Charles F. Burrows

Metallurgist engineer and businessman held several patents and helped build the first plane to drop an atomic bomb

November 02, 2008|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,

Charles F. Burrows, a metallurgist engineer who helped build the first warplane to drop an atomic bomb, died Oct. 25 at College Manor after suffering a fall at his home a month ago. The Timonium resident was 93.

A specialist in metal coatings and finishes, he held patents used on kitchenware, airplanes and medical equipment.

Born in Cleveland, Mr. Burrows earned a bachelor's degree in metallurgical engineering at Case Institute of Technology, where he also earned a master's degree in the same field. He was a member of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity.

He came to Baltimore to deliver an automobile and noticed the Glenn L. Martin plant in Middle River. He saw a "help wanted" sign and was hired on the spot in December 1939.

"Thanks to a fortuitous trip to Baltimore, my father found the Martin Company," said his son, Richard M. Burrows of Timonium. "He watched the company grow to over 50,000 employees during the war and then downsize to 600 before he retired."

Mr. Burrows served 45 years with the company and worked in its Advanced Manufacturing Lab. He retired from Martin Marietta in 1984.

During World War II, he was assigned to a Martin aircraft plant in Omaha, Neb. He worked on the Enola Gay, the B-29 bomber that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945.

His son said Mr. Burrows led a team that tested the plane's bomb-carrier assembly but was unaware that it would be used for an atomic device.

At one point, he almost lost his life when a window exploded out of a B-29 during a pressure test. His son said the thick glass missed him by inches.

In 1954, Mr. Burrows received a patent for the Martin hard coating process, a nonmetallic oxide-resistant coating applied to aluminum that provides corrosion resistance. The coating is used on Analon cookware. He held 12 patents but received a token $1 in compensation because the research work had been conducted at the aircraft firm.

In the late 1950s, Mr. Burrows set up a business, Metal Finishers Inc., on Franklintown Road. He employed nearly 50 persons before closing and returning to the Martin Co. He later started B&B Services, a metals joining and consulting service, with a partner, Bernie Bandelin.

Mr. Burrows flew his own airplane, a 1940s Ercoupe, across the country. He told family and friends stories about landing in cornfields, leaking fuel tanks, and flying without instrumentation.

After his marriage to Florence May Johnson, his wife gave him an ultimatum: her or the airplane. He stopped flying.

Mr. Burrows enjoyed figure skating, fishing, archery, bowhunting, target shooting, swimming, basketball and table tennis.

He was on an ice hockey team that was destined for the 1940 Winter Olympics in Sapporo, Japan. Those Olympics were called off because of the war.

He built a step hydroplane and was a former crew member on the White Cloud, a racing sailboat out of Baltimore. He was also an avid tenpin bowler and competed in the Drug Trade League.

A Mason, he belonged to the Shriners and was a member of the Waverly Lodge and the Boumi Temple Harem; he marched in parades in an elaborately feathered costume.

During his retirement, Mr. Burrows did woodworking projects that he gave to family and friends.

Services will be at 11 a.m. tomorrow at St. Timothy's Lutheran Church, 100 E. Timonium Road, Timonium, where he was a longtime member.

Survivors include another son, David Burrows of Baltimore; a daughter, Linda Costa of Sweet Air in Baltimore County; a brother, Robert Burrows of Hudson, Ohio; and six grandchildren. His wife of 58 years died this year.

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