38.

THE GURU OF ROCKETS

In the meantime, Schriever had been recruiting his own missile-building task force. Because Atlas had been given the Air Force’s highest priority, he could pick whomever he wished and their commands had to release them. To give Bennie’s team continuity, Gardner had also arranged with White and Twining that once an officer was selected, unless Bennie subsequently relinquished or fired him, he was assigned to WDD for the duration.

No missile could fly without rocket engines. It was thus understandable that the first name on a list Bennie had been compiling was that of Lieutenant Colonel Edward Hall, the expert on rocket propulsion at the laboratories of the Air Development Center at Wright-Patterson. Hall had been the man who had briefed the Tea Pot Committee on rocket engines. Schriever and Ed Hall could not savor the irony involved when Schriever summoned Hall to a meeting at his office in the Pentagon that July of 1954, explained the project to him, and invited him to become WDD’s chief of propulsion. At the time, neither knew that Ed Hall’s younger brother, Ted, had been, along with Klaus Fuchs, one of the Soviet Union’s two invaluable physicist spies at Los Alamos.

Edward Nathaniel Hall was, in fact, considerably more than an expert on rocket engines. He was the U.S. Air Force’s guru on rocketry. He was also well known to devotees of the subject outside the Air Force. In the following year, 1955, his achievement in improving liquid rocket fuel was to earn him the American Rocket Society’s Robert H. Goddard Memorial Award, commemorating the American rocket pioneer who had first attempted to interest the Army in the military utility of rockets near the close of the First World War in 1918. While Ed Hall did not share Ted’s politics, he did share the brilliance of mind and the largeness of ego of the brother who was his junior by eleven years. He also had a trait distinctly his own that would serve him ill—a flash-pan temper.

His road to recognition as a rocketeer had not been an easy one. Born Edward Nathaniel Holtzberg in New York City on August 4, 1914, three days after the First World War broke out, his sense of security had not been improved by the socioeconomic roller coaster on which his father, Barney Holtzberg, had taken the family in the rise and crash of his fur business. That sterling quality in Jewish culture, the sense by both parents and child of the value of an education, had been Ed Hall’s salvation. He won his way into Townsend Harris, one of New York’s elite high schools, where entrance was by competitive examination, and went on to the City College of New York. Tuition at CCNY was free in the 1930s. In 1935, he acquired a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and then, to improve his chances in the job-scarce environment of the Depression, took a professional degree, the equivalent of a Ph.D. without the thesis, in the subject the following year.

But he couldn’t find a steady job as an engineer. Hall knew that the difficulty was not simply the lack of opportunity posed by the Depression. When an opportunity did come along, someone else less able was hired and he was turned down because of the anti-Semitism that was also so prevalent at the time. His more advanced degree in chemical engineering didn’t help, nor did a disguise he sought to adopt by filing court papers to change Holtzberg to Hall. A tall, husky man with an aquiline nose, deep-set brown eyes, a high forehead, and dark curly hair, Ed Hall looked much too East European to pass for an Anglo-Saxon. He had to be satisfied bouncing about earning his living as an auto mechanic, a steamfitter, a plumber, an electrician, a radio repairman, whatever he could scrounge. And so he finally gave up on the civilian world. In September 1939, as Hitler’s armies invaded Poland and the Second World War began, Hall joined the U.S. Army Air Corps as an enlisted man. The Air Corps was not yet awarding commissions to engineers. A man had to become a pilot first and then go into engineering, but Hall reasoned that this would change with the world situation becoming more perilous and the Air Corps thus bound to grow. He opted for the mechanics school at Chanute Field south of Chicago. Familiarizing himself with the service’s flying machines seemed the obvious way to get started.

At his first posts—March Field, California, where, not that many years before, Bennie Schriever had served his initial stint as a novice pilot under Hap Arnold, and then at a new airfield in Alaska, Elmendorf, near Anchorage—Hall’s skill at repairing aircraft and correcting the mistakes of the ordinary mechanics gained him quick promotion to sergeant. He succeeded so well at Elmendorf that he became a captive there. In 1941, with war approaching and the Air Corps on the edge of a breakneck expansion into the Army Air Forces, Arnold realized that he would require a lot of competent engineer officers to keep his planes in the air. An announcement went out that enlisted men with the requisite qualifications could apply for commissions. Hall immediately did. The airfield commander had no intention of losing him. He threw Hall’s application for a commission into his wastebasket. A fellow sergeant who ran the Elmendorf radio shack rescued him, surreptitiously transmitting the application to Sacramento, where it was routinely forwarded to Washington.

Hall entered the war as a freshly commissioned second lieutenant right after Pearl Harbor. It was a measure of his capacity to get himself into jams and to irritate people that despite membership in a burgeoning organization where promotions came faster than paymasters could keep track of them, and his heroic contributions as an aircraft repair and engineering fireman for the air forces in England, he managed to finish the war in 1945 just four grades up. (And passage from second to first lieutenant is, barring serious misconduct, virtually automatic, not really counting as a promotion.) He did not make major until June 1, 1945, after Germany had surrendered and Japan was two and a half months from collapse.

At the beginning of 1943, when Hall was given his first emergency assignment, he was up one grade to first lieutenant. His task was to organize and operate a mobile repair service for B-17s that had crash-landed at airfields, in meadows, and in other open spaces all over southern England and the Midlands after being shot up on bombing raids into the Nazi-occupied continent. Squadron mechanics were qualified for routine maintenance; major fixes were beyond most of them. The original scheme for handling seriously damaged bombers had been to dismantle them and send them to a central depot for repair, but this had proven impractical. The brigadier general in charge of the maintenance and repair division of the Eighth Air Force’s service command came up with the mobile repair idea as a way to attack the problem. With losses to the Luftwaffe’s fighters and German flak rising and promised replacement bombers being diverted to the campaign in North Africa, the need to get these wounded Boeing warriors fit for the air once more was literally desperate. Hall was chosen for the job because of the reputation for energy and effectiveness he had established while engineer officer for a transport group that supplied the way station airfields built at Goose Bay, Labrador, and on Greenland and Iceland to ferry aircraft to Britain.

The brigadier gave Hall a letter authorizing him to take charge of any battle-damaged aircraft anywhere in the British Isles and carte blanche to organize his repair teams. He interviewed other junior engineer officers until he found six he thought reasonably competent. They in turn each rounded up four or five enlisted mechanics for their teams. Even though he was repairing aircraft manufactured by a competitor, civilian engineers from the Lockheed company stationed over in Northern Ireland were kind enough to ship him half a dozen trucks. Hall outfitted them as on-the-road machine shops with drills, riveting equipment, and other tools and spare parts. The Lockheed group also sent him some of their expert civilian aircraft mechanics to train his men and tackle the really complicated jobs. He finagled a Ford station wagon that had once belonged to the British to transport himself around. It had the RAF’s roundel insignia on one side and the American star on the other, allowing Hall to gas up at any fuel point run by either service. He also requisitioned enough radio equipment to set up a network that kept him in touch with all of his teams and enabled him to receive warnings of where downed aircraft were located. As soon as he got a report, Hall would whisk to the scene in the station wagon, write up a repair plan for the aircraft, and dispatch a team. He and his men were soon reviving “splashed down” bombers, the English euphemism for a crash landing, hither and yon.

Then one day he was notified of a B-17 down in bad condition at an airfield under LeMay’s command. He arrived to discover a mechanic from an English civilian repair crew on a ladder making what the Englishman seemed to think was an acceptable fix to a spar, the main support for the span of a wing. The spar had been shot nearly in two at a point where it bore a particularly heavy load. Hall looked at the repair the English mechanic was attempting and asked where his foreman was. Hall found the foreman and asked him who had designed this fix. “Oh, it was done by Boeing,” the foreman replied. Hall could see that this had to be false. Under the proposed repair the wing would have snapped in two under the stress of flight. He told the English foreman to cease work. “Go to wherever you live or whoever runs you, but no more work on this airplane,” Hall said. “Oh, I can’t do that. We are under contract,” the foreman said. “Contract, bontract! Get out of here,” Hall shouted. He gestured at the .45 caliber semiautomatic service pistol he carried in a holster on his hip. “Look, I have a gun here,” he said. “I am going to take it out, point it at you, and count to five,” and proceeded to do just that. The Englishman, as Hall told the story, “took off like a scared cat,” his mechanics with him.

Not long afterward, while Hall was inspecting the B-17 for more battle damage, he was called to the telephone. In the hurly-burly of the buildup, the usual had occurred—incompetents had snookered their way into rank and place. The caller was a colonel at the central depot. Hall had run across him in earlier years and knew that he had sparse engineer training. The man had somehow convinced the authorities otherwise, been given a colonel’s eagles, and put in charge of the depot’s engineering section. He had then apparently hired some Englishman with a crew of self-styled aviation mechanics to repair bombers. The colonel said he understood Hall had dismissed the crew from a job and ordered Hall to put them back on it right away. Hall refused and said the colonel’s hired mechanics had no idea what they were about. “What they were doing would have guaranteed that the airplane would have crashed,” Hall said. The colonel asked by whose authority Hall was acting. Hall read him the letter of blanket authorization from the brigadier general commanding the maintenance and repair division. “It doesn’t make any difference,” the colonel said. He once again ordered Hall to put his English crew back on the job. Instead of simply hanging up, informing the brigadier of what was going on, and taking satisfaction as the brigadier brought his heel down on the colonel, Hall did something that he subsequently reflected “wasn’t very wise.” He let loose the spring of his temper. “You son of a bitch!” he yelled into the phone. “I’m not about to put anybody back and kill people and ruin airplanes.” And then he hung up.

A couple of weeks later he received a notice to report for a court-martial hearing at Eighth Air Force headquarters at Bushy Park, up the Thames from London, near Hampton Court Palace, where Henry VIII had held sway. When he arrived at the appointed office, a major sitting behind a desk read him a charge sheet the colonel had sworn out against Hall. To Hall’s further anger and insult, the colonel did not accuse him of insubordination or conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. Rather, he charged Hall with gross technical incompetence in the performance of his duties as an engineer. The major handed Hall a copy and instructed him to return in two days with a response. Hall went immediately to the Boeing office in London. He knew the engineers there because he had been consulting regularly with them on how best to repair the B-17s. He told them what had happened, showed them the charge sheet, and asked if they would write a letter affirming his competence. They were happy to oblige. The letter said that not only was Hall an extremely accomplished engineer, his mobile group was far better at repairing B-17s than any other organization in the United Kingdom and its disbandment would be a disaster.

The next morning, Hall presented the letter to the major. He could see the man’s face color with anger as he read it. He asked Hall if there were any other copies and, if so, to hand them to him. Hall replied that that was impossible because he had mailed the copies to friends in the United States, with instructions to give the letter to their local newspapers if they did not hear from Hall within two weeks. The major ordered Hall to take a seat and strode off, letter in hand. About fifteen minutes later, a general appeared. Hall subsequently decided that the bestarred figure was probably Ira Eaker. It may well have been, as Eaker was then commanding the Eighth while Carl Spaatz was off in the North African theater as Eisenhower’s deputy for air. The general grinned at Hall as he rose from the chair where he had been sitting, shook his hand, slapped him on the back, and said, “Ed, get out of here and keep them flying,” which was what Hall did. He kept his teams at it until, as more trained engineering personnel arrived from the United States and more and better repair depots were established, they worked themselves out of a job and were disbanded.

(Hall’s quickness to reach for his pistol was not limited to professional crises. Shortly after his arrival in England in late 1942, while he was briefly stationed at Oxford, Hall met a young Englishwoman named Edith Shawcross. She was a niece of a prominent English jurist, Hartley Shawcross, later awarded a life peerage as Baron Shawcross of Friston for his accomplishments as senior British prosecutor at the war crimes trial of the leading Nazis at Nuremberg in 1945–46. An independent woman with a will that was strong, if not quite as strong as Hall’s, Edith was an honors graduate in botany from St. Hilda’s, one of the women’s colleges at the university. She had joined the Civil Defence Corps and in 1942 was driving an ambulance in Oxford. While she was standing in line to buy a drink at a hotel bar there one evening, an American officer walked up and asked if she would step aside so that he could pass through. Thinking he was trying to jump the line, she said, “No, I was here first.” Hall pointed to a bartender farther down the bar who had gone unnoticed. There was no line in front of him. “That’s all right, baby,” Hall said, “I’ll buy you a drink.” He did and they were married nine months later.

In early 1944, while Hall was momentarily stationed near Bournemouth on the south coast, he received a phone call that Edith was giving birth to their first child and having an extremely troublesome time. He tore up the roads to Oxford in the Ford station wagon he had not yet surrendered. At the hospital there, Edith’s obstetrician told him that she had been in labor for about fifty hours, that the heart of the child still within her was weakening, and that she was also failing rapidly. The obstetrician seemed confused, as if he had lost his nerve, and, in any case, Hall decided, time was critical if either mother or child or both were to survive. He drew his .45, pressed the muzzle into the doctor’s chest, and ordered him to deliver the baby immediately. This the obstetrician, who seemed relieved at being forced to take action, did in a procedure using a forceps. Edith rallied. As an infant, the child was weak from the almost certain deprivation of oxygen he had suffered during his prolonged birth, but he lived. The Halls named him David and he went on to gain a Ph.D. in physics from Cal-tech.)

Hall’s achievement with his mobile repair teams should have brought him immediate promotion to captain. In March 1943, the brigadier in charge of maintenance and repair presented him with a letter of commendation praising his “intelligence, initiative and industry” and his “quick grasp of the requirements of field maintenance” for the success of the project. The letter was endorsed by the major general heading the entire Service Command and a copy was filed in Hall’s records. Furthermore, he received a Legion of Merit for his next major accomplishment between May and August 1943, while still a first lieutenant: keeping the bombers flying during that critical year when the Eighth Air Force was so beleaguered. The citation praised the “long hours and untiring efforts” he had devoted “to the invention and development of special tools” that made it possible to repair the fuselages of damaged bombers much more rapidly. The award of such a high decoration to a man at the bottom of the officer ranks was a rarity and spoke for the importance of Hall’s contribution. But he had to wait until mid-October 1943 for his captaincy.

The problem was that for every equal or superior whose admiration Hall aroused, he raised the hackles of others. He was the classic smart aleck with a chip on his shoulder, the wise guy who could not resist preening his cleverness, or needlessly pushing too far a confrontation with a more senior officer, as he had with the incompetent colonel over the repair of the B-17. He could be vindictive too. Hall did not turn in the Ford station wagon he had managed to acquire for the mobile repair team job, as he should have done. Instead, he held on to it as a personal vehicle. A motor pool officer demanded that Hall hand it over for general service use. Hall refused. He finally turned in the station wagon, but only after pouring enough of the solvent carbon tetra-chloride into the gas tank to ruin the engine.

After another contribution to the Allied war effort in organizing the last-minute assembly of scores of gliders to ferry airborne troops behind German lines in Normandy on D-Day, Hall found the inspiration for his life’s work amidst the ruins of the Third Reich. Hap Arnold would have approved, as he had a distant if unknowing hand in Hall finding his métier. In addition to recruiting Theodore von Kármán for the major expedition to glean the best of German technology, which resulted in Toward New Horizons, Arnold had also ordered the formation in England of a small air technical intelligence team called the Directorate of Technical Services. The team was a joint venture with the RAF, about a dozen American engineers and a handful of British. Operating first in England and France, the team then followed the Allied armies into Germany, garnering whatever it might discover as they advanced. Hall was assigned to it and charged with gathering intelligence on all sources of aerial propulsion, from ordinary reciprocating engines to jets, ramjets, and rocket engines. While still in London, where the team was put together, Hall had collected pieces of the V-1 ramjet cruise missiles, dubbed buzz bombs by the Londoners, and the V-2 ballistic missiles the Nazis were launching against the British capital, to see what clues these shards might provide. He had, in fact, nearly been killed by a V-2. One evening, just as he was closing the blackout curtain in the room where he was sleeping, a five-story structure across the street was suddenly lifted into the air before disintegrating and crashing into rubble. The V-2 apparently penetrated right down through the building and then the 1,650 pounds of high explosive in the warhead detonated, lofting it upward.

In his unpublished autobiography and in an interview, Hall claimed he was sent on a secret mission to the Satan’s lair where the V-1s and V-2s were being manufactured. It was a bombproof factory tunneled into a mountainside in a lonely valley of the Hartz Mountains, near Nordhausen in north-central Germany, by slave laborers. Thousands died blasting and burrowing out the chambers and thousands more were then worked to death running the factory around the clock. The place bore the banal name of Mittelwerk (Central Factory). His orders, which he said he successfully carried out, were to arrange for U.S. Army trucks to remove several samples of both V-1s and V-2s for shipment back to the United States and to sabotage the plant by destroying the master drawings and data settings for the machines. The purpose of the sabotage was to prevent the Soviets, in whose preagreed occupation zone the Mittelwerk would lie, from using the plant to manufacture any of the rockets or the jet engines that were also being produced there.

Hall did get to Germany and was later awarded a Bronze Star for his intelligence work there, but whether he ever reached the V-2 factory is unclear, as details of his account are contradicted by other known historical facts. Ed Hall’s ego was sufficiently large to make him prone to elaborating the facts in his favor or even wish-thinking something out of whole cloth. As the Air Force’s foremost rocketeer, which he was subsequently to become, he certainly would have wanted others to believe that he had gone to the home of the V-2. What is clear is that its creation inspired him to devote his life to rocketry.

Back in the United States in the late summer of 1946, with Edith and their first and hard-born child, David, Hall was ordered to the Air Development Center at Wright. He hoped he was being sent there with an assignment to design and develop rocket engines. To his chagrin, he was instead designated chief propulsion officer in the Technical Intelligence Department (later renamed the Air Technical Intelligence Center), tasked, as he had been in London, with gathering information on all new means of aerial propulsion being devised at home and abroad. While a handful of far-seeing air warriors like Hap Arnold had been impressed by the potential the V-2 heralded, most American airmen had regarded it as an expensive curiosity. Given its limited range of 180 to 220 miles and lack of accuracy, it might unnerve the citizens of London with its random death dealing, but it could accomplish no military purpose. To alleviate his frustration with intelligence work, Hall wrote a series of papers arguing that this dismissal was premature and a serious error. Rocket-propelled missiles possessed, he pointed out, the possibility of infinite range. When rocket engines were built with enough power to hurl a warhead into space with extreme velocity, as they someday would be, and guidance systems of high accuracy were also devised, targets anywhere on earth could be destroyed.

In the fall of 1947, Hall thought he had escaped the intelligence types. He and the family moved out to Pasadena after the newly independent U.S. Air Force approved his request for a year’s grant to obtain a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering at Caltech, concentrating on jet propulsion systems, as there were no courses on rocket engines available at the time. Hall was not only to be the Air Force’s leading rocket specialist, he was also to be a self-taught one. He would have stayed another two years at Caltech to gain a Ph.D., but Air Technical Intelligence needs stymied him once more. He was dispatched to England to determine whether jet engines a British firm had been allowed to sell the Soviets for their new MiG-15 fighters could be altered for high-altitude performance. Unfortunately, Hall discovered, they could be. On May 22, 1950, just a month and three days before the outbreak of the Korean War, he was at last given the opportunity to demonstrate what he was really capable of achieving. He was transferred back to the Air Development Center and assigned to the Power Plant Laboratory as assistant chief of the nonrotating engine branch, i.e., ramjets and rockets.

While all aspects of rocketry fascinated Hall, the straight-to-the-point logic of his mind led him to focus on first things first—the engine. The most powerful created up to that time was the V-2 engine, with its 56,000 pounds of thrust. North American Aviation in Los Angeles was one of the few aircraft firms with the foresight to get into the rocket business after the Second World War, soon establishing a separate rocket division, appropriately called Rocketdyne, at Canoga Park north of Burbank. With funding from the Air Development Center, it built several copies of the V-2’s power plant. About half blew up on test firing. It was decided that the German engine was seriously defective and, in any case, greatly underpowered for Air Force purposes. Hall arranged funding for a new and bigger engine fabricated to his design ideas and those the North American engineers contributed.

Rocket engines in this early period were notoriously fickle devices, even when put together with care. What occurs within a rocket engine, as soon as the ignition button is pushed, is a controlled explosion, and “controlled” is a hoped-for attribute. Because the chain reaction is so volatile, a minor malfunction or small design flaw in the engine is enough to send the explosion out of control with an enormous flash and bang that blasts engine and rocket into bits. To improve reliability, Hall therefore pestered Rocketdyne to adopt strict quality control of components and uniform procedures when testing the engines by bolting and clamping them to concrete stands for static firings. The result of his initiative was an engine of 75,000 pounds thrust, an improvement but neither reliable nor potent enough for what Hall had in mind. Hall regarded the engine as a way station, but it did not go to waste. Wernher von Braun showed up at Hall’s laboratory one day and asked if he could have the few test engines North American had produced for a new missile he and his team were putting together at the Army’s Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, Alabama. Hall consented readily and had von Braun sign the appropriate transfer form. Hall’s beginning venture in rocket enginery thus ended up as the power plant for Redstone, a 200-mile-range tactical missile, an upgraded V-2, which von Braun launched for the Army in 1953.

Hall meanwhile pressed on with the single-mindedness and ruthless determination so characteristic of the man. When his goals were endangered, scruples that might have deterred others aroused no hesitation in Hall. Rather, he displayed at such moments the ultimate and imaginative form of gall known as chutzpah in Yiddish. After the budget for his rocket engine program was initially “decimated” in mid-1950 by the more immediate needs of the Korean War, he wrote in his unpublished autobiography, he decided to fake an intelligence report of a monster Soviet rocket engine to frighten the Air Force into leaving his money alone. He approached a friend who was an officer in Technical Intelligence, explained how desperate his plight was, and asked the friend to help him pull off the con. He would provide a design, he said, drawn in what was known of Russian style, of an engine rated at one hundred metric tons (220,500 pounds) of thrust. The friend was then to slip it into intelligence channels as a genuine report picked up in the Soviet Union. The man refused to be part of such a hoax. Submitting fraudulent reports is a serious offense under military law.

If caught, Hall and his friend could both be court-martialed and dismissed from the service. Hall pestered the friend for weeks, pleading that the trick was the only way to save his endeavors. The man finally relented and a drawing of Hall’s bogus Soviet whopper engine was duly submitted. The report caused a sensation at the Air Development Center. A special briefing was laid on and ranking officers invited. Hall cannily stayed away. As he recounted in his autobiography, early that evening, right after the briefing, the chief of the Power Plant Laboratory, where Hall worked, a senior colonel, “entered my office and castigated me for failing to press hard enough to retain my budget for large rocket development. The program was saved!”

Faking the report of the Soviet engine was not the only confidence game Hall played. The budget funds he drew on for his rocket engine advancement program were designated for a project he was supposed to further, the development of the Navaho intercontinental cruise missile. It was one of the three strategic missiles the Tea Pot Committee was to examine. A big multiengine rocket booster putting out more than 400,000 pounds of thrust, and weighing 300,000 pounds, was planned to lift the Navaho to the point fifteen miles in the air where the twin ramjet engines were supposed to kick in and propel the missile 6,330 miles to its target. Hall had no faith in the Navaho. He regarded ramjet engines as more difficult to fabricate and less reliable than rockets. He was also convinced that the Navaho’s inertial guidance system would not prove sufficiently accurate to carry the missile to its target over the relatively long flight time. His game was to use the requirement for adequate engines for the Navaho booster as a cover to acquire a rocket engine for an intercontinental ballistic missile. He believed that an ICBM’s much shorter flight time over the same distance, about half an hour, would allow for correspondingly more accurate guidance, particularly given the advances then occurring in guidance technology. (And Hall was proven correct where Navaho was concerned. Despite the later availability, thanks to Hall, of rocket engines of sufficient power, the Air Force could never get the contraption to fly properly and it was finally canceled in 1957.)

At the Air Development Center, Hall was in a milieu where he could shine and where his talents were appreciated. His colleagues were other engineers caught up like himself in the exploration of uncharted technology that could enhance the reach and power of the U.S. Air Force. His difficult personality made enemies, of course, as it always did. But there were others who saw beyond his flaws to the imaginative and insightful cast of his mind and admired and befriended him. One was Major Sidney Greene, a fellow New Yorker, although Brooklyn-born, and like Hall a graduate of the Townsend Harris competitive-entrance high school and the City College of New York. Greene had been forced to take his B.S. at CCNY in premedical studies, because his mother had been intent on him becoming a doctor. But after spending the Second World War in the Army Air Forces, mostly as a communications officer, he had set out on his own road. He discovered that he liked military life, applied for and received a Regular commission, and obtained a B.S. in electrical engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology (a larger and more advanced postwar version of the Engineering School Schriever had attended at Wright in 1940). He followed it up with a master’s in the subject through university extension courses. By 1952, Greene was in charge of the New Developments Office at the Air Development Center. He had a myriad of study projects on his agenda, from a reconnaissance satellite, for which the Air Force as yet had no rocket to launch it into space, to a radar decoy for the B-52 named Green Quail. Everything was on paper; no prototypes had been produced.

One of the studies in Greene’s cupboard was Atlas, still in its original monster missile incarnation to carry a huge fission warhead, which the Air Force had revived the previous year by granting a new study contract to Convair. The funds for the Convair study were channeled through Greene’s office. Hall learned this and approached Greene with a proposition. “Look, let’s not throw away more money on paper. What we need is a rocket engine. Why don’t we take $2 million, you transfer it over to me, and we will modify the Navaho booster.” Hall explained that he would use the $2 million to get North American’s Rocketdyne to build a prototype with enough thrust to give them a real ballistic missile engine. Greene knew Hall well by this time. He was subsequently to work under Hall at Schriever’s Western Development Division. He understood all of Hall’s kinks. He also regarded Hall, he was to remark years later, as “one of our geniuses.” The proposition made eminent sense to him. “Great idea,” Greene said, “I’ll give you the money.” After Greene’s immediate superior, a colonel, also assented, he let Hall have the funds. The action was legal, but they were supposed to clear a transfer involving this much money with the commander of the center, Major General Albert Boyd, whom Greene remembered as a tough-minded, grim-looking man who had been a famous test pilot in his younger years. Convair apparently complained over the shortfall of $2 million in revenue it had expected to receive and Secretary Talbott wrote to Boyd demanding an explanation. Greene and his boss were summoned to the general’s office. Greene thought Boyd “was going to rip me apart.” He and his superior explained why they had made the transfer. The general focused his gaze on the apprehensive Greene. “If I were in your place, I would have done the same thing,” Boyd said to Greene’s surprise. “Get out. I’ll take care of it.”

Combining their talents, Hall and the Rocketdyne engineers produced a prototype engine that generated an unprecedented 120,000 pounds of thrust. Hall then had an insight that further enhanced the engine’s force. It came to him from his research into liquid rocket fuels. The traditional liquid rocket fuel, the one used in the V-2 engine and in the two more powerful ones for which Hall had since been responsible, was alcohol and liquid oxygen. The two substances were mixed as they flowed into the combustion chamber of the engine, the liquid oxygen serving as a burning agent to draw maximum energy from the alcohol while it was being consumed at an extremely high temperature. Hall soon realized from his research that a hydrocarbon fuel would release considerably more energy than alcohol when burned. He experimented until he hit on what seemed to be the optimal substance. It was a refined petroleum much like the Pearl Oil kerosene that John D. Rockefeller had grown wealthy selling to millions of Chinese. (In one of the early twentieth century’s more memorable marketing ploys, Rockefeller had thoughtfully provided, free of charge, the kerosene lamps in which to burn it.) Hall gave an appropriately terse military designation to his variation, RP-1, for Rocket Propellant-1. Adjustments had to be made to the engine to burn the hydrocarbon fuel, but when the RP-1 was substituted for the alcohol, Hall got an increase in thrust from 120,000 to 135,000 pounds, a remarkable accomplishment for the time. Hall’s initiative also led North American to construct bigger concrete stands, called “hard stands,” for static testing of large rocket engines at Santa Susana in Southern California.

As Ed Hall drove out to Inglewood from Ohio that August of 1954 with Edith and David and their second son, Jonathan, to join the Schoolhouse Gang, he was bringing Schriever a jump start for the entire enterprise. The hurdle of a suitable engine had not yet been fully overcome. They would need one generating 150,000 pounds of thrust to lift the Atlas ICBM they were to design. Developing and perfecting this still more powerful engine would require time and trial and error and heartache. But Ed Hall had already brought them a long way toward attaining that without which they could never reach into the sky.

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