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Francis Melvin Rogallo

September 1, 2009

Southern Shores engineer, inventor, flight pioneer, loving husband, and devoted father Francis Melvin Rogallo (Rog) passed away peacefully Tuesday, September 1, 2009 at his Southern Shores residence.  He was ninety-seven.  Rog, born January 27, 1912 in Sanger, California, was the son of the late Mathieu Rogallo and Marie Dajas Rogallo Betzold, and stepson of the late William Frederick Betzold. Rog was preceded in death by his wife Gertrude  Sugden Rogallo; brothers Matthew Rogallo, Harold Rogallo, and Vernon Rogallo; stepsister Margaret Betzold Pollock and stepbrother Curtis Betzold.  He graduated from  Sanger High School in 1928 and went on to graduate with an advanced degree in Mechanical Engineering and Aeronautics in 1935, one of the first to do so, from Stanford University.

After completing his college studies, Rog joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), later to become the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), in 1936 in Hampton, Virginia and embarked on what would be a long and distinguished career in aeronautics. In 1939 he married the love of his life Gertrude Sugden Rogallo, a young educator from the Hampton Roads area.  The couple raised four children: Marie, Robert, Carol, and Frances, and celebrated 68 years of marriage together.

While Rog was working as an aeronautical engineer in the NACA wind tunnels and Gertrude was busy as a homemaker, they actively pursued at home their passion and dream of creating a vehicle to make flight affordable and available to everyone.  While pursuing their dream, the couple met the legendary inventor Orville Wright who fueled their spirit of invention.  Francis held several patents from his work at NACA and NASA, but was proudest of the one he and Gertrude filed in 1948 as co-inventors of a “flexible kite” based on their joint efforts at home in their leisure time.  The device is one of the simplest airfoils ever created – a wing totally without stiffeners creating lift and carrying payloads.  This Rogallo Wing has made possible many sports including hang gliding, paragliding, sport parachuting, stunt kite flying, and kite boarding enjoyed by millions of people.

The Rogallos are recognized worldwide for their contributions to sport aviation and have been honored in Japan, Australia, Switzerland, Germany, and France.  Honors in this country for Francis include recognition by the National Air and Space Museum “for outstanding achievement in aerospace technology”, presentation of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine from the State of North Carolina as one of the 100 aviation heroes by Senator Elizabeth Dole at  the Century of Flight ceremonies in 2003, and induction of both into the Paul Garber Shrine at the Wright Brothers National Memorial. The couple’s portrait hangs today in the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.  Rog also was an inductee of the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame and of the Public Education Hall of Fame of the California School Boards Association, in the inaugural class in 1984,  and both are honored with a pylon at the Century of  Flight Monument in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

In 1967, Gertrude and Francis were lured to the beauty of the outer banks and purchased a summer cottage here.  Later, they relocated to Kitty Hawk permanently where they were fixtures at the local aviation group meetings and gliding events.  They embraced the outer banks community by becoming active members of St. Andrews Episcopal Church and later  founding members of All Saints Episcopal Church, with Rog joining the First Flight Society, the Civil Air Patrol, and the Southern Shores Volunteer Fire Department.

Left to cherish the memory and spirit of Francis and Gertrude Rogallo are  their four children: Marie “Bunny” Rogallo Samuels and husband Phillip, Carol Rogallo Sparks and husband Norman all of Southern Shores, Frances Rogallo MacEachren and husband Alan of Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, and Robert Sugden Rogallo and wife Sarah “Sallie” of Los Altos Hills, California. Rog also leaves three grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren who loved him very much and will miss him dearly.

A celebration of Rog’s life and achievements will be held at All Saints Episcopal Church in Southern Shores Sunday September 20, 2009 at 3:30 o’clock in the afternoon.  In lieu of flowers, memorial tributes may be forwarded to the Rogallo Foundation, PO Box 1839, Nags Head, North Carolina, 27959.  The family extends its special gratitude to their wonderful caregivers who lovingly attended him over the years, to Dr. Delena Phillips and to Dare Home Health and Hospice.

Condolences may be sent to the family via the on-line register at www.gallopfuneral  Gallop Funeral Services, Inc. was entrusted with arrangements.