Born: United States of America
Primarily active in: United States of America

1915 - 2018

Frederick Clayton Phillips passed away in Hanover, New Hampshire, USA on June 30 at 103 years old. He was the oldest living member of the Vertical Flight Society; he was also the third-longest-serving member of the Society, having joined AHS in 1947 (71 years ago). 

Phillips was born in the small coal-mining town of Osceola Mills, Pennsylvania, on Jan. 18, 1915. He attended high school in Tyrone, Pennsylvania, and graduating in 1932, having earned the rank of Eagle Scout in 1931. He studied aeronautical engineering at the first Guggenheim School of Aeronautics at New York University under professors Collins Bliss and Alexander Klemin. After graduating magna cum laude in 1938, he completed the course requirements for a master’s degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Phillips then accepted a position as an aerodynamicist at The Glenn L. Martin Co. in Baltimore, Maryland, where he worked throughout World War II. In addition to his aerodynamic work at Martin, during WWII Phillips also taught the subject at night school at Johns Hopkins University. In 1942, he wed Harriet Mae Cowher, with whom he remained happily married for more than 71 years until her passing four years ago.

In 1947, they moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he became a professor of aircraft design for the Brazilian Air Ministry. They returned to the US in 1951, where Phillips took up a position at the McDonnell Aircraft Corp. in St. Louis, Missouri. In 1955, Phillips accepted a position at Canadair Ltd. in Montreal, Canada. He was the program manager for the entirety of the Canadair CL-84 tiltwing demonstrator program, which he wrote about for a tiltwing special issue of Vertiflite (“The Canadair CL-84 Experimental Aircraft Lessons Learned,” Fall/Winter 2001). His biography there noted that “His 51 year career was in preliminary design through development flight testing. … He was involved in a wide variety of military and commercial programs: conventional airplanes, flying boats, VTOL aircraft, and lighter-than-air craft.”

After 25 years at Canadair as the director of a variety of aircraft productions, Phillips retired to Lyme, New Hampshire, in 1981. He worked occasionally as an aircraft industry consultant for a few years, but both he and his wife became very involved in the Lyme Congregational Church and the local community. Phillips was also a fellow and past president of the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute. According to his obituary, “Fred will be lovingly remembered as a true gentleman, a man of spirit and conviction, loyalty and love.” (Photo is circa 1965, with Phillips in the Canadair Tutor jet trainer prototype, which he designed.) 

VFS Vertiflite: September/October 2018