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George S. Wing, 74; Pioneer Aviation Designer Invented Widely Used Rivet

August 18, 1990|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

George Seabrook Wing, a self-taught aeronautical engineer who invented the fasteners used in virtually all aircraft flying today, has died. He was 74.

Wing died Tuesday at Torrance Memorial Medical Center after a brief battle with cancer.

Born in Kewanee, Wis., Wing began working for Glenn Martin Aviation in Baltimore, building the China Clipper and the B-10 bomber when he was only 16. He went on to work for Sikorsky, Ryan and Monocoupe before joining North American Aviation as a design engineer in 1938.

Wing invented the "Hi-Shear Rivet" that was first used in the P51 Mustang. Cutting the weight of fasteners by one-third, Wing's rivet became the single most important fastener in aviation and aerospace from World War II through man's landing on the moon.

Although North American retained the patent on the rivet, Wing took the patents on the tools he had invented to manufacture the rivets and, with $500 in war bonds, co-founded the Hi-Shear Rivet Tool Co. in 1943.

Begun modestly in a rented garage in Hermosa Beach, Hi-Shear Corp. of Torrance became the nation's leading producer not only of rivet-making tools, but of other fasteners, explosive separation devices, igniters, boosters and electronic interface units for the aerospace industry.

Over the years, Wing also founded Transland Co., builder of truck bodies and trailers; and co-founded Kirk-Wing Co., a pioneer in Puerto Rico's industrial complex. He also developed the AG-2 crop-spraying airplane for Transland.

As a youth, Wing designed his dream plane, a small, two-seat sports craft, and eventually he built it. Spinning off Wing Aircraft Co. from Hi-Shear, Wing created the Derringer in the mid-1960s.

The first test version crashed into the ocean off Palos Verdes Dec. 12, 1964, killing the veteran test pilot. But a sister ship won rave reviews as a "hot plane" and a "real sizzler" a year later. The two-person, twin-engine craft had a maximum speed of nearly 240 m.p.h. and a remarkable range of more than 1,000 miles.

Richard Bach, author of "Jonathon Livingston Seagull" and a recreational pilot, commented after flying the Derringer: "George Wing built in thought and metal one of the loveliest machines I've ever touched and flown."

Wing continued developing and trying to market his little dream plane into the 1980s. Wing Aircraft Co., solely owned by Wing, ceased operations in 1982.

He spent the last years of his life as director of product development for Voi-Shan Technical Center, Redondo Beach.

With more than 50 patented inventions, Wing won NASA's Apollo Achievement Award, a commendation from the California Legislature and was Los Angeles' Inventor of the Year in 1974 and Torrance's Citizen of the Year in 1976.

He is survived by his second wife, Betty, three daughters and a son, two stepsons and six grandchildren.

The family has asked that any memorial contributions be made to the Wellness Community, Redondo Beach, or the Hospice Foundation, Torrance.

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