Aug. 8, 1920 – Aug. 10, 2013
John L. “Jack” Beilman, of Lancaster, an award-winning engineer who led teams that developed experimental airplanes, died Friday in GreenFields Continuing Care Community, Lancaster, after a short illness. He was 93.
Born in Buffalo, he moved with his family to Lancaster in 1933, where he attended St. Mary’s Elementary School and St. Mary’s High School, graduating in 1938.
He was president of his high school senior class, won the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute medal for excellence in mathematics and won the Buffalo Evening News-American Legion “Americanism” essay contest, which included an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., for him and two nuns who were his teachers.
He attended the University of Pennsylvania for a year, transferring to the University of Buffalo for summer classes in 1939, but had to postpone his college plans that fall for financial reasons. He became a riveter on P-39 Airacobra fighter planes at Bell Aircraft and quickly advanced to department head.
He earned his pilot’s license in 1941 and hoped to become a Navy pilot when he enlisted in 1944, but pilot training was closed and he entered the Navy’s electronics technician training program instead. He trained as an airborne radar technician and was preparing to serve overseas when World War II ended in August 1945.
Returning to Bell’s Niagara Falls plant, he worked as an electronic technician on several radio-controlled airplane projects and did instrumentation work on supersonic Bell X-1A.
In October 1946, Mr. Beilman became a radar technician at the newly established Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory and began taking night courses at UB, earning a degree in physics.
During his 43-year career at Cornell Lab and Calspan, he worked on experimental airborne radar systems and experimental flight control systems for several military aircraft, including the first Variable Stability Research plane for the Navy, a modified Lockheed T-33 research plane for the Air Force and the Bell X-22A vertical landing and take off plane, for which he was principal engineer and program manager.
For the X-22A, he invented a speed-measuring program called LORAS (linear omnidirectional resolving airspeed system), for which he was given the Outstanding Achievement Award by the American Institute of Aeronautics & Astronautics in 1984. The LORAS system is still used on Apache and Coast Guard helicopters.
After his retirement in 1989, he did consulting work.
Inducted into the Western New York Aviation and Space Hall of Fame in 1986, he helped found the Niagara Aerospace Museum, served as its president and helped acquire many of the aircraft in its exhibits.
He was a past president of the Aero Club of Buffalo and the St. Mary’s High School Alumni Association. He also was a member of the Quiet Birdmen, a pilots’ group, and was a volunteer deputy with the Erie County Sheriff’s Office.
An outspoken anti-tax crusader, he criticized Lancaster municipal officials and school boards on budget and spending issues for many years.
He headed the Lancaster Taxpayer Association and was chairman of the Citizens Coalition of Western New York, which included taxpayer groups from most of the towns and villages in Erie and Niagara counties.
Survivors include his wife of 71 years, the former Barbara Rozier; and two daughters, Barbara A. Wilson and Dr. Mary A. McNary.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 9:30 a.m. Friday in St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church, 1 St. Mary Hill, Lancaster.