UT alumnus and former Daily Texan staff member Vernon Lee, who was instrumental in the marketing of the F-16 fighter jet, died Monday at the age of 80 following a short illness and complications from surgery.

Lee worked for 43 years at General Dynamics in Fort Worth, which became Lockheed Martin, an engineering firm that worked with the U.S. military to create the F-16 fighter jet. The F-16 would become key in military forces around the world because production was relatively easy and low cost.

Lee was director of the F-16 programs for Israel and Greece, two of the biggest buyers of the F-16, which is still being produced. 

Lee’s daughter, Megan Endres, said her father was excellent in engineering and business, inspiring her to go into the business field herself. Endres is an associate professor of management at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

“A lot of people said he was their best negotiator,” Endres said.

Lee was born Aug. 11, 1932 in San Antonio and graduated from Brackenridge High School. He graduated from UT in 1957 with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aeronautical engineering. While at UT, Lee worked as a photographer for The Daily Texan and the Cactus Yearbook.

Lee was also a devout Longhorn football fan while at UT and remained one his entire life, creating a friendly rivalry with his wife Carol, a Texas Christian
University graduate.

Lee later went back to UT in the 1960s and received a doctorate degree in aerospace engineering.

During his career, Lee also worked as an engineer and dealt with space systems, aircraft performance and aerothermodynamics engineering. He was the vice president in charge of the FSX program in Japan, a program that helped Japan develop the F-2 fighter jet. He retired from Lockheed Martin in 1998.

Lee’s son, Vernon Lee Jr., said his father was talented in many ways.

“Everyone [me and my sister] talked to always said he was very smart and he was a great listener,” Vernon Lee Jr. said. “I think those are two of his key attributes and very gentle. So, it’s an interesting combination, to be able to get things done and still have people say that you are gentle and you listen well.” 

He is survived by his wife of 51 years, Carol Ann Lee; two sons, Vernon Lee Jr. and Kenneth Lee; a daughter, Megan Endres and six grandchildren.

Funeral and burial services for Vernon Lee were held over the weekend in Fort Worth.

Printed on Monday, November 26, 2012 as: UT alumnus remembered for work on F-16 fighter jet

DENVER — Police detained three passengers at Detroit’s Metropolitan Airport on Sunday after the crew of the Frontier Airlines flight from Denver reported suspicious activity on board and NORAD sent two F-16 jets to shadow the flight until it landed safely, the airline and federal officials said.

Frontier Flight 623, with 116 passengers on board, landed without incident in Detroit at 3:30 p.m. EDT after the crew reported that two people were spending “an extraordinarily long time” in a bathroom, Frontier spokesman Peter Kowalchuck said.

The Airbus 318 taxied to a pad away from the terminal and police took three passengers into custody, Kowalchuck said. The three escorted off the plane in handcuffs included two men and a woman, passenger Ilona Hajdar, of Charlotte, Mich., told The Associated Press.

She said she realized there was a problem when the plane’s bridge didn’t extend at the gate. The plane then rolled to a remote spot on the airfield. After about a half hour, police SWAT boarded.

“Everybody, put your hands on the seat rest in front of you. Don’t move,’” said Hajdar, 27, who had been asleep for most of the flight and on board with her 2 ½-year-old daughter.

Authorities cleared the aircraft at 5:15 p.m. EDT after it was searched, the Transportation Security Administration said.
Kowalchuck said luggage was removed from the plane for inspection by police K-9 sniffer dogs. The remaining passengers were taken by bus to the terminal.

Flight 623 originated in San Diego before stopping at Denver International Airport on its way to Detroit.

In Denver, the FBI said that the North American Aerospace Defense Command scrambled F-16 fighter jets to shadow the plane “out of an abundance of caution.” The plane was searched and nothing was found, the FBI said.

FBI Denver spokesman Dave Joly referred further questions about the incident to Detroit authorities.

Two F-16s were dispatched to shadow the Airbus, said John Cornelio, spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command, which is headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.

Detroit Metropolitan Airport spokesman Scott Wintner says the Frontier flight crew radioed to request police help when the plane landed, prompting responders to greet the flight and question passengers after the aircraft taxied to a remote location at the airport.

Wintner said he didn’t know the nature of the security issue.

Also Sunday, the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, NORAD sent two F-16s to escort a Los Angeles-to-New York American Airlines flight after three passengers made repeated trips to the bathroom, officials said. A law enforcement official said it wasn’t thought to be terrorism. Flight 34 landed safely at New York’s Kennedy Airport.

New York has been in a heightened state of security after federal officials received a credible but uncorroborated tip of a car bomb plot on the anniversary in either New York or Washington.

Printed on September 12, 2011 as: Detroit police detain airplane passengers for suspicious activity