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Boeing Frontiers
April 2004
Volume 02, Issue 11
Boeing Frontiers
Main Feature

Ray Bohlmann
Hitting the right note

Ray BohlmannWhen he's not playing finger-style guitar at such events as the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society Convention in Nashville, Tenn., Ray Bohlmann is excelling at something on the opposite end of the scale—composite materials technology.

For his wide-ranging scientific contributions, which now include composite work on submarines and ships, Bohlmann has been selected a Senior Technical Fellow. And that's music to the ears of his colleagues, who admire him for his expertise on both fronts. Among them: erstwhile jam-session buddy John Tracy, vice president of Engineering at Boeing Integrated Defense Systems.

"I believe he is the top expert on the environmental effects of composites in the world," said Tracy. "His work and his expertise have been used by every business unit at Boeing. He is a wonderful teacher, and enjoys taking very complex subjects and distilling them down so they can easily be communicated to the average person. And, by the way, he's an excellent guitar player."

While Bohlmann, who works in Phantom Works' Structures Technology in St. Louis, talks passionately about his work, he says his musical vocation helps him in two ways, as a scientist and a leader: It exercises his attention to detail and hitting just the right note at work, and it hones his ability to build a sense of camaraderie among fellow enthusiasts.

"People think of us in research as introverts," he said. "And certainly there is a place for introspection when it comes to problem solving and details. But we are accustomed to learning from each other, extracting the best knowledge and skills from our colleagues down the hall and around the world. No scientist can effectively work on his or her own."

Ray Bohlmann

'A wonderful teacher'
Career field: Composite Structural Design/ Analysis/Testing
Organization: Structures Technology, St. Louis
Company service: 41 years
Education: Master's degree in engineering mechanics, University of Missouri, Rolla, 1968; bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, University of Missouri, Rolla, 1961
Publications: 36
Bohlmann has become the recognized expert in understanding the interaction of temperature and absorbed moisture on composite materials design properties. That means figuring out ways to make composites withstand the harsh environmental effects of air, sea, land—and space.

On the Gemini project, for example, Bohlmann worked on the capsule's heat shield—which can be subjected to surface temperatures of 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,760 C) when re-entering Earth's atmosphere. He and his team designed, tested and validated an ablation material structural concept that essentially reduced the temperature effect to 500 degrees (260 C).

Gary Renieri, a Technical Fellow, a protégé of Bohlmann's, and a distinguished composites researcher himself, said: "He is totally dedicated to the work of this company. He leads by technical example, by showing people how things are done. I have been learning from him for 25 years."

—William Cole


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