David Craig ’50, ’51
Physics degree gave alumnus ideal background for varied science and engineering career
by Rackeline Hoff, contributing writer
Rocket fuels, aircraft boundary-layer control systems, cryogenics—these are terms that comfortably roll off the tongue of David Craig ’50, ’51 as he enthusiastically describes his diverse career in the fields of science, technology, engineering and management.
Craig grew up in Lincoln Park, Mich. and attended Wayne State University in his senior year of high school, which was allowed at the time. When he turned 18, he enlisted into the Army Air Corps. In 1945, he graduated from the Army Air Corps’ Air Cadet Program as a second lieutenant and navigator on B-29 aircraft. Rather than remain in the military, he decided to return to Michigan to finish his education.
“I could go to school on the GI Bill, so I enrolled at U of D, primarily because it was conveniently located … I didn’t have a car, so I could take the bus to and from campus,” he said. “My major was physics, so I worked as a physics laboratory assistant at first and then, during graduate school, I was a physics instructor.”
After graduating from University of Detroit with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Physics, Craig began his professional journey in 1951 at Wyandotte Chemicals Corporation, where he worked in the central research laboratories. His varied assignments ranged from the development of liquid monopropellant rocket fuels to the application of these fuels in aircraft.
“We had a government contract from the U.S. Navy to develop rocket fuels. But it was a much greater job than just making the fuels; we had to test the product, create control and measurement systems and demonstrate that they worked,” Craig explained. Once that was successfully done, the Navy issued another contract to design and develop a boundary-layer control system to make aircraft land and take off at low speeds. “The Navy was interested in that because their airplanes were primarily based on aircraft carriers. They had to come in slow and take off slowly, he said.
“I remember returning to the U of D campus to consult with aeronautical engineers in the Engineering Department because I was not familiar with boundary-layer controls for aircraft. They were very helpful, and combined with my physics background, I was able to contribute significantly to the development and design of these aircraft systems,” said Craig.
In 1955, Craig changed focus when he joined Ford Motor Company to work on the design of combustion and heat recovery systems for gas turbine engines used in automobiles and trucks. Two years later, he made another job change—to Air Reduction Company, which later became known as Airco—where he managed the rocket fuel research program in its central research laboratories.
Over the next 33 years, Craig moved to management positions of increasing responsibility within Airco. He was named manager of the welding equipment program; then, manager of the cryogenic engineering department. Next, he was promoted to vice president of the industrial gases division, which was the largest Airco division. This was followed by a promotion to head of corporate planning, and then he was named group vice president.
In 1980, when Airco merged with British Oxygen Company (BOC), an international firm located in London, Craig became deputy managing director, responsible for all operations and technical functions. He remained with BOC, traveling extensively throughout the world, until his retirement in 1990.
“Although I ended up in management, the foundation of my career was the physics I studied at U of D. My education served me well,” stated Craig. “Even though much of my actual work was in engineering—mechanical, chemical, cryogenic—it was my physics background that prepared me to adapt to these areas,” said Craig.
Since retiring, Craig and his wife of 69 years, Shirley, spend winters in a Florida retirement community and go north for the summer to their home on Lake George in upstate New York. Craig enjoys golfing, serving on the finance committee for his retirement community and spending time with his family. The Craigs have four adult children, seven grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
In looking ahead, Craig expressed his interest in returning to Michigan for a visit and stopping by the University. “I understand that the Science Building where I did most of my graduate work has been converted into the Architectural Building. Even so, I’d like to see if my office and the lecture hall where I spent so much time are still there. I’m interested in seeing all the changes and developments on campus.”