Sam F. Iacobellis has designed aircraft for Rockwell International Corp., worked on rocket engines, researched nuclear and fossil fuels, headed the company’s space shuttle efforts and managed the construction and deployment of two dozen global positioning satellites, which aided troops during the Persian Gulf War.
But after he announced Wednesday that he will retire in March from his post as Rockwell’s deputy chairman for major programs, Iacobellis, 65, said he was most proud of his work managing the development and production of the B-1 bomber.
“That airplane had more to do with the cessation of the Cold War than most people appreciate,” he said. “The Russians said it prevented them from having a first-strike capability.”
The 100 B-1s that Rockwell built over seven years were designed to carry nuclear warheads and be off the ground within minutes of any attack from the former Soviet Union. Deployed around the world, the bombers were to hold in check any notion the Soviets might have had about an initial attack.
In the years since the B-1B program ended in 1987 and the Cold War thawed, Iacobellis said, Russian scholars and military experts working jointly with the United States on various programs have told him that the bomber had its intended effect.
“When you think about items that led to perestroika, this was a real ace in our hands,” he said. “And to hear the Russian academicians and military say so now, well, that is really something.”
The B-1B program also had the distinction of being completed ahead of schedule and within budget.
The company has been working toward a smooth transition. Iacobellis was promoted to deputy chairman of the aerospace and defense company 18 months ago, in part to help his successor as chief operating officer, Kent Black.
“Few people have served an organization better or more effectively than Sam Iacobellis,” said Donald R. Beall, Rockwell’s chairman.
Iacobellis started as an aircraft designer at Rockwell’s predecessor, North American Aviation Inc., a day after he graduated from Fresno State University in 1952. From designing aircraft, he quickly moved to bigger projects. He also took advantage of company-paid tuition to earn a master’s degree in engineering at UCLA.
He transferred to the company’s Rocketdyne division in October, 1957, the same week the Soviet Union launched its Sputnik satellite in orbit, setting off the space race. Iacobellis has hardly slowed since as he worked on spacecraft, rocket engines, the B-1 Bomber and the space shuttle.
“I’ve been fortunate,” he said. “There has not been a day where I’ve gotten up and not looked forward to coming to work for Rockwell.
“To work in all these programs, go back to school, have the company pay for tuition, I just wish others could be as fortunate. I’m not being boastful; I’m just elated.”
Iacobellis is on the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce executive committee and a member of its board, a California Chamber of Commerce director and a member of the California Business Roundtable. He is also a director of the California State University Foundation and a UCLA Foundation trustee, and he serves as an executive committee member and governor of the Aerospace Industries Assn. in Washington.
After he retires, Iacobellis will continue working as a consultant for Rockwell on key government contracts and will continue representing the company as a member of various civic and charitable groups.