Aerospace Pioneer and Entrepreneur Nathaniel “Nate” Zelazo
Lived to Push the Boundaries of Technology
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN, November 27, 2018 – Astronautics Corporation of America announced today that Founder and Chairman Emeritus Nathaniel “Nate” Zelazo passed away on November 22 in Milwaukee at the age of 100.
Nate Zelazo and Norma Paige, brother and sister, founded the Milwaukee-headquartered aerospace company nearly sixty years ago in May 1959. Under their leadership, the company grew from a one-room storefront to a global corporation providing key avionics and connectivity systems to the aerospace industry’s largest original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). The company includes subsidiary Kearfott Corporation, headquartered in New Jersey and acquired in 1988.
Astronautics was Nate’s true passion. He served as the company’s president from 1959 to 1984; he then retired and became its CEO. He retired as CEO at the end of 2000 and became its chairman emeritus. He was called back from retirement in 2004 to become CEO of Astronautics’ subsidiary, Kearfott Guidance and Navigation Corporation, now Kearfott Corporation, serving there for approximately three years. After retiring in 2007 and through to 2016, Nate continued to serve on the board of directors for both corporations and as a consultant to the business.
Nate was fond of saying that he never worked for the “bottom line.” Rather, he worked to push the boundaries of technology with state-of-the-art innovations in avionics and space—and the rest followed.
Astronautics literally began with rocket science. In 1959, Nate became aware of a program the USAF was sponsoring, prior to NASA, to optimize and conserve fuel in a manned space vehicle going to the moon and back. He thought it would be the perfect first project for his new company: equations calculating the rate at which the space vehicle would consume fuel. Astronautics worked with Rosemount Aeronautical Laboratories at the University of Minnesota and with Nate’s professors at the University of Wisconsin (UW). Meanwhile, Attorney Norma Paige was busy creating their new company in Wisconsin: Astronautics.
Astronautics continued to work with the UW on other space-related projects, including recording sensor data on NASA’s TIROS weather satellites, and then developing a gyro-controlled platform and star tracker for the X-15 that photographed the first stars from outside the Earth’s atmosphere.
However, the company’s mainstay throughout the 1960s was developing electromechanical primary flight instruments—HSIs, ADIs, BDHIs—for fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, mainly on military aircraft used around the world.
Today, Astronautics designs and manufacturers avionics and connectivity systems for commercial and military aircraft. Key customers are aerospace OEMs including, Airbus and Boeing. The company provides its electronic flight bag (BP5 EFB) as standard-fit equipment on all Boeing production 787s and its air-ground communications system (AGCS) as a forward-fit solution for Airbus Helicopters. Astronautics’ Network Server System (NSS) connects multiple systems on the Airbus A400M transport and enabled the company to develop a cybersecurity expertise, which ultimately led to current work with the FAA ASISP on developing a methodology for assessing cyber threats.
A public memorial service, honoring Nate’s life and accomplishments, was held on Wednesday, November 28 at 2 p.m. at Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun, River Hills, WI. Memorial gifts in Nate’s honor may be made to the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) and Marquette University (MU) Opus College of Engineering.
About Astronautics Corporation of America
Astronautics, headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is a global leader in the design, development, and manufacture of avionics equipment and systems for the commercial and military aerospace industry, both for helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. Key product areas include electronic primary flight displays, engine displays, connected aircraft solutions, electronic flight bags, and certified servers for airborne applications. Services include system integration and custom software for critical applications. Since its founding in 1959, Astronautics has been providing its customers trusted and innovative engineering solutions to achieve mission success.