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Walter B. Bird

Born: 1912
Death: 2006

Walter W. Bird graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a B.S. in Aeronautical Engineering. Specializing in lightweight structural design, Bird's early contributions included the first lightweight streamlined trains for the Pullman Standard Car Company and aircraft designs for the Curtiss-Wright Research Laboratory.

In response to the government's need for a means of enclosing and protecting large search radar antennas, Bird proposed the use of an air-supported enclosure and built the first large air-supported radome in 1948. The success of this project led to his interest in developing air-supported structures for many other applications. Credited with being the "father of the industry," Bird is recognized as the leading authority on the design and fabrication of air structures.

In 1956, Bird and his team moved from the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratories and founded Birdair, Inc. in Buffalo, New York where Bird worked until his retirement in 1981. The company has been committed to the technological development of structural fabric applications since its founding, and specialized in the design and manufacture of the air-supported structures and tensioned membranes that are used in dome, tent, and radome roofs.

Bird-designed structures appeared all over the world in sizes and forms that range from radomes for search radar antennas, to the Metrodome in Minneapolis, Reliant Stadium in Houston, Atlanta's Georgia Dome, Olympic stadium in Rome, the Denver Airport, London's Millennium Dome and the Haj Terminal in Saudi Arabia. During his career collaborated with prominent engineers and architects such as Edmund Happold, Victor Lundy, Peter Rice and Jane Wernick.

In recognition of his pioneering work in air structures, Bird received awards from the United States Department of the Army, the American Institute of Architects, and Canvas Products Association International.

Bird taught at the School of Architecture and Planning at the State University of New York at Buffalo from 1981 to1991, assisted the school in developing courses in experimental structures and a program in building science, which came under the direction of Gunter Schumitz, a professor of architecture.

He died on April 6, 2006 in Florida, at the age of 94.

The above was modified from University News, October 19, 1981, Biographical File, State University of New York at Buffalo, University Archives.

Affiliation(s): Architecture and Planning
Record Group(s): 44
Biographical File Contains:
  • Obituary
  • Photographs