Dick S. Diller, 81, engineer and Lunar Rover designer


Dick S. Diller, a retired engineer who helped design the Lunar Rover that carried astronauts across the surface of the moon in 1971, died of congestive heart failure Monday at his Severna Park home. He was 81.

Born in Dillsburg, Pa., he was educated in a one-room school that served the first grade through high school. As a child, he wanted to be a pilot.

"He grew up on a rural farm without the benefit of radio, and he thought that airplanes were just too cool," said his son, Richard A. Diller of Severna Park.

While serving as a stable groom for polo players near Niagara Falls, he tried to enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force, which accepted candidates at a younger age than the old Army Air Corps.

"Unfortunately, his red hair and freckles made him look much younger than his 17 years and the RCAF recruiter sent him back across the border to the U.S," his son said.

Mr. Diller eventually joined the Army Air Corps, but he never flew because he was color blind. He served as a radioman in World War II in the 896th Signal Depot Company, a technical communications unit in Europe. He later attended numerous reunions of the group.

He returned home to Pennsylvania after the war and married Jean Bailey, who was later a Fort Meade civilian employee. She died in 1995.

They moved to Detroit so that he could earn an engineering degree at the Detroit Institute of Technology. He later recalled that he acquired valuable experience at the school because his classes were taught largely by auto industry executives with practical training. He also worked at Ford plants in Detroit.

He then became an engineer for several aerospace companies, including Sperry on Long Island, N.Y., and, in the 1960s, Fairchild in Hagerstown.

In 1964, he moved to Severna Park, a year after beginning his career with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration headquarters in Washington. He worked on the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and numerous satellite programs. He was a program manager until his retirement about 20 years ago.

"His proudest accomplishment was his project leadership of the Lunar Rover vehicle for Apollo 15," said his son. "He called his work with NASA the best job in the world.

Mr. Diller, who liked to organize parties and social events in Severna Park, enjoyed outdoor cooking. Over the years he barbecued chicken and smoked turkeys and hams. He also served a potent vodka punch.

"He was so intrigued by the technology, he bought his first Weber grill in 1965," his son said.

He was involved in community organizations, and was a past president of the Ben Oaks Civic Association and the Severn Heights Civic Association.

He enjoyed playing cards with friends and was proud of keeping himself in what he called haircut money.

A memorial service will be held 1:30 p.m. Monday at Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church, Severna Park, where he had been a member for 40 years and was also active in a group of persons whose spouses had died.

In addition to his son, he is survived by two daughters, Elisa Diller of Newark, Del., and Pamela Diller of Gaithersburg; and two granddaughters.


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