CHICAGO (June 22, 10:40 a.m. EDT) — Dominick Rosato had a front-row seat to the early days of plastics and composites in aviation, from World War II to the early Cold War and the Space Age — and he has chronicled the industry by writing and editing 25 books.
That's an amazing 20,500 pages of technical writing. If you include contributed chapters and series editing, it becomes an overwhelming 175,000 pages.
At 82, Rosato is still going strong. He still does consulting. Twelve of the 25 books have been written after he “retired” in 1987. Virginia, his wife of 60 years, says he often spends half a day in his pajamas, banging out articles and books at their house in Chatham, on Cape Cod. He hauls his laptop along on vacations.
She prefers novels to plastics handbooks — Nick said she always was the quiet book-loving type — but she can appreciate his ability to produce: “He can read for hours through technical stuff. And he reads it at random, but then it's in his brain somewhere and he'll say, 'I know where I can find that.' ”
Rosato is just finishing a 500-page tome called Plastics Materials and Process Selection, co-authored with his son Don. They updated the manuscript, cutting it from about 3,000 pages.
“I usually go until midnight,” Rosato said of his writing. “The past year and a half I almost averaged 10 hours a day.”
The next chapter in his life comes this week, when he enters the Plastics Hall of Fame.
Rosato was nominated by Nick Schott, who heads the Department of Plastics Engineering at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. Schott describes Rosato's writing style as “low-key, direct, easy to understand, yet comprehensive.”
Frequently translated, the books include lots of history to explain how technology has changed, detailed indexes and easy-to-comprehend tables and illustrations.
“It's conservative to say that Nick's entire body of work has strongly influenced a half million plastics professions over his career,” Schott said.
For Rosato, writing began with that basic prose of engineering, the technical report. He grew up in Philadelphia, and earned a mechanical bachelor's degree from Drexel Institute of Technology in 1942. He trained as a reserve officer and in 1943 became a flight engineer at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. He was soon promoted to product development coordinator of the plastics department of the Wright Air Development Center.
“He gets things done efficiently, ahead of schedule and under budget,” wrote his boss, Robert Schwartz, recommending the promotion.
Rosato described a hectic schedule in Dayton of 14-hour days and urgent projects. War was raging. He coordinated 76 people working on urgent projects.
“We were always correcting problems. One problem after the other,” Rosato recalled. His first project was to create a mechanical attachment to connect the thermoformed windshield, or canopy, to the plane.
One fast-track project was to solve a dangerous problem of rain erosion of the radome — a covering protecting radar — on the B-29 bomber. The radome was called the eagle wing, located under the bomber's main wing.
“When it went through some rain clouds over the Pacific, through storms, the rain destroyed the reinforced plastic eagle wing, so the radar wasn't working. So overnight it had to be corrected.”
Rosato's team nailed it in five days. “So I had the 76 engineers and physicists get together, and I said, 'This is what we know about it, which was very little. Come back in five minutes and we'll decide what to do.' And I had a pretty, young physicist who was the one that basically developed what we ended up doing. She knew nothing about plastic, but she had figured out the energy that the raindrop and the force that the raindrops caused on contact.”
It needed to be protected. Other team members came up with a neoprene coating, which was sprayed onto the planes in the field.
Like other early structural aircraft parts, the radome was made from glass-reinforced thermoset polyester. Rosato has worked on radomes and nose cones for rockets throughout his career, Today a few of the gray parts stand in his yard like lawn ornaments.
Rosato made sure his technical reports were perfect.
“Bob Schwartz always called me the Philadelphia lawyer, because every time I wrote a technical report, it was exact. It wasn't questionable whether I said this or that, or developed something,” he said.
In 1944, he wrote a report titled “All Plastic Military Airplane Successfully Tested.” It detailed the BT-15 flight training plane. For the first time ever, the aft fuselage — the rear body section — was entirely made of plastic composites, in a monocoque design.
“The plastic airplane was designed and built for one reason. If an aluminum plant had been blown apart in this country, we wouldn't have had any aluminum airplanes. But we could have a helluva lot of plastic airplanes,” Rosato said.
When the Korean War broke out in the early 1950s, Schwartz re-assembled the plastics team at Wright-Patterson.
Also during the '50s, Rosato worked on early intercontinental ballistic missiles and rockets during the Cold War, and then, the Space Age. He did work on the Hercules missile and the Vanguard and Atlas rockets.
He did some work at the Army's Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala., with a team led by German rocket expert Wernher Von Braun, who had developed Germany's V-2 rocket during World War II.
After the Korean War he went to Raybestos-Manhattan, which made break linings, belts and other automotive products in Manheim, Pa. “My job was to set them up making plastic products, flame-resistant, heat-resistant plastics,” he said.
The company used asbestos, but Rosato couldn't find any books on the subject. “Maybe I ought to write a book on it,” he told his wife. Virginia told him to go ahead, “never thinking it was something that would get published.”
That promptly led to his first book, Asbestos: Its Industrial Applications, published in 1959.
From Raybestos, Rosato went into machinery, as director of international sales and marketing at Ingersoll-Rand Co. from 1963-74. The company made Impco brand injection presses and blow molding machines, and also bought Negri Bossi in Italy.
His job was to interest metals-related companies in plastics and help them set up production.
At the same time, he also was technical editor of Plastics World magazine. His “Behind the Scenes” column livened things up, and featured a photograph of Rosato and someone mentioned in the story.
In 1974, he decided to get into the seminar business, working with Lowell.
Through it all, he keeps on writing. After the asbestos book, he co-authored one on filament winding in 1963. Rosato was familiar with filament winding from his military work. The subject was narrow, but the book sold 35,000 copies and was translated into Russian. Other Rosato books include Environmental Effects on Polymeric Materials, Designing with Plastics and handbooks on injection molding, blow molding and extrusion.
He took a visitor into his office where a laptop and printer are wedged onto a card table in the dining room. A TV tray slides in and out. A folding metal chair rests on a cardboard box, folded flat to protect the carpet.
Up until a few years ago, Rosato organized his books using a system of index cards and shoe boxes. (Ask his wife what the house looked like for the 818-page Rosato's Plastics Encyclopedia and Dictionary.)
What drives Rosato to write? He cites a very practical reason: “I learned young that, if you have something written, people figure you know something about it. I learned by writing books and magazine articles, you become an 'expert.' That was the calling card. I worked for different companies, but my writing was on the side, and on the run. The reason I did it was to become an expert. It was that simple. Becoming an expert provided you with other opportunities for work.”