Tom Speer passes away - The flow has separated

Tom Speer passed away at home on November 8th after a year plus battle with cancer. He attacked his medical condition with an engineering precision and characteristic optimism, hopeful that the state-of-the-art cancer immunotherapies might prevail. He documented the decisions in his detailed, yet matter-of-fact style, sharing via a Caring Bridge journal.

His online writings conveyed his logical approach, with clear explanations of everything related to fluid flows around sails, wings, hulls and hydrofoils permeating the discussions of boats (including dirt boats) and airplanes on many internet sites.

Raised with three siblings in Iowa, he graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Aeronautical Engineering. His interest in sailing grew from modifying his family’s canoe to sailing dinghies with the university sailing club yet his aeronautical expertise led to an Air Force career improving and testing aircraft flight control systems. He was stationed at Edwards AFB, California, Dayton Ohio, Cold Lake Alberta, and southern England where liquid water allowed him to sail a Cherub dinghy.

Boeing hired him in the Seattle area where he excelled on the KC-46 aerial tanker project. I met him 22 years ago when buying some hydrofoil extrusions he had listed in Multihulls Magazine. He soon visited my waterfront home and sailed my Slatts 22 hydrofoil stabilized tacking outrigger with me. He tirelessly refined his plans to build a foiling trimaran with his updated concepts evolved from Dave Kieper’s Williwa. Basiliscus (one who runs on water) was his name on Sailing Anarchy.

I invited him to attend a meeting of the Northwest Multihull Association. He soon bought a partnership in an F-24 trimaran and explored Puget Sound. He bought a Chris White designed 34’ trimaran in Texas with the intent to modify it into his hydrofoil testbed. He instantly gained the respect of my father, a retired test pilot, while crewing on his F-33 tri.

When racing around Vancouver Island in the Van Isle 360 on a carbon and foam F-9A, Tom determined that body heat could be conserved by warming a spot on the overturned hull until rescuers arrived more than 24 hours later. Perhaps this experience led him to obtain the house heating super-computer cluster which occupied his basement and ran his fluid dynamic simulations for his consulting business.

His patient, professorial illustrations of complex engineering concepts attracted a following on the internet and the attention of the America’s Cup syndicates delving into unleashing the extreme performance potential of multihulls, wings and foils. The Oracle Team USA lured him on to their tribe of wizards which produced a string of astounding victories.

His quiet retirement diverged further from plan when he moved near Team Oracle’s development base in the Bay Area and met his future wife Kathy. She joined him in traveling to several regatta locations and eventually a house hidden away on Hood Canal. Two well trained dogs attentively awaited their adventurous walks on nearby trails through the deep northwest forest.

Chasing his curiosity down untrodden paths eventually led to Tom hoisting the “Auld Mug” overhead after reaching the pinnacle of the sailing world known as the America’s Cup.

How can you top that? Tom continued to satisfy his curious mind with experimental radio controlled aircraft hand built with the hot-wire cutting, vac-u-forming, 3-D printing and laser cutting tools of the trade that crowd his warm basement lair.

I am fortunate to have years of shared experiences with such a friend who will be missed by so many. In aerodynamic engineering parlance; the flow has separated…

-Greg Jacobs

Tom Speer.jpeg
 

Desert Wings

New member
Sad news....I met Tom at Foiling Week a few years ago. As a pilot, I had been working with Boeing on the 787 and 777X on behalf of my airline, so it turned out we had several mutual friends there. As a sailing wing-nut I was delighted to be able to gain some insight into his depth of knowledge in all aspects of aero and hydrodynamics.....he was a gifted communicator. RIP Basilicus
 

eric1207

Anarchist
843
285
Seattle
Greg, thank you for a wonderful tribute to Tom. Heart felt condolences to his family and friends. All of us at the Northwest Multihull Association will miss his cheerful, helpful presence and his insiders view on the AC campaigns he was part of. Sail on kind soul.
 

Laurent

Super Anarchist
2,322
1,986
Houston
Same here...
Condoleances to his family and friends.

I never met the gentleman, but I got to know him as a proan(a)ut because, among all the things he has done in his life, he designed through fluid mechanics simulation a series of daggerboard for proas; they are symetrical, but fore and aft, so they work just as well in both directions, generating lift always on the same side.
And as an indication of his fine character, he made those profiles, and their performance evaluation available on the net, for free.
 
I did the Van Isle 360 with Tom on his tri Blue Skyz Was a true adventure. I always enjoyed when he would meet up with one of the area sailboat designers and start talking design. He will be missed.
 

Zonker

Super Anarchist
10,138
6,328
Canada
Awfully sorry to hear this. I met Tom at a Chesapeake Bay Sailing Symposium about 20 years ago and spent a good deal of time chatting with him. And I very much enjoyed his writing and clear way of talking to the non engineers among us. He'll be sorely missed.
 
I got to know Tom a bit when I was the organizer of the Van Isle 360. He was very supportive of us during a really difficult time after he had sat way too long on an upside down trimaran. He was calm, collected and very pragmatic. And humble to a fault. It was some time later that I realized “ Holy shit, he is THAT TOM SPEER!?” A really nice guy.
 
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blunted

Super Anarchist
1,517
366
Toronto
Tom was such a great guy to work with on wings. He even helped me out on a supersonic glider project. Fantastic attitude.
He will be missed
 
So sorry to hear of Tom’s passing . Though I never met him I always read and learned something new from his various comments, writings or publications. He will be missed Rest In Peace. Very nice obituary.
 

Sam V

New member
26
4
Sweden
Nice words. Met Tom at Foling Week and wrote a piece for a magazine based on his knowledge. He was generous and could explain advanced hydro physics in words ordinary sailors like me could understand. Thanks Tom.
 

SSolo

Member
183
224
England
sad loss - i meet Tom on line on Gary Pearces multihull list and was always very generour with advice
he helped son Peter (then a mere teenager) with design and control of a RC A winged land yacht pete had designed for national engineering awards (he won!) .. the same peter who went onto design HB7.
Tom and he corresponded on stuff way beyond me!
 
I am so happy to see this thread and want to add my gratitude and respect to Tom as one of the greatest engineering mentors I have had the fortune of working with. While we never crossed paths at Boeing, or during my time the Bay Area, I happened to move within a few miles of him in 2017 around the time I began designing a new universal hydrofoil mast for kite foiling (now wing, surf, prone). As a structural/composites engineer, I knew I needed a true aero guy to help me optimize the section shape and nurture some of my crazy ideas like non-structural leading/trailing edges. Fluid dynamics has always been a bit half art, half science to me... but Tom had a way of articulating the governing principles that just made sense, but more importantly his creativity and openness lead to even more valuable experiences and lessons learned over his career that you couldn't find in text books or validate via CFD. He excelled in true multi-disciplinary optimization, understanding the constraints and challenges of balancing structures, control theory, manufacturing, cost, weight, and all the other variables we must consider when designing airplanes, boats, or foils. He was a true mentor to me, and those beers we shared at Rainy Daze in Poulsbo were the most fun and educational drinks I've ever had. Attached is a screenshot of digital notes I took while meeting with him about 6 years ago. I’d give anything to have another beer with Tom. I reached out a year or so ago to do just that, but he was undergoing treatment and all I could do was helplessly read is blog and pray for him. I attribute the success of Project Cedrus largely to his involvement, and will dearly miss working with him on future iterations. He is a true inspiration and I can only hope to someday influence the next generation of engineers the same way he did.

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