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Jonathan Turner, Airplane Engineer

By Jennifer Bjorhus

You might say Jonathan Turner's name is writ in clouds.


The roar of a jet climbing the sky and its white signature trail mark the life of a quiet, meditative Boeing engineer
who invented a fundamental method of structural analysis used throughout the aerospace industry today.
M. Jonathan Turner, longtime Boeing mathematician and structural engineer, died Friday after a brief illness. He
was 80.
Called the "Finite Element Analysis," Mr. Turner's method subdivided airplane wings to analyze them better.
Instead of looking at the wing as one long beam, explained colleague Bill Rowe, Mr. Turner looked at it as multiple
elements grouped together. He applied air loads and set up equations for each individual piece.
"You could create a more realistic representation of what the airplane was actually doing," said Rowe, a retired
Boeing flutter analyzer who worked under Mr. Turner. "At the time, it was very revolutionary."
The result of Mr. Turner's method: lighter planes. In some cases, up to 20 percent lighter, Rowe said.
"The computer-aided design applied to the design of the (Boeing) 777 used the basic fundamentals developed by
John Turner," Rowe said.
Mr. Turner's son Bill, a physicist at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in California, recalled his father as a modest man
who loved the outdoors and who had been fascinated since boyhood by airplanes.
He said his father taught him to build model planes and they flew the gas-powered contraptions together at Seward
Park.
"He loved going out and helping me fly these things," Bill said. "He would get real excited about it . . . My friends'
parents thought he was my brother because he was running around out there."
Jonathan Turner was born in Oakville, Ind., in 1915. After graduating from Ball State University in Indiana he went
on to earn a master's degree in aeronautical engineering from New York University and a master's in mathematics
from the University of Chicago, where he met his wife, Mary.
After starting his career as an aeronautical engineer at Chance Vought, an aircraft company in Connecticut, he took
a job with Boeing and moved to Seattle in 1949.
He and his wife raised three children at their home in Medina and frequently hiked Mount Rainier.
Mr. Turner's wife preceded him in death in 1983. Mr. Turner is survived by his sons, Bill Turner of Oakland and
Richard Turner of San Jose; his daughter, Katherine Alben of Niskayuna, N.Y.; and seven grandchildren.
A memorial service for Mr. Turner is to be held today at 11 a.m. at the Green Funeral Home, 1215 145th Place S.E.,
Bellevue. Interment will be at Sunset Hills Memorial Park in Bellevue following the service. The family asks that
remembrances be sent to a charity of choice.