Less than 13 years after the Wright Brothers’ famous flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in December of 1903, R. Dixon Speas was born in Cooleemee at the opposite end of the state. Showing leadership ability at an early age, he became an Eagle Scout and earned all three palms. Upon graduation from high school, his father sent him to Dr. Igor Sikorsky, the noted airplane and helicopter designer, to discuss a career in aviation. Dr. Sikorsky suggested that a good first step would be a degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. While at MIT, Dixon won first prize in the William E. Boeing Thesis Contest for his paper titled “The Need and Opportunities for Low-Cost Air Transportation.” The award enabled him to spend a year at United Airlines’ Boeing School of Aeronautics, where he became the first person to achieve transport pilot proficiency solely by simulator and “under-the-hood”pilot training.

Upon graduation from MIT in 1940, Dixon began a ten-year career with American Airlines, where he qualified as a DC-3 co-pilot and oversaw the development of the first procedures and manuals for trans-Atlantic operation of C-47s, C-54s and C-87s. He served as Director of Maintenance and Engineering, Cargo Division and as Special Assistant to President C. R. Smith.

He left American Airlines to found the first of several consulting firms that provided opportunities to solve problems in almost every facet of the airline, business aviation and airport segments of the aviation industry in 45 countries around the world. He managed these firms until a few months before his death in 1998. He wrote and presented a number of books, articles and papers including Airplane Performance and Operation, Technical Aspects of Air Transport Management, and Pilot’s Technical Manual.

During his long and distinguished career, Dixon served on the Board of Directors of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the Flight Safety Foundation, the Institute of Aeronautical Sciences, the Society of Automotive Engineers and The Wings Club, which he also served as President. He was elected a Fellow of the AIAA and the Royal Aeronautical Society and served on the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board of the National Research Council. His many awards and honors include the following:

  • Lifetime Achievement Award, The Wings Club (1997)

  • Elder Statesman of Aviation Award, National Aeronautic Association (1997)

  • Golden Eagle Award, Society of Senior Aerospace Executives (1997)

  • Meritorious Service to Aviation Award, National Business Aviation Association (1997)

  • Honorary Doctorate Degree, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (1995)

  • Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame (1995)

  • William Littlewood Lecturer, AIAA and SAE (1994)

  • William E. Downes Jr. Award, Airports Council International — North America (1992)

  • The Wings Club Sight Lecturer (1992)

  • Order of the Silk Scarf, National Business Aviation Association (1992)

The following testimonials from award citations summarize Dixon’s contributions to the aviation community and consulting profession:

Adapted from the Citation for the Award of the Golden Eagle
Presented by Arthur D. Lewis, President, SSAE:

The worldwide development of air transport operations, beginning in 1950, constitutes one of the great miracles in world history. The people involved in the development of world aviation were working at the cutting edge of the world's developing technology as it increased massively in scope, size, and complexity. The speed with which these developments took place is one of the major stories of this radically evolving world.

R. Dixon Speas was at the epicenter of this development. In 1951, armed with a degree in Aeronautical Engineering from MIT, a pilot's license from the Boeing School of Aeronautics and 10 years of training in airline management at American Airlines, Dixon Speas launched what became the most successful aviation consulting firm in the world.

He created an organization that could respond to the exploding needs of this diverse international industry. He picked his associates from a wide variety of highly qualified retirees from key positions in aviation management. At any given time, his associates numbered as many as 50 to 60 people and covered the entire range of specialties as needed. Over a 44 year period, some 200 to 250 senior executives worked for his firms.

The scope of their services extended to all elements of operation--aircraft, engine and component manufacturers, large and small airlines--both domestic and overseas, business and general aviation, as well as airports, airways and government agencies.

His firm provided services to most of the major airlines and regional carriers in the United States and to 46 overseas carriers in 44 different countries. The range of his activities in technical areas was exceedingly diverse. In the mid-sixties, for example, his organization developed the first computerized intercontinental flight planning capability. The computer not only reduced the time required to plan the flight, but resulted consistently in shorter flight times with a significant reduction in flying costs. This endeavor was followed by the conception and implementation of an aircraft parts pooling system. The concept remains in use today and continues to provide increased aircraft reliability and lower operating costs.

Mr. Speas' genius was his ability to meld these talented associates into a coherent group capable of handling almost any problem that needed attention. Mr. Speas, himself, retained a close involvement in every engagement and clearly was in charge.

He was a major contributor to the development of air transportation and directly facilitated its expansion throughout the world. He was one of the men in the industry who clearly helped make it happen.

For his unparalleled individual contributions to the development of aviation, the Society of Senior Aerospace Executives awarded Dixon Speas the Golden Eagle, the symbol of its highest esteem.

Taken from the Nomination for the NAA Elder Statesman of Aviation Award
Submitted by the Air Transport Association of America:

At the forefront of everything Dixon did was safety. This is quite evident if one looks at the number of audits Dixon’s firms accomplished over the years—which is hundreds. Whether an audit for a major airline, or a medium- or small-size airline, or for a business aircraft operator—both fixed wing and helicopter, safety was the bottom line. Dixon worked closely with the Flight Safety Foundation on this issue and took every opportunity to make safety the topic of his public speaking.

At the meeting of the Society of Senior Aerospace Executives (at which the Golden Eagle Award was presented), Dixon recommended that airlines be subjected to the same annual scrutiny as public companies and that an independent outside company audit the airlines. His position was that if company finances are audited to protect the financial interests of investors, why shouldn’t a similar level of scrutiny apply to assure the safety of the flying public?

Dixon Speas became a premier of aviation consultants because he cared. He cared enough to give every project, from the smallest to the largest, his best effort, his best professional personnel, his best understanding, his best of everything. Those who knew Dixon considered him a dynamo, a man who would search and find the answer to a question if he didn’t know it. He was a man who earned the respect of the world-wide aviation industry.

Memories of American Airlines came back to Dixon at an Oshkosh Air Show where he saw a Stinson Reliant with AA colors for sale. In the early 1940s, in preparing AA to fly DC-3s across the Atlantic for the military, Dix had to test a DC-3 drift meter. He cut a hole in the floor of an AA Stinson Reliant, installed a DC-3 drift meter and test flew it out of LGA.