Retired Air Force Lt. Col. William Russell Lauterbach, 59, who had been a navigator and a scientist during 23 years of service, died of cancer last Saturday at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

He retired in 1969 as chief of the seismic array program office at Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford, Mass. For the past six years, he had been a computer science instructor in the electrical engineering department of the University of Maryland.

Col. Lauterbach was born in Redwood Falls, Minn. He earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Johns Hopkins University and master's degrees in physics and business administration from the Naval Postgraduate School in California and the University of Connecticut.

In the early part of his military service, he was both a navigator and a physicist at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. He came to this area in 1963 and was chief of the environmental science division n the office of Aerospace Research in Arlington for three years.

In 1968, Col. Lauterbach was chief of intelligence with the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing at Korat Royal Air Force Base in Thailand. He was awarded the Bronze Star.

He is survived by his wife, Frances P., a son, Thomas John, and a daughter, Nora Lynn, all of the home in Alexandria; another son, Stephen Michael, of Minneapolis; another daughter, A. Kay, of Arlington; two brothers, John R., of Wauwatosa, Wis., and Leo Joe, of Harlan, Iowa, and two sisters, Mary Catherine Deranleau, of Perry, Iowa, and Alice M. Ryan, of Redwood Falls.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the American Cancer Society.