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-hoodpilot training.
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 Pilots Technical Manual.
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:
Achievement Award, The Wings Club (1997)
of Aviation Award, National Aeronautic Association (1997)
Eagle Award, Society of Senior Aerospace Executives (1997)
Service to Aviation Award, National Business Aviation Association
Doctorate Degree, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (1995)
Aviation Hall of Fame (1995)
Littlewood Lecturer, AIAA and SAE (1994)
E. Downes Jr. Award, Airports Council International North
Club Sight Lecturer (1992)
- Order of
the Silk Scarf, National Business Aviation Association (1992)
testimonials from award citations summarize Dixons contributions
to the aviation community and consulting profession:
from the Citation for the Award of the Golden Eagle
Presented by Arthur D. Lewis, President, SSAE:
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
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.
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.
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.
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 Dixons firms accomplished over
the yearswhich is hundreds. Whether an audit for a major airline,
or a medium- or small-size airline, or for a business aircraft operatorboth
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 shouldnt a similar level of scrutiny apply to assure the
safety of the flying public?
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 didnt
know it. He was a man who earned the respect of the world-wide aviation
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.