Sam Iacobellis, Fresno State alum, ‘Father of the B1 Bomber,’ dies at 87

Sam Iacobellis, a Fresno State alumnus, is known as the “Father of the B1 Bomber.” (Courtesy of Sam Iacobellis, Jr.)

Dr. Sam Iacobellis, a Fresno State engineering alumnus who was head of the team that developed the B1-B bomber, died Sept. 3. He was 87.

Iacobellis died at a San Luis Obispo hospital from complications due to a stroke, said his son, Sam Iacobellis, in a Los Angeles Times article.

Iacobellis graduated from Fresno State in 1952, earning a degree in mechanical engineering. He later obtained a master’s in engineering from UCLA in 1963.  

Fresno State recognized him as an outstanding alumnus and named him Top Dog in 1982. UCLA honored him as its alumnus of the year in 1980.

Iacobellis was the son of Italian immigrants and attended Edison High School, where he was the co-captain of the football team. He was awarded a scholarship to play football at Fresno State.

He signed with North American Aviation when it was recruiting at Fresno State. The day after graduation, he reported to Los Angeles for work.

Iacobellis started out with a drafting board for $1.62 an hour, but that was only the beginning of his career.

Iacobellis, who was known as the “Father of the B1-B bomber,” was in charge of creating 100 B-1 bombers after the original B-1 production was canceled in 1977 and revived in the early 1980s by President Ronald Reagan.

According to The Los Angeles Times, he was in charge of the effort, creating an entire assembly plant in Palmdale, California, along with a supply network and a trained workforce of 40,000 in less than two years.

He served in a major management role in the development and operations of the space shuttle and its main rocket engines. He retired as a deputy chair of Rockwell after a 43-year career.

In 2007, he was at Bulldog Stadium when two B-1B Lancers performed a flyover.

Iacobellis was instrumental in creating a relationship between Fresno State and Boeing. The relationship led to the Husband-Boeing Honors Scholarship.

The scholarship was established using a $2 million gift from Boeing to honor the late Col. Rick Husband, a Fresno State alumnus who served as commander of the ill-fated Columbia Shuttle. Husband died when the shuttle broke apart during re-entry after a successful 16-day mission, said the Office of University Communications.

In May 2016, Iacobellis was invited to be keynote speaker for the Dean’s Medalist Luncheon for Fresno State’s Lyles College of Engineering.  

Iacobellis is survived by his wife, Helene; his son, Sam Iacobellis Jr.; his daughter, Lee Ann Schantz; and sister, Anna Saladino.

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