Latest Entry: The RSS feed for this blog has moved

Washington Post staff writers offer a window into the art of obituary writing, the culture of death, and more about the end of the story.

Read more | What is this blog?

More From the Obits Section: Search the Archives  |   RSS Feeds RSS Feed   |   Submit an Obituary  |   Twitter Twitter
A LOCAL LIFE: Edward Uhl, 92

Edward Uhl, 92; helped invent bazooka, headed Fairchild Industries

Edward Uhl, an Army lieutenant not long out of college, helped invent the bazooka in the 1940s. He went on to head defense contractor Fairchild Industries.
Edward Uhl, an Army lieutenant not long out of college, helped invent the bazooka in the 1940s. He went on to head defense contractor Fairchild Industries. (Associated Press)
  Enlarge Photo    

Network News

X Profile
View More Activity
By T. Rees Shapiro
Sunday, May 23, 2010

In early 1942, then-Lt. Edward Uhl was a young engineer just out of college when he was recruited to the Army's ordnance corps for a special mission.

The United States had only recently entered World War II, and the Army was scrambling to create a functional antitank weapon capable of penetrating German armor.

Within months, Mr. Uhl and a senior colleague created just such a device -- a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher that became known as the "bazooka" and is still used in various forms today. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called the bazooka one of the crucial "tools of victory" for the Allies in World War II, along with the C-47 transport plane, the Jeep and the atomic bomb.

Decades after the war, Mr. Uhl became president, chief executive and chairman of the defense contractor Fairchild Industries, where he was responsible for overseeing the production of the A-10 Thunderbolt II, an aircraft that ravaged Iraqi tanks during the Persian Gulf War.

Mr. Uhl, 92, died May 9 at an assisted living facility in Easton, Md., of complications from a stroke.

He joined the Army in 1941 shortly after graduating with honors from Lehigh University, where he majored in engineering physics. He was assigned to the ordnance corps and began serving in a special weapons unit with Leslie Skinner, who would retire from the Army as a colonel.

In 1942, the pair received orders to design an antitank weapon that could penetrate four-inch steel plating used on German tanks. At a small shop in Indian Head, Md., they went to work on developing the bazooka, officially known as the M1 rocket launcher.

Physicist Robert Goddard is often credited with designing the prototype for the tube rocket launcher, but his innovation was poorly timed. He presented his device to military officials in Washington in November 1918, the month World War I ended.

Inspired by Goddard's earlier work, Skinner and Mr. Uhl planned to design an inexpensive and mobile launching system. They created projectiles by attaching grenades to miniature rockets that flew at 300 feet per second.

But when it came to a viable launching method, they were stumped.

The weapon needed to be lightweight, accurate and, above all, safe. Mr. Uhl and Skinner were struggling to find a way for a soldier to fire the launcher without being burned by the thrust of hot gas created when the rocket's propellant was ignited.

One day, Mr. Uhl was stumbling through an old junkyard when he saw a metal tube about five feet long and had a brainstorm.


CONTINUED     1        >

More in the Obituary Section

Post Mortem

Post Mortem

The art of obituary writing, the culture of death, and more about the end of the story.

From the Archives

From the Archives

Read Washington Post obituaries and view multimedia tributes to Pope John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, James Brown and more.

[Campaign Finance]

A Local Life

This weekly feature takes a more personal look at extraordinary people in the D.C. area.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company

Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity