Article Written by Katie Brown
Walter Vincenti, professor emeritus of aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford University, laid the engineering groundwork for flight at the speed of sound and helped develop the more efficient swept-wing airplane design still in use today. Vincenti died in Palo Alto on Oct. 11 of complications from pneumonia. He was 102.
“Walter is probably one of the two greatest human beings I’ve met in my adult life,” said Robert McGinn, professor emeritus of management science and engineering, and a former director of the Stanford Program in Science, Technology and Society. “Besides being a superb scholar, he was a person of great integrity, kindness and support for his junior colleagues. He was someone you could trust wholeheartedly.”
Vincenti is best known for making high-speed flight a reality, propelling the emerging field of aeronautics across academia, industry and the military. In addition, he became deeply interested in the history of technology and ethics of engineering. With colleagues William Clebsch, Philip Rhinelander and Stephen Kline, he co-founded Stanford’s program examining the interconnectedness between science, technology and society, the second interdisciplinary undergraduate program of its kind in America.
Over the course of his career, Vincenti received many awards for his work in aeronautics and in history of technology. Most recently, he won the 2016 Guggenheim Medal for a lifetime of work in aeronautics and a 2019 Stanford Engineering Heroes Award, the School of Engineering’s highest honor. Jennifer Widom, dean of Stanford Engineering, said it was a pleasure and honor to meet Vincenti and spend time with him when he came to receive the Stanford Engineering Hero award.
“He was a true visionary,” she said. “Through both his foundational contributions to the field of aeronautics and his dedication to interdisciplinary education, he enriched the lives of so many individuals at Stanford and beyond.”