My father, Amnon Katz, died seventeen years ago today. It was October 3, 2000. His helicopter crashed and he was killed instantly. There were no other people on board. It was an experimental helicopter he had built with his students at the the Universiy of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. He was sixty-five years old at the time, and a Cudworth Endowed Professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics at the University of Alabama.
Amnon Katz was born in 1935 in Krakow, Poland. Here is a picture of him riding his tricycle in a park in Krakow when he was three years old. When he was four, he and his parents left the country by stealth, and took a long and arduous journey that led to Palestine, where they settled down. I know that none of his relatives who remained in Poland survived. But looking at this picture, I suddenly wonder what happened to the tricycle.
My father’s parents were Zionists, and so he spoke Hebrew at home even before the move. He had a nanny who spoke Polish with him, but his parents only ever addressed him in Hebrew. It was a grand linguistic experiment he was involved in: reviving a dead language.
Neither of his parents was a native speaker of Hebrew. There were no native speakers until the language was revived in the late nineteenth century by Zionists. Yet my father became a native speaker, because that is what his parents spoke to him from birth.
When people ask me how dare I run a linguistic experiment on my own children, I smile and reply that there is an ongoing family tradition to experiment linguistically on our children. As far as I know, it has never done anyone any harm to be exposed to dead languages that have been revived.
My father’s love of flight developed en route to Palestine, when he boarded his first plane. But his first career was as a physicist, at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovoth, Israel. It was there that he met my mother. It was also there that he wrote and published the following books: Classical Mechanics, Quantum Mechanics, Field Theory, Academic Press 1965 and Principles of Statistical Mechanics (The Information Theory Approach), (Freeman 1967).
My father was a member of the Canaanite movement. He believed in separation of church and state and equal rights for all Israelis, of whatever ethnicity or religion. He also thought Israel should not accept aid from the United States, and he believed it should keep all territories conquered in war.
In 1970, disillusioned with politics in Israel and the uselessness of the academic calling, my father decided to immigrate to the United States and become an aerospace engineer. But he had much to learn about industry, and especially the way the defense industry has been corrupted by government contracts.
My father also ran his own company, Inverted-A, and he designed one of the first electronic flight simulators for general aviation: the Minisimulator IIC. He is the founding member of Inverted-A Press, which I inherited from him. His book one political book, Israel: The Two Halves of the Nation was published by Inverted-A.
Eventually, my father went back to academia. While a professor at the University of Alabama, he published the following two books: Subsonic Airplane Performance, (Society of Automotive Engineers 1994) and Computational Rigid Vehicle Dynamics, (Krieger 1997).
My father has always been my role model. He was an independent thinker and a pioneer in more than one discipline. I owe everything I am today – even the weird stuff – to him.