Repository /Kevin Whitlock
BEYOND HIS DREAMS. Darrell Romick dreamed of a career in aeronautics but he went so much further than the earth’s atmosphere during the 1940s and ‘50s, using his aeronautic training to catapult him into space exploration. Here, he poses with a model of a Cessna 172 airplane, similar to one he owns and piloted for years.
NORTH CANTON -- Darrell C. Romick hopes to travel to Mars someday.
Don’t laugh. Thousands of people collaborated on getting Americans successfully into space. Romick was one of them.
Among his work in the space field, the North Canton resident developed Project METEOR, a plan that utilized a fleet of reusable ferry-rockets to service an orbiting space city of some 20 thousand people. METEOR is an acronym for Manned Earth-Satellite Terminal Evolving from Earth-to-Orbit Ferry Rockets.
“The Cold War drove the space program,” said Romick, a retired Goodyear Aerospace engineer. “Russia had missiles pointed at us and we had missiles pointed at them.
“I was a missile engineer during the war in this country,” he said. “Over at Taylorcraft, we were developing a missile called the Glomb. It was a glide missile similar to a Kamikaze, except it didn’t have a man in it. It was all automatic.”
A TV camera, developed by RCA, in the nose served as part of the guidance system.
The Glomb was built as a glider, but, Romick said, Moe Taylor at the Philadelphia Naval Yard decided to make the Taylorcraft glider into a missile for the United States. It was ideal because of its streamlined shape.
“He bought two or three of the gliders and in one of them he equipped it with state-of-the-art electronic control gear,” Romick said.
Romick visited New York in 1939, where he saw RCA’s early television broadcasts. “RCA had an antenna on top of the Empire State Building, which they used to transmit the television signal.
“Well, then the war came and they, like everyone else, were cut off from making anything for civilian use, so RCA decided their experiment should be of some use to the military. That is how we were able to put the TV camera in the nose of the glider.”
That was one of the technologies that led us to the beginning of space exploration.
“In 1945 and ‘46, we got all this captured scientific data from Germany,” Romick said. “Germany had a very active rocket and missile program. During the war, they developed the V-2 rocket, which was based upon a tremendous amount of fundamental research. When (Wernher) von Braun and part of his technical team escaped, they brought a lot of their data with them. The Air Force took it over and sent the data to Wright (Patterson) Field in Dayton, where some of it was published for the American academic and industrial communities.
“Goodyear hired me to work on an experimental missile project they later canceled,” he said, explaining that he oversaw Goodyear’s work with the Army’s guided-missile projects, which fueled his interest in space programs. His work with aircraft at Taylorcraft and the missile work he was doing at Goodyear led him to developing the METEOR project, which has been instrumental in developing space shuttles.
Space travel was not at the top of Romick’s things-to-do list growing up. Born in Iowa, Romick moved with his family to Illinois, where he graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana in 1937 with a bachelor of science degree in engineering physics. “I was always interested in aviation, but they didn’t have a program there and I couldn’t afford to go anywhere else to school, so I majored in physics and radio. It turned out to be a blessing.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better course of study,” he said. “It wasn’t what I wanted to study, but because of my degree and my background, it turned out to be what I needed. Space flight didn’t even exist when I went to college.”
Because of his early work, Romick is considered a true space pioneer.
“During the 1950s, probably into the very early ‘60s, he was the most well-known American proponent and visionary in space travel,” said Randy Liebermann of Vienna, Va., a historian of technology who has specialized in the origin and development of the aerospace and electro-computer-telecommunications industries. “People still remember Wernher von Braun, who was brought here by the Army, one of about 118 Germans who worked on the Third Reich’s V-2 rocket during World War II. Von Braun was the most well-known figure, but he was a foreign national who later became an American.
“Darrell was a space visionary, and by that, I mean his ideas were very farsighted. The proposals he made 40, 50 years ago will come true in the future, but it is going to take time. He has made hundreds of presentations all over the country, has appeared on national television and has been quoted in most major newspapers and magazines. I have his archive and that is how I know. Sometimes people embellish things, but not Darrell. He is much more humble and reticent to talk about his efforts and achievements than others.”
Romick and Liebermann recently returned from Houston, where Liebermann made a presentation about Romick’s contributions to the history of rocketry and space travel.
“A lot of my peers thought I was nuts when I would talk about the things my dad was doing, but I believed in my dad,” said Darra Romick of Hampton, VA. “I grew up knowing that we were going into space — we as a people. I am 59 years old, so we are talking 50 to 55 years ago I was conscious of this. Because of my dad and his work, there was no question in my mind that we were going to get there.
“I remember when he was working on the METEOR and the METEOR Junior,” she said. “The METEOR is the actual manned orbital station and the METEOR Junior is the rocket that got it there. His concept is very akin to the space shuttle today.
“In my mind, dad is brilliant,” Ms. Romick said. “He is truly a genius.”
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