Ralph E. Phinney, aerospace engineer and researcher, dies

Ralph Edward Phinney, a retired aerospace engineer and researcher, died Nov. 20 from heart failure at Springwell Senior Living in Mount Washington. The former longtime Bolton Hill resident was 90.

He was the son of Myron “Mike” Phinney, a oil wildcatter, and Marie Foreman Phinney, a postal worker and a sales associate.

He was born near Cleveland, Ohio, but because of the nature of his father’s work in Ohio and Michigan oil fields, his family moved often. He was a 1945 graduate of Allegan High School in Allegan, Mich.

He graduated in 1949 from the University of Michigan, where he received a degree in aerospace engineering. He also received a Ph.D in aerospace engineering from the university in 1952.

He served in the Army in 1952 and 1953 and was deployed at Aberdeen Proving Ground, where he worked in wind tunnel research.

From 1954 to 1959, he was a postdoctoral research scientist at the Johns Hopkins Research Laboratory under Dr. Mark V. Morkovin, an expert in instability, transition and turbulence who later worked at Martin-Marietta Corp. in Middle River.

Dr. Phinney subsequently worked at Martin-Marietta from 1959 to 1967 under Dr. Morkovin, then joined the staff of what was initially the Naval Ordnance Laboratory in Silver Spring, later called the Naval Surface Warfare Center.

Like his mentor, Dr. Phinney concentrated his research in the fields of instability, transition and turbulence.

He was “was widely published in technical journals for his work, including early research on the physical effects of viscous jets and near-sonic shocks on aircraft,” wrote his daughter, Susan Phinney Silver of Palo Alto, Calif., in a biographical profile of her father.

“Some of his most influential research focused on the physical properties of objects encountering laminar viscous jets, in which he documented the ‘Phinney Factor’ that occurred beyond the boundary conditions that others were studying at the time.”

He retired in 1993.

A resident of West Lanvale Street from 1962 until a recent move to the Mount Washington senior community, Dr. Phinney enjoyed “creative hobbies,” his daughter said. “These included photography, digitized art prints, making stained-glass works and renovating projects with his son, Mike.”

He enjoyed sailing and exploring the Chesapeake Bay, and for years had been a member and treasurer of the Fells Point Yacht Club. He also was an avid bridge player.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Dec. 29 at Memorial Episcopal Church, 1407 Bolton St., Bolton Hill.

In addition to his daughter and wife of 57 years, the former Deborah “Debby” Cushing, Dr. Phinney is survived by a son, Myron “Mike” Phinney of Reservoir Hill; and two grandchildren.

— Frederick N. Rasmussen

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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