William Hewitt Phillips was born in Port Sunlight, Merseyside, England, and came to the United States with his parents at the age of 2. He was educated in the Belmont, Massachusetts, public schools and studied aeronautical engineering at MIT where he obtained his S.B. degree in 1939 and his S.M. degree in 1940. His entire professional career has been spent with the NACA, later NASA, at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Langley Research Center is the original government center for aeronautical research in the United States. On entering duty in July 1940, he was assigned to the Flight Research Division. He specialized in the study of flying qualities and stability and control of airplanes. His duties included studies to improve the flying qualities of many World War II military airplanes. After the war, he was involved in research on the development of jet-powered fighter airplanes, supersonic airplanes, stability augmentation and its effect on human pilot control, automatic control, gust alleviation, and aeroelastic effects. This book covers his career to roughly the start of the space program in 1958, though some aeronautical work beyond this date is included. After the start of the space program, he became chief of the Space Mechanics Division and supervised 80 to 90 people in the areas of space rendezvous, navigation, and lunar landing. As a part of its responsibility to the space program, this division developed simulators for the Gemini and Apollo programs. He developed the Lunar Landing Facility that was used for training astronauts in landing on the moon. His work also included consultation and analysis in the development of the Space Shuttle. Later work included supervising studies of effects of turbulence and of application of control theory and contributing to the development of the Differential Maneuvering Simulator, a facility used for studies of air combat. He retired from government service in February 1979, but has continued in the position of Distinguished Research Associate, during which he performed original research on solar-powered aircraft, propellers, airfoil design, and wind-tunnel studies of the use of canard surfaces for the Space Shuttle. He served as a consultant on studies of flight dynamics and control. He has received numerous awards throughout his career, including the IAS Lawrence Sperry Award for aeronautics in 1944 and the President's Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service in 1979. At the age of 80 in 1998, he continues to be active as a Distinguished Research Associate.
Phillips married Viola Ohler in 1947 when she was head of the Editorial Office at Langley. They had three children, Frederick H., Robert O., and Alice B. Phillips All are now married. Frederick, whose wife is Joanne, is a financial consultant. Robert and wife Cheryl have three children: Tyler, 19; Ross, 16; and Jocelyn, 14. Robert works at the The Volpe Center, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Alice and husband Thomas Check have three children: Candice, 12; Nolan, 10; and Aubree, 8. Alice formerly worked for robotics firms and is now a homemaker.