Not long after Russia launched the Sputnik space satellite, Dick Vyhnal ’59 began his own academic climb that would lead to a career in aerospace engineering. He was so fascinated with the prospects of space exploration that he worked the topic into his Gilmour valedictory address. As program manager for Boeing Aerospace in Tulsa, Okla., Vyhnal focused on a radar-absorbing honeycomb core for stealth aircraft and oversaw research and development for stealth aircraft. He and his Boeing colleagues designed Space Shuttle experiments to test materials that could withstand prolonged exposure to the hostile space environment on the International Space Station. After the "Challenger" disaster in 1986 grounded the Space Shuttle fleet, his team's experiments remained in space five times longer than planned, netting even more valuable research. He spent considerable time at Cape Canaveral working in one of the clean-rooms and inspecting his experiment after it was retrieved from space. Vyhnal came well-prepared for the venture. He earned his bachelor's degree in metallurgical engineering from Case Institute of Technology, now part of Case Western Reserve University, and master's and doctorate in philosophy degrees in metallurgy from CWRU He also held science positions with Rockwell International, Bell Aerospace Services Inc. and Chase Brass & Copper Company, Inc. He holds three patents in metal processing for advanced manufacturing technology.
So what did the scientist learn at Gilmour to prepare him for his space adventures in research? "Engineers are not particularly known for their writing skills," Vyhnal admits. "My ability to communicate clearly in technical reports, presentations and proposals gave me an advantage, especially in the early stages of my career," he says. He credits Brothers Ivo Regan, C.S.C., Francis Englert, C.S.C., and James Schuerger for their "excellent instruction in written expression."
Vyhnal divides his time between Tulsa in the winter and Northport, Mich., in the summer with his wife, Nancy- whom he calls Sunny- a retired attorney and law clerk in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. They have two children and six grandchildren. Favorite pastimes include golf, pocket pool, beach combing and crossword puzzles.
Over the years, he has learned that some of the most profound influences on life can stem from what may seem like trivial decisions and actions. "No matter how much you might plan your course in a career or life," Vyhnal says, "there are so many external influences that can override the most careful planning." That said, he believes it is important to have a plan and direction, "If for no other reason than to give yourself the peace of mind that comes with the illusion of having some degree of control over your life."