Northrop Names New Manager for Stealth

Edward P. Smith has been named vice president and general manager of Northrop’s B-2 division, the organization in Pico Rivera producing the controversial stealth bomber. Smith succeeds John Patierno, who is ill and on long-term medical leave.

Smith, 61, is taking over the stealth bomber program at a critical time. As the Air Force lifts its secrecy over the program, defense critics are increasingly questioning the cost of the program and suggesting that it should be significantly delayed. Such a postponement could be financial nightmare for Northrop.

The bomber is already more than a year behind schedule in making its maiden flight. It is now expected to fly from an air field in Palmdale within the next two months. Some sources put the first flight at the end of this month.

Smith joined Northrop after retiring from Rockwell International’s North American Space Operations, where he was chief engineer on the space shuttle orbiter and chief engineer on the Apollo spacecraft. Smith spent his career at Rockwell and has a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering from UCLA.


A Rockwell executive familiar with Smith praised his work on both the Apollo and shuttle programs, calling him adept not only in his technical area of aerodynamic structures but across a number of systems disciplines.

“I would consider him very highly qualified,” said Rocco Petrone, Rockwell vice president for systems safety and former chief of the firm’s space operations.

“He headed up our organization of 4,000 engineers when we were having a lot of problems,” Petrone recalled. “We were having trouble with the heat tiles and in other places.”

It would appear that Smith’s ability to handle technical difficulties in the engineering of large, complex aerospace systems may be critical in his role at Northrop.

Stealth bombers are expected to cost $500 million each, making them the most costly production aircraft ever developed. Although it is unknown whether Northrop is currently facing major technical problems, it has had to undertake a $1-billion effort to redesign the wings of the bomber.