In 1961 Schriever stated, “Several decades from now, the important battles may be … space battles, and we should be spending a certain fraction of out national resources to ensure that we do not lag in obtaining space supremacy. The mission is to maintain the peace.”
- In 1954, Schriever became commander of the Western Development Division of the Air Research and Development Command, with responsibility for missiles.
- He initiated development of the Atlas, intercontinental ballistic missile, Titan ICBM, and the Thor intermediate range missile. He was also responsible for their production and deployment.
- Later, Schriever commanded the Ballistic Missile Division and directed the Minuteman ICBM program.
- As commander of the Air Force Systems Command, he led the efforts to perfect reliable missiles and satellites for national defense and the nation’s space program.
Bernard Adolf Schriever’s entry into aviation was in the year 1933, after he earned his wings in the Army Air Corps Reserves. His first temporary tour of duty was as a bomber pilot at March Field. Schriever subsequently began flying the airmail in an open cockpit biplane in the dark days of 1934. Not long afterwards, he transferred to the Canal Zone and served as aide to the commander of the 19th Composite Wing.
Reverting to inactive status, Schriever became a pilot for Northwest Airlines. But he could not stay away from military life and, in 1938, received a commission in the regular Army. Soon, Schriever received orders to Wright Field to serve as a test pilot, and he completed the engineering school there. Schriever later earned a master’s degree from Stanford University.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Schriever went to the Southwest Pacific as a B-17 pilot and took part in major campaigns, flying 63 combat missions. Later in the war, he commanded the advanced headquarters of the Far East Service Command, a vital link in winning the war.
After the war, Schriever served as chief of the Air Force’s Scientific Liaison Branch. Upon graduation from the National War College, he became Assistant Chief for Development Planning. By this time, Schriever had earned a reputation for sound judgment and foresight. He said: “Obsolete weapons invite national disaster,” and preached the potential of missiles wherever he went.
Meanwhile, the Air Force had developed a contract to develop the Atlas Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. But when major difficulties arose, the contract was canceled. At the same time, however, the Air Force began development of the “Matador” missile, followed by the “Snark”, and then the “Navajo”, all of which helped to advance missile technology.
After the Air Force reinitiated development of the Atlas, the United States exploded its first thermonuclear bomb in 1952. This event demonstrated the power of a nuclear warhead that could fit into the Atlas nosecone. But the Soviet Union also exploded a nuclear bomb in 1953. The Air Force’s Trevor Gardner, believing the nation was in dire peril, established the Strategic Missile Evaluation Committee in response. This committee quickly recommended that the Atlas be accelerated under a new strong management team.
As a result, Schriever became Assistant to the Commander of the Air Research and Development Command, and headed its secret new Western Development Division, with complete authority over the Atlas program. Almost immediately he set up headquarters in an abandoned schoolhouse in Inglewood, California, and established a remarkable organization to manage the largest peacetime weapons development program in history. Schriever utilized the concept of concurrency to accelerate the Atlas development.
By December 1954, the size of the revised Atlas, with a thermonuclear warhead, was reduced so that it only required three rocket engines. Soon Schriever realized that, because of the backup systems being developed for the Atlas, a second generation ICBM could be created at a small cost increase. So important to national security was this project that in 1955 the military undertook development of the 2-stage Titan ICBM.
When the National Security Council asked Schriever for an intermediate range ballistic missile, he revealed plans for the Thor missile, and soon after President Eisenhower gave his programs the highest national priority. By 1956, the consensus was that Schriever’s Western Development Division would train Thor operational units and Curtis Lemay’s Strategic Air Command would be responsible for their combat readiness and deployment.
With the first successful launch of a Thor in 1957, the nation had officially entered the Space Age. But soon after Schriever’s organization was renamed the Ballistic Missile Division, the Soviet Union shocked the world when it launched its Sputnik-1 satellite into Earth orbit. Fortunately, a series of successful Thor missile launches proved the missile’s worth, and the U.S. made plans for their production and operational deployment. A series of Atlas tests also achieved success in 1957. In early 1958, Schriever began development of the third ICBM, the Minuteman, capable of launch from an underground silo. Americans were elated when Alan Shepard launched into space aboard his Freedom-7 spacecraft and achieved the first suborbital flight. Later, John Glenn orbited the Earth in his Friendship-7.
By 1962, Schriever was heavily involved in missile site activation and deployment of operational Titan and Minuteman missiles to SAC. As the Minuteman force grew, it became a vital part of the strategic deterrent force to counter any nuclear attack. Also, new generations of improved missiles were in development, and Schriever supported NASA’s manned space programs by providing modified Atlas and Titan boosters and launch services at Cape Canaveral. At the same time, the initial defense satellite communication system was launched to provide the first global telecommunications system for the Department of Defense.
In 1965 Schriever became director of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory Project to determine Man’s defense capabilities in space, and the first simulated “MOL” went placed into orbit by a Titan missile.
When Bernard Adolf Schriever retired in 1966, he left behind a new kind of Air Force, far different than that which he originally entered 33 years before. Today, its ballistic missiles and its communications and detection satellites not only provide the nation with an unparalleled aerospace capability to preserve the peace, but they all reflect his presence and personal contributions.
Bernard Schriever died on June 20th, 2005. He was 94 years old.
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