E. Joseph Weber, 93, aeronautical engineer

March 20, 2002|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

E. Joseph Weber, a former Martin Marietta Corp. aeronautical engineer whose career spanned the period from flying boats to Titan missiles, died March 13 of heart failure at Bedford Court Nursing Home in Silver Spring. He was 93.

Mr. Weber was born in Erie, Pa., where he graduated from high school. He began his engineering career in 1930 after earning a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from Pennsylvania State University.

As a youth, Mr. Weber dreamed of designing and building bridges.

"Studies were never much of a problem. I took the required civil engineering courses, supplemented them with psychology, public speaking and a couple of other subjects, played in three sports, lived in a fraternity, never failed a course, joined two honorary societies and graduated in the top tenth of my class," he wrote in a privately published autobiography, One Man's Life.

In 1930, he began working for the American Bridge Co., a subsidiary of U.S. Steel near Pittsburgh, as a draftsman on the structural steel used to build New York's Empire State Building and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

"It was great fun with all those gifted young guys, tennis, duplicate bridge, moonshine and parties, and then the Great Depression hit us," he wrote.

After a brief hiatus when he toured the country in a used 1929 Ford, he returned to the bridge company from 1932 to 1938, then took a job in the Washington Navy Yard.

He joined the Glenn L. Martin Co. in Middle River in 1940 as a stress analyst, working on the PBM Martin Mariner flying boat, one of World War II's most highly acclaimed aircraft.

"It was in the early design stage and I watched it develop through tooling, early build, structural tests, flight tests, and eventual delivery of one a day to the Navy," wrote Mr. Weber.

Another noted aircraft he was associated with during the war was the Martin Marauder Bomber used in Europe and the Pacific.

After the war, as the company turned its attention briefly to commercial aircraft, Mr. Weber worked on the development of the nonpressurized 202 passenger aircraft that could accommodate 40 passengers and crew.

He also worked on the pressurized version, the 404, but competition from Convair, another aircraft builder, drove Martin out of the commercial airline design and building business.

The company's last major airplane designed for the Navy was the ill-fated XP6M-1, a flying boat, whose mission was to lay mines in enemy harbors at supersonic speeds.

Mr. Weber, who was in charge of all structural disciplines - stress, weights, dynamics, laboratory and structural tests for the new aircraft - wrote, "I experienced my first (and only) ulcer as we neared first flight, and had to take up golf as a diversion."

In 1955, during a test flight, the XP6M-1 crashed into the Chesapeake Bay, killing the four-member crew. An accident investigation team was unable to learn what caused the plane's crash.

After the Navy scrapped the project, Mr. Weber was assigned as an assistant project engineer on the Titan 1 missile program, which was a backup missile to the intercontinental ballistic missile. Moving to Denver in 1968, Mr. Weber continued working on the Titan project, as well as intelligence satellites, which he termed the "Dark Side." He retired in 1973.

He was described as an "outgoing and personable man," by a son, Robert C. Weber of Hunt Valley. "He relished his role at Martin, was outspoken but always had the respect of management," he said.

In 1936, Mr. Weber married Priscilla Jane Driesch, who died in 1996.

He was a member of Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church in Towson.

A Mass of Christian burial was offered Saturday at Our Lady of Grace Roman Catholic Church in Silver Spring.

Survivors include two other sons, Joseph A. Weber of Huntington Beach, Calif., and James W. Weber of Haddonfield, N.J.; a brother, Robert Weber of Houston; two sisters, Jean Salchli and Ruth Hanhauser, both of Erie; six grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

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