Bud Froehlich, 'brilliant' designer of famed sub

  • Article by: BEN COHEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 21, 2007 - 11:12 PM

The award-winning engineer, whose Alvin submersible went on to do pioneering oceanic exploration, including a probe of the Titanic, never stopped coming up with solutions to problems.

THE LIFE OF ALVIN

Harold (Bud) Froehlich joined the Navy to fight in World War II right after graduating from Minneapolis' Roosevelt High School.

He once told his family that his ship's officers encouraged him to seek an education so that he could become an engineer -- a career that eventually led to his work as chief designer for the famed deep-sea submarine Alvin.

Froehlich, of St. Anthony, died of cancer Saturday in Maplewood. He was 84.

Froehlich began his work on the Alvin in the late 1950s at General Mills' former research facility at 2003 E. Hennepin Av. in Minneapolis. The Navy turned to the Twin Cities cereal manufacturer because it had made precision equipment for the military during World War II and research balloons afterward.

The submersible is famous for its high-profile missions:

In 1966, it retrieved an H-bomb off the Spanish coast that was dropped when an Air Force B-52 and a tanker plane collided. In 1977, it carried scientists in their discovery of giant tube worms on the Pacific floor. In 1986 it explored the wreck of the Titanic with Robert Ballard.

"Bud was a brilliant engineer," who found practical solutions to problems, said Raymond Hakomaki of Roseville, a retired General Mills engineer who was responsible for selling the design of what would become Alvin to the Navy.

The submarine, which has been overhauled and modernized over the years, still performs scientific missions for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

Hakomaki calls Froehlich the inventor of the submarine, but noted that Froehlich gave credit to all those who worked with him. "The thing that always impressed me is that Bud was working in an environment where a single mistake could be catastrophic," said Hakomaki.

Hakomaki said that some of Froehlich's innovations to protect the submarine under the high pressures of the deep sea included covering the propeller, immersing the batteries in petroleum, and shaping the hull like a dirigible, which reduces drag on low-speed vehicles.

In 1993, Froehlich told the Star Tribune that "our basic ideas were sound, even though we had no idea that a plane would lose an H-bomb for Alvin to find, or that there would be things like the giant worms for Alvin to discover."

Froehlich told his family and friends recently that when Alvin is retired, he'd like to see it back in Minnesota in a museum.

In 1989, Froehlich was awarded the Elmer A. Sperry Award for advancing the art of transportation.

Froelich, who also designed high-altitude balloons for General Mills, test-flew some open-gondola models himself. He left General Mills in the mid-1960s.

He began his career for Boeing in Seattle, and among other companies, he worked for 3M from 1970 until his retirement in 1989. At 3M he led the effort to design skin staplers used in place of stitches after surgery.

Froehlich worked right up to the end of his life, said his son Steve of Grasston, Minn., an engineer who with his father was working on biomass fuel ideas, having come up with a prototype burner of waste hay. "He was one that was always looking for something new and different. My dad was a master at being able to see a problem, and find a simple solution to that problem," said his son.

In addition to his son, survivors include his wife of 61 years, Avanelle; a daughter, Jane Hansen of Deerwood, Minn.; a sister, Catheryn Glessner of Gilbert, Ariz., and eight grandchildren.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Nativity Lutheran Church, 3312 Silver Lake Road, St. Anthony, with visitation held one hour before the service at the church.

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