Richard J. Crosbie, 96, of Feasterville-Trevose, a Navy physicist whose research in aeronautics helped pave the way for the exploration of space, died Tuesday, March 5, of kidney failure at his home.
Born in Washington, Greene County, Mr. Crosbie graduated from Trinity High School there, and earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics at Washington and Jefferson College.
He enlisted in the Navy Reserve in October 1942 and was deployed to the Pacific from 1943 to 1946. He attended officer training school at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
Mr. Crosbie spent two years aboard the attack transport ship American Legion. The ship was part of a division that conducted training for amphibious warfare in the Pacific. Mr. Crosbie was honorably discharged with the rank of lieutenant junior grade in May 1946.
After the war, Mr. Crosbie returned to teaching mathematics and physics as a professor at W&J. At the same time, he completed a master’s degree in physics at the University of Pittsburgh.
In 1950, when he was two years into his doctoral studies at Temple University, he accepted a position in the biophysics department at the Naval Air Development Center in Johnsville, Pa. The center had a human centrifuge, part of the preparation for the exploration of space.
The centrifuge was used to help Navy test pilots and, later, America’s first astronauts learn about the massive G forces they would encounter in flight.
“In the years before and during World War II, the blackout problem encountered by Navy pilots, due to the accelerations of their aircraft during air combat and dive-bombing maneuvers, became of great concern to aviation physiologists,” Mr. Crosbie wrote in an undated history of the device.
“In order to study the problem and to develop methods of protecting the pilots during these maneuvers, human centrifuges were built.”
In its first phase, the centrifuge had a 50-foot arm that could spin the pilot around at high speed. But in 1962, Mr. Crosbie and engineer Bob Ruppert collaborated on a capsule that once placed on the end of the arm could roll the occupant backward, forward, and side to side while spinning.
Mr. Crosbie converted the controls on the original centrifuge from machine-driven to computer-driven. The algorithms and controls he developed mimicked the feel of the forces a jet fighter pilot would encounter in flight. Ruppert then built the device.
“It rolled and pitched to see the effect of the G forces on the body,” Ruppert said. Inside the capsule, the pilot looked at simulated scenes outside the “window.” The device was renamed the dynamic flight simulator (DFS).
Mr. Crosbie was called the “Father of the DFS.” “We were co-fathers of that machine,” said Ruppert, 92, with a chuckle. He is retired and living in New Jersey.
In the 1960s, with the arrival of space flight, Mr. Crosbie programmed the DFS to mimic the G forces an astronaut would feel at launch time and again when reentering the atmosphere, Ruppert said.
Mr. Crosbie was proud of his experience working with the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo astronauts. John Glenn was his favorite. “Glenn considered the simulator the most effective thing they had in training for their flights,” Ruppert said.
His expertise in aeronautics made Mr. Crosbie a celebrity among his peers. He retired from the Navy in 1984 without ever taking a sick day, Ruppert confirmed.
An avid duplicate bridge player, Mr. Crosbie taught bridge classes for many years. He and his wife, Joyce Gehris Crosbie, were so graceful on the dance floor that friends referred to them as “Fred and Ginger,” alluding to film stars Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
In addition to his wife of 66 years, he is survived by a daughter, Jill R., and a son, Scott D. A brother died earlier.
A life-celebration service will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday, April 28, at the Estate at Eagle Lake, 214 Sykesville Rd., Chesterfield, Burlington County. Transportation to the event will be provided at 12:30 p.m. from Scottsville United Methodist Church, 2400 Brownsville Rd., Feasterville-Trevose, Pa. 19053, and returning at 4 p.m. RSVP by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.