From a tribute compiled by Robert Sandusky's family and colleagues
February 16, 2023
The Chief Engineer of the Northrop-McDonnell Douglas “Black Widow II” advanced tactical fighter died in January.
A&A alumnus Robert R. Sandusky Jr. (M.S. ‘71), died on January 11, 2023 in Virginia. Known as “Bob” to his colleagues and friends, Sandusky dedicated his professional life to the aerospace industry, culminating in his role as Chief Engineer of the YF-23A “Black Widow II,” the groundbreaking Northrop-McDonnell Douglas Advanced Tactical Fighter prototype.
Bob’s first seven years in the aerospace industry were at Boeing in Seattle where he played a key role in the aerodynamic and configuration design of Boeing’s entry to the Light Weight Fighter (LWF) competition, the Model 908-909, which came close to winning the competition. The LWF program inspired the designs which went on to become the F-16 and the F/A-18. Following Boeing’s loss of the LWF competition, Bob joined Northrop in the Los Angeles area in 1972, starting with aerodynamic and performance analysis of the YF-17 Cobra LWF prototype. He was involved with the YF-17 program until it transitioned into the F/A-18 Full-Scale Development program. Bob then transferred into Advanced Design, progressing to become the department’s Manager, and spearheading the single-engine F-20 Tigershark configuration.
During the classified Tacit Blue program, Northrop pioneered continuous curvature low observable (“stealth”) aircraft technologies. The B-2 stealth bomber was designed around these technologies. To create an analogous class of fighter aircraft, Bob started a small “carve out” program from Tacit Blue, integrating Northrop’s stealth technologies with supercruise capability. This became Northrop’s program office for their entry into the U.S. Air Force’s Advanced Tactical Fighter program. Bob was Chief Engineer of Northrop’s Advanced Tactical Fighter program, a position he held throughout the program’s ten years. He was a founding member of the “Pioneers of Stealth” society, as one of the engineering leaders who helped usher in the dawn of the fifth-generation tactical aircraft.
Bob is the first named inventor on the design patents for the F-20 and YF-23A.
Following his retirement from Northrop Grumman in 1995, he was appointed Professor of Engineering and Applied Science at George Washington University’s NASA Langley Research Center in Virginia, where he performed research in multidisciplinary design and taught aircraft design at the graduate level. After retirement from teaching in 2003, Bob led an active third career phase, first as President of Belcan Corporation’s engineering services Aerospace Division, then as a consultant to DARPA’s Experimental Spaceplane program, and finally as Chief Engineer for Exosonic, a commercial supersonic aircraft startup.
Bob was awarded the Society of Automotive Engineer’s Wright Brothers Medal in 1999, and was named a Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) in 1992, from which he later received the 2006 Aircraft Design medal. He was also a Fellow of the Institute for the Advancement of Engineering from which he received the Chuck Yeager Distinguished International Aeronautical Achievement Award. From 1998 to 2003, the graduate students he advised always placed in the top three, and often won, the AIAA’s annual Graduate National Aircraft Design Competition.
Bob was not only an accomplished and creative aircraft designer, widely recognized for his love of the proverbial “blank sheet of paper,” but deeply enjoyed teaching and mentoring. He had an active life away from his design desk, with passions for flying, scuba diving, skiing, and traveling with his beloved wife and family. He was able to combine his loves of flying and teaching as a Certified Instrument Flight Instructor with over 2700 flight hours, and a Commercial Rotorcraft – Helicopter rating as well.
Bob spoke appreciatively of the challenges and rewards in completing his M.S. at UW while working at Boeing.
A tribute event is planned at the Western Museum of Flight in Torrance, California, on February 25, 2023 at 2:00 PM. All who knew Bob Sandusky or were touched by his influence are welcome to attend. The Museum requests that RSVPs be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about his legacy, please visit the Western Museum of Flight’s YouTube channel where he can be seen providing a guided tour of the YF-17 Cobra aircraft, and where the YF-23A: Black Widow II documentary can also be viewed. One YF-23A prototype aircraft resides at the U.S. Air Force Museum at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, and the other at the Western Museum of Flight. The remaining F-20 resides at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.
Those wishing to make a donation in his honor are encouraged to consider the Western Museum of Flight.