North American Aviation founding executive Ralph Ruud dies

D

Don Palmer

#1
I for one, take opportunity to honor this fine man's memory and life achievements. A shining example of how the life of one person can effect the lives of so many others in a positive way. Thank you Mr. Ruud.

By Erik Simonsen

Ralph H. Ruud, one of the founding executives of North American Aviation, died Wednesday in Los Angeles at the age of 97. His career spanned from aviation's infancy of wood and canvas airplanes to supersonic fighters, bombers, missiles and spacecraft.

Born July 31, 1908, in Oslo, Norway, Ruud immigrated to the U.S. at the age of nine and joined the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1928. He began his career with NAA as a tool maker in 1931. Ruud was one of the original "Bald Eagles" group of 75 employees that moved NAA from Dundalk, Md., to a 20-acre site in Inglewood, Calif., on the east side of Mines Field in1935 - the current site of Los Angeles Airport.

During the years just prior to 1940, Ruud was instrumental in introducing many innovative aircraft production techniques. These included contouring spar and skin mills to achieve tapers and contours; an "erector set" concept for tooling that permitted the use of demountable heads on a wide variety of parts and assemblies; the design and development of machines and techniques for wrapping and bending extrusions to contour; the development of beading and flaring machines for tubing; and introducing machine riveting to the industry. These techniques, machines and methods established during the1930s became the standard of the aerospace industry. Other achievements included adapting arc welding to aircraft structure; introducing mechanical continuous-moving conveyor lines; and initiating optical tooling concepts in the United States.

In 1940, as war loomed on the horizon and North American was ramping up for one of its most incredible feats of aircraft manufacturing, Ruud was appointed factory manager of NAA's Los Angeles plant. During the war years, he had direct responsibility for the production lines for vitally needed aircraft such as the P-51 Mustang, the B-25 Mitchell medium bomber and the AT-6 Texan trainer. Ruud's expertise in manufacturing techniques helped North American produce 42,000 airplanes from 1940-45.

During 1945 alone, 1,200 aircraft per month were being produced at NAA facilities in Los Angeles, Dallas and Kansas City, Mo. At the conclusion of World War II in the European theater, Ruud was one of a group of several industry experts selected by the U.S. Director of Intelligence to survey the results of U.S. strategic bombing in Germany, and to inspect former enemy aircraft plants and research centers.

Ruud served as division manager for the Los Angeles plant until 1950 and continued as manufacturing manager until 1956. During that period technology took dramatic leaps, as he led efforts to produce the B-45 (first multi-engine jet bomber); the F-86 Sabre Jet (first swept wing fighter), the Navy/Marine Corps FJ-series of carrier based fighters; the F-100 Super Sabre (first major production use of titanium in the industry); and the Mach 2 capable RA-5C Vigilante tactical reconnaissance aircraft.

Ruud continued to serve in a number of more senior executive positions, and was appointed president of the Los Angeles division in 1961. This division developed the exotic X-15 rocket plane and the tri-sonic XB-70 bomber. The X-15 still holds the unofficial speed (Mach 6.7- 4,520 mph), and altitude (354,200 feet) record for a manned rocket plane.

Additionally, the 185 foot-long, 520,000-pound XB-70 developed by NAA was capable of sustained Mach 3 flight at 75,000 feet. Both programs pushed the envelope that required pioneering work in the manufacturing of heat-resistant materials.

In 1964, Ruud became corporate vice president of Manufacturing and in 1967, the same year that NAA merged with Rockwell-Standard Corp. to form North American Rockwell, he became executive vice president of the Space Division. In this capacity he helped direct two of the company's largest and most technically challenging programs - the Apollo spacecraft, and the second stage (S-II) of the Saturn V rocket, which would take astronauts to the moon. He was appointed senior vice president, Operations of North American Rockwell Aerospace and Systems Group and named senior vice president of the Aerospace and Systems Office in January 1970.

Ruud was named corporate vice president of Operations in 1972, as the B-1A bomber was being developed and the competition to build the space shuttle was under way. In February 1973, to brand itself as a global market company, North American Rockwell was re-named Rockwell International Corp. Ralph Ruud retired in 1974 and continued to serve for many years as a consultant to Rockwell.
 
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