David Byron Thurston, 95
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SOUTH PORTLAND -- David Byron Thurston, beloved husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather, highly respected aeronautical engineer, enthusiastic weekend sailor and skier, world traveler, tireless entrepreneur, and despite his Long Island beginnings, a Mainer at heart, died at home on Dec. 10, 2013. He was 95.
Born in 1918, Thurston fell in love with the idea of flying and with his parents' blessing, began building model airplanes as a child. Though he would go on to script books and articles on virtually all aspects of aviation and aircraft design, safety and construction, his first writing assignment was a column for a modeling magazine when he was nine. His devotion and delight in the machinery whereby men take to air never ended.
In the course of his career, Thurston played a crucial role in the development of light aircraft, missiles, fighter planes, amphibious planes, hydro-foil and hydro-ski equipment as well as boat design. He was actively employed in the aviation industry until the age of 90 and was one of the last of a generation of Aeronautical Engineers who knew how to design every aspect of an airplane.
Upon graduation from New York University's Guggemheim School of Aeronautics, he immediately began working for Brewster Aeronautical Corporation. This was followed by a short stint doing engineering work for Vought-Sikorsky Aircraft in Connecticut and then came a lengthy tenure with Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation on Long Island. While with Grumman, Thurston was associated with the design and manufacture of a number of aircraft including the Grumman F6F Hellcat, F9F Panther, F11F Tigercat, the supersonic Rigel missile, as well as numerous light planes.
At the conclusion of his 12-year engagement with Grumman, he moved to Maine in 1955 and co-founded Colonial Aircraft Corporation. With this company, he went on to build the Colonial SKIMMER, an amphibious plane which evolved into the series of Lake Amphibians. In 1961, he founded Thurston Erlandsen
Corporation, and later Thurston Aircraft Corporation, in Sanford, before heading off to Elmira, N.Y., to serve as Chief Engineer for the Schweitzer Aircraft Corporation.
He turned his attention to personal aircraft starting Thurston Aeromarine Corporation in the mid-70s, an aircraft design and consulting business located first in St. Augustine, Fla., then Old Lyme, Conn., and finally back to Cumberland Foreside. During this time he designed the small Teal amphibian, the four-place Trojan amphibian and the high performance Sequoia aerobatic land plane.
Additionally, he was a long time trustee, board member and aeronautical consultant to the Owls Head Transportation Museum in Owls Head. In that capacity he oversaw the engineering design of the Etrich Taube and 1910 Farman Biplane replicas built there. He served a similar function in the construction of the replica Curtiss June Bug for the Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport, N.Y. He was also a member of the Cumberland-North Yarmouth Lions' Club, the Cumberland Historical Society, and St. Mary the Virgin in Falmouth.
Amidst all of his work building, designing and championing all manner of aircraft, Thurston had the great wisdom to marry Evelyn Holthausen in 1944. No matter where his hopes and ambitions landed him, his devotion to her and their three children, Kent, Roy, and Donna (Downing) formed the bedrock of all his flight plans. All survive him along with their respective extended families including grandchildren Derek Thurston, Shawn Thurston, Peter Downing, David Downing, Brendan Yuill, and Megan Wagner; and great- grandchildren, Nicholas Thurston, Gabriel Wagner, Scarlett Wagner, Adalynn Downing, and Winslow Yuill.
A memorial service is planned at St. Mary the Virgin on Jan. 18, 2014, at 11 a.m., followed by a reception in the parish hall. Online condolences may be expressed at www.hobbsfuneralhome.com.
In lieu of flowers please send donations to the Owls Head Transportation Museum, Owls Head.
HOBBS FUNERAL HOME
230 COTTAGE RD SOUTH PORTLAND, ME 04106-3802
Published in Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram on Dec. 18, 2013