While students sweated through their finals Thursday afternoon, the faculty and staff of the School of Aerospace Engineering gave a spirited send-off to Dr. Alan Wilhite who officially retired from his positions at Georgia Tech and NASA.
Named to the Langley Distinguished Professorship of Aerospace Engineering in 2004, Wilhite carried out his Georgia Tech teaching duties at the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) in Hampton, Virginia, where he also conducted research in systems engineering, space exploration systems, robust design, aerodynamics, propulsion, multidisciplinary optimization, operations, cost, and risk.
Despite his absence from the day-to-day happenings at the Atlanta campus, Wilhite exerted a positive influence on his GT-AE colleagues and students, several of whom spoke at Thursday's event.
Wilhite is joined by former GT-AE Professor John Olds and a former student
"We've always been able to count on you to bring the relevance and rigor of your NASA training to benefit our students," said Yang. "You have made us stronger as a school."
"Coming down here (Atlanta) on a regular basis and being a part of our campus, you showed enormous professionalism," said Associate Chair Jeff Jagoda.
"I just traveled up to Langley a few weeks ago, and I gotta tell you: that's no fun. But we'd never know that when you showed up on campus, and for that, we thank you."
Professor Robert "Bobby" Braun first met Wilihite when the two worked at NASA's Langley Center. He credited his longtime colleague with changing the course of his career.
"I'd probably only been working there about a year and a half when Alan said to me 'You gotta get out of here. Go to Stanford. Get your Ph.D.'," said Braun.
AE Professor Robert "Bobby" Braun credited Wilhite with convincing the then-graduate student to pursue a doctorate when the two were working at NASA Langley.
"At the time NASA was paying for school, but I hadn't really thought about it. Alan pushed me, and it really turned out to be a gift. I owe him for that one."
Professor David Spencer lauded Wilhite's ability to successfully straddle three different organizational cultures -- NASA, NIA, and Georgia Tech -- without letting any of them slip.
"We all know how to take something easy and make it look hard," he added. "But Alan has a unique ability to take something difficult and make it look easy."
Associate Professor Mitchell Walker said he counted on Wilhite's wisdom.
"Whenever he was on campus, I could count on him coming over to visit," said Walker.
"And he'd always have helpful advice to share. He knew what work would have impact and value, and he was always willing to share that with me."
"Of course, now that he's retired, he'll have more time to discuss car racing," Walker added.
Wilhite quickily confirmed Walker's hunch.
"I just got back from Daytona where I was racing all last weekend. Probably the only time I've passed someone going 160 miles-per-hour, " he said.
"I'm in this high-performance driver education where there are five levels of certification. I'm at a 3, and when I get to a 5, I will be able to call myself a professional driver. I figure I'll get there when I'm around 90."
Associate Professor Mitchell Walker praised Wilhite for freely sharing helpful advice with his colleagues.
In the meantime, the longtime racing fanatic said retirement means he can pull out his toolbox and start working on the 2002 Porsche 911 whose engine blew up a while back.
And when it's ready, he'll take it out on the Virginia International Raceway, a 3.2-mile, 17-turn track near his home.
"It's a lot more challenging than Daytona, because its not banked," he said. "You can't just sit there and drive. You have to maneuver."
Wilhite said he will miss the energy and excitement that he felt every time he walked onto the Georgia Tech campus. In particular, he praised AE Chair Vigor Yang for recruiting a wealth of talented young professors who will ensure the School's future is as bright as its past.
"I'm so impressed when I come onto campus and see the world-class talent we've attracted to our classrooms," he said. "It's always been exciting for me to be associated with Georgia Tech."
Alan Wilhite earned his bachelors in aerospace engineering from North Carolina State University, his masters from Washington University, and his doctorate from North Carolina State. In addition to teaching, he served as the co-director of the Georgia Tech Center for Aerospace Systems Engineering (CASE). He has numerous published articles and several book chapters in these areas. He has served as a researcher, systems program manager, and senior executive involved in the design and development of NASA space and aeronautic systems. He is an AIAA Associate Fellow and has served on several AIAA technical committees such as Space Systems, Space Transportation and Computer Aided Design. He is also a member of the International Astronautical Federation on the Systems Engineering committee. He has served as NASA’s external chair for systems engineering and conducts research supporting NASA’s vision in space exploration.
Faculty, staff and former colleagues converged on the GT Library for Professor Alan Wilhite's retirement party, Dec. 11.