John William Edwards


Died July 8, 1939 – June 3, 2011,Williamsburg, VA

College: Pierson
Major: Physics
Graduate School: Univ. of Washington, M.S., Physics, 1963; Stanford Univ., Ph.D., Aeronautics and Astronautics, 1977

Widow: Mrs. Adelaide Edwards
308 Indian Springs Road
Williamsburg, VA 23185-3943
757-897-0866 (mobile)

Children: Susan, 1967; Mary, 1968
Grandchildren: Colin Edwards, 2007; Matthews Edwards, 2010; Thomas Edwards, 2010

I was named for my father’s best friend, John Williams.

Very important to my final education was service in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia, 1963-64. I taught secondary and university-level physics in Addis Ababa. It was an excellent window on the the world and America’s place therein, and it helped me understand things that may be possible and others that are probably not.

In 1965, I started work for NASA at its Dryden Flight Research Center in California where I worked in aircraft flight control systems. I transfered to NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia in 1980, and I retired from there in 2007.

Professionally, my work and research has been in aircraft structural dynamics and flutter (vibration). Addy has devloped a simple explanation of what it is that I do – “I work to ensure that the wings don’t fall off of your aircraft. Most realize that this is a good thing.”

While my research has been pretty specialized for a general audience, several forays into the Space Shuttle project world have been notable:

– Prior to its initial orbital launch, the Shuttle was tested for its performance during landing. All went well in early testing when the pilot only needed to land anywhere on a dry lakebed. During the final test before the first launch, the task was upgraded to performance in landing on a runway. On final approach the Shuttle developed a dangerous “pilot-induced oscillation”. Britain’s Prince Charles was attending the test and appreciated the situation. The only solution the project could define involved a major change to the hydraulic system of the flight controls and a program delay. I was able to design and have tested a simple digial filter for the control system, and this quenched the oscillations. The filter has been active on all orbital missions of the Space Shuttle, and I received an early patent for a piece of digial software.

– Following the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger due to a hole punched in the wing by escaping External Tank foam (insulation) the “Return to Flight” effort was heavily focused on removing as much of the tank foam as possible. During the first Return to Flight launch a large piece of foam was again seen escaping from a large foam ramp on the tank leading to a porblem for further launches. The foam ramps had been installed on the tanks for all of the Shuttle missions in a conservative design to shield sensitive electronics mounted on the tank surface from damaging vibrations. I led the flutter team in testing and analysis that showed that the ramps were in fact not needed. This allowed the decision to remove all of the foam ramps and enabled project clearance for the second (and all further) Return to Flight missions.

Finally, what can I say about Yale in my life? Thank you for the opportunity of spending those four years in New Haven. It was a bracng experience!


John Edwards (1939 – 2011)

Williamsburg, VA

John Edwards, an internationally respected NASA aeronautics engineer and loving husband, father, and grandfather, passed away in Williamsburg, VA on June 3, 2011 after a long and brave struggle with cancer.

He was born July 8, 1939 in Colfax, Iowa and spent his youth in Colfax, Des Moines, and Portland, Oregon. He graduated from Yale University in 1961 and held a PhD in aeronautics and astronautics from Stanford University.

He served in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia between 1963 and 1965. In 1965 he began work for NASA in California. In 1980 he transferred to NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA, where he was a senior research engineer, and retired in 2007.

He was recognized as an international authority in aeroelastics and was also well-liked and respected as a friend and colleague at NASA and among international leaders in the aviation industry. His career achievements included more than 80 technical publications, and solving critical problems in national programs ranging from the B-2 bomber to the Space Shuttle. He was elected as Fellow in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics in recognition for his significant contribution to the nation’s preeminence in aviation.

He had many hobbies, including photography and woodworking, and was an accomplished chef. He was a patient and caring father, who encouraged his daughters to be independent. His had a curious and open mind, and loved travel and history.

Preceding him in death are his father Lewis Edwards, mother Zola Romick Edwards Cole, and brother Robert Edwards. He is survived by the love of his life and wife of 44 years, Addy Edwards of Williamsburg, VA; two daughters, Susan Edwards of Los Angeles, and Mary Edwards of Boston; and his three grandsons, Colin, Matthew, and Thomas.

A memorial service will be held on Thursday, June 9 at 11 a.m., preceded by a gathering at Nelsen Funeral Home in Williamsburg, VA. The family asks that donations be made in memory of him to the Massey Cancer Center at Virginia Commonwealth University. Online condolences may be expressed at

Published in Des Moines Register on June 7, 2011