John L. McLucas – Lieutenant Commander, United States Navy Secretary of the Air Force Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration

From a contemporary press report:

John L. McLucas, 82, a scientist and administrator who served during the 1970s as Secretary of the Air Force and Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, died of respiratory failure December 1, 2002, at Inova Mount Vernon Hospital in Alexandria, Virginia. He had been in ill health since undergoing heart surgery 10 years ago.

Dr. McLucas spent his professional career in aviation and aerospace. After stepping down as FAA chief in 1977, he was a senior officer of Comsat. He retired in 1985 after having served as president of Comsat World Systems and chief strategic officer of Comsat Corp.

As a scientist, he was said to have had a healthy curiosity about how things worked and was something of an inventor. As a young man, he received a patent for a solar-powered sewing machine. Later in his career, he would patent more technologically sophisticated devices. He was an enthusiastic advocate for the widest possible use of modern technology and was an energetic supporter of making global positioning satellites available for civilian use, such as meteorology. He was a past president of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Dr. McLucas, a resident of The Fairfax community at Fort Belvoir, was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina. He grew up in the North Carolina mountains and on a South Carolina farm and graduated from Davidson College, working his way through with the assistance of an aunt who sent him $50 a month. As he advanced in his professional career and traveled far from his birthplace, the Carolina accent of his boyhood inevitably dissipated. But his children said it always returned on trips back home, when he sat on a front porch with family and friends to discuss such matters as the year's soybean crop.

He received a master's degree in physics from Tulane University and a doctorate in physics from Pennsylvania State University.

During World War II, he served in the Navy in the Pacific. Afterward he would describe his wartime work as involving “a project so secret that it had to be spelled backwards.” When pressed on what exactly this was, he confided that it was something called “radar.”

During the 1950s, Dr. McLucas was vice president and technical director and then president of Haller, Raymond & Brown Inc., a research company in State College, Pa. He came to Washington in 1962 as deputy director in the office of the director of defense research and engineering at the Pentagon.

He traveled to Paris in 1964 as assistant secretary general for scientific affairs at NATO, then from 1966 to 1969 he was president of Mitre Corp. in Bedford, Mass., a not-for-profit firm that does research for government agencies.

He returned to Washington in 1969 as undersecretary of the Air Force, a position he held until 1973, when he became secretary. During his leadership, he backed the admission of women to the Air Force Academy and argued in favor of allowing female Air Force officers to fly planes. Decades later, high-ranking female Air Force officers would thank him for this contribution to their careers. It was a source of personal pride to Dr. McLucas that during his years with the Air Force, he flew every type of plane the service had, although in some cases this involved taking over the controls for only a few minutes.

From 1975 to 1977, Dr. McLucas was FAA administrator, dealing in this period with a variety of aircraft safety issues and also the concerns of an increasingly restive and vocal Professional Air Traffic Controllers union.

He was author of a book, “Space Commerce,” published in 1991, and a former chairman of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Advisory Committee and the Presidential Task Force on Aircraft Crew Complement, which was established in 1981 to determine how many pilots aircraft should carry in the cockpit. He was a member of the Defense Science Board and the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board.

He was a lifelong Presbyterian, a member of the Old Presbyterian Meeting House in Alexandria, and a former chairman of the Wolf Trap Foundation. After the Filene Center at Wolf Trap was destroyed in a fire in 1982, Dr. McLucas led a $9 million fundraising drive to rebuild the facility.

At home he composed doggerel for special family occasions, did crossword puzzles in ink and made up lively animal stories to tell his children, one of whom won a compliment from his teacher when he repeated the story at school.

His marriage to Patricia Knapp ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife of 21 years, Harriet Black McLucas of Fort Belvoir; four children from his first marriage, Pam Byers of San Francisco, Susan of Boston, John C. of Baltimore and Rod of New York; five stepchildren, Matthew Black of Washington, Bruce Black of Yardley, Pa., Elizabeth Black of Falls Church, Beverly Roca of Haymarket and Robert Black of Alexandria; a sister; and nine grandchildren.

Courtesy of the United States Air Force:

Secretary of the Air Force from July 19, 1973 to November 12, 1975. Died December 1, 2002.


Dr. John L. McLucas became Secretary of the Air Force on July 19, 1973. He had been Acting Secretary of the Air Force since May 15, 1973, and Undersecretary of the Air Force since March 1969. Prior to his appointment as Undersecretary, he was president and chief executive officer of MITRE Corp., of Bedford, Massachusetts, and McLean, Virginia.

Dr. McLucas was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina. He attended public schools in McColl and Latta, South Carolina, graduating from Latta High School in 1937. He received a bachelor of science degree from Davidson College in 1941, a master of science degree in physics from Tulane University in 1943, and his doctorate in physics from Pennsylvania State University in 1950.

During World War II, he served as an officer in the U.S. Navy from 1943 to 1946. After one year at the Air Force Cambridge Research Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he enrolled at Pennsylvania State University.

From 1950 to 1957, he was vice president and technical director of Haller, Raymond and Brown Inc., an electronics firm at State College, Pennsylvania. In 1958 he was made president of HRB-Singer Inc. He joined the Department of Defense in May 1962 and served as Deputy Director of Defense Research and Engineering (Tactical Warfare Programs).

Two years later, he was appointed as assistant secretary general for scientific affairs at NATO Headquarters in Paris, France. In 1966 he became president of MITRE Corp., where he remained until his appointment as undersecretary of the Air Force on March 17, 1969.

From 1969 through 1973, Dr. McLucas also served as director of the National Reconnaissance Office, working directly for the Secretary of Defense with support from the Central Intelligence Agency.

In November 1975, President Gerald Ford swore in Dr. McLucas as the eighth administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Dr. McLucas is the author of numerous scientific articles and holds ten U.S. patents. He is the founder or co-founder of several small businesses, and has been active in civic affairs in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.

He was elected a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers in 1962; and associate fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics in 1971; and a member of the National Academy of Engineering in 1969. He received the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service in 1964, and first bronze palm in 1973; and the Air Force Exceptional Service Award in May 1973.

He is a member of the Chief Executives Forum; American Physical Society; Operations Research Society of America; and of several honorary societies, including Sigma Pi Sigma and Sigma Xi. He is a former member of the Defense Science Board, Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, and the Young Presidents Organization.

Federal Aviation Administration Notification:

On December 1, John L. McLucas died at the age of 82 in Alexandria, Virginia. McLucas served as FAA's eighth administrator from November 24, 1975 to April 1, 1977. He gave up his position as Secretary of the Air Force when President Gerald Ford asked him to take on the critical FAA position.

When McLucas was nominated, Senator Howard Cannon said that he was as highly qualified an appointee as has ever been nominated to head the FAA. McLucas served our nation and aviation well, providing strong and steady leadership through a difficult period. He faced key issues on his watch, such as the threat of midair collisions, growing security concerns, and the pressing need to move forward with modernization.

McLucas was a scientist, with a doctorate in physics, as well as a seasoned manager with extensive experience in the private sector, including heading MITRE Corporation. His public service career began in 1962 when he joined the Defense Department as Deputy Director of Research and Engineering. After heading MITRE, he was named Under Secretary of the Air Force in 1969 and subsequently promoted to Secretary in 1973.

McLucas told FAA employees that machines would never replace people as the airspace system’s most important element.That was true in 1977 and it is just as true today.

I know all of us at the FAA appreciate John McLucas’ service to our agency and to the nation.

Marion C. Blakey, Administrator

Graveside  service  with  full  military  honors will be held at Arlington National Cemetery on Thursday,  January  9, 2003,  at  1  p.m.  Attendees  should  meet at 12:30 p.m. at the Administration Building. Mr. McLucas died on December 1, 2002.


  • DATE OF BIRTH: 08/22/1920
  • DATE OF DEATH: 12/01/2002

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