Alumni Spotlight on James D. Raisbeck

The School of Aeronautics and Astronautics is proud of our alumni, and we are pleased to showcase their accomplishments on our new section "Alumni Spotlight."

James D. Raisbeck BSAE ’61; DEA’79; OAE’99; HDR’05 

Chairman of Raisbeck Engineering, Inc. and its subsidiary corporation Raisbeck Commercial Air Group, Inc.

Though a native of Wisconsin, James Raisbeck chose to attend Purdue because of the University’s excellent reputation. He started at Purdue in 1954, but decided to join the Air Force later that year. Although he started out as an E1, he made it to Flight Engineer by the end of four years, and Raisbeck returned to Purdue in the fall of 1958. He graduated in 1961, before he even made it to be a senior. After graduation Raisbeck went on to excel in the aerospace industry as well as be a philanthropist of the highest order.

He joined Boeing Airplane Company in 1961 as a research aerodynamicist and program manager. Early in his career, Raisbeck was part of a team that designed and tested an internally blown trailing edge flap system on the Dash 80 (prototype 707) to fly at speeds as slow as 60 knots. The aerodynamic insights from this program became the basis for low speed configurations of many subsequent Boeing airplanes.

In late 1969, Raisbeck left Boeing to become President and CEO of the Robertson Aircraft Corporation. There he and a team of former Boeing Engineers designed and completed the Robertson STOL design systems for single and twin engine Cessnas and Pipers.

In 1973, he founded the Raisbeck Group, where he developed the Supercritical Wing for the Sabreliner and the Mark ll and Mark lV Systems for the Learjet 20 series.  From there he started Raisbeck Engineering, where he developed and certified a number of aerodynamic improvements for business aircraft, including the Learjet, Sabreliner, and King Air. Raisbeck Enhanced Performance Systems are installed on more than 30% of all King Airs worldwide. Raisbeck’s latest contribution to the Learjet family is the ZR LITE wing and flap system, which reduces cruise drag by almost 10 percent and increases the FAA-certified takeoff performance, allowing these airplanes to operate safely into and out of many previously unavailable airports. The Learjet 35/36 were first to be certified, in 2005, followed by the Learjet 31/31A in 2006.

As an entrepreneur in the business for nearly four decades, Raisbeck has been honored by many organizations. In 1979, he was honored by Purdue University, receiving the Distinguished Engineering Alumni Award, and again in 1999 with the Outstanding Aerospace Engineer Award. Also in 1999, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, where he is an associate fellow, honored him with its Commercial Aviation Technical Achievement Award. In 2000, he was awarded Professional Pilot Magazine's Aviation Entrepreneur of the Year.

In 2002, the National Business Aviation Association awarded Raisbeck its Lifetime Achievement Award for Meritorious Service to Aviation. In 2003, Seattle’s Hope Heart Institute honored Raisbeck and his wife, Sherry, an artist and former special education teacher, with their “Wings Of Hope” annual award for their leadership in philanthropy, and in May 2005, he received an Honorary Doctorate in Engineering from Purdue University.

In May 2007, the Raisbecks were honored with the 69th annual Seattle - King County First Citizen Award recognizing their extraordinary philanthropy and commitment to local communities, both in human services and the arts. The Museum of Flight in October 2007 honored Raisbeck with entry into the Pacific Northwest Pathfinders Group, recognizing his lifetime contributions to aviation. In January 2008 Raisbeck has received the Lifetime Aviation Entrepreneur Living Legends of Aviation award in honor of his contributions in the field of aviation and aeronautics spanning a 50 year eriod.  Raisbeck, already a member of the Living Legends group of 80 elected members, was chosen to be recognized for his lifetime virtual catalogue of aerodynamic design contributions to commercial, business, and general aviation aircraft.  

Passionate about the arts, Raisbeck serves on the boards of the Seattle Opera, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Seattle Symphony Orchestra, The Arts Fund and The Museum of Flight. Over the past several years, Raisbeck Engineering's support in philanthropic giving has markedly increased. To date, over $13 million in cash has been gifted, and several million more has been pledged.  Through their foundation, the James and Sherry Raisbeck Foundation, the couple pledged to Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center The donation was used to open a new branch of cutting edge lymphoma research at the center.

Raisbeck credits Purdue for his excellent analytical skills and in gratitude for the excellent education he received, he wanted to do something for Purdue students. In 1999, James and his wife Sherry established the Raisbeck Engineering Distinguished Professorship for Engineering and Technology Integration.  This Distinguished Professorship bridges the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the Department of Aviation Technology to teach graduate and undergraduate students the art and science of mixing theory and application in the Design/Build/Test process. Dr. Alten F. (Skip) Grandt was the inaugural recipient of this prestigious award.

Design/Build/Test projects are integrated into the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics curriculum providing students with real world engineering experience. Students work on the projects with their peers to develop, build, and test a design within the constraints of time and budget including the development of theoretical ideas into practical applications. Multi-disciplinary teams combine students with a wide range of background experiences in the core disciplines of aerodynamics, controls and dynamics, propulsion, and structures. Projects range from micro gravity research experiments and rocket engines to radio controlled aircraft and racecar modifications.

Raisbeck Engineering continues in the footsteps of its founder in the search for and implementation of advanced aerodynamic technologies into the existing fleets of corporate, business, and commercial turbine-powered aircraft.

Photo Caption  - James Raisbeck

Sherry and James Raisbeck