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Robert A. Fuhrman dies at 84; former Lockheed executive

The engineer helped lead development of the Polaris and Poseidon missiles, and rose to head three of the company's divisions, including the Burbank operation, where he revived the L-1011 TriStar.

November 25, 2009|Elaine Woo
  • 1972 file photo
1972 file photo (ktowjnc20091125161940 )

Robert A. Fuhrman, a pioneering Lockheed engineer who played a central role in the creation of the Polaris and Poseidon missiles before rising to the top of the aeronautics and aerospace giant, died Saturday in Pebble Beach, Calif. He was 84.

Fuhrman, a longtime resident of Pebble Beach, had blood clotting in his lungs, said Sherman N. Mullin, former president of Lockheed's Skunk Works, the division that produces top-secret military aircraft.

During more than three decades at Lockheed, Fuhrman served as president of three of its companies: Lockheed-Georgia, Lockheed-California and Lockheed Missiles & Space. He became president and chief operating officer of the corporation in 1986 and vice chairman in 1988 before retiring in 1990.

"He was one of the leading aerospace engineers of the 20th century," Mullin said. "But he was also very effective at building and motivating teams and getting things done."

Noting the former Lockheed chief's accomplishments in military and commercial aircraft, missiles, satellites and defense, Mullin said Fuhrman had "this breadth of experience that was pretty much unmatched."

Born in Detroit on Feb. 23, 1925, Fuhrman earned a bachelor's degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of Michigan in 1945 and a master's in fluid mechanics and dynamics from the University of Maryland in 1952. He later completed an executive management program at Stanford University.

He was a flight test engineer at the Naval Air Station at Patuxent River, Md., and chief of technical engineering for Ryan Aerospace Co. in San Diego before joining Lockheed in 1958 as manager of the Polaris program, which produced the first U.S. submarine-launched ballistic missile. After his successes with Polaris, he became chief engineer of Lockheed's missile systems division in Sunnyvale, Calif., which produced the Poseidon and the Trident missiles.

At Lockheed-California Co. in Burbank, he resuscitated the L-1011 TriStar program, which had been crippled by the bankruptcy of Rolls-Royce, the engine manufacturer for the wide-body commercial transport plane.

He also headed major studies on defense and industrial technology and space launch strategy as a member of the Defense Department's science board, Mullin said.

A past president and honorary fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Fuhrman served as a senior advisor for Lockheed until his death.

His first wife, Nan McCormick Fuhrman, died in 1988. He is survived by his wife, Nancy Richards Fuhrman; a sister, Eloise Schmidt; three children; seven grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.

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