AKERMAN, John D. (1897 - 1972)
John D. Akerman was born in 1897 in the city of Courland, Latvia then part of Russia. He started his career in aeronautics at the Royal Technical Institute in Moscow and as a pilot in the Imperial Russian Air Force. In 1918 he went to the United States and attended the University of Michigan obtaining seven years later a degree in Aeronautical Engineering. As a young engineer, Mr. Akerman worked with Minnesota firms like Ford Stout Airplane Company and Hamilton Metal Plane Company and advanced to Chief Engineer of the Mohawk Aircraft Corporation.
He went to the University of Minnesota in 1929, as an associate professor in the Institute of Technology's Aeronautical Engineering department, becoming a full professor and head of that department in 1934. There he collaborated with Dr. Jean Piccard's first projects at the University of Minnesota: constructing an unmanned hydrogen-filled transparent cellophane balloon for ascents 10 to 14 miles into the stratosphere. The balloon was successfully flown on June 24, 1936, landing in Arkansas, ten hours later. The full details of the project were published in a technical paper six months later. This is recognized as the first balloon flight performed in the "new era" of plastic balloons.
Akerman contributed significantly to the development of the American aeronautics and astronautics thruogh several projects. During the years of the depression and thanks to federal grants, he designed and built, with the help of University students, a tailless airplane, a so-called Flying Wing, which he flew himself in 1940. Later he became deeply involved in the development of airplane oxygen systems, two-gas pressure suit more than 20 years before the first suits were actually used. The design used an inert gas for pressure and oxygen for breathing.
In 1962, John D. Akerman retired from the University of Minnesota. However, he was always involved in some professional activity. His last project before he was stricken by illness involved archeological research on the island of Tobago in the Lesser Antilles.
He finally passed away on January 8, 1972, at the age of 74.