By Nicole Capozziello
Published June 15, 2020
As a teenager, Joseph C. Mollendorf won a state model airplane contest, sending him to the national competition in Texas where he represented New York State.
While a lot has changed since the 1960s, a passion for the aerospace field has remained a constant for Mollendorf, who was recently honored with induction into the Niagara Frontier Aviation and Space Hall of Fame.
Since its inception 35 years ago, the Hall of Fame has served to “… honor and enshrine those men and women, who in their own unique way, contributed significantly to the history and development of aviation and aerospace on the Niagara Frontier.”
“Joe Mollendorf is only the fourth UB faculty member to be inducted and is the first member of the Hall of Fame to be inducted based completely on their academic career,” says Walter Gordon, chairman of the Niagara Frontier Aviation and Space Hall of Fame. “It is a significant honor for Joe and UB.”
“I am honored and grateful for being inducted into the Niagara Frontier Aviation and Space Hall of Fame,” says Mollendorf, a SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, where he has taught since 1974. He also serves as the supervisor of the SEAS Engineering Machine Shop. Mollendorf’s areas of research interest include design, heat transfer and fluid mechanics, mathematical modeling, manufacturing processes and biomedical engineering.
“Joe has been a pillar of our department, and it is wonderful that he is being recognized for his contributions to aviation and aerospace engineering in Western New York,” says Francine Battaglia, professor and chair of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. “Joe’s passion for teaching is evident by his dedication to his students and his involvement in the senior capstone design course. He also understands how important it is to connect with students in a practical way, mentoring numerous students to pursue careers in the aerospace industry.”
Over the years, Mollendorf has designed and taught key foundational courses in thermal and fluid sciences, as well as aircraft design and bioengineering. As a teacher of the senior capstone design course for many years, he worked with students to design, build and test assistive devices for persons with disabilities. This course, funded by a multi-year National Science Foundation grant and department funds, led to the creation of 442 unique devices by 706 students.
John Crassidis, SUNY Distinguished Professor and Samuel P. Capen Chair Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, has had the experience of knowing Mollendorf as both a colleague and as a professor during his undergraduate years here. “Joe was able to break down very complex concepts into understandable terms, while also giving practical examples that motivated students to want to learn more about the subject.”
Mollendorf’s very first graduate advisee, Van P. Carey, now the A. Richard Newton Chair of Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, credits Mollendorf for his strong foundation in research excellence and professional development of students, both of which still drive his career today.
“His clear, patient and enthusiastic mentorship when I was just beginning my graduate studies inspired me to pursue university research and teaching as a career path,” says Carey. “It is true to say that the success I have had as a faculty member, researcher and mentor to graduate students here at UC Berkeley emanated from my graduate experience with Professor Mollendorf as a beginning master’s student at the University at Buffalo in the mid 1970s.”
In addition to his commitment to mentorship, and to doing work with practical application within his own department, Mollendorf has collaborated with countless others on research. These collaborations include partnering with the UB Department of Physiology on a project for the U.S. Navy: a wetsuit with maximum thermal protection and minimal drag.
“Joe is a ‘doer,’” says John Lordi, a research professor at UB from 2000-2015 and 2019 Hall of Fame inductee. One of the research projects they collaborated on over the years investigated the compressive heating of gases, ultimately leading to a patent for the destruction of airborne bacteria and virus, and the licensing of Buffalo Bioblower Technology. “Not only is Joe a brilliant researcher, but you can count on Joe for getting the job done.”
On campus, he has also been the faculty advisor for American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) student organizations and competitions.
Outside of his work at UB, Mollendorf has lived his passion for the aerospace field, getting his private pilot certificate in 1983 and participating in numerous national free-flight model aircraft contests over the years. He was also on the Board of Directors of the Aero Club of Buffalo from 1993 to 1994 and vice chairman of programs for the Niagara Frontier section of AIAA from 1994 to 1996.
Mollendorf received his BS in mechanical engineering from Clarkson College of Technology in 1966, and his MS and PhD in mechanical engineering from Cornell University, in 1969 and 1971, respectively. He was honored as Distinguished Inventor of the Year by the Rochester Intellectual Property Association in 2010 and was elected a fellow of ASME in 2008.
He joins UB faculty members Craig Schmidt, John Sennef and William Rae in the Hall of Fame.
Other past inductees into the Hall of Fame, which began in 1985, include Western New York aerospace industry pioneers Glenn Curtiss and Larry Bell, Bell test pilots Jack Woolams and Chalmers “Slick” Goodlin, both of whom flew the Bell X-1 before Chuck Yeager, and Dave Feld, program manager of the Lunar Module ascent engine that lifted all twelve Apollo astronauts from the surface of the Moon. Bringing the Hall of Fame full circle, before his career at UB, Mollendorf also worked on the ascent engine as a young engineer at Bell.
Mollendorf is one of eight inductees for 2020. The annual induction ceremony and dinner, held in conjunction with the Niagara Aerospace Museum, Aero Club of Buffalo, and Niagara Frontier Section of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, is normally held the first week in May but will be held at a future date as soon as conditions safely permit.