By Charles Matthews

Friday, July 2, 2010

10. A Fiery Peace in a Cold War, by Neil Sheehan, pp. 231-260

Book V: Winning a President, 37. A Schoolhouse and a Radical New Approach; 38. The Guru of Rockets; 39. A Problem With Tommy Power; 40. How Greed Corrupts
Schriever's new ICBM project set up in a converted Catholic boys school in Inglewood, Calif., so the team that worked there became known as the Schoolhouse Gang. Convair, sensing a serious threat from this new project, proposed that they continue to work on the rocket it already had underway, but von Neumann and his committee opposed the suggestion. It became clear that the new approach to creating an ICBM "would amount to a revolution in the Air Force's relationship with the aviation industry." Ramo would be the chief engineer and the chief scientist, but his firm would be barred from actually manufacturing components for the missile. Convair's reluctance to be cut out of the deal set Schriever up for a power struggle.

To work on development of the rocket engine, Schriever selected Lt. Col. Edward Hall, a rocket propulsion expert at the Air Development Center at Wright-Patterson. (Neither Schriever nor Hall knew that Hall's younger brother, Ted, was a spy for the Soviets.) Hall had distinguished himself during World War II by his skill at repairing aircraft damaged in their sorties from England over Europe. While stationed in England, he became interested in the German missiles, the V-1 and V-2, and collected pieces of them from the sites where they had exploded. He claimed in an unpublished memoir that he had actually been to the site where the missiles were built, at the Nordhausen slave labor camp, on a secret mission, but the claim is unverified. After the war he was sent to the Air Development Center and then to Caltech to study for a master's in aeronautical engineering. He returned to the Air Development Center's Power Plant Laboratory to work on ramjets and rockets. Under his supervision, North American Aviation's Rocketdyne division produced a test engine that Wernher von Braun selected for the Redstone missile, essentially an upgraded V-2.

Hall also claimed in his memoir that he had faked an intelligence report about a giant Soviet rocket engine in order to keep his work from being eliminated in budget cuts. He received the funding he needed for work on the ramjet engines for the Navaho intercontinental cruise missile, which was actually a cover for work on rocket engines for an ICBM. Hall persuaded Maj. Sidney Greene, head of the New Developments Office at the Air Development Center, to let him have $2 million to work on modifying the Navaho design to include a rocket engine. The money was originally designated for Convair, which protested but was overruled. Together with the engineers at Rocketdyne, Hall developed a successful prototype engine, a step toward the more powerful one that Schriever was looking for.

Schriever's next obstacle was Gen. Thomas Power, head of the Air Research and Development Command, who had succeeded LeMay as head of SAC and therefore was disinclined to approve of the ICBM project over which he had authority but no control. The consequences of the failure of Schriever's project would be a mark against Power. A meeting with Power left Schriever shaken: "If he did not succeed in allaying Power's worries, no amount of intervention from Gardner would suffice to protect him. Power would find a way to sack him in order to save his own hide." Power demanded written documentation on everything the project did: "He was preparing a defense for the investigation that would be certain to follow if the project failed -- men eminent in their fields had urged these actions on him and he had no logical recourse but to accept their advice." Schriever therefore took it on himself to woo Power by giving him everything he wanted and more -- and when he learned Power was "a keen golfer," he used that tool in his arsenal as well.

Golfing with Convair, however, was not an option. Its president was a retired general, Joseph McNarney, and the Atlas project was being overseen by Thomas Lanphier Jr., who was close to W. Stuart Symington, the former secretary of the Air Force who was now a senator from Missouri and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. McNarney and Lanphier "started a campaign against Ramo and Wooldridge in the trade press, accusing them of stealing technicians for their new rim from Hughes Aircraft in order to corner the ICBM business." Schriever saw that Convair was motivated by greed because of their disregard for the opinion of the scientific community represented by von Neumann's committee. When Convair tried to get Symington on their side, Schriever countered with presentations from the Schoolhouse Gang that convinced the senator that he should stay out of the crossfire.
What Schriever had run up against was the moral corruption that had become endemic to the U.S. military industry as a result of the Cold War and its demand, year, upon year, upon year for new weaponry.... U.S. military industry, particularly the aircraft industry, had been coddled for so long that its leaders were like spoiled children. They had come to expect profits as a virtual right.
(Anyone reminded of the oil industry?)

Finally, however, Convair yielded to pressure and agreed to Schriever's terms, with one concession: They would manufacture the airframe and assembly and participate in the testing, and would provide the control mechanisms for the missile. Schriever got Convair to create a work force dedicated only to the Atlas at its San Diego plant. But Ramo reported that Convair was not hiring properly qualified engineers for specialized parts of the project, and it took another sit-down with the brass to bring them in line.

As for Power, he had been converted to Schriever's cause by the information he had been receiving and the persuasion of von Neumann. He recommended Schriever for promotion to major general. "From this point on Schriever no longer had to worry about the wary three-stars in Baltimore. Power was now behind him."

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