Col. Edward N. Hall, an engineer who as an intelligence officer scrutinized the V-2 rockets of Nazi Germany and went on to supervise programs leading to the development of the United States’ intercontinental ballistic missiles, including the Minuteman, died on Jan. 15, 2006 in Torrance, Calif. He was 91.
As relations with the Soviet Union rapidly deteriorated after World War II, fears surged in the American military that the Russians were gaining superiority in missile technology. As hundreds of millions of dollars were poured into a crash program to jump-start the American effort, Colonel Hall emerged as a technical leader, particularly in the rush to develop rockets using solid, not liquid fuel.
This was an important priority because solid-fuel missiles promised to be lighter, faster to launch and easier to control. The result was the Minuteman, the first 10 of which were installed in nearly impregnable underground silos in October 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis. Ultimately 1,000 were positioned in hidden locations in the Midwest.
The missile evolved through three generations, from Minuteman I to II to III. The warhead of the Minuteman III is armed with three independently targetable hydrogen bombs: in effect, three ICBM’s in one. Arms treaties have reduced the number now in place to 500.
On Feb. 12, 1958, Air Force headquarters directed its Western Development Division in Los Angeles to develop a solid-fuel propellant system “as soon as possible.” Colonel Hall immediately approached his superior officer, Gen. Charles H. Terhune, to ask him for three hours to brief top brass on a plan for a distinctive Air Force solid-propulsion intercontinental ballistic missile. With General Terhune, Colonel Hall briefed Gen. Curtis LeMay, the Air Force deputy chief of staff, on the potential of solid-propellant ICBM’s, which he saw as a relatively light three-stage missile. General LeMay was so impressed he arranged for Colonel Hall to brief the secretary of defense, Thomas S. Gates, who supported acceleration of the Air Force effort with $50 million.
“He really pulled together the concept for the Minuteman,” General Terhune said.
In 1999, J. D. Hunley, an Air Force historian, wrote that even considering the technical complexity of weapons programs, where assigning individual credit is exceedingly difficult, Colonel Hall was “pivotal to the development” of the missile.
At the time of the Minuteman project, Colonel Hall had already led development of some of the principal liquid-fuel missiles, the Atlas, Titan and Thor.
Edward Nathaniel Hall was born in Forest Hills, Queens, on Aug. 4, 1914. He was the son of a furrier who went bankrupt in the Depression, but he was able to attend the City College of New York, which was then free, where he earned undergraduate and master’s degrees in chemical engineering. Later, while in the Air Force, he earned a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering (propulsion option) from the California Institute of Technology. In September 1939, as war was beginning in Europe, he joined the Army Air Corps as an enlisted man. Engineers were not given automatic commissions at the time of his enlistment, but he was made a second lieutenant after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
He was sent to England to repair Boeing B-17 bombers and Martin B-24’s, both used in the bombing of Germany. In 1943, as a captain, he was awarded the Legion of Merit, an unusual award for a junior officer, for devising a way to repair a bomber’s fuselage rapidly.
His introduction to missiles came near the end of the war, when he was assigned to acquire intelligence on Germany’s wartime propulsion work. He analyzed parts recovered from exploded V-2 rockets or retrieved by spies.
At war’s end, he led a group to Germany to study underground missile assembly facilities at Camp Dora. He assisted in the division of captured missile equipment between England and the United States.
After a second European tour, he was stationed at what is now Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio to work on a variety of rockets, including the Bomarc, Navaho, Snark, Rascal and Falcon. In 1951, he was a leading instigator of what became the Atlas program. From November 1953 to February 1954, Colonel Hall served as Wright’s representative at meetings of the Air Force group, overseeing ICBM development, popularly known as the Teapot Committee. In August 1954, he moved to Los Angeles. After Minuteman, Colonel Hall worked with NATO to develop an intermediate-range ballistic missile. The result was the only European version of such a weapon, the French Diamant. He retired in 1959, and the next year won a second Legion of Merit. He worked for the United Aircraft Corporation and several other firms, and in 1999 was elected to the Air Force Space and Missile Hall of Fame.
In addition to his daughter, who lives in Calabasas, Calif., Colonel Hall is survived by his wife of 62 years, the former Edith Shawcross, and his sons, David, of La Crescenta, Calif., and Jonathan, of Kendall Park, N.J. When inducted into the hall of fame, Colonel Hall suggested that with the end of the cold war, the Minuteman should be used to carry conventional explosives. He said that with a satellite-guided final stage, it would hit with 10 feet of a target thousands of miles distant in less than 30 minutes.
“Several of Hall’s fellow inductees were not in favor of the proposal due to political considerations,” the Air Force announcement said, “but Hall remains enthusiastic.”