Charles E. “Buddy” Davis
Engineering the Future
Inducted in 2012
Alabama native Charles E. “Buddy” Davis is known for his pioneering efforts on the Apollo spacecraft, Shuttle and Space Stations programs. He is also known for his $4 million leadership gift to Auburn University’s College of Engineering. The donation is the third largest individual gift in the history of the College and will help pave the way for future generations. In 2007, Auburn’s aerospace engineering building was named the Charles E. Davis Aerospace Engineering Hall in his honor. Davis earned a bachelor’s degree in electric engineering from Auburn in 1959 and a master’s degree from UCLA in 1963.
Davis began his career with Douglas Aircraft, which later became McDonnell-Douglas and is known today as Boeing Corp. His first field assignment was at Vandenberg Air Force Base launching Thor rockets. When President John F. Kennedy challenged our nation to send a man to the moon, his work on the Apollo program was one of the most amazing periods in his life. He was an instrumental part of the program’s initial design efforts contributing to a method for assembling and moving the Apollo rocket to the launch pad. Similar facilities, the massive Vertical Assembly Building and the Crawler remained in use for transporting the space shuttle. In 1969, Davis was an integral member of the launch team for Apollo 11, the team that helped send the first man to the moon.
Working on the Apollo program for 12 years, Davis also designed the fire control system for static firing the third stage and made the decisions regarding rocket firings. In 1964-65, he manned the fire control panel and manually test-fired the Apollo third stage 100 times. Historically, these were the last manually-fired rockets before the transition to computers. Between 1965 and 1969, he was director for his company, sitting at the test conductor console and making “go-no go” decisions for another 500 firings in an altitude chamber.
After Apollo, Davis was a designer on the Harpoon Missile, the KC-10 aircraft aerial refueling tanker, the Mast-Mounted sight for Scout helicopters and the shuttle and space station programs. He was also a designer of the Delta rocket, developed from the earlier Thor ICBM booster that launched 70 percent of commercial satellites.
Although Davis is known as a pioneer in the design, testing and launch of large rockets, he is equally familiar with the corporate boardroom. As an engineer, Davis can take programs and jobs with major challenges and turn them around.
At Auburn, Davis is a member of the 1856 Keystone Society, the George Petrie Society and Theta Chi Fraternity. He was the leading benefactor in the construction of a new fraternity house for Theta Chi and is credited for teaching the young men in the chapter responsibility, commitment and giving back. He is also a member of the Southern California Professional Engineers Association, the Rotary Club and has served as a Board Member on the Airport Commission of Greenville, Texas.
Davis and his wife, Charlotte, have been married for nearly 50 years. They have three sons and three grandchildren.