The past few weeks I’ve had the pleasure of making my way through a wonderful book about the amazing life and times of Bill Milliken. The title is Equations of Motion: Adventure, Risk and Innovation. An MIT engineer by training, Milliken’s varied and exciting life makes Indiana Jones seem a wimp by comparison, and places Buckaroo Banzai in the category of simpleton. Here’s his bio from the publisher of the book:
William F. Milliken was born in Old Town, Maine in 1911. He
graduated MIT in 1934. During World War II he was Chief Flight Test
Engineer at Boeing Aircraft. From 1944, he was managing director at
Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory (CAL/Calspan), retiring as the head of
the Transportation Research Division, which he founded.
Bill joined the SCCA in 1946 (Competition License No. 6) and
contested over 100 races as well as holding many responsible club
positions. Milliken Research Associates was founded in 1976 and
continues as a foundational research asset to the automotive and auto
racing industries. Bill remains active in MRA, which is now run by his
son, Douglas L. Milliken.
Bill is co-author of Race Car Vehicle Dynamics and Chassis Design.
He is an SAE Fellow, member of the SCCA Hall of Fame, recipient of the
SAE Edward N. Cole Award, the Laura Taber Barbour Air Safety Award and
many other citations for innovation.
Today Bill lives in the Buffalo, New York area with his wife,
Barbara. He continues to consult with racing and chassis engineers. He
jogs around the half-mile track behind his home and spends several
evenings at the gym.
This book works on many levels. It’s a fascinating look at the world of aviation pre- and post-WW II. You get a ringside seat at the dawn of the sports car movement in the United States. It is an honest glimpse at what life was like in America around the turn of the Twentieth Century, and what it feels like to enter early adulthood under the weight of a major economic depression. Most of all, it’s a tribute to what it means to be a racer, to be an entrepreneur and a generative person, to get up each morning and say "How am I going to change the world today?".
I believe "design" is a verb and "innovation" is best thought of as the outcome of relatively tight set of behaviors and life attitudes embodied to their fullest by people like Bill Milliken. He designed his life, and continues to live a remarkable one today.
I love this book.
PS: if you don’t have the time (or inclination) to read Equations of Motion, please take a look at this charming profile of Milliken written by Karl Ludvigsen: Mister Supernatural