Bertha M. Ryan, longtime resident of Ridgecrest, California, passed away on May 18, 2023.
Born June 6, 1928, in Newton, Massachusetts, she graduated from Emmanuel College and MIT, where she taught math while doing graduate work.
To support the war effort, as a high school student, Bertha worked in a “Rosie the Riveter” role at a Raytheon defense plant.
Bertha developed a love for aviation at a young age when her brother, Fred, arranged for her to have her first airplane flight at the age of 16. While at MIT, she started a local glider club and began building sailplanes with other students.
Although she had obtained a pilot’s license even before she got her driver’s license, sailplane flying became the love of her life. She became a tow pilot and glider flight instructor, as well as a leader in the Sailplane Association, putting on airshows, writing a newsletter, and becoming president of the Northeastern States Soaring Association.
In 1956, Bertha moved to California, where she began to work at NASA, focusing on the lifting body project to return astronauts from space travel. She worked closely with several astronauts, including Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon.
Following her work at NASA, Bertha took a position at the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station. Her initial work included research and practical aspects of weapons specifically related to the Vietnam War.
Bertha’s final project before retirement in 1991 was on the National Aerospace Plane, the X-30, and other advances in high-speed aerodynamics.
She continued to be active in sailplaning, breaking multiple records and winning several awards, including the Pelagia Majewska Medal, the SSA Warren E. Eaton Memorial Trophy, the Paul Schweizer Lifetime Service Award, and the Exceptional Service Award.
Bertha was predeceased by her three brothers but is survived by multiple nieces, nephews, grandnieces, and grandnephews.
A Funeral Mass will take place on June 17, 2023, at St Kateri Tekakwitha Catholic Church in Yorktown, Virginia.