'Charlie' Bossart was the 'Chief Designer' of the Atlas ICBM and launch vehicle family. Bossart was considered a 'god' at Convair during the Atlas development. He was principally responsible for conceiving and developing the innovative characteristics of the Atlas that made it the most weight-efficient rocket ever designed - the thin-skin pressurised propellant tanks, the common bulkhead between the oxidiser and fuel tanks, the jettisonable booster engines, the separable nose cone, and the gimballed engines.
Bossart was born in Antwerp and graduated from the University of Brussels in 1925 with a degree in mining engineering. He won a scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from the Belgian-American Education Foundation. At MIT he specialised in aircraft structures. He remained in America and worked for several aircraft companies. This included a stint at the Edward Budd Manufacturing Company, where he became familiar with the company's use of stainless steel in railroad car construction. By 1945 he was Chief of Structures at Convair in California (then called Consolidated-Vultee Aircraft, later part of General Dynamics, then of Lockheed-Martin). He became involved with rocketry in contributing to Convair's proposal for the USAF MX-774 Project. He was challenged by the scepticism of the USAF brass that the German V-2 ballistic missile technology could ever provide the basis of an intercontinental range weapon. Bossart emerged as the driving force that convinced the Air Force to upgrade the MX-774 from a study contract to a vehicle test program. Bossart was placed in charge of development of the 8,200 km range rocket when Convair received the contract in 1945.
The Air Force contracted for ten MX-774 vehicles, in three phases. Stage A, the Teetotaler, was a sub-sonic, self-guided cruise missile. Stage B, the Old Fashioned, was a test missile using V-2 technology but incorporating new concepts planned for the next phase. Stage C, the Manhattan, was to be an ICBM. The MX-774 was cancelled by the Air Force in 1947 due to budget restrictions and continued Air Force scepticism. Using residual contract and corporate funds, Bossart was able to launch three stage B test vehicles from White Sands after the cancellation.
While none of the launches were completely successful, they did demonstrate Bossart's innovative design concepts including pressurized monocoque propellant tanks. Despite the heavy investment of company funds, the Air Force later directed Bossart to sell the MX-774 development package to the US Air Force's missile development manager, TRW, for a song. TRW in turn delivered it, in total, to Douglas and Martin to assist them in design of their competing Thor and Titan missiles. There were many hard feelings at Convair about that USAF action.
In 1949 the Soviet Union exploded their first atomic bomb and USAF expressed renewed interest in an ICBM. The Korean War began a year later, and signaled the beginning of the Cold War. Massive funding became available for American rearmament. Bossart led efforts to revive his missile program and was rewarded in 1951 with a USAF contract for Project MX-1593. Bossart named the rocket 'Atlas'. Massive funding for full-scale development began in 1954, leading to a first flight in 1957. Atlas became America's first operational ICBM in 1960 and placed the first American in orbit in 1962. With the addition of Convair's Centaur upper stage, the Atlas went on to a 48-year service career as a commercial launch vehicle.
Bossart was described as 'a one-man System Requirements and Functional Analysis Group…and much more effective. He could quickly understand all the requirements of a subsystem and then conceptualize a design that would perform all the critical functions most efficiently'. Even in corporate positions he was able to engage in very detailed technical discussions with Rocketdyne propulsion representatives.
Bossart retired from Convair in 1967 and died eight years later. His innovative concepts were not generally adopted by other rocket designers. The balloon tanks met with continuing skepticism despite forty years of service with only a few ground-handling incidents resulting in loss of pressure and collapse of the tanks. Weight control, the holy grail of 1950's rocketry, became less of an issue with later, higher-performance engines. Oddly, advocates of single-stage-to-orbit launch vehicles never were attracted Bossart's concepts to achieve their goal.
Birth Place: Antwerp.