San Francisco Chronicle - (Sunday)
Einar Knute Enevoldson
June 15, 1932 - April 14, 2021
“He done his damndest.” Einar Enevoldson Longtime NASA research pilot and aviation explorer Einar K. Enevoldson died at home on April 14, 2021, in Emeryville, California. He was 88.
Einar Enevoldson explored the earth and skies with wonder and curiosity.
In a literally stratospheric career that spanned 67 years, Einar kept his feet on the ground even when his head was far above the clouds. He flew above 50,000 feet in 17 different types of powered and unpowered aircraft, advancing our understanding of machine and human performance in the earth’s stratosphere. He liked to say he’d spent a lifetime learning to fly. Contrary to popular perception, Einar asserted that he didn’t take risks, relying on cautious, meticulous planning and systems design for his audacious achievements. When not airborne, Einar loved reading and discussing history, literature, philosophy, and science with anyone who would listen. He had a gentle, patient demeanor and deeply humane world view. It was important to him to make mistakes. He led by sharing what he learned from his mistakes and by providing guidance instead of direction. He delighted in playing the devil’s advocate. He shared a love of classical music, especially opera, with his family. He was deeply fascinated by the natural world—in particular, clouds, weather, and birds. The family photo album contained more pictures of clouds than of people! He was always ready with a story from his adventures: gliding with a curious bird, chasing caribou with a stir-crazy radar technician in Greenland, or, as a young boy, tearing around the hills of San Francisco on his bike.
Einar was born in Seattle on June 15, 1932. As a young man, he was fascinated with building and flying model aircraft, setting his first world record at the age of fifteen with a hand-launched class-B model glider. In high school, he learned to fly sailplanes near San Francisco, then worked in the tungsten mines near the El Mirage gliderport in the California desert to pay for lessons at what he called the “University of El Mirage”.
He received a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and M.S. in Aeronautical Engineering from the University of Wyoming after joining the USAF as a fighter pilot in 1954. He received a Distinguished Flying Cross for his seven time-to-climb world records in the F-104 Starfighter at Point Mugu, CA.
After graduating from the Empire Test Pilot School in Farnborough, England, Einar became a test pilot for the Royal Air Force from 1966 to 1967, flying the Hunter, Lightning, and Javelin fighter jets. He continued his passion for gliding while in England, involving his family in his first soaring competitions there.
In 1968, Einar became a research pilot for NASA at Edwards Flight Research Center, where he stayed until his retirement in 1986. He was awarded two NASA Exceptional Service Medals: for the F-111 Supercritical Wing Program and the F-15 Remotely Piloted Research Vehicle, and for F-14 stall and spin resistance tests. Among the aircraft he flew were the F-8 digital-flyby-wire, supercritical wing testbeds, the YF-12A mach 3 interceptor, the oblique wing AD-1, the Controlled Deep Stall Sailplane, and the X-24B lifting body. He spent his weekends back at El Mirage pursuing his love of non-powered gliding flight in sailplanes. His entire family spent much of their time on glider ports, preparing for soaring competitions, and crewing for contests and cross-country flights. His daughters grew up believing that a sailplane fuselage in the living room was normal.
After retiring from NASA, Einar served as chief test pilot for Grob Aircraft in Bavaria, Germany on the high-altitude propeller planes Egrett (Strato 1C) and Strato 2C.
Einar’s curiosity about a graph of a high-altitude wave pattern led him to conceive of a method for high-altitude sailplane flight using stratospheric mountain waves, an idea that he later developed into the Perlan Project. Perlan remained his focus until his death. In 2006, after many trials on three continents, at the age of 74, Einar and his co-pilot set the sailplane altitude world record, almost 50 years after his first time-to-climb world record. The Perlan Project continues to fly, carrying forward his vision of soaring, unpowered, to 100,000 feet.
In 2020, he was designated a Distinguished Statesman of Aviation by the National Aeronautic Association for “his visionary and persistent quest to advance the progress of aeronautics by researching and exploring the stratosphere in a glider utilizing high altitude waves.” Einar reckoned he might hold the record for different types of aircraft flown at high altitude. The story of Einar’s aviation life is told in Bertha Ryan’s 2010 book Soaring Beyond the Clouds: Einar Enevoldson Reaches for 100,000 Feet.
He died peacefully at home, of cancer, surrounded by family.
Einar was predeceased by his former wife, Ann, and survived by his wife Susana Conde, his daughters Julie Enevoldsen (Keith) and Rachel Enevoldsen (Scott), stepdaughters Ingrid Leverett (John) and Erica Leverett (Eric), grandchildren Alice Enevoldsen, Nils Enevoldsen, Jocelyn Enevoldsen, and Dana Christie, step-grandchildren Spencer Mason and Clyde Mason, and two great-grandchildren. Services will be postponed until it is safe to gather. In lieu of flowers, please take inspiration from Einar’s life, and “do your damndest.”