William Raymond Benton, 79, an aircraft engineer


William Raymond Benton, a retired aircraft engineer whose model of the moon was displayed for several years at the Goddard Space Center, died Wednesday of pneumonia at Maryland General Hospital. He was 79 and lived in Woodlawn.

Fascinated by aircraft and the heavens as a young man, he continued his interest throughout his career as a structural test engineer and an electromechanical engineer at several major aircraft companies in Maryland.

An internationally recognized authority on selenology -- the study of the moon -- he spent hours in the basement of his Valley Road home sculpting a 3-foot plaster model of the moon. He used dental instruments to carve the craters.

"His model was quite good and accurate," said Winifred Cameron, a retired Goddard Space Center scientist who lives in Sedona, Ariz. "He was an excellent artist and draftsman. We kept it on display for many years."

Born in Cumberland and reared in Baltimore, Mr. Benton was attracted to flight as a young man. To earn money for flying lessons -- and to be around aircraft -- he washed down private planes kept in the hangars at the old Curtiss-Wright Airport near Mount Washington.

He learned to fly and signed up with the Army Air Corps during World War II. He was soon given a medical discharge because of vision problems.

Undeterred, he enrolled at the Johns Hopkins University and received double degrees in astronomy and engineering in 1949.

Before his retirement 12 years ago, he was employed by Glenn L. Martin, later Martin-Marietta, the Westinghouse Astronautics Institute and Datronic Engineers.

In the late 1960s, he began teaching astronomy at Catonsville Community College, where his classes proved popular with students.

"There were other astronomy classes, but he taught a very professional and comprehensive course," said Jean Kellenberger, a friend who took his course in 1972.

In 1960 -- at the height of the international space race -- he built his model of the moon. A version of it was purchased by the Goddard Space Center in Greenbelt, where it was displayed under an ultraviolet light against a black velvet background.

In 1963, he wrote a booklet, "Exploring the Comets," which was published by NASA as a guide for visitors.

He was a member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the American Astronautical Society.

He was a 1966 founder of the Shetland Sheepdog Club of Greater Baltimore.

Services will be held at 1 p.m. today at the Kirkley-Ruddick Funeral Home, Crain Highway S.E., Glen Burnie.

He is survived by three cousins, Michael Allen Mudge of Crellin; Gerald K. Mudge of Hedgesville, W. Va.; and Mickey Rowan Williams of Cumberland.

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