Obituaries: Ray Stalker

(b 6 August 1930, d 9 February 2014)

Raymond John Stalker AO FAA FTSE was born in Dimboola, Victoria, the son of an egg merchant and a seamstress, who read Buck Rogers comics, built toy aeroplanes and dreamed of flying a rocket ship to Mars.

Stalker attended Geelong Grammar on a scholarship before progressing on scholarships to The University of Melbourne and then The University of Sydney – the only Australian university offering aeronautical engineering at the time – where he received four degrees: a Bachelor of Science in physics and maths, a Bachelor of Engineering with Honours, a Master of Science in engineering (aerodynamics) and a PhD in 1957.

In 1955, Stalker married Judy Taylor, and in 1958 the couple relocated to Ottawa, Canada for a posting at the National Research Council; it was there that he began to devise what would become one of his greatest innovations: the free piston shock tunnel, aka “Stalker tubes”.

He refined his shock tunnel designs at the Australian National University in the 1960s, where he oversaw the construction of the first Stalker tubes. In 1977 he joined The University of Queensland as Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and it was during this period that Stalker pioneered the development of the supersonic combustion ramjets known as scramjets. After becoming Australia’s first Professor of Space Engineering in 1988, he led the NASA-supported Centre for Hypersonics at The University of Queensland until 1993, when he semi-retired following a stroke that left the right side of his body paralysed. He learned to write with his left hand, and continued his scramjet research.

Stalker became a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 1989, and in 2001 was inducted as the sole Australian Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. He was showered with accolades for his life’s work, including the AGM Michell Medal in 1991, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Ground Testing Award in 1993, being made an Officer in the Order of Australia in 2003, and receiving the ANZAAS Medal in 2006. He was made an honorary Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society (UK) in 2013 in honour of his outstanding contributions to the field.

Stalker passed away on 9 February, 2014, following a battle with Parkinson’s Disease and the lingering effects of his stroke. He is survived by his wife Judy and their three daughters, Jennifer, Sandra and Caroline.

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