Based mostly on his exceptional profession as an inventor and the immeasurable however large worth of three creations of his to companies and hundreds of thousands of people — a greater golf ball, fuel masks, and the economic adhesive Vulcalock — it appears there must be a historic marker at William Geer’s birthplace and maybe a museum wing up north, or no less than an exhibit that includes his story. And that’s with out even contemplating his biggest invention of all: the airplane-wing deicer.
That’s proper, a North Nation man, born and raised, did that. In contrast to many innovations which are utterly changed by higher options sooner or later, Geer’s gadget originating almost 90 years in the past stays a normal, as famous in trendy B. F. Goodrich Technical Bulletin 101: “Then, as as we speak, the ice removing course of is far the identical…. the essential working precept of the pneumatic de-icing boot hasn’t modified.”
Icing was a non-issue within the early days of flight when pilots flew comparatively near the bottom, guided by landmarks that have been seen and identifiable from decrease elevations. Within the 1920s, as instrument flying turned extra widespread, planes often traveled at greater altitudes, the place some clouds brought about icing, typically with tragic outcomes.
That drawback, badly in want of fixing, was addressed in 1928 by a gathering of prime representatives from the Bureau of Requirements, the Nationwide Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the US Military Air Corps, the US Navy Bureau of Aeronautics, and the Climate Bureau. Their discussions touched on the work of William Geer, formally retired after a profession of analysis and inventing for B. F. Goodrich, however nonetheless on the board of administrators and persevering with to carry out analysis, a lot of it on behalf of the corporate.
A yr earlier in his personal laboratory, Geer, conscious of failed makes an attempt by others utilizing numerous materials and ice-retardants, had begun looking for options to the icing drawback. His efforts confirmed such promise that in 1929, the Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics awarded him a $10,000 grant ($147,000 in 2019) to additional pursue his work.
Persistence performed a task within the end result, for Geer, one of many world’s specialists on rubber, noticed its potential as a key element of deicing. Utilizing a small-scale icing-research tunnel constructed at Cornell, he examined dozens of chemical compounds and chemical mixes for compatibility with rubber. Many with potential have been nonetheless discovered missing, however he lastly landed on a mixture that was shut—not stopping the formation of ice, however drastically retarding it. Whereas some nonetheless shaped, it was simply dislodged by the contact of a screwdriver. However the query remained: earlier than it collected to harmful ranges, the best way to successfully and constantly take away the delicate layers of ice that shaped whereas a aircraft was in flight?
Geer’s reply was “a pneumatic overshoe” that match over the vanguard of a wing. The system, which turned higher often known as a boot, contained hole, inflatable tubes. In principle, the handled rubber allowed the formation of skinny layers of ice, which might be cracked by increasing the versatile rubber by way of periodic inflation of the tubes. The ultimate part was easy: wind towards the rushing aircraft merely blew the ice chunks away. In fact, that was all in principle, with no assure it will show sensible.
However that’s precisely what occurred. A number of check flights confirmed that the boot carried out as deliberate and didn’t have an effect on the aircraft’s dealing with. Goodrich constructed a big, refrigerated wind tunnel, the place Geer’s invention was examined, tweaked, and fine-tuned. Throughout different exams on the bottom, the cracked ice was eliminated by wind from the aircraft’s propeller. Ultimately, by way of in depth trial and error, a very good working mannequin was achieved: a timer-activated, motorized pump within the cockpit inflated the tubes and cracked the ice, which blew away. In a evaluation a few years later, the New York Occasions wrote, “Newspaper stories on the time hailed the invention as ‘a victory over one of many aviator’s most harmful enemies, the ice that varieties on the wings of his airplane and typically causes it to be wrecked.’”
In early April 1930, the Buffalo Night Information commented on the current developments: “The check flight was made at Cleveland airport on March 18, 1930. When a coating of ice half an inch thick had been collected from the ice-laden clouds, air was utilized with a hand pump and the ice broke off in large chunks. Additional check flights confirmed the precept as sound…. The mechanical gadget … has not been perfected, and in response to Dr. Geer, there’s a lot to be achieved alongside strains of design. The elemental rules, nevertheless, have been labored out to such an extent that Dr. Geer is optimistic over the way forward for the gadget.” He was definitely right in that regard, for the essential system stays in use in the present day. (The hyperlink results in many brief, trendy movies demonstrating his technique in motion.)
Like a few of Geer’s different innovations, the influence worldwide was and is very large, but in addition inconceivable to calculate. And like all inventor, he was by no means really completed engaged on a challenge. Amongst his many patents filed in the course of the ensuing 20 years have been a number of that improved upon strategies of aircraft deicing.
In addition to the innovations addressed right here have been many others patented by Geer: making and shaping numerous rubber compositions; the pelleting of carbon black (thought-about a big achievement); a rubber filter sheet for industrial use; gas-impervious sheet materials for making hot-air balloons and different lighter-than-air craft; and an getting older oven (they’re nonetheless extensively bought) that performs an necessary process for researchers and inventors — correct growing older simulations of rubber, plastic, textiles, leather-based, medical merchandise, and different supplies. Because it was first created in 1916, Geer’s oven has ceaselessly been cited in different inventors’ patent purposes with the phrase, “Accelerated growing older exams have been carried out within the Geer ageing oven.”
At no time throughout his life, regardless of many excellent accomplishments, was Geer ever thought-about a high-profile particular person, however the highlight sometimes discovered him. In 1922, as a acknowledged chief within the area of rubber analysis and a vice-president of B. F. Goodrich, he wrote a e-book, The Reign of Rubber, masking every part from tapping timber to rubber’s position in trendy business. Sustaining lifelong ties together with his Potsdam classmates, he ultimately turned government chairman of the New York Alumni of the Potsdam Regular Faculty. In 1940, the Nationwide Affiliation of Producers, citing his excellent contributions to industrial analysis and improvement, introduced him with a Nationwide Pioneer Award. In August 1951, Geer, a rich man, donated gear to Cornell for the newly established William C. Geer Laboratory of Rubber and Plastics. A month later, he was introduced the distinguished Charles Goodyear Medal for excellent achievements within the chemistry of rubber.
His analysis and innovations laid the groundwork for a lot of trendy purposes involving rubber. Geer and/or his achievements from almost a century in the past are nonetheless steadily cited at the moment, together with these few examples: the UTC Aerospace Methods bulletin titled, “Give Ice the Boot — Understanding Pneumatic De-Icing”; the US Division of Transportation’s 2015 Advisory Round, beneath “Pilot Information — Flight in Icing Circumstances” (the part titled “Deicing Methods” begins with “Pneumatic Boots”); and in NASA’s Historical past Collection, “We Freeze to Please: A Historical past of NASA’s Icing Analysis Tunnel and the Quest for Flight Security.”
From getting older ovens to golf balls to fuel masks to pioneering adhesives to aircraft deicing — William Chauncey Geer’s innovations comprise a powerful physique of labor. Within the pantheon of North Nation stars (we do have a pantheon, don’t we?), he certainly deserves a spot among the many easiest.
Photographs: William Chauncey Geer (Rotarian journal, 1940); Pneumatic wing boot (US Dept. of Transportation round, 2015); headlines (Ogdensburg Republican-Journal, 1931); Geer-Sort Ageing Oven (M&Okay Co., Ltd.)
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