Virginius Clark

Pioneer aerodynamicist Virginius Evans Clark was born on 27 February 1886, in  Pennsylvania. He studied at the US Naval Academy and then served as a sailor with the United States’ ‘Great White Fleet’, which consisted of sixteen battleships which were sailed around the world from 1907 to 1909. Clark was later assigned to the US Signal Corps’ Aeronautical Division and in 1914, he began studying aeronautical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Three years later, Clark began conducting research for NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics), the forerunner of NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), whilst also founding US military’s Aeronautical Systems Centre. Clark designed two experimental fighter aircraft, before being sent to France to serve in a commission to acquire aircraft for use in World War I.

In 1922, Clark developed the ‘Clark Y’ aerofoil profile, which was the result of substantial mathematical research to design the ideal cross-sectional shape of a wing. Early aircraft designers found that the ‘Clark Y’ aerofoil worked well for their designs. As a result, the ‘Clark Y’ aerofoil was incorporated into dozens of aircraft designs. Examples include the Aeronca Chief, Lockheed Vega, Ryan NYP ‘Spirit of St. Louis’, various Wacos, as well as the futuristic Northrop Tacit Blue. Interestingly, an inverted ‘Clark Y’ was also used to provide downforce for racing cars, such as the Plymouth Superbird. Clark also developed the ‘Clark YH’ aerofoil, which was similar to the ‘Clark Y’, but included a reflexed trailing edge. Examples of the ‘Clark YH’ can be seen with the Hawker Hurricane, Ilyushin Il-2 Shturmovik, Miles Magister, Nanchang CJ-6 and various World War II era Yakovlev fighters.

During the 1920s and ‘30s, Clark worked for the Dayton-Wright Company, Consolidated and later Fairchild. He was responsible for the design of the Fairchild 100 utility aircraft, the General Aviation GA-43 airliner and the Fairchild F-46 light aircraft. Clark was later employed by Hughes Aircraft, where his construction methods were used to help construct the massive Spruce Goose transport aircraft. Virginius Clark died on 30 January 1948 at the age of 61.