David Sloan Lewis, Jr., (July 6, 1917 - December 15, 2003), was a major force in the aerospace and defense industry for four decades. His management skills were notable for their breadth, ranging over military and commercial aviation, space exploration, land combat systems, submarines and surface ships.
Dave Lewis was born in 1917, in North Augusta, South Carolina, the son of David S. Lewis, "Dick", of Clemson and Reuben Walton of Augusta. A middle child, he had an older sister, Lucy, and a younger brother, Jack. The family moved to Charleston, where Dave, sister Lucy, and brother Jack were reared. As a boy growing up in Charleston, David Lewis was fascinated by aviation. He read everything he could find about the World War I fighter planes and their romantic pilots. He built dozens of flying model airplanes and gliders. He was 10 years old when he heard that Charles Lindbergh had made the first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. He was hooked and decided to be an airplane designer. Dave Lewis father, Dick, worked for Standard Oil of New Jersey managing their efforts providing asphalt for the state's road work. They were transferred to Columbia in 1933, and Dave graduated from Columbia High in 1934. Dave Lewis attended the University of South Carolina, and after three years transferred to Georgia Tech, graduating in 1939 with a Bachelor's degree in Aeronautical Engineering.
During World War II, Dave Lewis worked in the Martin aerodynamics department, the wind tunnel group, the performance group, and the stability and control group on many new aircraft designs, including the B-26 Marauder, the XB-33 Super Marauder, the JRM Mars and the Martin Maryland for the French and other allied forces. In the latter part of the war, when the U.S. industry was finally cleared for jet propulsion and swept wings, Dave was the lead aerodynamicst on the P4M Mercator patrol bomber design for the Navy, and later in the early stages of the XB-46.
In 1946, Dave Lewis joined McDonnell Aircraft, in St. Louis, Mo., as Chief of Aerodynamics. Leading a relatively inexperienced engineering team, he taught aerodynamics and performance in special night classes. This team developed the Navy's first operational jet fighter aircraft, the F2H Banshee and the Air Force's first swept-wing strategic interceptor, the XF-88 Voodoo later designated the F-101 Voodoo for production. They also fought a losing battle with the F3H Demon which had a significantly under performing engine from Westinghouse. Note in the image at right from the early 1950s, Navy aviator Wally Schirra shaking hands with Lewis as they take delivery of an F3H Demon. Lewis and Schirra became good personal friends as they later worked together on the Mercury space program, Schirra was one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts. In 1952, J.S. McDonnell had the vision for a new way to develop modern fighter aircraft – the grouping of disparate engineering functions into a single fast-track development team, which became known as Preliminary Design. In 1952, Mr. Lewis was chosen to form and run this group, the first ever in the industry.
Beginning in 1952 Lewis and his team started with "a clean slate". There being no new aircraft competitions on the horizon, in-house studies concluded the Navy has the greatest need for a new and different aircraft type. At the time, the Navy has a separate "Fighter Branch" and "Attack Branch", each having little contact or interest in the other. They lived in different worlds when it came to system requirements. The Fighter Branch was working on the development of the single engine F-8 Crusader. After many iterations, and various enemy capability assumptions, a fighter design was presented to the Navy with a full ranged of (unwanted) attack capabilities. McDonnell was in competition with Chance-Vought and the F-8 Crusader. The McDonnell design called for two engines, with the primary armament being provided by the very new Sparrow missiles semi-submerged in the fuselage. The air-to-ground armament was to be as many bombs as could be carried on stations that would be mounted under the wings and aft of the Sparrow stations on the fuselage. No guns were provided. It took two long years of hard work with the Bureau of Aeronautics and the Naval Air Warfare Division in the Pentagon, The F-4 Phantom was sold with pretty much the same configurations as originally proposed. The prototype of the F-4 Phantom II, the F4H-1, was in direct competition with the F-8 Crusader with a fly off at Edwards Air Force Base. During a heated competition, Lewis became good friends with Paul Thayer, chief pilot of the F-8. he later became President of Chance Vought. Three key figures in the F4H-1 Phantom program were (show in the photo, left to right) Dave Lewis, company wide project manager, Robert C. Little, chief test pilot, and Herman D. Barkey, senior project engineer. The F-4 is arguably the most successful jet fighter ever produced, the first, and only, fighter aircraft purchased by both the U.S. Navy and Air Force. First purchased by the U.S. Navy, as the F-4B, Mr. Lewis and his sales team went on to sell the U.S. Air Force the F-4C. The first model established 16 speed, altitude and time-to-climb records. Ultimately more than 5,000 were produced for the U.S. Navy and Air Force, and 11 other countries. It was the only modern aircraft to be flown by both the Navy Blue Angels and the Air Force Thunderbirds. Needless to say, the great success of the F-4 program catapulted Dave Lewis' career into executive management. In 1956, he became McDonnell's Vice President of Engineering.
In 1958, Lewis was appointed to serve as Executive Vice President of McDonnell, having responsibility for every thing in the company except finance and legal. He was active in setting up the Space Division and involved in the winning the Project Mercury contract from NASA.
In 1962, Lewis was appointed to serve as President of McDonnell, being responsible to J.S. McDonnell for all activities of the company. During this time the company completed the highly successful Mercury program which started the manned spaceflight program. The team went on to develop and build the equally successful Project Gemini spacecraft which developed the key technologies for the follow-on Project Apollo developed at North American Aviation. President John Kennedy visited McDonnell for a briefing on the Mercury and Gemini space programs.
Lewis was chairman and chief executive officer of General Dynamics from early 1971 until his retirement at the end of 1985. During his tenure, General Dynamics’ revenues and earnings quadrupled. While he was chairman, the company designed and/or built SSN fast attack submarines, Trident submarines, M1 Abrams tanks and the first ships ever built to transport liquefied natural gas throughout the world and the F-16 Falcon.
Lewis was highly involved with the team at the Ft. Worth Division, in refining and proposing their version of the Air Force Lightweight Fighter. In an intense competition involving the top seven military aircraft builders, General Dynamics Ft. Worth Division was selected to build two prototypes, designated the YF-16. They went on to beat the Northrop YF-17 and received an initial order of 600+ aircraft from the Air Force in 1974.
From the initial win in 1974, Lewis took the F-16 to Europe, and they went on to win the largest single military contract ever awarded, when the F-16 was chosen as the standard fighter of four allied NATO countries. As of 2003, over 4,400 of these aircraft have been produced for the air forces of 24 countries, and the plane continues to serve as the active flight demonstrator for the Air Force Thunderbirds.
The M1 Abrams tank proved to be an enduring product as well, with more than 8,000 units produced for U.S. forces; derivatives of the original tank design are still in production in Egypt. In addition, the Trident submarine design is the basis for the U.S. Navy's new SSGN conversion program, through which General Dynamics is leading the conversion of four Ohio-class ships into a flexible-mission submarine that will support special forces operations around the world.
Lewis retired as Chairman & CEO in 1985, and remained on the company's board of directors through 1994.
He was lifelong, active member of the Episcopal Church. As a child, he was an altar boy at Grace Episcopal in Charleston, SC. He later attended the same church upon his retirement, till his death. He is survived by his wife, Dorothy (married 62 years) and four children.