Lloyd (Gunner) Briggs was born in Rushville, Ill., on
Dec. 21, 1919. He joined the Navy in 1940. During World War II he served
aboard the Battleship USS Texas and participated in the Normandy invasion.
Briggs came to White Sands in 1966 as a chief warrant
officer with the Navy. He was assigned as the research rocket officer in
charge of the Aerobee Upper Altitude Research Rocket Program. In those days
the program was centered at LC-35 and used only Aerobee 150 rockets.
In 1970, Gunner retired from the Navy and took on the
job of Director of Research Rockets as a civilian employee. During his 20
years at White Sands, he supervised more than 650 rocket launches. Many of
these rockets set altitude records or incorporated new technology. In
addition, he shepherded the expansion of Research Rockets to LC-36 with more
launch pads, an assembly building and test lab. The vehicles used expanded to
include the Aerobee 170, 200 and 350 series, Nike Apache, Nike Cajun, Aries,
Black Brant, Nike Black Brant and Terrier Black Brant.
Briggs led the launch of the 1,000th Aerobee. On Dec.
16, 1976, his Aries single-stage rocket reached a record-setting altitude of
319 miles. In 1977 he led a NASA/White Sands team to Australia to launch seven
rockets at the Woomera Range.
For directing more than half the lifespan of the
Aerobee program, NASA awarded Briggs the Exceptional Service Medal. The award
was given for his "unusual initiative and creative ability."
Briggs was known as the consummate "hands on" director.
He didn’t just sit in his office and direct. He was always on site overseeing
and lending a hand in all aspects of a rocket’s preparation to include:
pre-fire tests, loading, fueling, launching and recovery.
Briggs retired in 1986 after 45 years of combined
federal service. On his departure, the Navy named the launch area of LC-36 as
Briggs died on Dec. 24, 1986.