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Former Fairchild chief was 'always pushing the technology forward'

May 12, 2010|By DON AINES

OXFORD, MD. -- From the early 1960s into the 1980s, Edward G. Uhl was well-known locally as president and later chairman of the board of Fairchild Industries in Hagerstown, but he also was co-inventor of one of the most recognizable pieces of military hardware ever carried into battle by American GIs -- the bazooka.

Uhl, who helped revitalize Fairchild and make it a Fortune 500 company by the time of his retirement, died Sunday in Oxford, Md. He was 92.

"He was one of the ones always pushing the technology forward," taking projects off the drawing board and turning them into reality, said his stepson, George Hatcher of Easton, Md.

After Uhl graduated from Lehigh University in 1940 with a degree in engineering physics, Uhl's career began with the development of the relatively simple bazooka, a shoulder-fired anti-tank weapon, and ended near the time when Fairchild was producing the last of its tank-busting A-10 Thunderbolt II ground-attack aircraft. The A-10 became known by its unofficial nickname, "Warthog," during the first Persian Gulf War.

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Uhl came to Hagerstown in 1961 when he was named president of Fairchild. He became chairman of the aerospace company in 1976, according to his obituary. Hatcher said Uhl retired in 1985.

When he resigned his military commission at the end of World War II, Uhl was employed by the Glenn L. Martin Co. for several years before becoming vice president of Technical Administration for Ryan Aeronautical Co.

Hatcher said his stepfather did not talk much about the new technologies he helped to develop, but did occasionally bring up the subject of the bazooka.

"When that was invented, the major problem for the U.S. was it hadn't kept its army and military up to snuff," Hatcher said. The U.S. Army lacked anti-tank weapons capable of defeating the heavily armed and armored Panzers of the Wehrmacht.

In 1942, Uhl began working with Lt. Col. Leslie A. Skinner to develop a weapon to deliver a rocket-propelled, shaped charge that was capable of penetrating armor, according to "A History of Innovation: U.S. Army Adaptation in War and Peace," by Jon T. Hoffman. Hatcher confirmed the story from the book that said Uhl fashioned the launcher for the rocket from a length of pipe found in a pile of scrap at a workshop.

"That's the answer! Put the tube on a soldier's shoulder with the rocket inside and away it goes," Uhl was quoted as saying in a 2007 article in the Maryland Cracker Barrel.

"I think they flipped a coin to see who got to fire it the first time" and Uhl won the toss, Hatcher said.

The weapon was demonstrated for Army brass, including Brig. Gen. Gladeon M. Barnes, head of the Ordnance Department's Research and Development Section, according to "A History of Innovation." The test was a success, and Barnes dubbed the weapon the bazooka for its resemblance to a fanciful musical instrument used by radio comedian Bob Burns, according to the book.

During Uhl's career with Fairchild, the company competed successfully for more government contracts, acquired ailing Republic Aviation in 1965 and branched out into space technology, according to the Cracker Barrel article.

The Pegasus and ATS-6 communications satellite programs were developed by Fairchild, Hatcher said. During those years, Uhl worked closely with Werner Von Braun, one of the pioneers of rocket technology, Hatcher said.

Hatcher said his stepfather was as proud of his family as anything he accomplished in the worlds of science and business, but he was a man whose work pushed new technologies forward.

"Everything he did was on the cutting edge of what was going on," Hatcher said.

While Fairchild grew and diversified under Uhl's management, he was chairman when the company received what was, at the time, the highest fine ever imposed in a Maryland pollution case. According to published reports, Fairchild was fined $100,000 in April 1983 after being convicted in a Washington County Circuit Court bench trial of five criminal counts relating to the illegal dumping in 1981 of wastewater containing toxic amounts of chemicals, including hexavalent chromium.

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