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Eric Nelson

An excerpt from the upcoming book, The Rise of Air Force Space Command.

Retired AF General Eric Nelson’s parents came over from Sweden in the early 1920s. They married in 1931, and Eric was born in 1935 in the middle of the depression. His father was a carpenter by trade, but there was no work during the depression for a carpenter. Instead, his father secured a job as an apartment building manager in New York. Eric’s father understood the importance of an education and foresaw the opportunities the United States of America offered for educated individuals. It was difficult and it was quite expensive, Eric noted, but his father scraped together the $470 a year for his tuition at New York University in the Bronx. While there, Eric joined a fraternity. One of his fraternity brothers had gone out with a girl a couple times, but had met someone else. So he asked if he could set Eric up on a blind date with her—her name was Eleanor, and that’s all Eric knew about her when he took her out for their first date. It was the same for Eleanor; she accepted the blind date figuring ‘how bad could it be’—as it turns, out, not bad at all! Eric and Eleanor ended up marrying.

Having followed a technically-oriented high school education, Eric pursued an engineering degree. He was also interested in flying, as demonstrated by his degree program in Aeronautical Engineering. It seemed to be a natural move when he joined the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Core (ROTC) program at the University, not only from a career interest perspective, but also because of patriotic duty. The son of immigrants, he always understood well what America offered his parents and how different life would’ve been if his parents had not made the transatlantic voyage decades earlier. After graduation in 1956, Eric and Eleanor moved to California, and Eric went to work for Northrop Corporation on what was arguably the first American drone program, nicknamed ‘the Snark’. This was a ground launched unmanned cruise missile with a 42-foot wingspan that could fly itself from the coast of CA to Soviet territory at 565 miles an hour to drop a thermonuclear bomb. What happened to the Snark? The U.S. no longer keeps these weapon systems in its arsenal, and, though a formidable threat to American adversaries during the cold war, the program was relatively short-lived. More pointedly, what does this story have to do with the rise of the AF Space Command?