Edward G. Uhl

Aerospace executive co-invented bazooka during World War II

May 13, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Edward G. Uhl, former president of Fairchild Industries who was co-inventor of the M-1 bazooka during World War II, died Sunday of heart failure at William Hill Gardens, an Easton assisted-living facility.

The Oxford resident was 92.

Born and raised in Elizabeth, N.J., the son of a mechanic and a homemaker, Mr. Uhl was a 1936 graduate of Jefferson High School. He earned a bachelor's degree in engineering physics in 1940 from Lehigh University, where he had been a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

After college, Mr. Uhl went to work for the National Carbon Co. in Fostoria, Ohio, before he reported for active duty in 1941.

Mr. Uhl, pronounced "Yule," served as a regular officer in the Army's Ordnance Corps from 1941 until 1946, when he was discharged with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

In 1942, while assigned to Ordnance Corps headquarters at the Pentagon in Washington, he helped develop the first U.S. shoulder-launched bazooka, which was originally named the M1 Rocket Launcher, with Col. Leslie A. Skinner.

"When I met with Skinner, he was working on rockets. We really had no anti-tank weapon. You can't believe how inept our military was at that point in time," Mr. Uhl said in a 2007 interview with Maryland Cracker Barrel Magazine.

"Skinner said, 'I'm going to be working on rockets to be located on aircraft, and I want you to take this rocket grenade. I think we can probably make a rocket out of this grenade and have it be an effective weapon, so that's your job,'" Mr. Uhl recalled. "The weapon that I was working on finally developed into what was known as the bazooka."

Mr. Uhl faced two immediate problems: how would a soldier aim the weapon and how to keep the burning powder from coming into contact with his face.

"One day I was walking by this scrap pile, and there was a tube that was 5-feet long and 60 mm in diameter, which happened to be the same size as the grenade that we were turning into a rocket," Mr. Uhl said in the interview. "I said, 'That's the answer! Put the tube on a soldier's shoulder with the rocket inside and away it goes.'"

During field trials at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, the M-1 rocket launcher successfully blew the turret off a tank and its M6 rocket penetrated armor plate that was more than 4 inches thick.

Later during World War II, Mr. Uhl joined the staff of Gen. Douglas MacArthur in the Pacific. After resigning his commission in 1946, he went to work for the old Glenn L. Martin Co. in Middle River, where he was a member of a team that was directing the company's move into the new field of rockets.

In 1949, he was named head of "pilotless aircraft" — or what is now known as guided missiles — and helped design the Viking high-altitude research rocket and the Air Force Matador.

Rising through the ranks, Mr. Uhl was named vice president of engineering in 1952, and, five years later, oversaw the construction of Martin's Orlando, Fla., plant, of which he became vice president and general manager.

During his years in Orlando, Mr. Uhl oversaw the development and manufacture of the LaCrosse, Bullpup and Pershing missiles.

After leaving the Martin Co. in 1959, he was general manager and vice president of technical administration for two years at Ryan Aeronautical Co. in San Diego.

In 1961, he was named president of Fairchild Engine and Airplane Corp., later Fairchild Industries Inc., in Hagerstown.

During Mr. Uhl's years at Fairchild, one of his great successes was the building of what was called a "close air support aircraft" — later the A-10 Warthog — which featured jet engines rather than turbo props.

Beating out the competition, Fairchild got a $40 million contract from the Defense Department to build the new planes.

"Thus, the A-10 came to Hagerstown," Mr. Uhl recalled in the interview. "The A-10 is looked upon as a substantial success. What an ugly looking airplane compared to the airplanes of that time, which were sleek, streamlined. They looked like they were flying when they were sitting down. When you look at the A-10 — is that an airplane?"

Other programs Mr. Uhl directed included the ATS 6, which was a model for today's communication satellites.

Mr. Uhl retired in 1985.

He kept one of his most treasured possessions, a model of the fabled A-10, in the study of his Oxford estate, Foxes' Den.

He was a fellow of the American Rocket Society and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and was a member of the boards of the Aviation Hall of Fame and the Governors of the National Space Club.

After retiring, Mr. Uhl became the owner and chairman of Easton Ford, and had been a director of the National Bank of Orlando, Maryland National Bank, Vanguard Technologies International Inc., American Satellite Corp. and Bunker Ramo Corp.

He also had been a board member of the Johns Hopkins University and a director of Stabler Companies Inc.

Mr. Uhl was an avid hunter and fisherman.

"His hunting buddy of many years was Werner von Braun," said a son, Kim E. Uhl of Washington. "Before he died, he gave my father his hunting rifle."

Mr. Uhl's wife of 23 years, the former Maurine B. Keleher, died in 1966.

He was a member of Christ Episcopal Church in Easton, where services were held Thursday.

Also surviving are his wife of 44 years, the former Mary Stuart Brugh; another son, Scott M. Uhl of Woodbine; a daughter, Cynthia A. Uhl of Williamsburg, Va.; two stepsons, George Hatcher of Easton and William Hatcher of Hagerstown; four grandchildren; and five step-grandchildren. Another daughter, Carol Uhl-Nordlinger, died in 2008.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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