C.F. Taylor Sr., Retired MIT Professor Who Pioneered Development of Aircraft Engines, Dies at 101

Internal combustion expert also was acclaimed as painter, sculptor


CAMBRIDGE, Mass.-Charles Fayette Taylor Sr., a noted pioneer in the development of the internal combustion engine, especially those used in aircraft, died Saturday, June 22, at his residence in Weston, where he had lived for six years. He was 101 years old.

The cause of death was pneumonia and congestive heart failure, said Eileen O'Shea, Professor Taylor's nurse since 1990.

The body was cremated. A memorial service is being planned for the fall.

Professor Taylor, known to all as Fay, the short version of his middle name, is survived by his wife, Alice (Hickley) Taylor, 98, also of Weston; a son by a previous marriage, Philip A. Taylor of San Carlos, Calif.; seven grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren. Another son, Charles Fayette Taylor Jr., died three years ago in Pompano Beach, Fla.

Charles Fayette Taylor was born Sept. 24, 1894, in New York City. The family moved to Montclair, N.J. when he was 11. Even then, he was fascinated by things technological. In his autobiography Growing Up with the Twentieth Century, written in the early 1970s around childhood drawings carefully preserved by his mother, he writes, "These drawings ... show a near obsession with machinery and constitute an eyewitness account of many aspects of technical practice ... in the early years of the century." Reading at age 14 about the Wright brothers' flights of 1904 and 1905 kindled his intense interest in airplanes.

In 1912, Professor Taylor enrolled in the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale, receiving his bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in 1915. During World War I, he first served as an inspector of aircraft material for the U.S. Signal Corps. After three months, he was placed in charge of the Navy's Aeronautical Engine Laboratory in Washington, D.C.

In 1919 he returned to Yale and, in 1920, was awarded the degree of Mechanical Engineer. From 1920 to 1923, Professor Taylor was the engineer in charge of the U.S. Army's Air Service Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio, where he supervised engine endurance tests, aircraft flight tests and fuel anti-knock tests. It was there that he met Orville Wright. From 1923 to 1926 he was in charge of airplane engine design and development at the Wright Aeronautical Corp. He was involved in developing the air-cooled "Whirlwind" engine used on the historic flights of Lindbergh and Byrd.

In 1926, Professor Taylor began his long association with MIT as an associate professor of aeronautical engineering. By 1929 he had been promoted to professor and became head of aeronautical engineering, a position he held until 1933 when he become professor of mechanical engineering and director of the new Sloan Laboratory for Aircraft and Automotive Engines, a position he held until his retirement in 1960.

Through his research and teaching in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, he developed the scientific framework for engine design and operation still in use today, and established MIT as an internationally renowned center in this field. He, his colleagues, and his students made major contributions to critical areas of engine performance: combustion, detonation, fuels, thermodynamic analysis, friction, heat transfer, air capacity and dimensionless scaling. His two volume seminal text, The Internal Combustion Engine in Theory and Practice, remains a primary reference for automotive engineers.

In addition to his engineering and teaching contributions, Professor Taylor was an accomplished artist. Following his retirement from MIT, he embarked on a second career as a sculptor in metal and a painter in watercolors and oils. He also did etchings and block prints. He combined his love of building aesthetic objects with his interest in the natural world and technology. His creations found their way into museums, institutions and private collections. He also loved classical music and played the piano and harpsichord in chamber groups. His family and friends benefitted from another of his talents-that of architecture. He designed modern homes. In 1988, Professor and Mrs. Taylor were honored for creating the Educational Counseling Committee of Boston in the late 1940s and helping more than 2,000 black students attend college.

Two years ago, as he prepared to mark the centennial of his birthday, Professor Taylor was interviewed for an article in an MIT publication. Asked about reaching 100, Professor Taylor remarked, "I don't recommend it." But then he added, with a smile, "I saw Haley's Comet twice (1910 and 1986)."

The family requested that expressions of sympathy take the form of contributions to one's favorite charity.


Topics: Obituaries

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