Warfare game-changers from pre-Vietnam era with ARL ties inducted in Ammo Hall of Fame

August 06, 2012

Story Highlights

  • Two ballisticians BRL were posthumously inducted into the Joint Munitions Command's Ammunition Hall of Fame.
  • Dr. Robert Eichelberger and Dr. Robert Kent received honors.
  • Other inductees this year were Clifton Gray, Patrick Serao, and James Q. Wheeler.

Two ballisticians who changed modern day warfare as former Ballistic Research Laboratory (BRL) employees were posthumously inducted into the Joint Munitions Command's (JMC) Ammunition Hall of Fame.

Families of Dr. Robert Eichelberger, known worldwide as "the father of modern-day shape charges," and Dr. Robert Kent, one of the most prominent theoretical researchers and experimentalists, received honors at an awards ceremony June 1 at the JMC headquarters in Rock Island, Ill.

The Ammunition Hall of Fame was established in October 2011 to memorialize and honor former members of the ammunition community who have made significant and lasting contributions to the U.S. Army ammunition mission. Five of 26 nominees were selected this year.

The other inductees this year were Clifton Gray, former Quality Assurance Specialist (Ammunition Surveillance); Patrick Serao, former Senior Executive for the Armaments Research, Development and Engineering Center, and James Q. Wheeler, former Defense Ammunition Center Director.

BRL was established by the Department of the Army in 1938 as its center for research efforts in ballistics and vulnerability/lethality analysis. Beyond its work in ballistic science, BRL is most known for its role in the history of computer development. It sponsored the development of the ENIAC, the first widely regarded general-purpose electronic digital computer; developed and built several generations of computers including the EDVAC, ORDVAC and BRLESC, and developed the BRL-CAD, a solid geometric modeling system that is now open sourced.

Eichelberger, a former BRL director who was employed there from 1955-1986, was the principal authority on modern shape charge theory, his award citation reads. "His leadership in the design of shaped-charge warheads resulted in a large number of fielded warheads including the original TOW (Tube launched, Optically Wired) missile and the Light Assault Weapon (LAW)."

The nomination lists him as "fundamental in the development of detonation physics" credits his contributions to the military's understanding of the significance of hypervelocity impact.

"Eichelberger was also an authority on the design of protection systems against shaped charge threats. Armor research conducted under his leadership was instrumental to the survivability of the M1 Abrams tank. His team conducted research and development of special access program technologies that are still used today."

Eichelberger led tank-fired ammunition through the research and development cycle from armor piercing to armor piercing and fin-stabilized discarding sabot, solving numerous technical challenges to result in the most lethal tank ammunition in the world.

Under Eichelberger's leadership as Director of BRL, the laboratory received Army Laboratory of the Year award seven times, the American Defense Preparedness Association Distinguished Service Citation, and the Daedalian Award for Outstanding Achievement. Eichelberger was inducted into the Ordnance Corps Hall of Fame in 1987 and passed away in 2009.

Kent began his tour of duty at Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG) in 1922, working in the interior, exterior and terminal ballistic fields until his retirement in 1956.

One of Kent's most notable accomplishments was the development of the solenoid chronograph, which he developed with E. A. Eckhart and I. C. Karchter of the National Bureau of Standards in the 1920s. It was said to be "considerably more accurate than the Aberdeen chronograph for determining projectile velocities. The perfection of this piezoelectric gauge for laboratory use opened the entire field of pressure phenomenon up to investigation. Its development marked the beginning of a new era for interior ballistics. For the first time, pressure-time curves could be determined from proved data rather than from solely discussed from a theoretical perspective," his nomination reads.

Similar to his work in motion of projectiles, the original blast meter at APG was developed by the National Bureau of Standards. Kent improved upon this meter in detail and his developments made possible the first study of experimental blast phenomenon.

The Army's studies of the 240mm howitzer in the 1920s yielded a great deal of information on cannon recoil. To supplement this information, Kent carried out a number of experiments in the early 1930s to obtain specific information about the dynamics of automatic weapons. In the course of these experiments, he developed an improved method for measuring recoil forces. This method was in general use at the BRL by 1940, but used nowhere else, even as late as late as 1975. Kent later evolved a theory of recoil action which served as the basis for the design of a recoil mechanism for automatic guns, known as the soft recoil system which has been widely used.

Kent was a fellow of the American Association for Advancement of Science and of the American Physical Society. He was decorated with the Presidential Medal for Merit in 1946, the Potts Medal of the Franklin Institute in 1947 and the Levin H. Campbell Jr. Gold Medal of the Ordnance Association in 1955. He passed away in 1961 and was inducted into the Ordnance Corps Hall of Fame in 1969.


Last Update / Reviewed: August 6, 2012