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Robert Fuhrman dies; helped create sub-launched missiles

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By Elaine Woo
Monday, November 30, 2009

Robert A. Fuhrman, 84, a pioneering Lockheed engineer who played a central role in the creation of the Polaris and Poseidon submarine-launched missiles before rising to the top of the aeronautics and aerospace giant, died Nov. 21 in Pebble Beach, Calif. He had blood clots in his lungs.

During more than three decades at Lockheed, Mr. 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," said Sherman N. Mullin, former president of Lockheed's Skunk Works, the division that produces top-secret military aircraft. "But he was also very effective at building motivating teams and getting things done."

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

Mr. Fuhrman was born in Detroit on Feb. 23, 1925. He received a bachelor's degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of Michigan in 1945 and a master's degree 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 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 Trident sub-launched missiles.

At Lockheed-California, Mr. Fuhrman 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 led major studies on defense and industrial technology and space launch strategy as a member of the Defense Department's science board.

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

His first wife, Nan McCormick Fuhrman, died in 1988.

Survivors include his wife, Nancy Richards Fuhrman; three children; seven grandchildren; and a sister.

-- Los Angeles Times

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