by the team on which James worked, found its way into Boeing’s highly successful commercial transport aircraft.
But James dreamed of going farther in improving airplane productivity and in 1969 left Boeing to pursue his ideas for improving existing aircraft with products that enhance and improve productivity, performance, safety, and comfort. He first put his ideas to work as President and Chief Engineer at the legendary Robertson Aircraft Corporation, birthplace of the famed Robertson Short Takeoff and Landing (STOL) kits created for multiple general aviation aircraft.
In 1970, James began focusing on improving the Learjet wing. Raisbeck and his team perused results from full-scale testing of a Learjet 23 by NASA Ames in its 40-by-80-foot wind tunnel. The numbers surprised Raisbeck who up until then had spent most of his aeronautical engineering career developing aerodynamic enhancements for Boeing jets. Raisbeck saw opportunities in those test results, opportunities that led to the development in the early 1970s of the Mark II and Mark IV low-speed performance systems and the Mark III high-speed drag reduction packages. The Mark II and Mark IV Wings became standard technology on all Learjet Century III and Softflite versions throughout the world.
In 1973, Raisbeck left Robertson and officially launched his own company. In 1976, Rockwell International asked James to redesign its Saberliner series. As a result, the model 65 was equipped and manufactured with Raisbeck-designed Supercritical Wings, which were also retrofitted to Saberliner models 60 and 80.
In 1981, James turned his focus to the Beechcraft King Air family. Often described as the man who could see air flow, James saw possibilities for improving the King Air’s productivity, performance, safety, and overall customer usefulness. Raisbeck’s engineering team began design work on what was later to be certified as the Mark VI system for the King Air 200 series which included several systems that are still in use today: the Ram Air Recovery System, Dual Aft Body Strakes, and High Float Gear Doors.
A year later, Raisbeck Engineering was incorporated and the name Raisbeck has become synonymous with the King Air. Over the years, Raisbeck has developed multiple modifications for the King Air and today more than 64% of the 6,200+ King Airs in operation today have at least one Raisbeck modification. Further confirmation of the value of these products is the fact that several have been drawn into the King Air production line. These include Dual Aft Body Strakes and Nacelle Wing Lockers on the King Air 350, Ram Air Recovery System on the King Air 250, and propellers on the King Air C90.
However, King Airs were not the only aircraft type on which Raisbeck worked his magic. A short and certainly incomplete list of products developed under James’ leadership includes Learjet Aft Fuselage Lockers, Stage 3 Noise Reduction Kits for the 727, Airbus A320 Overhead Bin Enlargement Kits, and ZR Lite Performance Systems for the Learjet 31, 35, and 36 that improved performance while reducing fuel consumption by a stunning 10%.
Raisbeck Engineering today is still integrating advanced technology with previously designed but proven airplanes of all types. Identifying a need, finding a solution customers want, and delivering on that solution at a price worth paying has been the tone that James Raisbeck set when he started his long association with airplanes and his company and that trait has made the company a success to this day.
James’ contributions to the industry have been recognized by a who’s who of aviation organizations. In 1979 James was honored by Purdue University, receiving their Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award, and again in 1999 with Purdue’s Outstanding Aerospace Engineer Award. That same year he was awarded the AIAA Commercial Aviation Technical Achievement Award. In 2000 he was awarded Professional Pilot Magazine’s Aviation Entrepreneur of the Year. In 2002 The National Business Aviation Association awarded James its Lifetime Achievement Award for Meritorious Service to Aviation. In May 2005, James received an Honorary Doctorate in Engineering from Purdue. In 2007 he was elected as a Pathfinder; that same year also saw him and his wife, Sherry, honored as First Citizens by the City of Seattle. In 2008 James received the Living Legends Lifetime Aviation Entrepreneur Award. James was elected to Fellow in the AIAA in 2012. Most recently, James was placed on the National Air and Space Museum’s Wall of Honor, a permanent memorial at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, recognizing those with a passion for flight.
But James’ true legacy abides in his generous philanthropy and enthusiasm for his community, particularly education and the arts. James and his wife Sherry, through their Foundation, have given significant grants over the years in support of Education, the Arts, the Museum of Flight, Medical Research, and the Raisbeck Aviation High School. The High School, which he helped establish in 2013 through the Raisbeck Foundation, was particularly close to his heart. James and Sherry became integral parts of the Raisbeck High School. His compassion, enthusiasm and support of the students, faculty and family members at the Raisbeck High School not only touched many lives but brought him just as much joy. James also served on the Executive Committee for the Museum of Flight, providing his expertise to many committees, including Education, campaigns, and galas.
He and Sherry have two daughters, a son, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Dr. Raisbeck joined the students of Raisbeck Aviation High School for the annual “Lip Dub” at the end of 2020. This is a fun lip-syncing video the students do each year. James and the kids had so much fun doing it, and it captures so much of his spirit and love for the kids. Here’s a link to an excerpt from the movie featuring James in a cameo appearance:https://youtu.be/maefCigbSMI.