Derry Adamson, 72, of Kennesaw: Air Force veteran, Lockheed leader

Derry Adamson ended his 44-year career as an Air Force officer and a defense contractor with an exclamation point, helping Lockheed Martin turn two dated military cargo planes into state-of-the-art airlifters.

First came the C-27J Spartan, a medium-range, multimission aircraft. "We were able to make an unheralded plane a world-class aircraft, thanks in part to the work Derry did as systems manager between 1997 and 2000," said Michael Reed of Marietta, currently system integration director for Lockheed Martin's C-130 program.

Reed said Adamson was equally effective when he went on to become systems manager of Lockheed Martin's modernization of the Air Force's fleet of mammoth C-5 Galaxies. This was a herculean overhaul, involving the replacement of its old engines with quieter, more powerful ones and improvements in the C-5s' airframes, flight controls, and hydraulic and electrical systems -- 55 upgrades in all.

"Derry's was the calming voice whenever discussions got heated," Reed said.

Derry Allan Adamson, 72, of Kennesaw, died Oct. 2 at Brittany House Assisted Living, 1780 Macby Drive, Marietta, of Lewy body dementia, a rare neurological disease. His memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday at the First Presbyterian Church of Marietta. Premier Crematory is in charge of arrangements. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations in his memory be made to Cross Roads Hospice, 1957 Lakeside Parkway, Suite 500, Tucker, GA 30084.

Adamson piloted a rescue helicopter in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969. For 14 months he flew 110 combat rescue missions, retrieving downed airmen.

He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for an attempted rescue of a U.S. pilot in Vietnam's Central Highlands. His wife, Faith Adamson, said he had to maneuver his helicopter beneath a couple of levels of tree canopy to enable his crewmen to reach the pilot. Unfortunately, the pilot had died of his injuries by the time his rescuers reached the ground. However, they were able to lift his body to the helicopter and get back without injury themselves even though their aircraft was under intense enemy fire.

On another occasion, he was at an air base near Pleiku when an incoming fighter plane overshot the runway. Mrs. Adamson said her husband and several of his crewmen rushed to the damaged plane, but his crewmen suddenly vanished. It turns out they had fallen into tunnels that the Viet Cong had dug at the edge of the air base. With Mr. Adamson the only rescuer left, he climbed atop the fuselage and lifted the unconscious pilot out of the cockpit -- mindful all the while that the pilot's ejection mechanism might go off at any moment. For his heroic act, Mr. Adamson was awarded the Airman's Medal.

Returning stateside, he earned a master's degree in Asian studies at San Diego State University. After that, his wife said, he created and taught courses in cross-cultural communication, anti-terrorism strategies and crisis management at Hurlburt and Eglin Air Force bases in Florida.

His children say Mr. Adamson was not the stereotypically stern, no-nonsense military man as a parent. "Dad was no less devoted to us than he was to his duties," said his son, David Adamson of Buford. "I remember as a boy waiting at the driveway for him to come home from work. He never was too tired to play pass with a football or shoot some hoops with me."

Daughter Amy Kutnik of Acworth recalled her father took her athletic endeavors seriously, too. "When I was training for a triathlon six years ago, Dad walked beside the pool giving me encouragement on every lap I swam," she said. "He was captain of the swimming team at the Air Force Academy for four straight years, so he gave some helpful tips, as well."

Mr. Adamson took pride in his part-Scottish heritage, so much so that when he vacationed in Scotland some years ago, he bought a kilt for himself. It didn't just sit in a drawer, either. He made a point to wear it at every family celebration and holiday party thereafter. As a mark of respect and affection, his son and five grandsons will all wear kilts at his memorial service Sunday.

Survivors also include two other daughters, Kristen Landau of Tallahassee, Fla., and Laura Glancy of Kennesaw; his mother, Melba Martin of San Diego; a sister, Sharon Bethard, also of San Diego; and 12 grandchildren.