William “Bill” True McDonald (1935-2016)

It is with a heavy heart that we inform you of the passing of our friend, Bill McDonald, on October 4, 2016.  Bill began working with Sierra Bullets in the late sixties after buying seconds out of the factory outlet.  Together with his partner, Ted Almgren, Bill worked for decades to advance the aeroballistics field of science including the measurement of Ballistic Coefficients (BC) at Sierra.  He was instrumental in the development of Sierra Bullets’ reloading manuals and served as a technical advisor on many projects.

Read more about Bill below.

bill-mcdonaldWilliam True (Bill) McDonald was born July 18, 1935, in Bellingham, Washington. His father was William Leo McDonald and his mother was Florence Ernestine (True) McDonald. In late 1939 the McDonald family (a brother Norris was born in 1938) moved to Mississippi City, Mississippi (now incorporated into Gulfport, Mississippi) near Bill’s maternal grandmother whose health was ailing. Bill began the first grade in September 1941 in the Mississippi City public school.

Later in 1941 Bill’s father, a steam and refrigeration engineer, found employment at the Todd-Johnson Shipyard in Algiers, Louisiana, across the Mississippi River from New Orleans. This shipyard was building Liberty ships for lend-lease to Great Britain. The McDonald family relocated to New Orleans and Bill completed the first grade in a New Orleans public school. Bill’s vivid memory from December 7. 1941. In New Orleans was the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the start of WWII for the U. S.

Bill’s father suffered sulfur poisoning caused by welding in the steel ships and seriously aggravated by the heat and humidity in the New Orleans area. He was advised by doctors to relocate to some place where at least the heat and humidity were not so extreme. So, in the summer of 1942 after school was out the McDonald family relocated to Gresham, Oregon, near where Bill’s father had found employment at the Willamette Shipyard in Portland (this shipyard was building jeep carriers for the U. S. WWII efforts). Bill began and completed the second grade at the Pleasant Valley School in Gresham.

Bill’s father was again stricken by sulfur poisoning in the Willamette Shipyard. He was advised by doctors to leave the steel ship building industry. In early 1943 he found employment in wooden ship construction for the WWII efforts in Marshfield, Oregon (now known as Coos Bay, Oregon). In June, 1943 after school was out, the McDonald family relocated to Marshfield.

The McDonald family settled in and around the Coos Bay area. Bill attended both parochial and public elementary schools in that area. He attended Marshfield Senior High School in Coos Bay, graduating in June 1953. He was Valedictorian of his graduating class.

Bill entered the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in September, 1953, and graduated with a BS degree in Electrical Engineering in June, 1957, with academic honors and honors for participation in extracurricular activities. He was elected a full member of Tau Beta Pi and an associate member of Sigma Xi as an undergraduate, which are honorary societies for engineers and scientists, respectively. Also, Bill was awarded the Donald O. Douglas Fellowship for his senior year at Caltech, a distinct honor based on his need for financial support and his academic performance.

In June, 1958, Bill received an MS degree from Caltech in Electrical Engineering, and afterward returned to Caltech for another year and a term in graduate studies in physics and mathematics. In November, 1958, Bill met his future wife Esther Louise (Pink) Coutu, while she was an undergraduate student at Immaculate Heart College in Hollywood, California. Bill entered full time employment in June, 1960, first at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, and about six months later at the Autonetics Division of North American Aviation in Downey, California.

In June, 1961, Pink graduated from Regis College in Weston, Massachusetts and a month later she and Bill were married in Weston, the home of her parents. The couple first resided in Downey, California, where Bill continued to be employed by Autonetics. A son, William Louis, was born to them in April, 1962.

In August, 1962, Bill accepted an offer of full time employment at the Instrumentation Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and admission to the part time doctoral studies program at MIT. He and Pink and their infant son moved to the Boston area that month and Bill began employment and doctoral studies at MIT in September, 1962. Bill successfully defended his thesis in January, 1968, and formally graduated with a Doctor of Science (Sc.D.) degree in June, 1968. Just before graduation he was elected a full member of Sigma Xi and a full member of Sigma Gamma Tau, an honorary society for aerospace engineers.

Bill received an outstanding employment offer from Autonetics Division of North American Rockwell Corporation in Anaheim, California, and he and his family returned to Southern California (Dana Point) in August, 1968. Bill and Pink’s family had swelled to three children by that time with the adoption of daughter Lisa Marie in 1966 and son Robert William in 1968.

Bill worked for Autonetics from August 1968 through May, 1994. Almost all his work during that period was highly classified. In general, his work had to do with missile navigation, guidance, and control (both ICBM and tactical missiles); overt and covert instrument development for intelligence gathering; advanced imaging sensors for overhead surveillance; and Army and Navy tactical weapons development. In late 1976 he was named the Rockwell Engineer of the Year for the Autonetics Group of Rockwell International for his contributions to visible imaging technology; in 1984 he was named a systems engineering representative on the TriServices Medical Information Systems (TRIMIS) Peer Review Group reporting to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs and served in that capacity for nearly ten years; he served as Rockwell Representative on a Government Ad Hoc Committee on Advanced Military Technology; and in 1993 he was selected to lead an effort in Russia to evaluate magnetometer technology and placed contracts with three Russian institutes for development of advanced magnetometers for Rockwell. In May, 1994 he retired from Autonetics. At retirement he was Chief Scientist for Instrument Development at the Autonetics Group of Rockwell International Corporation.

After retirement and with their three children grown and pursuing their own interests, Bill and Pink moved to a location near Birmingham, Alabama, to be near Bill’s extended family in the deep South. In January, 1995, Bill was employed by the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) first as an engineer in the Macromolecular Sciences Laboratory and later as Engineering Manager for that Laboratory. This laboratory was engaged in growing and studying macromolecular protein crystals on the Space Shuttle and later on the Space Station to find treatments for virus-induced diseases. In August, 2000, Bill, having reached the age of 65 years, resigned from UAB and pursued a different professional career.

This second career actually had begun in late 1968 when Bill and Ted Almgren had been introduced by a mutual acquaintance at Autonetics, and they became best friends and began an avocational study of the ballistics of small arms, which later grew into a small business. This business included measurements of ballistic coefficients of sporting bullets, calculating bullet trajectories on personal computers, and writing and teaching in this ballistics field. This work gained a national reputation for Ted and Bill. Bill specialized in mathematics and physics of bullet flight, and Ted specialized in mathematics and computer technology, so that this team had the basic competence necessary for this business. Their business continued from late 1968 to the date of Bill’s death, and it was a principal reason for Bill and Pink’s move from Alabama to the Bitterroot Valley in 2006 so that Ted and Bill could work closely together.

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8 Responses to William “Bill” True McDonald (1935-2016)

  1. Ron says:

    No “ramblin’ wreck form Georgia Tech” but still a helluva engineer.

    Like

  2. Christopher Kuna says:

    R I P Bill .

    Like

  3. Roger estes says:

    Thank you notifying is all of Bill’s passing. He was reloading during the most trying of times for reloading. First it took forever to reload, no one having Anything progressive; next the scopes were not of any quality except for Unertl, Redfield and those target scopes like them but they were pricey.pursueing excellence in reloading accuracy the was an extremely patient endeavor. Thanks for doing all of it Bill. You were one of those that help make Sierra bullets the best!

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  4. David Ruppel says:

    Sorry for the loss of your friend. Sounded like a great guy to have known and worked with. RIP

    Rupe

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  5. Christopher says:

    I am sorry to hear of your loss. Many times I have used the BC references that Bill helped develop.

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  6. Paolo Sinha says:

    I had not the honour and pleasure of pesonally meeting Bill. I coresponded with him about ballistics and I was impressed not only by his deep knowledge of the matter bu also by his kind attitude toward stranger who asked him clarifications on certain concepts. It is not common that a genius is available to give explanations acting like an elder bother.
    If possible, please extend my condolescences to the the family.
    May Bill RIP

    Like

  7. Ken Ramage says:

    I had the pleasure of working with Bill, and his colleague Ted Almgren, on a number of projects – mostly relating to exterior ballistics – for years, dating to the early ’70s. Later, I would check in with Bill and wife Pink at an annual NRA Show. I enjoyed our acquaintanceship very much & learned a great deal from him. RIP, Bill.

    Like

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