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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Aero-engineer Kenneth Razak dies

BY BECCY TANNER
The Wichita Eagle

Kenneth Razak was one of aviation's giants.

"He had such a knowledge of aeronautics and airplanes," said longtime friend Duane Graham. "He could figure things out in his head that most people would have to use a calculator for. He was so knowledgeable, and that impressed me."

Mr. Razak, dean emeritus of Wichita State University's School of Engineering and the key designer of WSU's Walter H. Beech Wind Tunnel, died Monday night. He was 91.

Mr. Razak was born Sept. 5, 1918, near Collyer in Trego County.

In his autobiography, Mr. Razak wrote that growing up on a farm during the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s taught him to perform tasks and learn basic skills, which later influenced his aviation career.

The first plane he ever saw was a Wichita-produced Laird Swallow made in the 1920s and owned by a local businessman who kept it at the edge of town.

Mr. Razak was a schoolboy walking home one afternoon when the plane roared past him. Looking up, he saw a girl sitting in the front cockpit, and her "hair was streaming back. I watched as the airplane banked and turned to circle Collyer... I suspect that this was the time when I first became hooked on Aviation."

He went to the University of Kansas on a Montgomery Ward scholarship program that his mother enrolled him in. She saturated Trego and Gove counties with order blanks so that 5 percent of each person's order from those counties was credited to her son's scholarship account. In 1935, he had enough money to pay for his first year of college.

By the early 1940s, Mr. Razak had received bachelor's and master's degrees in mechanical engineering. He moved to Wichita in 1943 and began work as an associate professor and head of the University of Wichita's aero-engineering department.

In 1948, Razak supervised the building of the university's wind tunnel.He served as the dean of engineering at Wichita University in the 1950s and 1960s, then became director of the Kansas Industrial Extension Service at Kansas State University.

He also served as an accident investigator, working and traveling throughout the world on more than 9,000 cases involving airplanes, trucks and railroads.

In more recent years, Mr. Razak had developed a software system for recording and evaluating the education and training people take outside formal education. The computer program, now called FolioOne, is used by colleges and businesses.

He worked with Gomer Jones in designing and developing an agricultural plane that could be used in fertilizing crops; and he designed a 15-seat commuter aircraft, the Power Wing Comfort Ride Airliner.

"He was an incredibly analytical rational engineer," said his daughter Nancy Symes of Vienna, Va. "He never accepted someone's word of anything. He needed to prove things himself. He was always questioning why things happened."

It was difficult for the Razak family, Symes said, when her sister, Jeanne, was diagnosed with encephalitis at the age of 8 months, leaving her severely brain-damaged.

Because of that, the Razaks were instrumental in helping found the Wichita Association for Retarded Children in 1951, now called The Arc of Sedgwick County.

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com.

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