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David H. Sowle

27 December 2018
(21 June 1931 - 28 November 2018)

The physicist founded a leading national security and defense contractor.

David H. Sowle, founder and president of Santa Barbara, California–based Mission Research Corporation (MRC), a leader in the development of advanced technologies engaged in emerging national security and homeland defense requirements, died 28 November from complications of cancer. He was 87.

David H. Sowle (1931-2018)

A native of Jonesboro, Arkansas, Sowle attended Yale University and graduated with a BS in physics in 1953. He spent three years at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory in New Mexico and then attended the University of Minnesota, where he received a PhD in theoretical physics in 1961. Following graduate school, Sowle worked on high-altitude nuclear weapon effects, first as a technical staff member of the Astronautics Division of General Dynamics Corporation and subsequently as manager of the theory branch of Gulf General Atomic Corporation.

Sowle formed MRC in 1970 in Santa Barbara, along with other colleagues who were dissatisfied working for large companies. For more than three decades, MRC earned a reputation as a national asset in such key areas as directed energy, electro-optical and infrared sensors, aircraft sensor integration, high-performance antennas and radomes, advanced signal processing, and specialized composites.

Sowle stepped down from the presidency in 1990 but remained on the board of directors and continued to work at MRC, exploring entrepreneurial opportunities on nondefense contract work, including global climate issues, until he retired in 2001.

At the time of its sale to Minneapolis-based Alliant Techsystems in 2004, MRC had approximately 560 employees at 16 facilities in 10 states. Customers included aerospace and defense prime contractors, major commands and research and test centers within each of the US military services, and several government agencies, including the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, NASA. Clients also included Los Alamos, Sandia, and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories.

Sowle came out of retirement to work on energy research with Robert O. Hunter Jr. at Innoven, a company engaged in producing energy through environmentally friendly and economically compelling fusion technology.

When not working on fusion energy research, Sowle spent much of his last years enjoying time on his ranch outside Santa Maria, California, and traveling with his wife of 30 years, Marcia Burtt.

Additionally, he is survived by three children from his previous marriage to Barbara Butler: Jeffrey Sowle of Joshua Tree, California; Jennifer Sowle, who lives with her husband, Robert Ewing, in McKinleyville, California; and Kathleen Sowle Womack, who lives with her husband, Randall, in Pacifica, California; and two grandchildren, Jackson Womack and Taylor Womack, both of Pacifica.

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