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Obituaries

Marta Bohn-Meyer, 48; Pilot, Flight Engineer

September 20, 2005|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Marta Bohn-Meyer, a precision aerobatic pilot and the chief engineer of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, has died in the crash of her private plane. She was 48.

Bohn-Meyer, who lived in Lancaster and was off duty, died Sunday near Yukon, Okla., an Oklahoma City suburb, when the Giles G-300 she was flying crashed as she began routine aerobatic practice.

Her death was announced by NASA, which said the crash is being investigated by the Federal Aviation Administration.

"Marta Bohn-Meyer was an extraordinarily talented individual and a most trusted technical expert and manager at NASA Dryden," the center's director, Kevin Petersen, said in a message Monday informing his staff of her death.

"She committed her life and career to aviation and the advancement of aeronautics and space in the United States."

Bohn-Meyer joined NASA's Dryden Center as an operations engineer in 1979 and had been chief engineer since 2001.

Among her research projects were testing heat-resistant tiles for the space shuttle and using F-16XL aircraft to smooth out airflow over airplane wings with the goal of building faster and larger commercial airliners.

She was one of only two flight engineers -- the other is her husband, Bob Meyer -- assigned to fly in the SR-71 Blackbird flight research program at Dryden.

During flights of the sleek aircraft, which had been used for spying, she served as navigator and conducted research on aerodynamics, propulsion, thermal protection and sonic booms. The research is being used in designing future aircraft.

NASA had acquired three SR-71 Blackbirds in 1989 after the military had retired them. The plane can fly 2,200 mph -- triple the speed of sound -- and up to an altitude of 85,000 feet.

Bohn-Meyer was the first female crew member of the plane and the second woman to fly in it, according to the Edwards Air Force Base website. She made her first flight Oct. 3, 1991.

"To my dying day, it will always bring a smile to my face," she recalled on the Edwards website. "That was the most invigorating, stressful, enjoyable, toughest thing I've ever done in my life "

Bohn-Meyer earned a prominent place in the field of high-performance flight, a field dominated by men but one in which she said she never encountered discrimination.

"If anything," she told The Times in 1992, "my entire flying career has been people giving me more opportunities because I'm a woman."

Born in Amityville on New York's Long Island, Bohn-Meyer grew up wanting to fly and soloed on her 16th birthday.

When she graduated from high school, her parents gave her an aviator's watch engraved with "CAVU" for "ceiling and visibility unlimited."

She earned her bachelor's degree in aeronautical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., after completing a cooperative program involving the institute and NASA at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. She met her husband at Langley, and the couple were hired to work at Dryden.

Bohn-Meyer once told the Orlando Sentinel that she felt "incredibly lucky" to have her job. She told young people in speeches that her success resulted from what she called the "four rights: the right training, the right time, the right place and the right attitude."

Among her awards were the Arthur S. Flemming Award for science in 1992 and the Aerospace Educator Award from Women in Aerospace in 1998.

Off duty, Bohn-Meyer liked to build small aircraft and restore old cars. She was a certified flight instructor and regularly flew in aerobatics competitions, along with her husband, who survives her.

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