James Calvin McLane Jr., pioneering space program engineer and WW2 fighter pilot died in Webster TX Nov. 7, 2012. James (often called Jim by friends) was born in Newberry S.C. Nov. 16, 1923 to Martha Lathan McLane and James C. McLane. His sister Alice Kemp and Dorothy, his wife of 61 years predeceased him. As a child, James lived in Concepcion Chile, South America where his father was building a highway. Dad's road construction work required frequent family relocations. One year James attended 9 different schools. New environments helped him cultivate a sociable personality, grow intellectually curious and develop excellent mechanical aptitude. During one interesting period, James lived at the City Jail in Abbeville SC with his grandfather, Sheriff Foster McLane. As a teenager James was the second person in South Carolina to build a gasoline powered model airplane. He graduated high school in Newberry and enrolled as a cadet in Clemson College.
In 1943 James left College to join the Army Air Corp. That same year he married Dorothy Dean of Sumter SC. McLane served as an instructor pilot in P-40 aircraft. In 1945 he flew P-51s with the famed 357th Fighter Group in combat over Germany. His Mustang carried words "Dainty Dotty" on its nose in honor of his wife. Later he piloted C-119 and C-130 aircraft with the Air Force Reserve, retiring as a Major.
After WW2, McLane returned to Clemson for a Bachelor of Civil Engineering degree. Beginning in 1948 he worked for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics at Langley VA. In 1951 he moved to Tullahoma TN to design wind tunnels for the Army Corps of Engineers and the Air Force. He obtained licenses to practice Professional Engineering in Tennessee and Texas.
In 1962 McLane went to Houston TX for a job with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). He spearheaded design of the Lunar Receiving Laboratory that handled the precious rocks brought back from the moon. McLane wrote an article for the February 1967 issue of Science magazine about this facility. During NASA's Apollo program, the joint Apollo-Soyuz project with Russia, the Skylab space station, and Space Shuttle development he was Division Chief in charge of the Space Environmental Simulation Lab at NASA's Johnson Space Center. His work allowed him to personally meet many significant historical figures.
Jim was active in technical societies, most notably the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (where he was an Associate Fellow and held various offices). He received numerous professional awards and honors.
After retiring from NASA in the Senior Executive Service he consulted with industry on space environment simulation. He and his wife Dorothy shifted their personal focus to travel and made friends in many countries. In particular, they enjoyed China, a place they visited 5 times. On one trip sponsored by the United Nations, McLane presented a course to Chinese technical specialists on ground-based space simulation. Today's successful Chinese manned space program owes a debt of gratitude to Jim for his encouragement.
McLane was named after his father and his great grandfather, Confederate veteran James Calvin McLane, who is buried in Cameron Texas. Jim was interested in genealogy and could trace his ancestry to a Hessian soldier who arrived during the American Revolution and to Scotch-Irish immigrants in the Carolinas. He and Dorothy visited a Scottish Island for an international Clan Maclean reunion. The couple was religiously active and helped charter Lutheran churches in Tullahoma TN, La Porte TX and Clear Lake City TX.
He is survived by son James C. McLane III of Houston TX, an Engineer following his dad's professional footsteps, his loving daughter Patricia Ann Campbell of Tullahoma TN, grandchildren Krystal McLane and Jay Campbell, several great grandchildren and brother-in-law Harold Dean of Myrtle Beach SC.
Tuesday Nov. 27 at 7 pm a funeral service and reception will be held at Lakeside Lutheran Church, 1101 South Egret Bay Blvd, League City TX. Jim's ashes will be interred on a later date in the Houston National (Veterans) Cemetery next to those of his wife Dorothy. In lieu of flowers the family encourages friends to support the 357th Fighter Group museum in Ida Louisiana, a place that maintains memories of a brief, but remarkable chapter in Jim's extraordinary life.
Published in Houston Chronicle on Nov. 18, 2012