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Robert B. Hotz

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Robert Bergmann Hotz, an award-winning aerospace journalist, author and arms-control expert who served on the presidential commission that investigated the space shuttle Challenger accident, died Thursday in Frederick Memorial Hospital in Frederick, Md., of complications from Parkinson's disease. He was 91 years old.

His career as a journalist spanned more than 50 years in which he pioneered news coverage of international military and aerospace affairs. He was editor and then publisher of Aviation Week and Space Technology Magazine from 1955 through 1980, where the coverage he directed was often honored by the Aviation Space Writers Association and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Mr. Hotz was born in Milwaukee, Wis., on May 29, 1914, the son of Emma and Harry Hotz.

He graduated with a BS in economics from Northwestern University in 1936 and, upon graduation, went to work as a reporter on the staff of the Paris Herald Tribune. In 1938, he became New York bureau chief for the Milwaukee Journal, a post he held until the beginning of World War Two.

Mr. Hotz was commissioned as a captain in the U.S. Air Force in 1942. He served two tours with the 14th Air Force in China, in B-25 bomber combat operations and on the staff of Gen. Claire Lee Chennault. During one bombing mission, Hotz was shot down, parachuted safely behind Japanese lines and, with the help of Chinese and Miao partisans, successfully eluded capture. He was awarded the Air Medal with Oak leaf cluster. He ended the war with the rank of major in 1946.

After stints with Aviations News and with Pratt & Whitney Corp., Mr. Hotz became editor of Aviation Week and Space Technology Magazine in 1955. In the ensuing decades he built a publication that became known to Pentagon cognoscenti as "Aviation Leak," for its consistently well-informed coverage throughout the Cold War of Soviet, European and American military aerospace developments, ranging from secret Soviet fighter designs and the development of international ballistic missiles to the "Star Wars" programs of directed energy weapons and the military exploitation of space.

As an editorial writer, Mr. Hotz was both a booster and an outspoken critic of the American space program, from the creation of NASA and the Apollo era race to the moon, to the design and launch of the space shuttle fleet.

In 1982, President Ronald Reagan appointed Mr. Hotz to the General Advisory Committee of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, where he served throughout the Reagan Administration and during the administration of President George H.W. Bush.

In the aftermath of the 1986 space shuttle Challenger accident, President Reagan appointed Mr. Hotz to the presidential commission that investigated NASA's space shuttle program.

Mr. Hotz was the author of four books, most notably "With General Chennault: The Story of The Flying Tigers" in 1943. He also edited Gen. Chennault's memoirs: "Way of a Fighter," published in 1946.

He retired to Rams Horn Farm in Myersville, Md., where he raised Angus cattle and peacocks.

He is survived by his wife, Joan Willison Hotz; four sons, George, Michael, Robert Lee and Harry; four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

A private memorial service will be held. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Astronauts Memorial Foundation.

Published Online in The Frederick News-Post on Feb. 12, 2006
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