Celebrating three decades of aviation science instruction

  • Sounding rocket display pays tribute to pioneering educator Abraham Spinak

    Sunday, September 8, 2019
    A plaque at the base of the 20-foot sounding rocket display honors Abe Spinak

    UMES is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its aviation science program in 2019, and the contributions of the man who got it off the ground. 

    Abraham Spinak was remembered Sunday during a ceremony in the university's Engineering and Aviation Science Complex, where a decommissioned sounding rocket on loan from NASA was unveiled in the atrium alongside a plaque that paid tribute to the late mechanical engineer. 

    Spinak's wife and two of his adult children were among those on hand to hear friends and former students offer testimonials about the man credited with guiding UMES into becoming Maryland's lone institution training pilots. 

    Susan Spinak Kueny called the “event a meaningful spotlight for my amazing mother, our family and the students past and future” and thanked organizers “for surfacing and acknowledging all my father did for this university.” 

    “It means the world to us to be reunited once again on this campus, and with many people that meant so much to him,” Kueny said. 

    Some two dozen UMES alumni who earned degrees from the fledgling program when Spinak was a faculty member returned to campus to pay tribute to a man repeatedly described in testimonials as humble, persistently persuasive and unfailingly kind. 

    One of Spinak's former student's, Capt. Robert H Torres, who has flown helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft for the U.S. Coast Guard, said attending the tribute has “motivated me to get more involved” as an alumnus. 

    “When I look around this building and see his vision come to fruition,” Torres said, “I'm honored to be a graduate of this exciting program.”

    UMES aviation science alumni at the 30th anniversary celebration

    Spinak served in the U.S. Army infantry during World War II, earning two Purple Hearts after being wounded in action in Italy. 

    After the war, he took advantage of the G.I. Bill and graduated Oct. 10, 1948 from Clarkson University with a mechanical engineering degree.  He was hired by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the forerunner of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. 

    During a 33-year NASA career, Spinak was an aeronautical research engineer, a chief of engineering, an associate director and acting director of the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. 

    When he retired in 1981, he joined the University of Maryland Eastern Shore faculty and played a pivotal role in developing the engineering and airway science programs. 

    The university awarded Spinak an honorary doctorate Sept. 21, 1995 in recognition of his contributions to higher education.  He died Jan. 7, 1997. 

    Two years ago, NASA's Wallops Flight Facility offered UMES a single-stage Improved Orion sounding rocket (with science payload section) to display in the classroom building on the east side of campus.  That set in motion talks about showcasing it in a prominent location in the three-story atrium while also acknowledging Spinak's impact on the university's curriculum and his career as “rocket scientist.” 

    The rocket is wrapped in a vinyl covering that draws inspiration from the state of Maryland's flag but instead features maroon and gray, UMES' school colors. 

    Spinak's daughter, a 1985 UMES alumna, brought family memorabilia to display during the event, including an autographed image of her father with the late Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. 

    The plaque affixed to the base for the 20-foot-tall rocket says, in part: “It is because of Spinak's vision and determination that UMES' engineering and aviation science programs flourish today.” 

    “He had an amazing smile,” his daughter, Susan Spinak Kueny, said.  “I think that was because he lived his life loving everything he did.”