Alan McIlhenny

obit-mcilhennyflagNORTHEAST HARBOR – Alan McIlhenny was born at Ropsley in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, in 1920, the youngest son of Francis S. and Marie Louise McIlhenny. He was educated at Groton School, Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania. His father died suddenly when Alan was 7 years old.

At the age of 10, Alan became an accomplished sailor, and beat a fleet of adults to win the Seal Harbor Regatta at the age of 11. He was interested in navigation and received special instruction in it with a charismatic teacher at Groton. By his mid-teens, Alan and friends were sailing up and down the Maine coast, away for weeks at a time. At Princeton, he wrote a geology thesis that helped his professor prove the theory of continental drift.

After Pearl Harbor, he finished his degree early in order to enlist, in January 1942. He was accepted as a celestial navigator with Pan American Air Ferries, a unit that became part of the Army Air Force. He flew 100 missions overseas during the war, across thousands of miles of open water, to deliver Lend-Lease aircraft to the British in Cairo, Basra, Palestine and India, and to the Soviets in Tehran.

After the war he married childhood friend Polly, whom he had met at the age of 12; they had five children, three of whom survived infancy. During the 1950s, having earned a degree in mechanical engineering, Alan worked among other things on the containment vessel for the nuclear power system of the first nuclear submarine, at GE’s Knolls Lab in Schenectady, N.Y.; several patents in hydraulic engineering emerged from his work at Link-Belt.

At Princeton, he became a member of Sigma Xi, the honor society devoted to ‘promoting the public’s understanding of science for the purpose of improving the human condition.’ Following his high honors engineering degree at Penn, Alan was elected a member of the mathematics society Pi Mu Epsilon.

In mid-life, Alan became interested in the hydro- and aero-dynamic computer modeling of sailboat racing. He was entrusted by the CCA and later the IMS committee of U.S. Sailing to develop an ‘implied wind system’ based on Newton-Raphson to enable boats of different shapes and sizes to compete fairly against one another, and to know their handicap during the actual race, not after it.  Alan was a lifetime member and onetime commodore of the Northeast Harbor Fleet, and was the 1998 recipient of the Cruising Club of America’s Nye Award.

Alan McIlhenny died peacefully at Birch Bay, Bar Harbor on Sept. 25, 2016. He is survived by his wife, Vittoria, his children Helen, Joan and Alan Jr., stepchildren Tom and Anna, and eight grandchildren. Alan will be buried in Northeast Harbor.

Know when to pay your respects.