PASSINGS: William S. Aiken Jr.

William S. Aiken Jr., 90, a former NASA director of aeronautics who earlier in his career had worked on the Bell X-1, the first supersonic aircraft, died May 27 of a blood disorder at a hospital in Baltimore.

Aiken began his career as an aeronautical engineer in 1942 at Langley Laboratory in Hampton, Va., now NASA Langley Research Center.

While at Langley, Aiken was project engineer on the B-24D Liberator bomber and the Bell X-1, which was tested at what is now NASA Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif.

Aiken was also project engineer for the B-45A jet bomber and the B-47 stratojet bomber. He served as assistant chief of the aircraft and missile division before being promoted in 1961 to NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C.


By the time he retired in 1985, he was director of aeronautics for NASA.

The son of a gas company executive and a homemaker, Aiken was born Nov. 11, 1920, and raised in Elizabeth, N.J. He earned a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., in 1942.