Retired Dec. 1, 1962. Died July 18, 2002.
Ralph Lowell Wassell was born in Higgins, Texas, April 6, 1910. He graduated from Higins High School in 1928 and entered the Texas Technological College, Lubbock, Texas, in the fall of that year, but almost immediately transferred to Oklahoma University, entering there in January 1929.
In June 1931, he enlisted in the service as an aviation cadet at March Field, Calif., where he received his primary training. He was transferred to Randolph Field, Texas, for basic training and then to Advanced Flying School at Kelly Field, Texas, from which he graduated and was commissioned in June 1932.
He has been rated a command pilot since October 1948.
Upon completion of his flying training and a tour of active duty at Langley Field, Va., he resumed his college work at Oklahoma University, obtaining his bachelor of science degree in 1934 in mechanical engineering with aeronautical engineering option.
In 1936, he reverted to inactive status and was employed by Lycoming Division of Aviation Manufacturing Corporation, Williamsport, Pa., as an aeronautical engineer on development and flight testing of experimental aircraft engines.
On Aug. 15, 1938, he re-entered the service as assistant engineering officer and pilot at Middleton Air Depot, Pa. During this period, he completed courses in depot supply work in addition to his regular duties. He was transferred from the Air Corps Reserve to the Regular Air Corps in 1939.
Upon completion of a course at the Air Corps Engineering School at Wright Field, Ohio, in 1941, he entered Stanford University and obtained a masters degree in mechanical engineering in June 1942. Following this, he returned to Wright Field, Power Plant Laboratory, Air Materiel Command where he continued his assignments until 1949. From 1947 to 1949, the general was chief of the Operations Section, Power Plant Laboratory, with additional duties in 1949 as acting chief, Power Plant Laboratory.
In August 1949, he entered the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala. During the course at the Air War College, he prepared a thesis entitled "Some Aspects of the Military Worth of Nuclear Powered Aircraft" for Air Force use.
In July 1950, General Wassell was named chief of the Aircraft Reactor Branch, Division of Reactor Development, Atomic Energy Commission, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Washington, D.C. In February 1952, he was named to the same position with the Air Research and Development Command and located in Washington, D.C.
Following his assignment in 1954 to the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, General Wassell was named chief of the Nuclear Powered Bomber Office, Assistant for Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion, Air Research and Development Command located at the Wright Air Development Center, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. He became director of Nuclear Systems, Detachment 1, Headquarters Air Research and Development Command, also located at Wright Air Development Center, on Sept. 1, 1955. He held this position until his assignment to Headquarters Air Research and Development Command, Andrews Air Force Base, Washington, D.C., in 1957, as assistant deputy commander for research and development.
As a result of his work on the aircraft nuclear propulsion program, General Wassell was awarded the Legion of Merit in 1954.