Dr. John L. McLucas Secretary of the Air Force 1920-2002. (in Memoriam)

Air Power History, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Dr. John L. McLucas Secretary of the Air Force 1920-2002. (in Memoriam)


Dr. John L. MeLucas who served as under secretary of the Air Force from 1969 to 1973, as secretary of the Air Force 1973 to 1975, and as administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration from 1975 to 1977, died on December 1, 2002 of respiratory failure at Mount Vernon Hospital in Alexandria, Virginia. McLucas, eighty-two, had suffered from poor health since undergoing heart surgery some ten years ago, but remained active as a writer, lecturer, and consultant. He was proud to be considered a "technocrat."

Born on August 22, 1920, in Fayetteville, North Carolina, McLucas was raised on a farm in South Carolina. After high school, he returned to North Carolina, where he graduated from Davidson College in 1941 with a BS degree in physics. In 1943 he earned an MS degree in physics from Tulane University and in 1950 a Ph.D. in physics with a minor in electrical engineering from Pennsylvania State University. During World War II, McLucas served in the U.S. Navy, including a two-year stint at sea in the Pacific theater as a radar and operations officer. He would often refer to his wartime work experience as being so secret that it had to be spelled backwards. When pressed about the delicate nature of his job, he would respond that it was something called radar.

In 1948, while still in graduate school, he began working part time for Haller, Raymond, and Brown (HRB) Inc., an electronics research firm in State College, Pennsylvania. Two years later he became its vice president and technical director. He was responsible for all technical work of the company, including forward planning, supervision of technical personnel, proposal preparation, research, development, and manufacturing. When the firm merged with the Singer Company in 1958 to form a subsidiary, HRB-Singer, Inc., McLucas became its president. The new ancillary company continued to specialize in military electronic systems. In the twelve years he was affiliated with HRB-Singer, McLucas increased the number of engineers from ten in 1950 to several hundred in 1962. In addition to his work at HRB, McLucas in 1953 helped found one of the nation's first cable television companies.

In early 1962 Dr. McLucas went to work in the Pentagon as a deputy to Harold Brown, the director of Defense Research and Engineering. As head of an office called Tactical Warfare Programs, it was McLucas's job to oversee research and early development of non-nuclear weapon systems of the three services, including vehicles, warships, and aircraft. McLucas spent part of his time working with Air Force officials, such as secretary of the Air Force Eugene Zuckert, Chief of Staff Gen. Curtis LeMay, and Air Force System Command's Gen. "Bennie" Schriever. In addition to working with key personnel in the military departments and their laboratories, he had almost daily contacts with defense industry executives and made frequent visits to industrial and military installations. Regular contacts with other government agencies and groups like the President's Scientific Advisory Committee and the Defense Science Board also marked his schedule.

In July 1964 McLucas moved to Paris to work for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as assistant secretary general for scientific affairs and chair the NATO science committee. He was responsible to the NATO secretary general for the administration of programs in the fields of pure science and defense technology. In that capacity, he headed a committee of defense directors from all NATO countries to encourage the cooperative development of common weapons for use by the allies in the event of war in Europe. He was a founding member of the steering committee for the international Advisory Group for Aeronautical Research and Development (AGARD) that had been established by Dr. Theodore von Karman. McLucas also maintained contacts with ministries of foreign affairs, science, and defense, and with NATO delegations to develop common points of view on science and defense matters. …

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