Passing of a Space Pioneer

by Col. Joe Fitzpatrick, USAF (Ret.) and Lt Col. Bill Allgaier, USAF (Ret.)

Kitty Hawk and Harley H. Pope Flights recently learned that Colonel Francis “Joe” Hale took his last flight this past spring. It’s been a number of years since Colonel Hale attended one of our flight meetings, but we wanted to share the accomplishments of this great officer, engineer and aviator.  Colonel Hale was a Daedalian Life Member for 55 years. 

He graduated from high school in Washington DC at 15 years old. As he was too young to attend a service academy, he enrolled at local universities. He entered the United States Military Academy at West Point in July 1941 and was commissioned in the Corps of Engineers on D-day, June 6, 1944. He would later go on to earn Master and Doctor of Science degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

In the fall of 1944, Colonel Hale volunteered for parachute school at Fort Benning, GA. He served with a combat engineer battalion in Europe until mid-1945. After the war he retrained into the Army Map Service.  He was selected by the Director of the Manhattan Project, Major General Leslie Grove, to serve in the Manhattan Engineer District. It would become the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project at Sandia Base, NM. He became deputy supervisor for the first military team to assemble atomic weapons, and supervisor for the second such team. He spent five months on Eniwetok Island as a member of the Blast Measurements Group during Operation Sandstone, during which the U.S. tested three atomic bombs.

In 1947, in the newly formed United States Air Force, Colonel Hale became a P-51 Instructor Pilot at Nellis AFB. Following this flying assignment, he attended MIT for his Master of Science with a follow-on assignment as the Director of Aeroballistics, at the AF Armament Center, Eglin AFB. He then became the Deputy Director of the Thor missile program in Los Angeles where he successfully advocated for concentrating on all-inertial guidance.

After the establishment of the Minuteman missile program, Colonel Hale became the Deputy Program Director. In 1959, he returned to MIT where he earned his Doctor of Science in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.  Colonel Hale joined the USAF Academy faculty and became Head of the Astronautics Department. In 1963 he worked with Pentagon officials on many aerospace planning projects with representatives from DDR&E.

Colonel Hale retired from active duty in 1965 and joined the engineering faculty at North Carolina State University (NCSU) for thirty-four years. As part of the National Science Foundation, he led the development of an Aerospace curriculum at Turkey’s Middle East Technical University. He has been a visiting professor at both the U.S. Military Academy and U.S. Naval Academy. Colonel Hale’s favorite ‘claim to fame’ was he taught at three service academies. He authored several engineering textbooks, including Introduction to Space Flight (1994).

Retired Col. Francis “Joe” Hale takes in the sights from Headquarters with his wife Mary Alice and Maj. Gen. Thomas Deppe, vice commander of Air Force Space Command. The colonel was formally inducted into the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Hall of Fame March 7. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Matt Lohr)

At his passing he was a Professor Emeritus at NCSU.  Colonel Hale was inducted into the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneer Hall of Fame in 2006. His full obituary can be read here.