Richard Whitcomb (1921- 2009) was inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame in October 2016, joining such aviation pioneers as the Wright Brothers, Amelia Earhart and Neil Armstrong.
Whitcomb was born in Illinois and attended Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, graduating in 1943. After graduation he got a job at the Langley Research Center run by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA the precursor to today’s NASA). He had an uncanny ability to sense the way air flows around objects and an intuitive grasp of the field of Aeronautics.
From the Worcester Polytechnic Institute website:
Whitcomb spent hours observing models in Langley’s transonic wind tunnel. The observations led to a brilliant insight and an ingenious solution, one that remains a fundamental tenet of supersonic aircraft design. Called the Area Rule, it says that drag at high speeds is a function of an airplane’s total cross-sectional area (essentially, the thickness of the fuselage). Because projections from the fuselage increase a plane’s cross section, narrowing the fuselage where the wings and tail assembly attach reduces drag…
Later in his NASA career, Whitcomb drew on his uncanny intuition to make two other groundbreaking contributions to aeronautical design: the supercritical wing, which delays the onset of drag at high speeds, and winglets, airfoils that jut up from wingtips and reduce drag-inducing vortices. Both have been widely adopted, resulting in substantial fuel savings in military and commercial aviation.
Here is a four-minute video produced by the NASA Langley Research Center that covers some of Whitcomb’s accomplishments,.