Roger Munk, R.I.P.

 - July 15, 2014, 2:30 AM

Roger Munk’s sudden and untimely death in February 2010 at the age of 62 robbed the airship industry of a true pioneer. He had led a series of British companies specializing in lighter-than-air technology (LTA) for nearly 40 years. HAV was his latest company, founded in 2007 to take forward the hybrid concepts that, he eventually concluded, offered more promise for the future than conventional airships. Before that, his life had been starred with technical success and marred with financial failure.

Success included the first airship to incorporate modern polyester materials and full-authority vectored thrust–the Skyship 500 in 1980; jet-powered bow thrusters and fly-by-light controls on a large airship–the Sentinel 1000 for the U.S. Navy in 1990; and the first hybrid air vehicle with a hovercraft-style air cushion landing gear–the Sky Kitten subscale demonstrator in 2000.

Failure included the liquidation of Munk’s first company (Aerospace Developments) and the bringing down of the second (Airship Industries) when the major shareholders’ business empire collapsed. Successor companies ATG and SkyCat also failed.

Then there was the cooling of interest in airships by defense authorities on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1990s. Ironically, the Pentagon warmed again to LTA concepts a decade later. But Munk did not live to see his hybrid air vehicle design concept finally take to the air in full-scale form–the flight of the LEMV in 2012.

According to the Royal Aeronautical Society, Munk was “the inspiration and technical genius that kept HAV and its predecessors at the forefront of the global airship industry for decades.” The Airship Association said that Munk’s “single-minded approach to his adopted trade that made him stand out.”

Tributes from those who worked with him over the years were heartfelt. One wrote: “Two of the most creative years I experienced in life, with extraordinary intellectual exchanges in the technical field of LTA, occurred when I was working closely with Roger.” Another spoke of “the enormous importance, respect and love in which Roger will always be held, by those of us who looked up to him as the leader in our chosen field.” –C.P.