Two years ago, Dan Meyer flew his Cessna 172 to Kitty Hawk, N.C., with his friend Don Nevinger. They touched down on a landing strip less than 100 yards from the site of the Wright brothers' first flight a century before.

Nevinger walked along the route that Orville and Wilbur Wright had flown Dec. 17, 1903, and visited a nearby museum and reproductions of the hangars where the brothers had built the Wright Flyer.

"He was overjoyed to see it," said his wife, Janette Sherman, who was along on the trip.

For Nevinger, an aerospace engineer who had spent much of his life designing supersonic airplanes, missiles and spacecraft, the journey to the place where flight was born was a pilgrimage to the point of origin. The "O" of his middle name even stood for Orville.

Nevinger came to Washington late in his career -- it was happenstance and love that brought him here -- and worked for the Naval Air Systems Command until retiring in 1995. He then became a volunteer in the archives department of the National Air and Space Museum, where the Wright Flyer hangs.

For nearly 10 years, Nevinger answered questions from veterans, students, historians, government officials, movie producers and even the "Jeopardy!" game show about aircraft engineering and design. He worked until earlier this year, when breathing problems caused by pulmonary fibrosis became too severe. He died Aug. 22 at age 74.

His illness, said his boss at the museum, Dan Hagedorn, "didn't slow him down a bit."

One airplane at the museum that Nevinger knew particularly well was the Bell X-1, in which Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in 1947. As a young engineer in the early 1950s, Nevinger helped design its successor, the Bell X-2, which could fly above 100,000 feet at three times the speed of sound. He tested Nike missiles in the Army in the mid-1950s and later helped build Atlas rockets for the space program.

Although not a pilot himself, he loved everything about flight and was once heard to say, "Aren't airplanes neat? Don't you just want to hug them?"

Nevinger grew up in the 1940s in the Upstate New York town of Warsaw, where he was a well-rounded student, musician and athlete. For three years, his girlfriend was Sally Miller, who lived on the same street and was a grade ahead of him in school. When she graduated in 1948, she went to Western Michigan University and later to medical school in Detroit.

A year later, Nevinger went to Tri-State University in Angola, Ind., and later did graduate work at Michigan State University and Seattle University. He lost track of Miller, married, moved to San Diego and raised two children.

In 1988, Miller wrote to the Warsaw High School principal to ask about a reunion. An old classmate called to tell her someone had been asking about her.

She replied, "You don't mean Nevvie, do you?"

By then, Miller had stopped using her nickname of Sally and was known as Janette Sherman. She was a physician in Detroit and, like Nevinger, had married and had children. Both had been divorced for years.

Nevinger flew to Detroit, and the two high school sweethearts were reunited after 40 years.

"The interesting thing was that his voice was exactly the same," Sherman recalled. "He still had the same smile, the same sparkling eyes. Two visits later, he asked me to marry him."

All four of their children -- each of them had a boy and a girl -- attended their wedding in Detroit on July 10, 1988.

Weeks before their reunion, Sherman had made a down payment on a condominium in Alexandria, near where her children lived. Nevinger found a job with the Naval Air Systems Command and joined his bride.

They bicycled along the Potomac River together, attended concerts and traveled. They went to four high school reunions in their old hometown.

Always handy around the house, Nevinger made borscht and sweet pickles from his mother's recipe. He laid floors and tile, having acquired his mechanical know-how as a boy working in his father's auto garage, where he often repaired brakes. But the asbestos from the brake linings lodged in his lungs and eventually led to pulmonary fibrosis. His brother and sister died of the same disease.

As it happens, Sherman is a specialist in toxicology and environmental causes of illness. She has written two books on the subject and has done studies on asbestos. She helped her husband find experimental treatment programs, but after three years, his lungs gave out.

Those who knew Nevinger said he never complained, never asked for favors and, to the end, was thankful for the smallest kindnesses.

For much of her life, Sherman had told herself she would never marry again -- until she rediscovered the boy who lived down the street all those years before.

"I had," she said, "the best 17 years of my life."

An aircraft engineer, Nevinger was entranced by flight: "Aren't airplanes neat? Don't you just want to hug them?"Don Nevinger volunteered at the National Air and Space Museum and enjoyed biking with his wife.