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J. Burt Berlin '47

Burt BerlinWe gratefully acknowledge J. Burton Berlin as a major benefactor to the University of Idaho, in the Colleges of Engineering and Letters, Arts and Social Sciences and as a new member of the Gem Society for a lifetime giving total of more than $1 million to the University of Idaho.

In the College of Engineering Burt has established the J. Burton Berlin Mechanical Engineering Scholarship Endowment and in the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences the J. Burton Berlin Humanities Scholarship Endowment.

Joseph Burt Berlin, a 1947 bachelor of science mechanical engineering graduate, was born on a small farm near Rupert, Idaho on March 16, 1923. He graduated from Heyburn High School in 1941, valedictorian of his class of 25 students.

Immediately after graduation from high school he left for a construction job in Oregon and as required became a member of the Hoisting and Portable Operating Engineers Union which represents the operators of heavy equipment, from pumps and compressors to draglines. It was this contact with machinery that led Burt to his interest in mechanical engineering.

A lull in construction work in 1942, and a chance suggestion from a construction superintendent led Burt to begin his college education at what was then the University of Idaho, Southern Branch, at Pocatello. His education was interrupted by critical defense work in South Dakota and Hanford, Washington. Burt completed the requirements for a degree in mechanical engineering at Moscow in 1947.

Professor Henry Silha was his most influential mentor, Burt fully utilized Professor Silha’s academic and machine shop lessons.

In spite of scarce job openings, Burt received offers from Westinghouse, General Electric and Boeing Airplane Company. Wanting to stay in the West, he joined the Boeing Company in September of 1946 at $240 per month which was $20 less than what he was making as a heavy construction equipment operator!

The Boeing representatives who interviewed him at Idaho were K.K. Daniel, an Idaho graduate and Boeing engineering executive, and Roy Morse, the head of personnel at Boeing and later the Seattle city engineer.

At Boeing, Burt immediately went to work as an engineering draftsman in the Flight Controls Group on the prototype six-engined experimental XB-47 which had just been given production design go-ahead status.

Boeing was noted for larger propeller driven aircraft, the B-17, B-29, B-50, C-97 and the Stratocruiser, which were in production at the time. The B-47 was the first of the large swept wing jets and this was virtually the start of the “jet age.” Burt never worked on a propeller driven airplane.

From the XB-47 to the production of the B-47, Burt went into working on the preliminary design of the famous B-80 which was the prototype of the KC-135 and the 707 commercial airplane that initiated jet air travel and made commercial aviation history.

Under excellent leadership, Burt was able to participate in setting the standard for cockpit (flight deck) configurations and control system designs that were to follow. Aircraft control and actuation systems were, and still are, largely dependent on many kinds of mechanical, electrical and hydraulic components and assemblies which are designed, sometimes with unusual materials, to meet the requirements of specialized aircraft configurations.

Burt then worked on the preliminary and production design of the 727, Boeing’s first commercial airplane with all-hydraulic powered flight control surfaces. He continued to work on the preliminary and production design of mechanical control and actuation systems of the 737, 747,757 and special assignments to the 767 which was being built simultaneously with the 757.

In March of 1981, Burt received a Boeing Pride in Excellence Award for extraordinary dedication toward the conceptual development and detail design of the 757 flight control systems. His ability to search out facts, locate problems and develop solutions assisted the engineering design discipline and prevented serious deficiencies from developing in other areas.

Among other special assignments, he was lead designer in flight controls of the unique YC-14 short takeoff and landing (STOL) airplane, of which two were produced and tested. All these airplanes had significant technological advancements in control system and control detail design.

Burt preferred work in actual hands-on design and deliberately avoided being in management. However, in later years, he lead a group of designers and did manage various design task groups. One of the most satisfying parts of his job was working with incoming college graduates and helping them get started in a new environment. Burt also was granted three patents for mechanical inventions.

After 37 years of service, in 1983, Burt retired while working on the preliminary flight control system design of the Boeing 7J7 (which was later canceled). As he retired, he held the highest design engineer rating of a senior principal engineer and was rated by Boeing management to be in the highest two percent of engineers within the mechanical design category of the Boeing Commercial Airplane Company.

A single man, Burt Berlin, spent a great deal of his spare time in the hills climbing, skiing, hunting, fishing, chasing a couple of hunting dogs, or steel heading, etc. He always had an interest in outdoor and wildlife photography, and prior to and after retirement, expanded this activity. His work has been featured in various galleries and publications.

His engineering design background complemented the use of specialized photographic equipment required for wildlife photography and the precision with which it must be used. Burt designed and manufactured several items of equipment, including a collapsible telescoping photo blind.

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