Irwin R. Barr, 85, weapons inventor, co-founder of AAI


Irwin R. Barr, an inventor of military weapons and the co-founder of Hunt Valley-based AAI Corp., died at Broadmead retirement community in Cockeysville on Monday of a heart ailment. He was 85.

Mr. Barr was born in Newburgh, N.Y., and from 1938 to 1940 attended what is now the Academy of Aeronautics in Newark, N.J. He worked as an engineer for the Glenn L. Martin Co. from 1940 to 1944 and returned to the company in 1946 after serving in the U.S. Army Air Forces.

In 1950, he left Glenn L. Martin and helped co-found Aircraft Armaments Inc., now AAI, a Hunt Valley-based company that has more than 2,000 employees and annual sales of more than $350 million.

A prolific inventor, Barr holds more than 120 patents. His inventions include weapons that fire darts, the design for a light tank, a 152 mm tank gun and a device to increase the armor-piercing capabilities of a 90 mm cannon round. While working for Glenn L. Martin, he helped run the Viking rocket project.

In 1985, Mr. Barr was inducted into the Ordnance Corps Hall of Fame for his contributions to the field.

"He was extremely bright and worked hard," said his wife, the former Dorothy Weeks. "He always cared about doing a good job."

Mr. Barr retired as chief executive of AAI in 1989. That same year, he received a congratulatory letter from former President Ronald Reagan for his "outstanding dedication and achievement."

Mr. Barr's son, Alan Barr, of Pasadena, Calif., described his father as someone who took an interest in the well-being of others. He said his father repeatedly told him a story about attempting to invent a harmless form of tear gas and testing it on himself.

"He didn't want it to be harmful," his son said. "He was compassionate."

A daughter, Mary Ellen Barr Megee of New York, said she once saw her father observe a falling feather.

"He was interested in the way it worked," she said. "He used things from the simplest of structures and tried to apply it."

She said that her father's many interests included painting and that he contemplated a career as an artist. Her living room wall features a painting she said Mr. Barr created around 1940 that depicts a British home and a woman standing near a pond.

"I just like to have it because it just shows a time when my father focused all his attention on one place," she said.

A family memorial will be held next month.

Mr. Barr is also survived by a sister, Judith Barr Kushnick of Greenville, N.C.; daughters Betty Barr Mackey of Wayne, Pa., and Joan Barr Blanco of Columbia; and four grandchildren.

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