During many years at the helm of both commercial and military aircraft design at Boeing, John K. “Jack” Wimpress (MS ’48) left an indelible mark on aerospace, earning an American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Aircraft Design Award for leading development of an experimental short take-off and landing military transport.

“I worked at Boeing at a really great time,” the Washington State resident says. “I worked on their first jet airplanes and from there watched the whole Jet Age develop.”

Wimpress believes he was able to excel thanks to his Caltech training—full of challenges that prepared him for success. Grateful that his military service subsidized his education, he is driven to create opportunities for young people.

In that spirit, he created the John and Doris Wimpress Scholarship with proceeds from a charitable remainder trust he and his late wife established in 1997. Recently, he made a contribution to augment that award so that it benefits even more Caltech undergraduates year after year.

“I feel an obligation to help other people because I think of how tough it would have been for me to go to school and work to pay my college expenses at the same time,” he says. “I couldn’t have done it, and it must be tough for students today. So they deserve the help I can give them.”

Indeed, pursuing his master’s after a World War II stint in the Navy and a couple of years of working in industry, Wimpress found Caltech “overwhelmingly hard” at first.

“After my first week, all I could say was, ‘Boy, only 32 more weeks to go,’” he recalls.

Between the confounding math underlying aerodynamics, the fact that he enrolled in several courses designed for more advanced students, and the Institute’s sky high academic standards, Wimpress experienced his share of struggles. Among them were tests where faculty furnished answers and asked students to show the steps that would lead to those solutions.

“You’d think, ‘Geez, they tell you what the solution is, that ought to be easy,’” he says. “But boy, it isn’t!”

Fortunately, Wimpress received guidance from faculty members who were as supportive as they were demanding. The head of the aeronautics graduate program, Ernest Sechler (BS ’28, MS ’30, PhD ’34), made a special effort to encourage him.

“I found that once you were accepted at Caltech, they worked hard to get you through,” Wimpress says. “Dr. Sechler did that for me.”

Recruited by Institute alumnus Lloyd Goodmanson (BS ’40, MS ’41), Wimpress joined Boeing in Seattle as a junior aerodynamicist after graduation. As his responsibilities shifted and grew over the decades, he became chief aerodynamicist, later served as chief technical engineer for the Boeing 757, and closed out his career as head of product development for a division of Boeing’s commercial airplane company.

“I feel an obligation to help other people because I think of how tough it would have been for me to go to school and work to pay my college expenses at the same time.”


The signature Caltech focus on fundamentals benefited him throughout this journey.

“Caltech showed me that I could learn anything if I was willing to spend the time on it,” he says. “That was important to me as an engineering manager, because I knew nobody could snow me. I learned to work in fundamentals, so I could tell whether an answer made sense.”

Wimpress is still enthusiastic about Caltech’s intellectual environment, and he’s proud to support promising students as they work with outstanding faculty in a close-knit community.

“The small size of Caltech leads to this great synergy,” he says. “Scientists and engineers meet at lunch and discuss each other’s problems. People get great ideas they’ve never thought of for the problems that stumped them. That’s such a unique attribute.”