Max Davis Murray


(Nov. 28, 2003)

Max Davis Murray, born to a homestead family in the Powell Valley and a pioneer in the aviation industry and later the space industry, died Friday, Nov. 28 in Huntsville, Ala., at the age of 88.

He was born Aug. 7, 1915, one year after his parents, Earl and Tula Davis Murray, homesteaded on 72 acres of raw land on the Garland Division of the Shoshone Irrigation Project east of the young town of Powell.

He lived with his father and mother; an older brother, Bruce; and a younger sister, Merne, on this farm until about 15 years of age when the family had to leave the nicely-developed farm and comfortable house and move across the Shoshone River to the south side and start again on a half section of land the family owned. This farm was mostly on the south side of the river and had approximately 130 acres of irrigable land, but did extend across to the north side of the Shoshone River.

The entire Murray family, including his mother and sister, worked to make a home in a very elementary farmhouse that had been constructed and to get plantings of flowers, shrubs, trees and orchards started. His father, his brother Bruce and he worked tirelessly in plowing, leveling and preparing the land so that crops could be planted and the soil improved to make it an effective piece of farmland.

Mr. Murray attended the Star Country School through the fifth grade and then rode the bus into Powell to the consolidated school. He graduated from Powell High School in 1933. He attended the University of Wyoming and graduated with a B.S. degree in mechanical engineering in 1938.

Following graduation from college, he volunteered for the Navy Flight Training Program, but was not accepted because of vision problems.

He then went to work for the Bureau of Reclamation as a surveyor in Big Piney and later surveyed the Bill Williams River area of western Arizona. Later he was promoted to a transit man and chief of party and ran one of the initial triangulation nets along approximately 20 miles of the Colorado River near the present Davis Dam and the town of Laughlin, Nev.

In 1939, Mr. Murray moved to the developing aeronautical industry. He went to work for Wright Aeronautical Corp., a division of Curtiss-Wright Corp., in Patterson, N.J., as a test engineer. Wright Aeronautical manufactured the Whirlwind series of engines, which included the one that powered Charles Lindbergh's airplane on his legendary flight across the Atlantic Ocean.

At the time Mr. Murray arrived to work at the Wright Company, they were working on an advanced and higher horsepower radial, air-cooled engine, the Cyclone series. He was given a variety of assignments in the test and development of various aircraft powered by Wright engines, ranging from the early B-25 and A-20 to the Boeing 314 Flying Boats and the B-17. He was involved during an historic period of aviation development that figured prominently in World War II.

After overseas assignment as a technical representative to the Army Air Corps during World War II, he returned to power plant design assignments on new aircraft programs.

While stationed at Boeing-Wichita, he met and married Ernestine Blansit. They were to have two sons, Scott and Stephen, and enjoy a marriage of 56 years.

They lived in many locations, including Los Angeles, Calif., to help in the engineering development and service of Wright engines and the design of the power plant for new models in both piston and jet engines. Mr. Murray was named supervisor of the operations engineering activities that were so important during the development of air transportation after World War II. At one time, he had responsibility for those activities in the western United States and the Pacific.

He left the Wright Company around 1960 to join North American Aviation, Rocketdyne Division, which manufactured rocket engines. He was named marketing representative in Huntsville, Ala., and the family moved there in 1960 where he participated in many programs in the work of the Von Braun team of developers in the space program.

He was transferred to Dayton, Ohio, as a company representative and worked on source selection leading up to the award of the B-1 bomber contract and followed that through the flight tests and into early production. He then transferred back to Huntsville and worked on the space shuttle vibration tests. He was named manager of the Rocketdyne District Office and was involved in the space shuttle main engine activities, as well as many other rocket engine development programs.

When Mr. Murray retired from Rocketdyne, he and Mrs. Murray formed Murray Consultants, Inc., and he continued as a consultant until he was almost 80 years old.

He was active in the Huron Institute of Astronautics and Aeonautics and the Air Force Association for many years. He was a member of SAE Fraternity and Sons of the American Revolution. He was also a member of the First Presbyterian Church in Huntsville.

Survivors include his wife, Ernestine; two sons, Scott B. Murray and Stephen N. Murray; a grandson, Andrew C. Murray; his brother in Powell, Bruce Murray; his sister, Merne Kimmey in Prescott, Ariz.; and many nieces and nephews.