The death of Don Engen deprives aviation of one of its most distinguished officials ["Air & Space Director Engen Dies in Crash," front page, July 14]. His amazing career extended from a World War II hero, test pilot and Navy admiral, to member of the National Transportation Safety Board, to administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration to director of the National Air and Space Museum. Any one of these positions would have defined a successful career, and he achieved all five.

I was special assistant to Walt Luffsey, the associate administrator for air traffic during Don Engen's tenure at the FAA. I still marvel at Don's capacity for work during those trying days in the rebuilding of the controller work force after the strike. We'd send a memo or note informing him of some pending action or requesting permission to do something, and inevitably the next day we'd have the memo back with his handwritten notes approving, disapproving or directing other action. We didn't always like what he said, but we sure knew what we were supposed to do.

On one very long day, he brought a number of us with him to testify at a congressional hearing. We were to testify last, but Don wanted to hear and understand the testimony of our "adversaries" in their explanation of the sad state of the air-traffic-control system, so we sat there all day. He wanted to be able to speak to their concerns, and he did. He did not take his responsibilities lightly.

Through it all he demonstrated a passion for aviation safety that was unique even in a safety-obsessed outfit such as the FAA.

The people of the United States have lost a dedicated public servant. It would be appropriate if the new Air and Space facility at Dulles Airport were named to honor Don Engen.

JIM LOOS

Olney