RAND’s ‘father of windsurfing,’ James Drake, dies at 83

RAND reports that James Drake, a former aeronautical engineer at the think tank, passed away this week in his hometown of Pfafftown, NC at the age of 83.

In defense circles, Drake was known for his work on the X-15 rocket plane project and early designs for the Tomahawk cruise missile. But in popular culture, he was known as the father of windsurfing.

According to RAND:

In 1969, Drake took a brief vacation from his defense systems work to write a RAND document in which he described a new water-sport vehicle.

Explaining the sport, Drake noted, “A different sailing skill is required, more akin to surfing and skiing — boredom is completely eliminated — and once wind-surfing is mastered, it gives a unique and heady blend of sporting thrills.”


He successfully tested his invention along the coast a few miles south of Santa Monica, California, where he lived and worked at RAND. The sail was designed so that the driving and turning forces were sensed and controlled directly by the rider, with no rudder necessary, and the board “surfed” on swells even in the open ocean.

Allen McDuffee writes about politics and policy and covered think tanks for The Washington Post from 2011 to 2013. He blogs and hosts a podcast at governmentality.net and is currently working on a book about the influence of think tanks in Washington.


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