March 10, 2010

OBITUARIESRobert Hansen, 72, skilled engineer from radar to homes


— By

Staff Writer

When Robert Hansen was building his first vacation home in Maine, he enlisted the help of his son, Lee, then 14. Lee Hansen so loved the work that he eventually started his own construction company.

''It's because of him (that) I'm where I am now,'' said the younger Hansen, reflecting on the impact his father had on his life as a teacher and role model.

Many years later, after Robert Hansen had retired as a mechanical engineer who was responsible for some of the nation's most sophisticated radar, he went to work for his son, swinging a hammer like others on the crew for L.R. Hansen Construction.

''I know that gave him great satisfaction, to see that happen,'' his son said. ''He was so proud.''

Robert Hansen died Tuesday at age 72.

As a young man, Mr. Hansen was a licensed aircraft mechanic who went to work for Sikorsky Aircraft in Connecticut.

He then landed a job at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, despite the recession of the late 1950s, said his wife of 52 years, Louise Hansen.

That enabled him to attend night school at Northeastern University, where he obtained his degree as a mechanical engineer.

It was while he was at Mitre Corp. in Bedford, Mass., that he began working with radar systems used by both the Federal Aviation Administration and the Air Force to track aircraft.

Mr. Hansen's work for Mitre took him from Alaska to Texas to Greenland to Norway, scaling towers up to 200 feet high as he worked to install and troubleshoot radar systems he had helped design.

The systems were used to protect the country by detecting unauthorized aircraft, and also tracked commercial aviation, said Don Kinney, a longtime friend who was with the Air Force and supervised some of Mr. Hansen's work.

Mr. Hansen helped develop the Air Force capability dubbed IFF, Information Friend or Foe, which was employed on Sept. 11, 2001, after FAA systems were unable to track the jets hijacked by terrorists.

Robert and Louise Hansen had been coming to Wells seasonally for many years and moved to town after his retirement in 2000.

He became active in the town, joining the Rotary Club and serving on the Planning Board.

That first vacation house he built with his son in Wells was a small gambrel cape, with a single bathroom and an open dormitory-style upstairs that hosted their four children and lots of friends.

After retirement, Robert Hansen turned his engineering skills to home design, as he and his wife designed their retirement home, which he came to cherish.

''We tweaked and tweaked and moved walls and made it just exactly the way we wanted it to be for his hobbies, our children and our friends,'' Louise Hansen said.

''As soon as you walk in the front door, it's just so inviting. It's pretty simple, but just very open, inviting and comfortable.''

Lee Hansen liked the design so much that he has used it as the basis for four homes he has built since then.

Robert Hansen's family recalled him as fun-loving and funny, with a great laugh.

''Everyone loved him,'' his wife said. ''He always had the right thing to say.''

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:


Each day the newsroom selects one obituary and seeks to learn more about the life of a person who has lived and worked in Maine. We look for a person who has made a mark on the community or the person's family and friends in lasting ways. To suggest a person, contact Melanie Creamer on weekdays at 791-6361 or

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