According to George Inger’s professional friends in the aerospace engineering department at Virginia Tech, Mountain View Humane is probably fortunate that there is no society for the welfare of hippopotamuses in the area.
“He loved hippopotamuses. No one really knows why,” smiled Chris Hall, who stepped down last spring as the head of Virginia Tech’s Aerospace and Ocean Engineering (AOE) Department where Inger recently taught graduate level classes on a part-time basis.
“He had hippopotamus figurines and paintings everywhere in his home. I think he liked the fact that the animals are big, and appear clumsy and goofy looking,” Hall said, but in reality hippos are agile creatures with tremendous speed for their size.
Inger taught transonic aerodynamics, and he was “absolutely brilliant” in the subject of chemically reacting flows, Hall said. Transonic refers to speeds that are both above and below the speed of sound, so maybe Inger liked the equivalent versatility of the monstrous hippo’s speed, Hall surmised.
The world-renowned engineer had some other intriguing likes and dislikes that might seem incongruous. He excelled at dazzling an audience of his peers at a technical meeting with his theoretical knowledge and was considered a trailblazer in his area of aeronautics. Yet he did not own a cell phone, couldn’t email, and jammed the copy machine just about every time he used it, Hall reminisced, grinning.
Inger, who died suddenly in November of 2010, evidently loved more than hippos and aeronautics. He must have loved dogs and cats because in his estate, he left a substantial donation to an animal organization, later designated as Mountain View Humane.
Kelly Cass, director and founder of Mountain View Humane, a spay and neutering clinic in Christiansburg, Va., said this very generous donation, with an amount that is not to be named, is a true boost to the non-profit’s efforts. “We will manage the funds so that there is always money in this account and it can continue growing, but Dr. Inger did not leave any stipulations,” said Cass who is a mechanical engineering alumna of Virginia Tech.
Currently, 23 percent of the surgeries performed at Mountain View need to be subsidized. Inger’s estate gift will help with this need as well as with the purchase of some additional surgery instruments and a lift gate for its transport truck.
Cass said the bequest will be called the Dr. George R. Inger Spay It Forward Fund.
Inger was a resident of the New River Valley community twice. He was first hired by Joseph Schetz in the early 1970s. “We were starting to build a first class research and graduate studies program in aerospace engineering, and I was able to hire George who was working at Douglas Aircraft at the time,” said Schetz, who was department head of AOE in the 1970s and 1980s. “He did very well. He was very organized and very articulate. He was a demanding teacher but he got good evaluations,” added Schetz, who remains on the faculty today with an endowed professorship.
Inger, a widower, could dazzle his engineering colleagues, according to another colleague and Inger’s former Ph.D. student, Bill Mason, who also remains in the Virginia Tech AOE Department as an emeriti faculty. “I signed up with him (as a doctoral candidate in the early 1970s) because he was rigorous and good,” Mason said. He recalled Inger asking his students to provide him with reports at the beginning and at the end of each week, and on what was accomplished over the weekend. “I could submit a report at 9 a.m. and it would be back to me by 4 p.m. covered with red ink,” Mason said.
Inger’s tutelage worked because Mason went on to advise numerous undergraduate aircraft design teams, with nine first place honors in international design competitions and ten second or third place honors. He was the advisor to the Virginia Tech student chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and the Design Build Fly Team.
Inger left Virginia Tech for a position at the University of Colorado, but quickly moved to the faculty at Iowa State University from where he retired in 2008. At Iowa, he held a prestigious endowed chair, the Glenn Murphy Chair of Engineering. When he was about to retire, Inger called his friend Schetz, and mentioned he would be interested in relocating back to Blacksburg, and could be available to teach some graduate courses.
Schetz conferred with Hall, and they made it happen.
By then, the 77-year old had become a mean racquetball player, taking on some of the younger Virginia Tech aerospace faculty members, and consistently defeating them on the courts. “He was skilled and ruthless,” Hall laughed, recalling how Inger beat men who were not even half his age.
None of his colleagues could recall Inger mentioning his concern for animals, although Hall remembered Inger’s main companion for a time was a schnauzer named Schnapps. “He called him either Mr. or Dr. Schnapps, but the dog died before George,” Hall said.
Mason added that Inger also had a fascination for the Brewster Buffalo, an American fighter aircraft that had limited service in World War II. He owned a lot of memorabilia about this monoplane developed by the U.S. Navy.
A native of Detroit, Michigan, Inger received his B.S. and M.S. in aerospace engineering from Wayne State University in 1954 and 1956. He went on to receive his Ph.D. in aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan in 1960. He had over 30 years of experience as a researcher, teacher, and consultant in the field of aerothermodynamics. He held prior industrial research positions at McDonnell-Douglas Aerospace Corporation, Bell Aircraft, and the GM Research Laboratories.
Over the span of his career he had published over 100 papers, and was called a pioneer in the basic theory of high temperature chemically reacting gas flows and propulsion in space.