Business aviation loses a corporate aircraft pioneer

 - February 27, 2009, 9:48 AM

Durrell Unger “Dee” Howard, a determined and talented pioneer in the post- World War II development of business aviation, died on February 11 at age 88 in San Antonio, Texas.

An Air Force mechanic during the war, Howard turned wrenches on airliners then started his own company, Howard Aero, in San Antonio in 1947. As Howard
Aero gained experience maintaining Lockheed B-34/PV-1 Venturas, the company began converting them to executive transports. The Howard 250 was so named because of the airplane’s cruising speed, 250 mph, according to Mike Zoeller’s detailed history of the Lockheed twins ( zoeller/).

Modifications included picture windows, a Fiberglas nose extension, aerodynamic mods, structural reinforcements, elevator and rudder boost tabs and increased mtow. Howard’s Super Ventura became the Howard 350, then he turned his attention to the Howard 500, a pressurized nearly scratch-built twin that adopted a few parts from the Ventura, primarily the outer wings. The Howard 500, powered by Pratt & Whitney R2800 radial engines, was certified in February 1963 and competed with Grumman’s Gulfstream turboprop twin, which was certified in 1959. According to Zoeller, only 22 Howard 500s were built.

“Ironically,” wrote Zoeller on his Web site, “[Bill] Lear asked Dee Howard in 1962 to go into partnership to design the Lear Jet 23 but Howard considered it to be too small and wanted to finish his Howard 500 development and certification.”

Howard did get involved with the Learjet, as one of the key pioneers in developing thrust reversers. Howard and thrust-reverser designer Etienne Fage were honored many years ago by the Nordam Group’s creation of the Nordam Dee Howard/Etienne Fage scholarship.

After retiring from the aviation field, Howard launched River City Products in San Antonio, applying his fertile engineer’s mind to designing a simple and cost-effective stabilizer system for large trucks and recreational vehicles.

Only one Howard 500 is flying today, flown by pilot and mechanic David Cummings out of Van Nuys, Calif. “I am very saddened to hear of Dee’s passing,” Cummings told AIN. “He was a wonderful man, an incredible innovator, ahead of his time by a long shot. I rebuilt the last flying Howard 500 and met him soon after that restoration about 15 years ago. He told me many stories about its conception
and the way he went about getting the 500 through certification. I hung on his every word every time he told me story after story throughout the years. He was just a simple joy to be around and such a pleasure to talk to, a downright nice guy.

It is sad to see the older fellows like him, the last of the round-engine types, pass on.
I have really enjoyed flying Dee’s ol’ girl for the past 15 years; it just won’t be the same without his soothing words of support, wisdom and joy.”