Martin Schilling, Developer of V-2 Missile, Dies at 88

 

By William Honan, , May 8. 2000

 

Martin Schilling, a German-born retired executive of the Raytheon Company who worked with Wernher von Braun at Peenemunde, Germany, during World War II to develop the world's first large ballistic missile, the V-2, died on April 30 at a clinic in Burlington, Mass. He was 88.

Dr. Schilling, who lived in Lexington, Mass., died from heart failure, said his son Gerd.

Although not a decisive weapon, the 47-foot-long V-2 (the designation stands for Vergeltungswaffe 2, or Vengeance Weapon 2) with its one-ton warhead, was one to inspire dread among Allied civilians and soldiers alike. About 1,000 V-2's were fired at London during the war, and some 4,000 were launched against Allied soldiers.

Because the V-2 traveled at an altitude of 60 miles and a speed of one mile per second, faster than the speed of sound, there was no warning of its approach. Furthermore, because it was not a "smart bomb" that could be aimed with at least a degree of precision, the hit-or-miss V-2 was considered a terror weapon.

For Dr. Schilling, however, who was entranced by the possibilities of Jules Verne-style space travel, the V-2 could be a thing of beauty. At one test flight from Peenemunde in 1944, Dr. Schilling recalled to his son Gerd, he watched through a telescope an experimental V-2 rising to an altitude of 118 miles -- the edge of space. It was, he said, "a beautiful picture, showing the tiny rocket against the immensity of space," he told his son.

Although his sons say Mr. Schilling was not a member of the Nazi party, most of his supervisors, like von Braun, were in the party, according to "Reaching for the Stars," by Erik Bergaust (Doubleday, 1960). Dr. Schilling had been recruited by the Peenemunde team because he held a Ph.D. in applied physics and could be valuable in the development of missiles.

His specialty turned out to be the development of control vanes in the fiercely hot exhaust plume of the rocket motor. The vanes kept the rocket pointed straight up and later on its correct course until it built enough airspeed to be guided by its external fins. Today's rockets are kept on course at low speeds by the swiveling of the motors.

At the end of the war, von Braun and 126 Peenemunde scientists, including Dr. Schilling, were resettled at Fort Bliss, near El Paso, where they continued to develop rocketry.

After the team was moved to Huntsville, Ala., they launched America's first satellite into space in 1958, an event that signaled the beginning of the space race with the Soviet Union.

Later that year, Dr. Schilling joined the Raytheon Company of Lexington, Mass., which is now one of the world's largest electronics and missile system contractors.

For his work on the development of American military missiles, including the Hawk, the Sparrow, the Sidewinder and the Patriot, Dr. Schilling was awarded the Exceptional Civilian Service Award of the United States Army in 1958.

At Raytheon, he rose to the rank of vice president for research and engineering and retired in 1977.

Born on Oct. 1, 1911, Dr. Schilling attended the Institute of Technology in Hanover and received a doctorate in applied physics in 1937. After joining von Braun's staff in 1940, he rose to the position of technical director of the German Army test organization at Peenemunde.

Dr. Schilling's wife, Annaliese Lange, died in 1993. In addition to his son Gerd, of Princeton, N.J., Dr. Schilling is survived by another son, Hartmut, of Carlisle, Mass., and a sister, Gertrud Schilling of Dortmund, Germany.


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© 2000 by Neil Mishalov