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Master of Space

Master of Space

Master of Space
The architect of the Air Force’s ballistic missile and military space program, Bernard Adolph Schriever was born in Bremen, Germany, in 1910 and migrated to the United States with his parents in 1917. His family settled in the German-American community of New Braunfels, Texas. He became a naturalized citizen in 1923, attended grade and high school in San Antonio and graduated from Texas A&M University in 1931 with a Bachelor of Science. He was commissioned in field artillery, but in July 1932 began flight training at Randolph Field and earned his pilot wings and commission in the Air Corps in June 1933 at Kelly Field. He was then assigned as a bomber pilot at March and Hamilton Fields, Calif.

In 1934, Schriever flew Army Air Corps airmail missions during the bitter cold of winter. Many of his comrades crashed to their deaths piloting the antiquated and poorly equipped planes provided. This experience underscored for him the consequences of technological inferiority and demonstrated the need to modernize and build up air power if the United States hoped to compete with other air forces internationally.

During the Great Depression, Schriever learned leadership while commanding a Civilian Conservation Corps unit in New Mexico providing shelter, sustenance and guidance to unemployed young men.

In September 1937, he went to Panama for duty at Albrook Field and then briefly left the Air Corps to fly as a pilot with Northwest Airlines. He returned to duty in October 1938 with the 7th Bomb Group at Hamilton, Calif., and a year later became a test pilot at Wright Field, Ohio, where he also attended the Air Corps Engineering School, graduating in July 1941. He then earned a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering from Stanford University.

Just as the United States entered World War II, he earned his commission in the Army. In July 1942, Schriever served in the Southwest Pacific with the 19th Bomb Group (5th Air Force) for combat.

As a B-17, B-25 and C-47 pilot, he flew 38 combat missions, participating in the Bismarck Archipelago, Leyte, Luzon, Papua, North Solomon, South Philippine and Ryukyu campaigns.

His superiors quickly recognized Schriever’s technical skills and steadily promoted him in rank from captain to colonel, and in position from Chief of Maintenance and Engineering to Chief of Staff, 5th Air Force Service Command in January 1943. By September 1944, he commanded the Advanced Headquarters, Far East Air Service Command, which supported theater operations from bases in Holland, New Guinea, Philippines and Japan.

In January 1946, Schriever was assigned to the Pentagon to head the Scientific Liaison Office, under the Deputy Chief of Staff for Materiel. Although young in years, Schriever had drawn the attention of senior officers, especially the commander, General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold. Recognizing his protégé’s rare combination of leadership attributes, engineering training and combat experience, General Arnold entrusted Schriever with the delicate job of maintaining close ties forged during the war between the Air Force and leading scientists.

Schriever’s office introduced development planning objectives, an invaluable series of planning documents that matched long-range military requirements with ongoing research and development efforts. DPOs were prepared for all major elements of air power – strategic and tactical warfare, air defense, intelligence and reconnaissance.

Schriever’s foremost contributions to the nation came between August 1954 and April 1959, when he was commander of the Air Force Western Development Division. In this capacity, he directed the nation’s highest priority program – the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles – and also the Air Force’s initial space programs.

Schriever’s challenge was formidable. He had to create an organization to manage extremely varied and novel science and technology. Additionally, he had to build facilities for testing and production, integrate the missiles systems, fit together the nuclear weapons they would carry, provide the launching sites and equipment and the ground support elements necessary to bring the missiles to operational status.

Moreover, he had to accomplish all this before the Soviet Union could build, deploy and target their missiles against the United States. It was a deadly, real-life contest of “beat the clock.” With the aid of Schriever’s brilliant leadership, the United States deployed its first generation ICBMs – Atlas and Titan – and the intermediate range Thor. Quickly, these were succeeded by the more advanced Titan II and the revolutionary, solid-fueled Minuteman ICBMs. Only the incredible efforts of General Schriever enabled the United States to catch up and then surpass the Soviet Union in the missile race. Even today, almost 40 years after they were first deployed, advanced models of the Minuteman still provide the backbone that safeguards our nation.

In April 1959, General Schriever was named commander of the Air Research and Development Command, in which he was entrusted with developing and maintaining the U.S. Air Force’s global qualitative weapons edge. He managed more than 6,400 research and development contracts that engaged some 1,500 major companies.

In April 1961, Air Force Systems Command was established, incorporating ARDC and some elements of Air Materiel Command. General Schriever was named to head AFSC and was promoted to four-star general. Here, he conceived and affected the consolidation of Air Force technical and acquisition efforts into a single organization. More significantly, he transformed the concept of materiel development and acquisition from a functional to a systems approach – the focal point for virtually all the new weapons.

General Schriever’s role in this transformation was pivotal with respect to his insistence on technologically superior performance standards, adherence to pre-established production schedules and reliance on cost-control measures. As AFSC commander, he fostered research and oversaw the acquisition of systems that provided strategic deterrence; early detection, warning and air defense; advanced aircraft and spacecraft designs; command, control and communication systems; and aerospace medicine.

In 1963, he oversaw an organization that employed some 27,000 military and 37,000 civilians, with an annual budget of more than $7 billion (about 40 percent of the U.S. Air Force’s total), while managing 80 major weapons systems. General Schriever defined and institutionalized the acquisition process by demonstrating the interrelationship between technology, strategy, organization and politics.

As General Schriever grappled with the research, development and acquisition responsibilities of the long-range ballistic missiles, he foresaw the potential of space and strove to secure for the U.S. Air Force the responsibility for space systems. General Schriever played a key role in developing the requirements for intelligence and reconnaissance satellites and military-manned space flight.

In 1963, General Schriever directed Project Forecast – one of the most comprehensive long-range assessments of the nation’s position in military science and technology through technological possibilities, policy and military considerations and threat analysis. Participants included 40 government agencies, 26 colleges and universities, 70 corporations and 10 non-profit organizations. Published in 16 volumes, this monumental report concluded that rather than leveling off, technology was only beginning its exponential growth.

Project Forecast identified several promising areas of exploration that would lead to quantum improvements in air and space weapons; notably in the fields of advanced composite materials, computers, flight design, propulsion and space satellites. In September 1966, after completing 33 years of service to his country, General Schriever retired from the U.S. Air Force. Following his retirement, General Schriever served in many advisory roles for the U.S. government and has worked tirelessly to advance research in some of the nation’s leading corporations. The most notable of his endeavors include his service as chairman of the President’s Advisory Council on Management Improvement, the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, the Defense Science Board and the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization Advisory Committee. In 1998, the Air Force renamed Falcon AFB in honor of General Bernard A. Schriever. On June 5, 1998, the wing held a renaming ceremony in honor of General Schriever, making Schriever AFB the only Air Force base at that time named for a living person.

General Schriever died June 20, 2005, from natural causes at the age of 94 at his home in Washington, D.C.

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