Deaths Elsewhere

Deaths Elsewhere

October 30, 2002

Michael Pelehach, 80, a retired Grumman Corp. executive and father of the Navy's F-14 Tomcat, died of a stroke Monday in Huntington, N.Y.

He joined Grumman in 1950 as a structural engineer after graduating from the Academy of Aeronautics in New York.

At the Paris Air Show in the late 1960s, Mr. Pelehach spotted a Russian MiG-21 fighter jet, then the envy of air forces around the world because of its speed, maneuverability and firepower. The United States needed a fighter plane.

Mr. Pelehach politely asked the Russians if he could inspect the MiG, and then walked off its measurements. When he returned to Grumman's Bethpage headquarters, Mr. Pelehach designed a model of the MiG-21 that was tested in a wind tunnel. That early work was later used to develop what became Grumman's most successful aircraft - the F-14 Tomcat, still the Navy's premier interceptor.

He was rarely without a pencil to sketch designs - or a slide rule, which he kept on his desk decades after the device gave way to electronic calculators.

John C. Bierwirth, a former Grumman chairman who accompanied Mr. Pelehach on a trip to China in the 1980s, recalled the hosts asking if it would be possible to modernize one of the older airplanes the Russians had given them.

"Mike took a look at the aircraft and drew a design on a tablecloth. The Chinese engineers gathered around to watch him and, at the end of the evening, they asked him if it would be all right to keep the tablecloth," he said.

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