China Lake Trivia

Q: What Navy “scientist in uniform” gave China Lake postwar research a big boost?

China Lake TriviaA: Capt. Levering Smith, a brilliant Navy scientist serving as a section head in the Research Division of the Navy’s Bureau of Ordnance as World War II ended. As California Institute of Technology scientists returned to academia, they sought to wrap up their WWII rocket program by returning surplus funds in excess of 10 million dollars to the Navy.

Smith decided to transfer that money to Inyokern – it doesn’t sound impressive in today’s dollars, but it was enough to get NOTS through a fallow period in postwar defense funding. He also made sure German innovations in science and technology would benefit NOTS, transferring three German scientists and a solid-propellant extrusion press here under Project Paperclip. That wasn’t the end of his postwar gifts to NOTS: his very next tour of duty was on the desert. He subsequently became deputy technical director at China Lake — the highest civilian position ever held here by a man in uniform. Later, as a vice admiral and technical director of the Polaris program, he made sure China Lake played a central role in the planning and development of that important weapon. — Submitted by Liz Babcock

Story First Published: 2018-09-07