RFT 127: CFI/Balloon Pilot/Iridium Creator Dr. Raymond Leopold

October 16, 2017

Raymond Leopold knew he wanted to be a pilot since he was a child. He took flying lessons before entering the United States Air Force Academy and continued his lessons with the Academy Aero Club. After graduation, he went to graduate school, earning his Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering, before attending Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training.

In pilot training, he was at the top of his class. In fact, to celebrate the fact that he was the first student to solo in a jet, his classmates threw him into the swimming pool. In the process, he was injured, herniating three lumbar discs, and was medically eliminated from pilot training.

The Air Force assigned him to a position that would let him utilize his education, and he attended night classes to pursue his Doctorate in Electrical Engineering. He followed this assignment with a stint teaching at the Air Force Academy. By this time he had become a CFI, and was selected to supervise the Balloon Club at the Academy, earning his balloon ratings in the process.

Ray’s career included a tour at the Pentagon, working with aviation pioneer John Boyd. After serving twenty years in the Air Force, Ray made the hard choice to pursue a civilian career. And that’s where he changed the world.

Ray was hired by Motorola, and created the satellite telephone system that became known as Iridium. In this podcast, you’ll hear a recap of the incredible efforts that went into launching 77 communications satellites and the system that now enables telephone calls from anywhere on the planet.

You’ll also hear about how Ross Perot was willing to bankroll Ray in his attempt to lead the first team to successfully fly across the Atlantic Ocean in a balloon.

Click here to learn about how Iridium got its name. For additional technical information about the Ray’s ground-breaking creation, here is the text of a presentation Ray presented in 1992: TUANZ 92. Iridium 77 to 66.

 

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