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Bernard A. Schriever, 94; Air Force General Guided Development of the ICBM

June 28, 2005|From the Washington Post

Bernard A. Schriever, a retired Air Force general who successfully shepherded the development of the intercontinental ballistic missile program and established a framework for the Air Force's space program, has died. He was 94.

An aeronautical engineer by training, Schriever died June 20 of complications from pneumonia at his home in Washington, D.C.

Schriever helped to restructure and streamline the Air Force's approach to research, development and production of its high-tech weaponry in the 1950s and '60s. Chief among those weapons was the intercontinental ballistic missile, which could deliver a nuclear warhead halfway around the world.

He oversaw the development of the missile beginning in 1954, when he was named the first commander of what was then the Air Force Air Research and Development Command's Western Development Division in Inglewood.

At the time, the development of the missile had been given the highest priority in the U.S. as its Cold War adversary, the Soviet Union, was developing its own long-range ballistic missiles. Schriever set a goal of producing such a missile by the end of the 1950s. His office also was given the responsibility of developing the powerful missiles needed to launch the military's communication satellites.

He assembled a staff with a core group of loyal workers and encouraged civilian contractors, lab commanders, technical chiefs and their groups to each tackle a technical or engineering problem, with the best solution to be selected from among the teams.

What followed was the expedited production of the Thor intermediate range ballistic missile and the Atlas and Titan intercontinental ballistic missile series in the 1950s. Next came the solid-propellant Minuteman ICBM.

Schriever was "known as a man with complete integrity and sound judgment, neither rebel nor a nonconformist," aerospace historian G. Harry Stine wrote in "ICBM: The Making of the Weapon That Changed the World" (1991). Stine said Schriever "could stimulate action and get things done."

In 1959, Schriever was named commander of the Air Research and Development Command, and in 1961, he became commander of the Air Force Systems Command. In 1963, he directed Project Forecast, a comprehensive long-range assessment of military science and technology.

Schriever was born in Bremen, Germany, where his father served in the merchant marine. In 1917, his family moved to New Braunfels, Texas, north of San Antonio.

He graduated from Texas A&M University in 1931 and from the Army Air Corps Flying School at Kelly Field, Texas, in 1933. He flew airmail missions for the Army Air Corps and received a master's degree in aeronautical engineering in 1942 from Stanford University. During World War II, he helped maintain Army Air Forces planes and flew combat missions as a B-17 pilot in the Pacific. Schriever retired in 1966 after 33 years in the military.

In 1998, Falcon Air Force Base near Colorado Springs, Colo., was renamed Schriever Air Force Base.

Survivors include his wife, singer Joni James; a brother; three children from his first marriage; and 11 grandchildren.

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