George Chakoian

Chakoian Enters Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame

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LINCOLN, R.I. (The Valley Breeze) — George Chakoian flew 46 combat missions in a B-24 bomber over the Pacific during World War II, and later, continued serving the military in civilian life as an aerospace engineer at the US Army Natick Research and Development Center. There, he developed airdrop systems for military aircraft, winning three design patents over the years.

On Saturday, November 21, Chakoian was inducted into the Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame at a ceremony and dinner in the Varnum Armory in East Greenwich.

Between his stint in the US Army Air Force and working at Natick, Chakoian earned college degrees in machine design and mechanical engineering. He worked at BIF Industries as a design engineer on instrumentation for pneumatic and electronic control systems, at the US Naval Underwater Ordnance Station at Newport as a mechanical engineer on the design of submarine-launched torpedoes, and as a supervisory engineer at the US Naval Aircraft Torpedo Unit at Quonset. But it was at Natick where he rose to the top of his field, briefing five-star generals about his plan to standardize external loads on military helicopters, and it was there his designs were patented.

He represented the US Army and government at conferences throughout the world, authored technical reports on research and development of aerodynamic deceleration systems for the Department of Defense weapons systems. He served as chairman of the 1989 International Conference and Symposium on Aerodynamic Decelerator Systems for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Chakoian retired from government service in 1990.

Chakoian joined the Army Air Force at 18, served 32 months, and retired as a technical sergeant in 1945 after the war was over.

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He’s lived in Lincoln for 55 years, and he and his wife, Marion, have three grown daughters.

He is listed in Who’s Who in American Aviation, Chakoian now lives in Lincoln. He was born on June 24, 1924, in Providence. His interest in aviation was piqued in the mid-1930s when he would bicycle to the old Mineral Spring Airport in North Providence to watch planes take off and land. At Nathaniel Green Junior High School in 1938, he produced a career book on aviation for a class project and earned the only A+ the teacher handed out.

He graduated from Mt. Pleasant High School in January of 1943 and entered the Army Air Corps in April. He entered as an Aviation Cadet but did not complete the course. He became a radio operator/gunner, initially on the B-17 and later flew 46 combat missions on B-24s in the Pacific.

On April 8, 1945, two B-24s were tasked to fly over Saigon to photograph enemy heavy gun positions. Chakoian was a radio operator and photographer. While making multiple passes over the guns, both planes were damaged by flak, and Chakoian’s copilot was wounded. Japanese fighters joined the fray, and Chakoian manned the .50 caliber waist gun. The lead B-24 began spiraling down, and the crew bailed out. Chakoian radioed for help, and their B-24 stayed on station until a Navy rescue plane arrived. After picking up three men, the PBY was driven off by enemy fighters, although the B-24 gunners were credited with downing three Japanese aircraft that day. Chakoian was then able to raise an American sub, which surfaced and picked up the rest of the survivors. The B-24 pilot earned a DFC for that mission: the other crew members all received Air Medals.

Chakoian compiled 416 combat hours, participating in raids over Borneo, Netherlands East Indies, French Indo China, and the Philippine Islands. Chakoian earned an Air Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters, five Battle Stars and two Presidential Unit Citations.

After the war, he began a technical career that spanned six decades. He attended the RI School of Design, graduating with a degree in Machine Design in 1948. He went on to receive a bachelor of science in Mechanical Engineering from Tri-State University in Indiana in 1950. He later took graduate courses in engineering and the sciences at various institutions, including MIT and Penn State. He is a registered Professional Engineer in RI and Massachusetts.

From 1950 to 1955 Chakoian worked for B.I.F Industries, in Providence as a design engineer on instrumentation for pneumatic and electrical control systems. He then spent two years at the US Naval Underwater Ordnance Station at Newport, working as a mechanical engineer on design of submarine-launched torpedoes.

He spent the next 10 years with the US Naval Aircraft Torpedo Unit at Quonset Point, where he was a supervisory engineer responsible for other engineers, physicists, and technicians. He also served as assistant technical director for Research and Development, Test and Evaluation. In that capacity, he was responsible for accessories for torpedoes launched from current and proposed anti-submarine Warfare Aircraft. At Quonset he authored 21 Technical Reports and received two Invention Patents: one was for an air brake for airborne missiles, and the other was a missile air drag apparatus.

He then spent 34 years working at the US Army’s Natick Labs as an aerospace engineer and acting chief of a division of the Aero-Mechanical Engineering Directorate. His specialty was airdrop systems, and he was project engineer for a number of projects relating to the airborne delivery of equipment to a war zone.

Chakoian also initiated and set up a system for the certification of all loads and weapons systems transported externally and military helicopters. He presented flight-safety briefings to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and obtained their signatures on a Memorandum of Agreement for a joint certification program.

His other projects included the Parachute Retrorocket Airdrop System; Airdrop Controlled Exit System; High-Speed Aerial Delivery Container, CTU-2A; and the High-Speed Airdrop Container System 11.

Chakoian also represented the US Army at conferences throughout the world, including those hosted by NATO, the RAF and major Department of Defense aircraft and weapon systems contractors.

Before his retirement in November 1990, he also chaired an international conference for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

He has authored or co-authored some 30 technical reports in professional journals and has been written up in publications such as the New York Times, USA Today, Aviation Week, Machine Design and Astronautics and Aeronautics.

If aviation is his vocation, his avocation is music. Chakoian played the violin for some time and is an accomplished pianist. He leads a group called the New England Ararat Orchestra. Now, however, his instrument of choice is a little-known 11-string instrument known as an oud; so little known, in fact, that he had to drive 90 miles round trip for lessons.

Over a five-year period, he also built his own house, even though he had no previous construction experience. Month after month, he worked from 6 p.m. to midnight pouring the foundation, putting up the frame, laying the floors, erecting the walls, etc. He brought in outside help only when licensed tradesmen were required for specialized work.

Chakoian has also been very active in the community, especially with activities relating to Armenian causes and the Armenian Church. A member of the Knights of Vartan, he was named Knight of the Year in 1994.

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