Aviation icon James Raisbeck inspired generations of aerospace engineers and aviation enthusiasts

Riley Stonesifer grew up thrilled by the aerospace technology and innovation surrounding her in the Seattle area. Studying at Raisbeck Aviation High School gave her a personal connection to the aviation icon and led her to Purdue.

Riley Stonesifer grew up thrilled by the aerospace technology and innovation surrounding her in the Seattle area.

“There's something so inherently exciting about aerospace, and how it’s an entire field of study dedicated to helping mankind reach where they never could before; first the sky, then space, and now even distant planets,” she says.

Riley Stonesifer portrait
Riley Stonesifer, junior AAE student

It was a natural fit that she would head to Raisbeck Aviation High School (RAHS). The school, established by aviation icon James Raisbeck (BSAE, 1961) is a pipeline for aspiring aerospace engineers.

RAHS’s location across the street from the Museum of Flight added so much more to the experience. Stonesifer says some of the most foundational moments to her love of aerospace came in the field trips there: To explore exhibits, attend industry events, and even take exams in the Boeing Company barn.

But her love of aviation faced a major roadblock her senior year. She wouldn’t be able to afford college tuition.

“Somehow, someone got wind of my predicament and passed the information up the ladder. I remember being called out of class and down to the office, where Dr. Raisbeck had personally stopped by to shake my hand and tell me not to worry: I was being awarded the Raisbeck Engineering scholarship, I would be able to go to Purdue, and I could afford to go to college.”

Studying at Purdue had always been an aspiration of hers, and with Raisbeck’s full-ride scholarship support, she was able to reach it in the Fall of 2019.

“To say I felt relief was an understatement,” she says. “I remember that day with an overflowing amount of gratitude, and know that I could never thank Dr. Raisbeck enough.”

A lifetime in aviation

James Raisbeck portrait
James Raisbeck (BSAE '61)

Raisbeck contributed to the world of aviation for decades, both through design and philanthropy. He came to Purdue in 1954 and, with a break to join the Air Force, graduated and began his aerospace career in in 1961. His work in aerodynamics at Boeing and Robertson Aircraft would lead him to open his own engineering firm in 1973.

Raisbeck himself, and Raisbeck Engineering, are responsible for many contributions to aviation, including supercritical wings for Rockwell International, performance enhancements on Learjets and Beechcraft, and noise reduction systems for the Boeing 727. Raisbeck earned a Purdue Distinguished Engineering Alumni award in 1979, Outstanding Aerospace Engineer award in 1999, and an honorary doctorate in 2005.

His legacy in aviation goes far beyond those engineering contributions. He has supported Purdue's School of Aeronautics and Astronautics for decades, by supporting various Design-Build-Test courses and establishing the Raisbeck Engineering Distinguished Professor for Engineering and Technology Integration position. And he didn’t just establish RAHS as his own aviation high school: He was personally involved there.

“He would attend our school events, was a friend to much of the staff, and would take the time out of his day to come mentor students personally. He truly loved aviation, and wanted to encourage students to pursue their passions in the field,” Stonesifer says.

Remembering an icon

Because the COVID-19 pandemic began in her second semester, Stonesifer didn’t have many other opportunities to meet with Raisbeck herself before he passed away in 2021. When she heard of his passing, she and several other RAHS graduates organized a get-together at Raisbeck’s plaque in Armstrong Hall. Stonesifer heard through many others of his effect on them personally and on the field of aerospace.

“He was truly passionate about the field and about encouraging the next generation of pilots, engineers, and astronauts to pursue what they are passionate about. He was truly one-of-a-kind; businessman, philanthropist, mentor, father, and husband,” Stonesifer says.

“I hope that in both my studies and beyond, I can help further Dr. Raisbeck's legacy in the field of aerospace.”