Aerospace, aviation guidance expert worked on NASA’s Apollo missions
By Bill Kisliuk
Jason Speyer, a distinguished professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, has been named the inaugural holder of the school’s Ronald and Valerie Sugar Chair in Engineering.
Thefrom UCLA alumni Ronald D. Sugar, former chairman and CEO of Northrop Grumman Corp., and his wife, Valerie Sugar.
“Jason Speyer is a recognized leader in guidance and control systems for aviation and aerospace craft, as well as an excellent educator,” said Vijay K. Dhir, dean of UCLA Engineering. “I am pleased he has been named to this prestigious chair and am grateful for the generous contributions of Ron and Valerie Sugar, who have long been friends of the school.”
Ron Sugar, currently a director at Apple Inc., Chevron Corp. and Amgen Inc., graduated summa cum laude in engineering in 1968 from UCLA, where he received his master’s and doctoral degrees in the same field. He was subsequently honored as a UCLA Engineering Alumnus of the Year. Valerie Sugar, who formerly worked at the Aerospace Corp. and the RAND Corp., graduated magna cum laude in history from UCLA in 1971.
Ron Sugar said UCLA’s support of his and his wife’s studies led to their decision to fund the chair.
“Many years ago, Valerie and I were both extremely fortunate to be granted UC Regents Scholarships, which made it possible for us to attend UCLA,” he said. “We feel it is fitting to show our gratitude by supporting the work of an excellent UCLA professor in educating the next generation of our nations’ engineers.”
Speyer has worked on the guidance, navigation and control systems of vital aerospace and military craft for 50 years. He contributed to the autonomous navigation system on several of NASA’s Apollo missions to the moon. He determined the sequence of star, Earth and moon horizons used by astronauts to make angle measurements with a sextant in order to obtain the best estimate of their craft’s position. This system was tested on Apollo 8 in 1968 and used in several subsequent Apollo missions.
Speyer also formulated the guidance laws for the U.S. Army’s Patriot missile system and developed the longitudinal control laws for the U.S. Air Force’s Advanced Fighter Technology Integration F-16 aircraft.
Speyer holds joint appointments in UCLA Engineering’s mechanical and aerospace engineering department and electrical engineering department. He joined the UCLA faculty in January 1990 after nearly 14 years as a member of the engineering faculty at the University of Texas at Austin. Prior to that, he served as a senior aerospace engineer and analyst for a number of firms, including Boeing, Raytheon Co. and the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory.
“Being named to the Ronald and Valerie Sugar Chair is a great honor,” Speyer said. “It presents the opportunity for me to do more work in my focus areas and explore areas I have thought about in the past.”
Speyer added that he felt a kinship with Ronald Sugar, who devoted his distinguished career to automotive, aviation and aerospace engineering.
“The people who influenced him at the beginning of his career are the people who influenced me at the beginning of mine,” he said.
Speyer has received many professional honors, including the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ Aerospace Guidance, Navigation, and Control Award in 2012; election to the National Academy of Engineering in 2005; the Third Millennium Medal from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in 2001; and fellowships in IEEE and AIAA in 1985.
He currently is working with the U.S. Air Force, NASA and others on projects ranging from fundamental stochastic estimation and control theory to air-traffic management at high-volume airport terminals.
Chairs are reserved for the most distinguished teachers and scholars. UCLA Engineering received the $1 million gift from Ronald and Valerie Sugar as part of the school’s Enhancing Engineering Excellence (E3) initiative, a fundraising effort aimed at generating newly endowed faculty chairs, graduate fellowships, undergraduate scholarships and capital funds.