Air Force physicist responsible for significant weapon advances dies

Robert Edward “Ed” Deal. Provided by the Fayette Tribune.
Robert Edward “Ed” Deal. Provided by the Fayette Tribune.

Robert Edward “Ed” Deal, a retired Air Force physicist who helped develop the U2 high reconnaissance camera that was used to take photographs of Soviet missiles in Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis, died April 15.

He was 88.

Deal dedicated much of his life to the Air Force. He was born in Mullens, West Virginia in 1931 to the late Fred and Grace Deal. Like his mother, he was a voracious reader, skipping two grades and graduating high school at age 16. He volunteered for the Korean War with the aspiration of being a tail gunner, but scored too high on his aptitude test. He was assigned to USAF radar school, after which he was shipped off to Japan to repair fighter jets.

Deal eventually found his way to Wright Patterson Air Force Base, where he spent 30 years as a civil servant and eventually retired as the director for the Mission Avionics Division of the Air Force Wright Aeronautical Laboratory.

During his time at Wright Patterson, Deal aided with many military weapon advancements and was considered to be a global authority on laser physics. He also helped develop laser guided munitions and cruise missile target identification.

Deal patented the laser-based Corner Cube Reflector extraction method for retrieving downed pilots. He also patented the Zero Field MASER, which caught the attention of hydrogen bomb inventor Dr. Edward Teller. Deal had to personally “educate” Teller about his work on the MASER.

Deal was responsible for many significant improvements in military weapons during the 20th century. He was also responsible for improving lives at home. He was recognized for his efforts in advancing women in the work place and was awarded the nation’s Outstanding Civilian Career Service Award. He was also inducted into the Mullens High School Hall of Fame.

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In addition to being a brilliant physicist, Deal was a painter, a Pee Wee football coach and a lover of music. His daughters, Kim Deal and Kelley Deal, were the frontwomen for The Breeders, a Dayton-based alternative rock band popular in the 1990s.

Funeral services will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, May 18, at David’s Mausoleum, 4600 Mad River Road, Kettering.