Louis Heilig, who headed the Newport Beach operations of Ford Aerospace & Communications Corp. for 15 years, will retire at the end of March, the company said.
The announcement comes just seven months after the Pentagon canceled Ford's billion-dollar contract to build the controversial Sgt. York tank-mounted gun, a move that forced the company to lay off about 1,300 employees in Orange County late last year.
However, a company spokesman said Heilig had talked for the past two years of taking an early retirement to pursue personal interests. His decision "has nothing to do with the cancellation of Sgt. York," said the spokesman, who conceded that the retirement did become "convenient now because of the demise of Sgt. York."
Heilig, who joined Ford Aerospace in 1958, is considered an expert in designing and evaluating guided missiles and aircraft. Before joining Ford he was responsible for the design and development of the T-38 and F-5 aircraft and the Hawk missile for Northrop Corp.
At Ford, Heilig served as director and chief engineer of the Aeroneutronic division's tactical systems operation until his promotion in 1970 to general manager of the entire division and vice president of the corporation. In 1984, Heilig was promoted to vice president of the company's defense group.