Recruited by Ryan Aeronautical Company, Bob, his wife Nan, and their two children moved to San Diego. He contributed to the design of experimental vertical takeoff aircraft and other advanced aircraft designs, progressing to chief technical engineer. However, he did not see the future he desired and decided to move on.
Recruited in 1958, Bob joined the rapidly growing Missile Systems Division of Lockheed Missiles and Space Company in Sunnyvale, California, as systems engineer on the Polaris fleet ballistic missile project, at that time the highest-priority project in the U.S. Navy. This was a major turning point in his career, moving from traditional aeronautical engineering to system design of missile and space systems, initially the development of pioneering submarine-launched ballistic missiles. He promptly developed a productive relationship with the Polaris technical director, Captain Levering Smith, USN (1910–1993), later vice admiral. Captain Smith made their mutual objective clear: Make decisions, based on system design trade studies, to deliver Polaris missiles ready for installation in the first fleet ballistic missile launching submarine, the USS George Washington, by June 1960. The Navy–Lockheed Polaris program team achieved this. In July 1960 the Navy submarine USS George Washington successfully launched two Polaris A1 missiles and in November was operational at sea in the U.S. Atlantic Fleet. Bob became chief engineer in 1966 and vice president and general manager in 1969.
In 1970 Bob was abruptly appointed president of Lockheed Georgia Company in Marietta, where the C-5A Galaxy transport aircraft, being developed for the U.S. Air Force, had encountered major problems. Working with the Air Force, he restructured the program and it moved successively to completion. He was proud of taking a C-5A aircraft to the Paris Air Show in 1971 and showing it to the world.
He was then given another tough assignment, becoming president of Lockheed California Company in Burbank, where the L-1011 TriStar commercial airliner program was in deep trouble, primarily due to the sudden 1971 bankruptcy of jet engine supplier Rolls Royce. This had led to the L-1011