Born on February 8, 1929 to Axel and Bertha Kehlet, Alan, the eldest of five children. As a child, he enjoyed building and flying model airplanes and rockets, a hobby that would develop into a passion which would inspire him to study aeronautical engineering and become a pioneer in NASA’s space program.
Alan earned a Bachelor of Science in Aeronautical Engineering in 1951 from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He also earned, throughout his career, an MS in Aeronautical Engineering, an MBA, and a Doctorate in Engineering Management.On July 6, 1952, Alan married Lois Mae Endress, his high school and college sweetheart.
In 1951, Alan began his aerospace career as an aerodynamics research scientist in the Pilotless Aircraft Research Division at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in Langley, Virginia. Alan found the work to be exciting and fascinating, likening it to having a hobby and getting paid for it. When NASA formed in 1958, Alan became one of the original 35 members of the Space Task Group, which would formulate the American space program of the 1960’s.
Working with NASA, Alan would contribute his knowledge and expertise to the Mercury, Apollo, and Space Shuttle programs. He is an inventor and patent holder of the Mercury Space Capsule. When it came to designing the capsule’s instrument panel display, all of the Mercury 7 astronauts wanted a say in the matter. As an engineer, Alan was assigned to work with astronaut John Glenn on a single panel that all the astronauts would use on their flights. Alan joked that they must have done an okay job, because everyone seemed to be upset about it.
Before leaving NASA for the private sector, Alan led the Apollo Spacecraft Configuration Team. In 1962, Alan’s aerospace career took him to Southern California, where he worked for North American Aviation/Rockwell International, a NASA contractor, as an engineering manager for the Apollo program. The highlight of his career was serving as Rockwell’s Assistant Program Manager for the Apollo 11 Mission. After Apollo 11, Alan served as Rockwell’s Chief Program Engineer for the Space Shuttle program from 1969 to 1973.
Alan transferred to Rockwell International’s Sabreliner Business Jet Division, where he worked as Division Chief Engineer, Executive Vice President, and President from 1973 to 1982. However, Alan’s first love had always been astronautics and rockets, so when he had the opportunity to go back to his roots at the McDonnell Douglas Corporation, he took it. Alan finished his career working as the Vice President and General Manager of the Tomahawk Cruise Missile Division from 1984 to 1988, the Vice President of the Delta Launch Vehicle Division from 1988 to 1993, and the Vice President and General Manager of Advanced Programs and Technology from 1993 until 1996, when he retired.
During his distinguished aerospace career, Alan received numerous awards and citations, including: NASA Citation for Contributions to Project Mercury, 1962, NASA Certificate of Appreciation for Apollo Accomplishments, 1969; Who’s Who in Aviation, 1973; Alumni Honors Award, College of Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1982; Fellow, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, 1995; and Engineer of the Year, Orange County Engineering Council, 1995.
In his spare time, Alan liked to work with his hands, dabbling in cabinet making and wrought iron sculpting. He also enjoyed flying his private aircraft, organic gardening, and traveling abroad. An admirer of engineering and human achievement, Alan fulfilled a lifelong dream of traveling to Egypt to see the pyramids of Giza in 1992.
Alan is survived by his children Robert Kehlet, James Kehlet, David Kehlet, Jennifer Kehlet Barton, and Steven Kehlet; grandchildren Allison Kehlet Gainor, Danika Kehlet Scott, Kristen Kehlet, Lee Kehlet, Mitchell Kehlet, Ryan Kehlet, Sarah Kehlet, Erika Barton, Erin Barton, and Brynna Kehlet; and great-grandchildren Brooke Gainor and Oliver Gainor. He is preceded in death by his loving wife, Lois, to whom he was married for 65 years until her passing in 2018.