VERO BEACH – Max Emil Bleck passed away peacefully in his sleep early on Sunday, September 2, 2018. For thirty years,
Max provided executive leadership and engineering expertise to the general aviation industry and to Wichita’s general aviation manufacturers in particular. At various times in his career, he served as President of Cessna, Beechcraft and Learjet in Wichita as well as Piper Aircraft in Vero Beach, FL.
He also served as Chairman of the General Aviation Manufacturer’s Association and as the President of Raytheon Corporation during the time Beechcraft was a Raytheon subsidiary. In 1992, he was inducted into the Kansas Aviation Hall of Fame.
Max was born in Buffalo, NY on April 11, 1927 to Max Walter Bleck and his wife Theodora. From an early age, he was fascinated by flight and flying machines. As a boy, he was a prolific builder of model airplanes, an avocation he carried all the way into retirement. At Woodlawn High School in Buffalo, Max played golf, tennis, and basketball and was also a precocious student, entering the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute at age 16. His college years and his budding romance with Gloria Robinson of Troy, NY were interrupted in early 1945 by service in the United States Navy where he was trained as a radar technician. After his discharge, he returned to college and married Gloria shortly before his 1949 graduation from RPI, where he earned a BS in mechanical engineering.
Max later received honorary doctorate degrees from Daniel Webster College (1992) and RPI (1993). The couple settled in his hometown, and in 1951 he joined the engineering staff of the Stanley Aviation Corporation, where he rose to the position of Vice President of Engineering. For ten years, first in Buffalo and later in Denver, CO where the company moved in 1954, Max spearheaded the development of several increasingly sophisticated emergency escape systems for aircraft of the US Air Force, culminating in the escape capsule for the supersonic B-58 Hustler.
He began his general aviation career in 1961, when he left Stanley Aviation to take the position of chief engineer at Cessna’s Wallace Division, which developed and manufactured Cessna’s military and twin-engine general aviation aircraft. Max would go on to play significant roles, both as an engineer and an executive, in the development of many iconic aircraft, including Cessna’s Citation I business jet, Beechcraft’s Starship, Beechjet and its military derivative T-1A Jayhawk, Hawker business jet and T-6A Texan II, and Piper’s Malibu and Cheyenne.
One quality that set Max apart from his industry peers was his ability to connect on a personal level with his organization’s staff at all levels and to use those connections to promote and encourage teamwork. Shortly after taking over as Beechcraft’s President, he instituted monthly breakfast meetings with small groups of employees. The minutes of the first meeting, in January 1988, reflected his conviction that the company’s employees were its greatest resource.
“We have a tremendous reservoir of capability at Beech,” he said. “If everybody does a little more than they have to, Beech will really move out front.”
As Max’s career grew, so did his family. He and Gloria had a son, Mark, in 1951 and two years later welcomed home twin daughters, Cynthia and Sandra. The couple raised their family, along with a series of Shetland Sheepdogs, in Denver and Wichita and later owned homes in Vero Beach, Florida and Boston, Massachusetts.
In retirement, they split time between Vero Beach in the winter and Wichita in the summer. Max was a licensed private pilot who held instrument and multi-engine ratings and logged more than 1300 flight hours. He designed and constructed an experimental biplane in his Wichita basement and garage and later flew it. He was an avid tennis player who passed on his passion for the game to his children, and in retirement, he rediscovered his teenage fascination with golf, managing to shoot his age several times. Gloria and Max were active members of St. Stephens Episcopal Church in Wichita and St. Mark’s Anglican Church in Vero Beach.
They generously supported numerous educational institutions and charities including Rensselaer and Russell Sage Colleges, the Emma Willard School, the Sedgwick County Humane Society, Exploration Place Inc., Senior Services Inc., and St. Stephens Church.
Preceded in death by his parents, his wife Gloria, his brother Herb, sister Teddy and infant son Brian T. Bleck, Max is survived by his children, Mark Bleck (and wife Donna) of Albuquerque, NM, Cynthia Bleck (and significant other Rich Hill) and Sandra Weaver (and husband Fred), both of Kansas City, MO and by his grandchildren, Brian Bleck (and significant other Amy Baldwin) of Albuquerque, NM and Lara Parr (and husband James) of Orlando, Florida. The family would like to extend its sincere thanks to the staff of the Brookdale Shawnee Senior Care Facility and in particular to Larry, Jackie and Shelley for their faithful and loving care.
A visitation will be held at the Downing & Lahey East Mortuary from 6-8 pm on Friday, September 14. A memorial service will be conducted at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church by The Rev. Dr. Mary J. Korte on Saturday, September 15 at 11 am.
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