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GTRI antenna expert and engineering mentor dies

Lea McLees
Georgia Tech Research Institute

Richard C. Johnson, a Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) retiree, world-renowned antenna expert and exceptional mentor to young engineers, died last month after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 72.

Johnson invented and patented the Compact Antenna Range — used worldwide today — which allows installations of microwave antennas to be measured and tested accurately indoors. He also designed and improved antennas for ship surface search radars, hundreds of which have been installed aboard U.S. Navy vessels, said Jim Cofer, director of GTRI’s Business Development Office.

“Most designers of that era concentrated on the main beam region of an antenna,” Cofer said. “Dick recognized that most interference/susceptibility of a system occurred in the other 99.9 percent of the antenna’s spherical domain. Therefore, he included these considerations in his designs.

“Johnson’s widespread recognition was directly responsible for establishing the threat simulator research and development base at GTRI,” said Cofer. “Cumulative funding for this area is now well over $200 million, making it possibly the largest continuously funded research area at GTRI.”

Colleagues agree Johnson was ahead of his time. For a fall 1999 issue of “Research Horizons,” Tech faculty were asked to rank the most important scientific innovations produced at Tech. Johnson’s compact range was one of the 14 identified.

He also believed in passing on his knowledge to younger engineers. To that end, Johnson organized Friday afternoon “Antenna Bull Sessions” in his office in the late 1960s for a select group of younger GTRI researchers, including Cofer, Neal Alexander and Don Bodnar, assigning homework projects and teaching them to solve difficult, real-world antenna problems.

“When riding the daily shuttle from our facility in Cobb County to campus in the mornings and evenings, Dick used to quiz and tutor the co-ops also riding the shuttle that were working with us on the programs,” GTRI senior research engineer Rickey Cotton recalled. “He would quiz them on the frequency limits of the radar bands and typical waveguide sizes associated with each.”

A Georgia Tech alumnus, Johnson taught electrical engineering at Tech and wrote several books, which Cotton continues to use in his work.
In 1988, Johnson also became the first Tech research faculty member to receive Board of Regents’ approved emeritus status.

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