Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

Inventions: Hooven Radio

Inventor: Professor Fred Hooven ’25A

Professor Fred Hooven ’25A. Photograph by Douglas Fraser.
Professor Fred Hooven ’25A. Photograph by Douglas Fraser.

In a memorial tribute to Professor Fred Hooven ’25A, former Thayer School Dean Myron Tribus described Hooven as a classical engineer who “viewed the world’s problems in terms of their potential solutions.” Hooven spent his career solving many problems for science, commerce and fun.

Born in 1905, Hooven grew up in Dayton, Ohio, not far from the Wright brothers. At 5 he befriended Orville. At 15 he sought his advice on building planes. Years later, Hooven used the Wrights’ wind tunnel data to design a paper airplane that beat 10,000 other entries in the “duration aloft” category of Scientific American’s Great American Paper Airplane Contest.

Hooven, an MIT grad, invented many devices for airplanes, including a radio compass that is still in use. He designed a short-wave radar system for bombers during World War II and invented ignition and landing systems for other planes. Turning to other fields, he developed brake shoes used in all GM vehicles for 25 years and a front-wheel drive system installed in several GM models. He even invented the first successful heart-lung machine. By the time he died in 1985, he held 38 patents in avionics, automotive technology, and medical technology.

Amelia Earhart holds the radio compass she used in 1937 on her last flight. Hooven, inset, wished she had taken the one he invented. Photograph courtesy of Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections.
Amelia Earhart holds the radio compass she used in 1937 on her last flight. Hooven, wished she had taken the one he invented. Photograph courtesy of Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections.

Hooven became a legend, however, not because of who used his inventions, but because of someone who didn’t.

“Before Miss Earhart took off on her Round-the-World flight she removed from her plane a modern radio compass that had been installed and replaced it with an older, lighter-weight model of much less capability. I am the engineer who had invented and developed the radio compass that was removed, and I discussed its features with Miss Earhart before the installation was made,” wrote Hooven in a scholarly paper published in 1982 about Amelia Earhart’s final flight. To the end he believed that had she used his radio compass she would have found Howland Island — and a safe landing.

—Lee Michaelides

Categories: Inventions

Tags: alumni, design, faculty, innovation, patent

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