by Michael Bennett

Jerry Bennett

Gerald (Jerry) Barton Bennett, Jr.—who passed away on 19 September 2023—held a lot of important roles and titles over his 53-year engineering career. For me, however, his most important title was “Dad.” I am thus honored to have the opportunity to provide a tribute to my father’s incredible survivability career.

Dad was an internationally recognized engineer and expert in aircraft vulnerability and aircraft battle damage repair (ABDR) methodology. He was a visionary working toward less vulnerable aircraft that would help save the lives of pilots and better ensure mission success. In addition, he helped define the discipline of vulnerability analysis and apply the analytical tools and computer simulations required to accomplish analyses for survivability and effectiveness of aircraft.

Dad began his career at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH, after graduating in 1960 from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering. (And he enjoyed a lifetime of Ohio State-vs.-Michigan football rivalry with his sons and many friends as he raised his family in the Buckeye state.) His first assignment was in the Structures Division of the Air Force Flight Dynamics Laboratory, where he developed techniques for predicting nuclear air-blast and thermal effects on aircraft and missiles. He supported a nuclear field test for cloud field measurements off the Hawaiian island of Kaho’olawe in what he hoped at the time would be the last above-ground nuclear detonation in the United States. He also represented the Air Force on technical panels for the Defense Atomic Support Agency.

In 1966, Dad transitioned to the Aeronautical Systems Division, Deputy for Development Planning (ASD/XR), where he would spend the rest of his civil service career helping establish the new discipline and techniques for aircraft vulnerability analyses and ABDR. Dad began generating Air Force vulnerability data, and he developed an air-to-air gun model, a missile end game model, and a model for evaluating vulnerabilities of parked aircraft to mortar and rocket attacks. In addition, he became the Air Force’s representative on the Aerial Target Vulnerability Panel of the Joint Technical Coordinating Group for Munitions Effectiveness.

Growing up, my brothers and I didn’t really understand exactly what Dad did at work. He would just tell us he “worked with aircraft” or “helped with aircraft designs” or “helped shoot parts of aircraft for testing” (which all sounded really cool to a young boy). Years later, however, I learned more about Dad’s actual role and impact in the field when I began my internship with Booz Allen Hamilton. I began to hear stories from both contractor and Government senior leaders about his influence in the Air Force community. I also supported a specialized library at the Survivability/Vulnerability Information Analysis Center (SURVIAC), which included more than 165 technical reports Dad had authored. He was definitely prolific, and it was a lot for a son to take in. I remember joking, “Wait, this is the same guy who can’t program his VCR?”

In 1967, the United States was suffering heavy aircraft losses in Vietnam, and a change was required. One of those changes was to focus on aircraft design and survivability improvements. Dad had just joined the ASD/XR, where he worked in the Aircraft Design Branch. There, with his trusty slide rule in hand (which is now displayed on my bookcase), he began to help develop new methodologies for aircraft vulnerability analyses. He was heavily involved with the F-X program (which became the F-15) and the A-X program (which became the A-10). One of Dad’s most satisfying “awards” came years later at a post-Gulf War ABDR symposium, where Dad was a featured speaker. An A-10 pilot approached him afterwards to shake his hand and thank him for helping to make the A-10 such a tough aircraft.

A Young Jerry Bennett (left) Evaluating 14.5-mm Penetration Characterization Shots (Circa 1968).

Figure 1. A Young Jerry Bennett (left) Evaluating 14.5-mm Penetration Characterization Shots (Circa 1968).

Dad was also part of a small but dedicated group of people who lobbied for, and eventually established, an organization that could carry out survivability research and development across the services. In 1971, he was one of the founders of the Joint Technical Coordinating Group for Aircraft Survivability (JTCG/AS) (which is now the Joint Aircraft Survivability Program [JASP]). He was also among three JTCG/AS leaders (including Dale Atkinson, who is also honored in this issue) that represented the Air Force.

During the 1970s and early 1980s, Dad worked with German and English vulnerability counterparts, which resulted in information-exchange partnerships on vulnerability analysis technique and test data comparisons. These information exchanges included numerous workshops Dad helped host at Wright-Patterson, and I have great memories of him bringing German and English engineers for dinner (and some pretty competitive ping-pong matches) at our home.

Dad retired from civil service in March of 1993 after 33 years of work, though it turned out that it was not actually time for him to really retire yet. So, 3 months later (in June of 1993), he started working for Booz Allen Hamilton, where I also worked. I’m told there wasn’t much of an interview process for him; it was more of a “When can you start?” kind of vibe. Dad worked part-time for Booz Allen at SURVIAC for 20 years, supporting a wide variety of aircraft vulnerability analyses (for platforms such as the C-17, C-130, A-10, HH-60, and HH-65), helping train the next generation of vulnerability analysts, and assisting the greater survivability/vulnerability community. He and I were even able to work together on a few analyses, and one of those projects (a RADGUNS model sensitivity study) resulted in a final report coauthored by Gerald and Michael Bennett. Pretty cool.

A Retired Jerry Bennett (center) With Sons Michael (left) and Larry (right) and the Highly Survivable A-10.

Figure 2. A Retired Jerry Bennett (center) With Sons Michael (left) and Larry (right) and the Highly Survivable A-10.

Without exaggeration, Dad’s pioneering development of new methodologies, which resulted in a new engineering discipline for vulnerability analyses, was truly revolutionary at the time. That impact is still being felt today. Incredibly, many of the engineering methodologies he helped develop 50 years ago are still in use, as is the existence and success of the organization—now called JASP—that he lobbied for and helped establish to better concentrate and consolidate the focus and efforts of the combat Services on aircraft survivability.

All that said, while Dad certainly liked to talk about aircraft, survivability, and vulnerability analyses, he was never one to brag about his accomplishments. He truly just wanted to help others, whether that be in finding ways to save the lives of Air Force pilots, in training the next generation of engineers, or—when he wasn’t at work—in supporting those in need in his community. He dedicated many years of volunteer efforts at his church, with the Interfaith Hospitality Network, and as president of the Enon Emergency Relief program.

What Dad didn’t mind bragging about was his family. He was always eager to share their activities and accomplishments with anyone who would listen. He was a devoted husband and a proud father, grandfather, and great-grandfather.

What an amazing personal and professional legacy you left, Dad. You will certainly be missed. Much love to you, and thank you for all the years of blessings.

About the Author

Mr. Michael Gerald Bennett is a Director at Booz Allen Hamilton, where he has more than 35 years of experience in modeling and simulation (M&S) software development and survivability analysis. Currently, he helps lead engineering and M&S teams in supporting multiple Air Force and DoD customers. He credits his father for mentoring him through many parts of his career.