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Melvin Eugene "Gene" Salvay


1919 - 2016 Obituary Condolences
Melvin Eugene "Gene" Salvay Obituary
November 15, 1919 - April 8, 2016 Gene Salvay, 96, passed away on April 8, 2016 at his home in Encino, CA, surrounded by family and loving friends. Gene was born November 15, 1919 in Kansas City, MO to Israel David Salvay and Anna Salvay. At the age of seven, he witnessed Charles Lindbergh land the Spirit of St. Louis at the airport in Kansas City. Gene was immediately awestruck and this was the spark that launched an illustrious career in airplane design. He received an engineering degree from Curtiss-Wright Technical Institute in Glendale, CA, and took additional courses at Caltech. During World War II, Gene started working at North American Aviation in Kansas City, modifying B-25 airplanes to specifications required by Jimmy Doolittle. During this time, at age 24, he designed and built one of the pre-eminent homebuilt aircraft of its day, the Skyhopper, and went on to design the Nifty airplane, which became a standard production model re-named the Varga Kachina. Gene's career spanned the golden age of aviation design and innovation. It was an era where engineers could work on dozens of airplane projects, and Gene worked on all types and sizes of aircraft. He went from slide rule to computer aided design. Although he primarily worked on military aircraft, including the B-1 bomber, and oversaw design work for what would become the Mercury space capsule, his proudest achievement was the development and manufacture of the North American Sabreliner executive jet. After retiring from Rockwell International, Gene was lured to Lockheed's famed "Skunkworks" where he worked on stealth technology and space vehicles in his later career. Gene was also an accomplished recreational pilot. He always felt that anyone who designed airplanes should know how to fly them as well. He enjoyed flying his Beechcraft bonanza for many years and was flying right up until his passing. Gene was very proud of his religious heritage. He was the first Jewish employee of North American Aviation, and never forgetting this, he made a point to hire minority groups who had been denied work opportunities. Gene (and his family) spent a year in Israel in 1970 helping Moshe Arens establish what is today Israel Aircraft Industries; he was instrumental in the development of the Kfir fighter jet for Israel. Gene was a brilliant aeronautical engineer and airplane designer; but in the hearts of all who knew him, he will be remembered for his commitment to family, for his faith and for his eternal optimism. He always found time for his many hobbies, including opera, reading, lectures, travel, gardening and furniture building. On his regular visits to Australia, he was a guest lecturer at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT). He was a member of Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) synagogue where he had his regular seat and never missed a Shabbat service. Gene was preceded in death by his wife, Betty (Goodman) Salvay. Not a day went by that he did not remember his great love for her. He was also preceded in death by his parents; his brother, Seymour Nathan "Nate" Salvay. Survivors include his children: Bennett (Jan) Salvay, Deborah (Steve) Sandler and Michael (Laura) Salvay, and nine grandchildren.
Published in the Los Angeles Times from Apr. 21 to Apr. 24, 2016
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