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Benjamin Franklin Jones III, 101, Goodrich executive whose team worked on Mercury astronauts’ spacesuit

Mr. Jones followed in his father's footsteps as an engineer and developer of devices and equipment that were used in World War II.

Benjamin Franklin Jones III
Benjamin Franklin Jones IIIRead moreCourtesy of the Jones Family

Benjamin Franklin Jones III, 101, of Gladwyne, an engineer and executive at BF Goodrich whose teams developed deicing systems for airplanes and the spacesuit worn by NASA’s Mercury astronauts, died Sunday, Nov. 3, at Lankenau Medical Center.

Mr. Jones also patented 14 designs for jet plane wheels and brakes, said his son, Robert. Teams under the direction of Mr. Jones developed puncture-proof pneumatic tires and bulletproof fuel tanks made of reconstituted rubber for use on airplanes in World War II.

Born in Buffalo, Mr. Jones was the son of B. Franklin Jones II, an inventor and engineer for the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Co. in Buffalo. His father, a manager of federal programs for the Ardmore-based White Motor Co., invented the front roller for the White Motor A-10 Halftrack.

A half-truck, half-tank, the vehicle carried Allied troops during World War II. The roller on the front bumper ensured that when the vehicle veered into a ditch, it wouldn’t get stuck and could emerge unscathed.

After graduating from the University of Michigan with an engineering degree, Mr. Jones began his career in 1942 as a mechanical engineer at BF Goodrich headquarters in Akron, Ohio.

He worked there for 40 years, two of those in the firm’s patent department. He was recruited to join the firm’s airplane equipment department as its assistant manager.

Later, he moved to Troy, Ohio, where as vice president of aerospace marketing, he oversaw the plant that made aircraft wheels and brakes. The plant was a leader in the industry for airplane brake systems. After six years, he was recalled to Akron to become vice president of aerospace development.

Starting in 1958, his team developed the Navy Mark IV spacesuit, a full-body, pressurized suit originally intended for high-altitude Navy fighter pilots. The suit was worn on all manned Project Mercury spaceflights.

After Mercury, the Navy Mark IV suit was considered in the planning stage of Project Gemini, NASA’s second manned spaceflight program. But the suit was phased out before the project got underway.

In the early 1970s, Mr. Jones became vice president of the Goodrich tire division. The aerospace division made lots of money, so executives merged it with the tire division to give the division a boost.

He was also head of the aerospace committee for the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). The group recognized him at age 100 with a lifetime achievement plaque.

Mr. Jones tried twice to join the Navy during World War II, but Goodrich executives instead asked him to spearhead research on airplane deicers to be used on American bombers over Germany.

As part of his research for the project, Mr. Jones traveled to Mount Washington, N.H., and Minneapolis, two of the coldest places in the United States, to test the deicers.

“The first time we ascended the mountain in a Sno-Cat, we only made it three of the eight miles before a blizzard stopped our vehicle in the rough terrain,” he wrote in an SAE journal. “We continued on foot. Only two of my colleagues and I made it to the station at the top of the mountain. Five others turned back.”

Mr. Jones met Frances Goode on a blind date in Cleveland. They married in 1942. Mr. Jones moved to Waverly Heights in 2009 after the death of his wife. He made friends easily. He exercised, played bridge, and followed the Phillies and the Villanova Wildcats.

In 2017, a year after the Wildcats won the NCAA men’s basketball championship, his son took him to Villanova basketball practices to meet coach Jay Wright.

“Coach,” Mr. Jones asked, “are you going to win national championships for us in even-numbered years?”

“Ben, that’s a great idea,” Wright said.

Besides his son, Mr. Jones is survived by two grandchildren.

A memorial service will be at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7, at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, 625 Montgomery Ave. A life celebration is from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Waverly Heights Auditorium, Gladwyne.

Donations may be made to the Waverly Heights Ltd. Foundation, Attention: Margaret Faha, 1400 Waverly Rd., Gladwyne, Pa. 19085.