John L. Potter was leader in aerospace engineering

John Leith Potter, internationally known as a pioneer in the aerodynamics of jet fighters, rockets and spacecraft, died July 20 in Homewood, Ala. He was 87.

The chief designer of a unique, highly successful wind tunnel for studies of rarefied hypersonic flow, Potter was invited to give the review lecture at the 5th International Symposium on Rarefied Gas Dynamics at Oxford, England, in 1966, and to present a lecture series as a guest of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R. in 1967.

Potter also directed the group that pioneered the successful use of areoballistics ranges for missile nose cone ablation and erosion testing, and the later use of gun-launched, track-guided models for these purposes.

For many years Potter was a member of the national Engineering Accreditation Commission and led teams to evaluate engineering programs at a number of universities including MIT, Stanford and Cal Tech. Throughout his career he taught graduate and undergraduate engineering course at various universities.  He was involved in the beginnings of two new institutions, the University of Alabama at Huntsville and the University of Tennessee Space Institute.

In 1982 he became a research professor of mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt University and research professor emeritus in 1992. He continued to teach part-time and conduct research at Vanderbilt until he moved to Homewood, Ala., in 2002.

Among his many honors, Potter was elected a Fellow of the American Institute of Astronautics and Aeronautics (AIAA), a University of Alabama College of Engineering 150th Anniversary Distinguished Engineering Fellow, and he received the first General H.H. Arnold Award of the Tennessee section of the American Institute of Astronautics and Aeronautics.

Potter received a B.S. and M.S. degrees in aeronautical engineering from the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. At Vanderbilt he received a M.S. in engineering management and a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering.

He is survived by his wife, Dorothy Williams Potter, one son and two daughters, and seven grandchildren. A private family service was held.