Early photograph of Dr. Alfred Gessow  

Al Gessow
Family Photo


Dr. Alfred Gessow was a pioneer in the helicopter field and authored the famous classic, “Aerodynamics of the Helicopter”.

Born in Jersey City, Professor Gessow graduated from the College of New York in 1943 with a Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering. Upon receiving a Master’s degree in aeronautical engineering in 1944 at New York University, he joined the government’s National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA), a predecessor organization of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Prof. Gessow worked at NASA’s Langley Research Center until 1959 when he transferred to NASA headquarters.

Early photograph of Dr. Alfred Gessow  

Far left, Orville Wright. Far right, Alfred Gessow. Langley, mid-1940’s


At NASA, he served as Chief of the Fluid Physics Branch, Assistant Director of the Research Division and Director of the Office of Aerodynamics. Professor Gessow became a member of the Senior Executive Service at NASA Headquarters, in which he was responsible for assessing requirements and opportunities in aerodynamics, gas dynamics, flight mechanics and associated disciplines as applied to aircraft and spacecraft. He also oversaw translating these requirements into NASA-wide cohesive research programs and for implementing them as Chief Program Manager. Professor Gessow acted as NASA’s spokesperson for these programs in a variety of contacts with industry, universities, and other government groups.

Early photograph of Dr. Alfred Gessow  

Al Gessow checks out the experimental Bendix Helicopter, a single-seater which used a system of coaxial rotors.


Alfred Gessow’s distinguished career as an educator began at the University of Virginia, where he taught courses on helicopter theory and aerodynamics. From 1944 until 1980, he was the chairman of the Committee on Graduate Studies at Langley and helped establish an advanced degree program there for NACA personnel.During the 1960’s and 70’s, he was an adjunct professor at New York University and the Catholic University of America. Professor Gessow also had the opportunity to teach helicopter theory as an Invited Professor at the Korean Advanced Institute of Science in Seoul.

Early photograph of Dr. Alfred Gessow  

Al preparing the HNS-1 for a test flight. The HNS-1 was the first production helicopter in the US. NACA Langley took delivery of one for testing in 1945,
the year after Al joined Langley


In 1980, Professor Gessow came to the University of Maryland to become chair of the Aerospace Engineering department. He would serve in this post for the next eight years, expanding the department’s research and education activities in rotorcraft, composite structures, hypersonics and space system design. In 1981 Professor Gessow founded the university’s Center for Rotorcraft Education and Research and was its director until 1992 when he took emeritus status. The center, renamed in his honor in 1997, is one of the nation’s leading institutions of rotorcraft research and education.


Alfred Gessow in Office

Dr. Alfred Gessow

Alfred and Elaine Gessow

Alfred and Elaine Gessow


Each year, Aerospace Engineering holds a memorial lecture in Professor Gessow’s honor. This years lecture will be held on April 24th, 2008. Past speakers include Lisa Porter of NASA and Michael Deitchman of the United States Navy.


Early photograph of Dr. Alfred Gessow
Young Alfred Gessow

Dr. Gessow became Professor Emeritus in 1992. He was the founding editor of the Journal of the American Helicopter Society. He was the recipient of NASA Exceptional Service Medal in 1977, Honorary Fellow of AHS in 1978, Nikolsky Honorary Lectureship in 1985, Alexander Klemin Award in 1996 and a Fellow of AIAA in 1986.


Under Professor Gessow’s direction, the department greatly increased its research activities and developed an international reputation for rotorcraft education and research. A U.S. Army Center of Excellence in helicopter technology for many years, the AGRC is a recipient of the American Helicopter Society’s Grover Bell Award twice for fostering research and experimentation in helicopter development. Over 250 students have graduated from the Center, and it has consistently employed an interdisciplinary team of faculty members in its program.

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