George Yohrling, president of Curtiss-Wright Controls, received a Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award during the annual Fall Awards ceremony held on Wednesday, Oct. 8, at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT).
Yohrling, of Gastonia, North Carolina, graduated from Newark College of Engineering (NCE) with a degree in industrial engineering in 1969. NCE grew into NJIT in 1975 with the addition of the New Jersey School of Architecture.
The centennial of the Wright Brothers’ triumph in the air is a significant date for Yohrling, who is also executive vice president of Curtiss-Wright Corporation. He is quick to note that the company’s controls division can trace its origins to businesses started by the Wright Brothers and Glenn Curtiss, another aviation pioneer.
“It’s been an incredible ride,” Yohrling, who lives in North Carolina, says of his more than 25 years with Curtiss-Wright, where he has helped to engineer components for some of the world’s most advanced civilian and military aircraft. But Yohrling’s path to the headquarters of Curtiss-Wright Controls in Gastonia, North Carolina, had a more down-to-earth beginning ? in the drafting department of New Jersey-based Bell Laboratories. After high school, he went to work as an apprentice draftsman at Bell Labs while also pursuing a degree in industrial engineering part-time at NCE.
“It took me nearly ten years to get my degree,” Yohrling says. “Along the way, I took time off for active service with the Army National Guard. I also married and became a father.”
Degree in hand, Yohrling decided that manufacturing was the career direction he wanted. He had left Bell Labs in 1965 and worked briefly for several companies. But after graduating from NCE, it was a job as lead foreman with Westinghouse Elevator that took him out onto the shop floor and in reach of his personal goals.
By the mid-1970s, the decline in construction of very tall buildings, along with weakening demand for Westinghouse products, motivated Yohrling to seek new opportunities in the workplace. “I was looking for a company where I could be myself and grow in my career,” he says. Curtiss-Wright was that company.
Yohrling started at the Curtiss-Wright division in Caldwell, New Jersey, that was once responsible for manufacturing propellers. Curtiss-Wright supplied 85 percent of the propellers for U.S. aircraft in World War II. Outstanding air-cooled radial engines and complete aircraft also rolled off the company’s U.S. assembly lines, including the P-40 Fighter of Flying Tigers fame.
By the time Yohrling came on board, turning out aircraft and propellers was part of Curtiss-Wright’s past ? the last propeller was manufactured in 1968. The company was well on it way to becoming what it is today, a leading manufacturer of high-tech products for motion- and flow-control applications as well as a provider of metal-treatment services for the aviation and other industries worldwide.
Yohrling became director of operations at the Caldwell division, which specialized in aircraft components. “It was really exciting to lead the design and military qualification of key systems for the F-18 Fighter, Blackhawk Helicopter and other aircraft,” he says. “Our work included providing the canopy actuator for the F-18 and rotor-control servos for the Blackhawk.”
In 1985, Yohrling moved south to manage Curtiss-Wright control operations in North Carolina, which were expanding with work such as the production of all mechanical actuation products for Boeing. At the time of his transfer to North Carolina, Yohrling was responsible for 75 employees. Today, 1500 people in the U.S. and other countries report to him.
The increase in the size of the workforce under Yohrling’s supervision has paralleled the growth and diversification of his division’s activities. “We’ve certainly expanded in the aviation field with products like flight-data, voice and maintenance recorders, and we’re the leading supplier of position sensors for the aerospace industry in Europe,” he says. “But some 40 percent of our products now go into vehicles that don’t have wings. We provide electromechanical systems for the army’s Abrams Main Battle Tank and Bradley Fighting Vehicle. We also provide control components for Formula One race cars and joysticks for controlling motorized wheelchairs.”
Still, Yohrling is mindful of Curtiss-Wright’s legacy of flight and his division’s continuing role in progress that has spanned a hundred years. “In a way, we’ve come full circle,” he says. “Our company’s history goes back to getting humans off the ground with the Wright Flyer. We now provide the mission-control computer for Northrup, Grumman’s Global Hawk, an unmanned aerial reconnaissance vehicle the size of a 737 airliner that allows people to stay on the ground and avoid flying into some very dangerous situations.”