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Sheets, Dr. Herman Ernst (1908-2006)


Posted By: Ken Akers (email)
Date: 7/11/2020 at 16:19:52

Herman Ernst Sheets
Groton (CT) - Herman Ernst Sheets died Saturday afternoon, April 22, 2006, at the age of 97, after a brief illness, with his family by his side.
The arc which described his life as an immigrant to the United States from Europe in 1939 and his achievements as a citizen of this country exemplifies the experience of many immigrants who for centuries have brought their ambition, talents, and vision from the Old World to the New. During his 67 years in America, 53 of which were spent in the Groton area, he successfully reared six children and two stepchildren, while also achieving distinguished careers as an inventor, engineer, university professor, and consultant.
Having earned his undergraduate degree from the Technical University in Dresden, Germany, his birthplace, Dr. Sheets was awarded the degree of Doctor of Technical Sciences from Charles University in Prague in 1936 and found employment at Czechoslovakia's GE, Erste Bruenner Maschinen Fabrik from 1936 to 1939. He arrived in this country at age 31 with $400 and proceeded from translating patents into English from German, French, and Russian in New York City to employment as chief engineer with the midwestern Chamberlain Research Corporation. Dr. Sheets solved the problem of keeping Chamberlain's new automatic washing machine, later known as "the Bendix", from hopping around the room in the spin cycle.
In 1942, he married Norma Sams of Exira, Iowa, with whom he had six surviving children, five of whom graduated from Fitch Senior High School.
During the war years Dr. Sheets was employed by the St. Paul Engineering and Manufacturing Co. of Minnesota where he invented special valves for the gaseous diffusion uranium enrichment process and by Elliott Company of Jeanette, Pa., where he invented the supersonic compressor, as well as the first gas turbine in the U.S. This work earned him a citation from the Secretary of War for his service on the Manhattan Project. After the war, Dr. Sheets was recruited by the Goodyear Aircraft Corp., where he successfully designed heat-treated rocket casings which the Army built a factory to produce. When General Dynamics was awarded the second contract to build a nuclear submarine, Electric Boat searched for a principal scientist and hired Dr. Sheets. He served at EB as director of research and later was named vice president of research, Electric Boat Division, from 1953 to 1969.
While at EB, Dr. Sheets distinguished himself both as an engineer as a manager. His engineering achievements included installing his patented, super-quiet "slotted blade" fans in the Navy's submarines, manufacturing and licensing them as a new line of EB business, creating a state of the art research laboratory, and introducing computers to perform stress analysis formerly done by hand-operated desk top calculators. His management achievements included thinking up and overseeing a variety of profitable industrial projects to keep EB's skilled workforce busy during lulls in submarine construction, spotting a patentable welding process in "The Yard" invented by two EB welders and arranging patents and royalties for them which helped pay for their children's educations, and hiring only top flight professionals regardless of national origin, race or gender, which did not always sit well in the corporate office. During his EB career he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering and several other honorary societies. He was awarded over a dozen patents, and authored or co-authored dozens of technical articles and the book, "Hydrodynamics".
A disagreement with Admiral Hyman Rickover over future submarine propulsion development triggered the early retirement of Dr. Sheets in 1969, shortly before the untimely death of his wife from a cerebral aneurysm. With three young daughters at home, Dr. Sheets accepted an appointment as full professor of engineering at nearby University of Rhode Island. He served as chairman of the Department of Ocean Engineering, one of the first such departments in the country, nine of his ten years at URI, which then required retirement at 70. Thereafter Dr. Sheets served as principal scientist or consultant at a number of area companies, including Analysis and Technology, Ship Analytics, and GSS. In late 1980, Dr. Sheets met his future wife, Paulann M. Caplovitz, Esq. while serving as her expert witness in a lawsuit brought by the Attorney General of New York, involving a failure of the secondary cooling system at Indian Point 2, a nuclear power plant on the Hudson River near New York City. They married in 1982 and were looking forward to their 24th anniversary on May 29. He was a kind and generous stepfather to her two children, who also graduated from Fitch.
After his third and final retirement in 1994, Dr. Sheets invented and developed an "underwater sail", which captures the energy of coastal and ocean currents and generates substantial "lift" analogous to an air foil. Until recently he enjoyed a weekly swim and sauna at the Mystic-Stonington Community Y and was working on a possible wind turbine project to bring independence and fossil fuel-free energy to Groton neighborhoods. Despite his rigorous scientific mind, Dr. Sheets had a whimsical nature, beginning the day with the funnies and a chat with his pal Snoopy. He combined his Old World manners and American informality and casual expressions in an uniquely charming way.
The son of Dr. Arthur and Gertrude Chitz, who were killed by the Nazis in World War II, Dr. Sheets is survived by his wife, Paulann H. Sheets, Esq.; six children, Lawrence E. Sheets, St. Paul Minn., Michael R. Sheets, Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Arne H. Sheets, Novato, Calif., Diana E. Sheets, Ph.D., Champaign, Ill., Elizabeth J. Sheets, Los Angeles, Calif., Karn Sheets Ryken, Chelmsford, Mass., and two stepchildren, Abigail P. Caplovitz, Esq., East Orange, N.J., and Gideon P. Caplovitz, Enfield N.H.; and seven grandchildren, Arian of Vermillion, S.D., Clara, Haverford Pa., Eric, Boston, Mass., Kristen and Andrew, Novato, Calif., Ellianna and Maren, Chelmsford, Mass.
Visitation will be from 2 to 3 p.m. on Tuesday at St. Luke Lutheran Church, Route 12, Gales Ferry immediately followed by a funeral service at 3 p.m. Burial will follow at Elm Grove Cemetery, Mystic. There are no visiting hours.
The Dinoto Funeral Home, 17 Pearl St., historic downtown Mystic is assisting the family.
For obituary information, directions, or to send a note of remembrance/condolence to his family, please visit www.dinotofuneral.com.
Published in The Day from Apr. 23 to Apr. 24, 2006.

Note: The first wife of Dr. Herman Ernst Sheets was Norma Elenor Sams (1921-1970). Norma was the daughter of Exira residents Anker Pedersen Sams and Edna Esbeck.

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