About Arthur McComas
Arthur McComas was born in Baltimore in 1921.
After high school, he worked for over a year at the Glenn Martin
factory, and then took a month long course in basic electronics
at Johns Hopkins University. In 1943, McComas began working at
Bendix Radio, starting in the test department then becoming a
lab technician in microwave engineering. He was drafted into
the Navy in about 1944, serving two years and participating in
the electronic training Eddy program. McComas returned to Bendix
after leaving the military and was re-hired as a junior engineer.
During the course of his long career at Bendix, McComas was involved
in many projects including ASR-3, SAGE, weather observation radar,
ARIA, ATCRBS, MLS, Mark 15 and ADVENT, and became part of management.
He was also active in the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics
(RTCA), serving on many special committees for U.S. National
Aviation Standards. McComas retired from Bendix in 1986 and holds
In this interview, McComas talks about his long
career at Bendix Radio. The many projects he worked on are discussed,
along with the issues and challenges involved in avionics and
aeronautics. Working with military and civilian customers – such
as the Air Force, FAA and airlines – is also covered, along
with the creation of standards and changes in air traffic control.
McComas also talks about working with other Bendix divisions
in Fort Lauderdale and Ann Arbor, the failure of certain projects,
and the changes to the company in the 1980s. He also discusses
how he saw himself more as an ‘employed entrepreneur’ than
a manager, and mentions some of his colleagues such as Dick Abel,
Fred Kitty and George Church.
About the Interview
ARTHUR McCOMAS: An Interview Conducted by Sheldon
Hochheiser, IEEE History Center, 14 October 2010
Interview #557 for the National Electronics
Museum and IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and
Electronic Engineers Inc.
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It is recommended that this oral history be
cited as follows:
Arthur McComas, an oral history conducted in
2010 by Sheldon Hochheiser, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick,
NJ, USA and the National Electronics Museum, Linthicum, MD, USA
Interview: Arthur McComas
Interviewer: Sheldon Hochheiser
Date: 14 October 2010
Location: National Electronics Museum, Baltimore,
and Glenn Martin
Okay. It's October the 14th, 2010. This is Sheldon
Hochheiser of the IEEE History Center. I am here at the National
Electronics Museum in Baltimore, Maryland interviewing Art McComas,
who is going to tell us about his career at Bendix.
Good afternoon, Sheldon.
How are you today?
I'm pretty good. Little wet but otherwise unscathed.
Yeah, it's wet out there. If we can start with
a bit of background. When were you born?
1921, July, in Baltimore.
Were you raised in Baltimore as well?
Born and raised in Baltimore city, yes.
What did your parents do?
My father was a building manager. Both my parents
were very musical and had degrees in voice from the Peabody Institute
and my mother also had a degree in piano. They had part time
careers in churches, opera and other similar choral societies.
Were you interested in technology and gadgets
or science as a youth?
I was, but I had no inclination toward electronics
until I was offered a job in that field.
What led you from high school to the Glenn L.
Martin Aircraft company rather than some other opportunity?
Well, I was fresh out of high school.
And I had no experience or special training,
I had only a high school diploma from Poly which as most Marylanders
know is a very highly rated technical high school. When I got
around to looking for a job that was the only job available.
While it was not to my liking, I had to take it because my family
was not situated to consider college or for me to sit around
and do nothing. I worked the night shift in the factory at the
Martin company for about a year and a half at 20 dollars a week.
That was my starting salary, a magnificent sum in those days
Of course, you also have to figure out what
things cost in 1940.
And then you were at Glenn Martin for about
a year and a half?
About a year and a half, yes.
And where did you go from there?
Well I left Martin because there was no possibility
for advancement except in the factory. The company absolutely
refused to transfer me into the engineering department.
Which is what you wanted?
Well, I felt I wanted to work in a more professionally
oriented situation. I didn't have a profession, you understand.
But the Martin factory just seemed like a dead end career path
so I left.
at Bendix, Radar, A.E. Abel
I soon found out that this was not a smart thing
to do in the middle of a war and as an unemployed draft age teenager
it was difficult to find work. Fortunately the Johns Hopkins
University offered a course in basic electronics at the Homewood
campus under the direction of Professor Ferdinand Hamburger.
I think the objective was to train personnel to work in the Bendix
plants. I took the course, which lasted about a month as I recall,
and then Bendix Radio offered me a job.
That gave you the bit of experience, the bit
of knowledge you needed to get the position at Bendix?
Yes. As little as it was, it was what I needed
because electronics was a very unknown subject I guess you'd
So when did you start at Bendix?
I started Bendix in 1943, I'm not sure of the
Well that's okay.
I was hired at the Towson plant but I first
worked in the test department at a plant located on Monument
Street in Baltimore where they assembled communications equipment
for the British. I was soon put in charge of testing and calibrating
UHF direction finder antennas which were placed across Great
Britain and performed an important air ground communications
service during the war.
Was this part of the radar system?
No, these weren't radars. These were communications
systems including direction finders and command centers. Some
of them were mobile and some were for fixed installations and
those included portable plywood buildings. I worked there for
about a year and then I requested a transfer to the Engineering
Department at Towson
And you did this for about a year or so?
I believe it was about a year or so and I began
to feel the need for advancing a little bit beyond the test department.
I applied to transfer to the radar- engineering department. The
word radar was effectively classified during the war so it was
called the microwave engineering department. They were developing
several radar systems there and I was hired as a laboratory technician.
Okay. So as a laboratory technician what role
did you play in the building of these radars?
Well it varied, but I did more than just lab
work. For example my boss, Sid Bainbridge, was having trouble
getting drawings from the drafting department to put in the shop
to have parts fabricated. So I said find me a drafting table
which he did and I was able to help him in that way. I assembled
and tested equipment and performed various functions like brazing
waveguide and integrating the system in trailers, that sort of
thing. Also I had a lot of microwave test equipment available
to fool around with and I was able to learn a whole lot about
things I would never have had the chance to fool with anywhere
else. Also, I did some field work and systems integration tasks.
One example of this happened when the engineers were busy getting
their own pieces of gear ready to begin field-testing and someone
happened to notice that the search antenna was not connected
to the radar transmitter and receiver. So I was directed to figure
out something quickly so field testing could begin. I designed
and assembled a wave-guide run and showed it to the engineers
who thought it was fine. Then the resident Navy officer came
into the trailer took one look and said, oh no no - that won’t
do at all. It turned out that my waveguide assembly blocked the
spot he had picked for the coffee pot. So I was redirected to
add whatever bends and twists it took to unblock the coffee pot
space. I had the feeling when I finished that radar performance
took a severe hit.
Who was your boss?
The chief engineer of that department was A.E.
Abel - everyone called him Dick, a very interesting man. Very
Since he was colorful, can you tell me a bit
Oh, I could tell you all kinds of stories. [Laughter]
We all held him in awe, I guess because he was quite volatile.
If he liked you, you could tell. If he didn't like you, you'd
better watch out because sooner or later you would have a problem.
I got along with him pretty well, at least I never had a problem
with him. He would say and do things that today I guess would
not be tolerated. I recall one story that circulated about him
involving an incident at the brazing bench. We used to store
carbon tetrachloride, which was used extensively for cleaning
circuitry and also for filling the fire extinguisher and lacquer
thinner in the same kind of red safety cans. One day someone
had a fire on the brazing bench and the extinguisher was used.
The lab supervisor told one of the female lab assistants to refill
it. Sometime later there was another little fire and, when somebody
used the fire extinguisher, there was a big fire. She apparently
had refilled the fire extinguisher with lacquer thinner. Later
a very authoritative gentleman strode into the reception area
and asked the receptionist to release the door into the secure
area. She asked to see his badge and he responded that he was
from the FBI and was investigating the arson and didn’t
need a clearance. Dick Abel observed this from his office and
confronted the gentleman. A discussion ensued and Abel said it
wasn't arson, it was just a simple mistake. To this the visitor
responded “I'll be the judge of that,” and again
started to enter the secure area. Abel got in the guy's face
and said, “Get out of here and don't come back without
the proper clearance.” He never came back as far as anyone
Was there a lot of pressure due to wartime needs
to get things done quickly?
Oh, yes. I primarily worked on a ground control
approach system or GCA. It's comprised of two radars, one that
provides search data, and the other that gives precise range,
azimuth and altitude position of the aircraft relative to the
approach path for aircraft on approach. Radar displays in the
trailer provide this data to controllers who then gave voice
commands to the aircraft by radio. Bendix built the first GCA
for the Navy, the MPN1. It was just being delivered about the
time I was drafted. What had happened was that when I left Martin
they attempted to change my mind about leaving by threatening
that I was going to be drafted. Apparently they made sure that
happened. I had only remained out of the service as long as I
did because my father was terminal with a heart condition and
they deferred me until he passed on. In any event, the MPN1 was
built and we tested it at what had been the Curtis Wright Airport
on Smith Avenue.
Smith Avenue here in Baltimore?
In Baltimore near Pikesville, yes.
So when did you get drafted?
I believe it was 1944. Again, my dates are a
Well, just get in the ballpark. Somewhere in
the middle of the war.
What happened there was the Army was the logical
place to go. I hoped for something a little better than what
I expected to get from the Army and I learned that the Navy had
launched a huge electronic training campaign. It was known as
the Eddy program.
Right, several other people I've interviewed
have mentioned that.
I think the electronics industry after the war
grew up around the Eddy people. It was a very interesting experience.
I went through boot camp and then I was sent to various Navy
schools. In the course of doing that, I contracted scarlet fever,
and that led to viral pneumonia and extended stays in various
So you spent an awful lot of your time in the
Navy in the hospital?
A lot of it, yes. In those days, viral pneumonia
was untreatable, they just put you to bed until it either got
better or you died. I didn't see anybody die from it but I remember
I had been going to a school, the Bliss Electrical School in
Takoma Park, a suburb of Washington DC that the Navy took over
as one of the primary schools in the Eddy program. I complained
to the medical technician stationed there that I didn't feel
well so he sent me over to the Bethesda Naval hospital. To get
there I had to ride a public bus across Washington to get to
Bethesda. They examined me and sent me back to the school on
the bus. Two days later, I heard an ambulance siren and then
these guys walk in with a stretcher. [Laughter] I was not allowed
out of bed for 30 days.
That's quite a way to learn what the test results
were. Did you manage to learn a good bit of electronics in the
Oh yes. It was a repeat of much of what I'd
had at Hopkins and learned the hard way at Bendix. A lot of it
had to do with Navy-specific equipment, but it was a good education.
It served me well because I was unable to complete college for
various reasons and what I had gotten from my experience at Bendix
and training in the Navy and so forth stood me well throughout
my career. And also my Poly education, I don't want to leave
Poly out of it. Also after the war, I attended the Johns Hopkins
University at night for a number of years but did not graduate.
Certainly going to a good technically oriented
high school was very useful. Now were you in the Navy for two
I think it was about two years. As I say, much
of it was spent in hospitals and classrooms.
Engineer, Flightweight, Taxicab Radio
And then when you left the Navy you went back
Now I guess it was a standard procedure to rehire
Well after the war things were beginning to
slow down from the heated pace during the war, when hiring people
and taking on anybody who could spell engineer. I guess I'd made
an impression on Dick Abel because he hired me back as a junior
engineer and I really had no qualifications for that job other
than what he knew about me. That was the start of my engineering
So in a sense, that's how you became an engineer?
I probably couldn't spell the word, but I was
And what facility did you go back to at Bendix?
Oh, I went back to the Towson facility and by
that time the organization had changed a lot. It had evolved
from multiple departments to one big engineering department under
Abel. I was thrown into the midst of this reorganization. Many
engineers who were there when I left for the Navy were gone when
I returned and I never knew why.
What was your first assignment when you came
back as a junior engineer?
Oh, it was mostly factory follow up at first,
but then I began to get into a little design work. The Bendix
Corporation had somehow conceived the notion that everybody was
going to have airplanes after the war and began things that didn’t
survive the post-war economy.
There were lots of predictions floating around
at the end of the war.
I understand this was one of Vincent Bendix’s
fixations. He was primarily an entrepreneur. He didn't spend
much time doing anything. He just started these things on a whim
and if they flourished, fine, if they didn't, he'd move onto
the next thing like washing machines, whatever. In any event,
I got caught up in that because Bendix Radio had launched a line
of inexpensive avionics for use in small airplanes that they
thought everybody was going to have. Just about the time I arrived
back at Bendix they let go of the engineers who had done all
the design work because they began to see the smoke was clearing
and these things weren't selling as fast as they had anticipated.
I was put in the midst of this and I had to pick up support for
the whole product line which was named Flightweight. It consisted
of air to ground communications gear. I also designed a couple
of radios, some of which went into production. But due to the
post war economy and unrealistic expectations, the Flightweight
product line was soon abandoned.
It stopped because it proved not to be something
that was commercially viable.
And what was your reaction to working on a program
that ultimately did not succeed in the marketplace?
Oh, I worked on a couple of them. Flightweight
was the first one. Another had to do with taxicab radios. After
the war, what was known as the King George transceiver, the SCR522,
which had been built by the thousands by Bendix was put on the
surplus market and being used by some cab companies. The SCR522
was about yay big, weighed probably 70 pounds, and provided four
channel UHF tuning using a mechanical tuning device. Although
they were cheap, around twenty-five dollars as I recall, they
used a lot of 24-volt power and took up a lot of space so they
were not what the cab market needed. So Bendix Radio launched
a product line directed at capturing a large segment of this
upcoming market. As it developed Bendix, unlike its usual practice
of using engineers they already employed, hired an engineer from
outside the company to develop this taxicab radio. I guess he
knew what he was doing, but he designed this radio and then left
Bendix. No one else had been privy to his work when I was assigned
to work for him just a week or two before his exit. I never knew
exactly why he departed but I remember that he told me that one
of the senior engineers was out to get him and was spying on
him. I concluded he was either paranoid or odd - I never quite
figured him out. In any event, after he left I inherited this
radio that didn't work very well.
So your job was then to get it to work.
Yes, and that involved a lot of lab and field
work. Bendix had arranged for a field evaluation program with
a local company, the Diamond Cab company, which was located in
the Waverly section of Baltimore. I think about 50 or 100 or
so units were manufactured and installed in Diamond’s cabs.
Well, to make a long story short, they didn't work very well
in the field. The failure pattern soon became obvious. After
installation they'd work for a week or two and then die. So I
spent much of my time at Diamond, the drivers all got to know
me pretty well. After a while they'd pull in the shop, open the
trunk and go get a cup of coffee.
And leave you to stare at the radio?
Leave me to stare. Well I soon figured out what
was wrong with the radio and that fix became routine. The IF
transformer coils had been wound on very unstable material and
they simply drifted as heat exposure shrank the coils. So it
was just a matter of retuning the IF’s and he's back on
the street in five or ten minutes.
Did the project lead anywhere? Were you able
to develop the radio so that it didn't need to be retuned every
No. Actually, although the radio was an attractive
package, the price was right and I think the market timing was
such that a slightly better piece of equipment could have been
very successful, no question about it. But Bendix simply threw
in the towel. We were building railroad radios at the time which
were very large, heavy and quite expensive to manufacture. Much
more expensive than the cab market would have supported. I think
Bendix considered possibly attempting to develop a better product
but it never materialized. So that experience led nowhere. I
worked briefly on the railroad radio project under Bob Edwards.
It was a successful product line for many years.
But the taxi radios proved not to be?
They proved not to be for Bendix. It was a case
of where, it seemed to me, had they gone just a little bit further
and improved product quality using tested materials and circuitry
that they knew would work, the product line could have been highly
successful. Instead, the market was abandoned and Motorola became
the prime supplier for this type of commercial radio equipment.
ASR-4 and FAA
And what did you move onto after the taxicab
Oh, let's see. I think I was assigned to military
communications projects after that. I'm not exactly sure. I worked
on some command sets for the Air Force. Then I moved on to radar.
I was assigned to a chap by the name of Fred Kitty who had several
new projects under way. One was a portable search radar for the
Swiss and another for a cloud height finding K band radar nomenclatured
the TPQ6 for Fort Monmouth. The most interesting aspect of that
program was the antenna. Bendix corporate headquarters listened
to an antenna expert consultant from Bell Labs who insisted that
the antenna should use stepped lens technology. What no one seemed
to realize was that such an antenna did not lend itself well
to physical design and manufacturing processes. It turned out
to be a monstrosity that failed to approach its design objectives
by a wide margin and had to be replaced with a parabolic dish.
After that we developed the ASR-3 airport radar for the FAA.
The first system was installed at Friendship, now called BWI.
That was an interesting experience.
What was interesting about it?
Well, Bendix had never been in the airport radar
business and so we had to develop a new product. It went very
well, actually. My assignments had to do with the indicator design
and associated system integration tasks. I encountered a severe
problem in finding a way to meet the FAA design specification
which required the radar display to be capable of off-centering
the origin by a full diameter of the display CRT. The state of
the display art in those days was that the radar display was
generated using a mechanically rotated yoke that surrounded the
neck of the cathode ray tube and was synchronized with the antenna
rotation. To achieve off-centering another set of fixed coils
surrounds the rotating coil and DC currents are applied to its
four coils to displace the display origin. I searched the industry
for suitable display components but found nothing suitable. So
in desperation I conceived the idea of constructing an off- centering
yoke that provided a more symmetrical magnetic field pattern
by overlapping the four coils. For this idea, I was granted patents
in the US, the UK, Germany, France and Australia. The ASR-3 program
transformed itself into a product that the US Air Force needed
for an entirely different purpose. They were developing a national
air defense system at the time and they needed a radar that would
fill in the gaps between long range radars, the L-band lower
frequency radars. And they needed something like the ASR-3 to
do this. We were already in the production phase so to make matters
simple, we just simply manufactured more of them, painted them
a different color, and the Air Force purchased them.
So this was at Friendship?
Well, the first ASR-3 was installed there, yes.
Okay, but your customer was the Air Force, not
Sorry, the ASR-3 customer was the FAA. The US
Air Force purchased essentially the same radar system, minus
the display components and called it the FPS-14.
Okay, because then you were saying the Air Force.
You just got me confused.
Certainly the Air Force and the FAA are -
[Interposing] They are different entities.
But they are certainly both groups who need
these sorts of radar systems.
They both need radar systems.
You got me confused a bit.
That's quite all right.
Our contract was with the FAA for the ASR-3.
And that led the Air Force to buy basically the same equipment,
which they called the FPS-14. Subsequently, the Air Force decided
these produced too much ground clutter. So, we were contracted
to develop a traveling wave tube coherent radar, the FPS-18.
The Air Force bought oodles of those to use as gap fillers for
the National Air Defense System. Interesting[ly] enough, the
FAA then came back to us later and wanted to buy the FPS-18 (in
ASR form of course) to replace all the existing ASRs. Bendix
was willing to paint FPS-18s another color and sell them to the
FAA as ASR-4s, but an interesting thing happened on the way to
the bank. As a business strategy decision that turned out to
be very bad, Bendix attempted to leverage its position on the
ASR-4 for another purpose. I was talking earlier about the GCAs
which the military used extensively throughout and after the
war so naturally the FAA considered possible civil GCA service
and they ordered several units which Bendix supplied and called
them PAR-2s I believe. Some in the FAA, however, questioned the
wisdom of taking on this operational responsibility, and possibly
the liability of controlling airplanes to touchdown. So a huge
battle went on within the government about whether they should
do this or not. The technical elements in the FAA felt they needed
better equipment to evaluate the operational application and
so Bendix had been contracted to develop the PAR-2. It never
quite met its specification so far as the antenna patterns were
concerned. It had been specified right up to the theoretical
limits. Bendix had delivered these systems but the FAA hadn't
yet accepted them when the FAA made the decision to not provide
GCA services. Bendix decided to apply a little strategy and said
that they were not going to sell the FPS-18s unless the FAA accepted
the PAR-2s. It was a pointless bluff because by that time the
FAA couldn't go along. So they refused the offer and the FAA
went out on a new contract for the ASR-4. We bid but lost and
after that Bendix was effectively out of the airport radar business.
But still in the business with the Air Force?
Well yes. They continued to manufacture those
and of course, we built a lot of long range radars for the Air
Force, which I had no part in. But I knew about it. It was part
of the radar department.
Now you were in the radar engineering department
at this point?
And reporting still to Dick Abel?
So after this fiasco with the FAA, what did
you move onto in your own work?
Let me think. I think after that, IBM under
an Air Force contract, was building a huge control center for
the National Air Defense System. They call it the SAGE system
and it was huge.
Very famous. Our exposure, I was told, came
about because the Air Force felt IBM didn't understand radar
technology and yet they had to deal with it in these computers.
So I think they pressured IBM into giving Bendix a subcontract
for parts of the computer system. Well, we couldn’t spell
digital at the time they did this but it was a cost plus contract.
What we were tasked to do was to develop and build all the SAGE
input equipment. This was quite extensive - it was handling the
long range radar and gap-filler data plus some other things.
The equipment was just unbelievably gigantic because this came
before the availability of solid-state circuitry. In today's
terms, you couldn't imagine something like that because everything
was so huge, and consequently you had to deal with very high
power levels because of the vacuum tube circuitry. These buildings
were about a city block in size. They were huge reinforced concrete
structures and had all kinds of gimmicks in them. I don't know
whatever happened to them because after about a year I went on
to other assignments. I think the SAGE system must have finally
been buried because it was so huge and monstrous and they couldn't
just hide it. I really don't know the history of what happened.
You had this small little piece and then -
We had this small little piece, which was very
challenging. But what I wanted to say about it, in the course
of working with IBM, they educated us in the emerging digital
world. That really proved to be very important to Bendix's future.
I found through experience that, contrary to the Air Force’s
expectations, IBM had little regard for any ideas we attempted
to give them.
Were you involved in weather observation radar?
Well, yes. Later on.
That's later, though?
Well actually, that had been earlier. I have
discussed my work with Fred Kitty and the development of the
ASR-3. Well, one day Fred came into the department, called us
all who reported to him directly into his office. Then without
opening any of the folders he handed each of us those papers
associated with our assignments. Then with no further explanation,
he said he was moving his office to another part of the building.
We later learned that he had been indicted for a security charge,
part of the aftermath of the McCarthy turmoil. After pleading
guilty, Fred was sent to a federal prison. I later uncovered
clear evidence that the violation he was charged with was a direct
result of an error in the way that Bendix Radio processed security
clearances and was certainly not due to any intentional fraud
on Fred’s part. But that is a whole other story for another
George Church, whom I had known for many years,
replaced Fred and took us in a whole new direction. George was
a pilot and had a great interest in aviation matters. The military
departments had been using weather radars on their aircraft for
years, I guess starting during the war. I don't really know when
it started. The technology was pretty well established, at least
as far as the military was concerned. Bendix was heavily into
the avionics field, having supplied about three quarters of all
the avionic equipment in U.S. aircraft during the war and was
trying to develop an entree to the commercial airline market,
which it did ultimately with great success. Over time, Bendix
became one of, if not the, biggest supplier of electronic equipment
to the air transport industry. In any event, George Church, who
had been an Air Force officer, conceived the idea of developing
a weather radar product for the airline industry. The airlines
were becoming interested because they could see how their schedules
would benefit if they could fly around these weather disturbances
and safety would be improved by not accidentally flying through
them. So, George, Chuck Greenslit and others including myself
launched an effort to try and sell the industry on this. It was
a very interesting program.
What we actually did first was to examine the
issue about what was the best frequency for this weather radar.
There was a strong feeling in the industry, promoted mainly by
United Airlines (UAL), in favor of C-band, which had been designated
by the FCC for weather radar applications. C-band was no doubt
well suited to ground weather observation, but Bendix identified
several factors that favored the higher frequency X-band for
aircraft application including higher resolution due to the limits
imposed by the airframe on antenna size. Over time, Bendix became
convinced that X-band was the better choice and participated
in debates that were going on in Washington. The opposing view,
maintained zealously by UAL and RCA, was that C-band provided
greater penetration of the weather and thus permitted the pilot
to see what was beyond the first heavy weather cells. This controversy
went on for a year or two within the airline community, mainly
through the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics or RTCA,
which I later became deeply involved in.
In any event, George Church got us involved
in a Navy supported flight test evaluation of the two frequencies.
Bendix modified an X-band military weather radar that the Navy
had installed in a four engine DC4 and I put together a monitor
with a camera that allowed us to take time lapse photographs.
RCA put together a C-band radar and installed it in a United
Airlines four engine airplane. The nature of the program was
to fly the two airplanes side by side and observe the same weather
while simultaneously taking photographs which could later be
compared. It was really very interesting because we would get
together at United headquarters in Denver after each sortie and
compare photographs. There is a lot of bad weather around Denver
in the late summer where we did this. After I'd stay up all night
developing our pictures in my hotel room, we'd project the pictures
side by side on the wall. The first time we looked at them together
we concluded there was really no contest, we won it cold. Well,
it didn't quite turn out that way. There still remained controversy,
as often these kinds of things do, and the technical aspects
get all twisted up in politics and personal feelings. Bendix
wound up being very successful with its X-band in most of the
airline industry. United Airlines never flinched and retained
the C-band forever - as far as I know they may still be using
it. Virtually every other airline selected X-band because of
its benefits. The best rationale that United ever presented was
that they could see beyond those first cells. The FAA contradicted
this view following a few near disasters when UAL planes entered
heavy weather cells and chastised UAL publicly saying they were
not supposed to go beyond the first cells, they were supposed
to avoid them. So that is the history of air weather radar. In
any event, we developed the weather radar, the RDR-1 and it became
a huge product for Bendix. Strangely enough there always remained
a strong mutual dislike between Bendix and United Airlines.
So your customers were basically all the airlines
in the country except United?
Well, that included most foreign airlines.
Foreign airlines as well?
Yeah. Even the parts of the military bought
our commercial products I think to use for their transport aircraft.
Now once it gets into that kind of production
stage, does it move elsewhere, and then you're no longer involved?
Yes. The manufacturing phase became too big
for Towson to handle. So they built a new plant in Fort Lauderdale
and my boss, George Church, become its first general manager.
But you stayed here and moved on to other things?
Yes. Church wanted me to go, but Abel wouldn't
allow it. That's what I was told at any rate. I really didn't
want to go.
I was going to say, born and raised native here.
By that time I'd put down a lot of roots here.
That's what I was asking, I was suspecting that.
I was never actually given a choice. But I mean,
I would have turned it down for sure.
But since Dick didn't want you to go, then you
didn't have to ever confront the decision.
It never presented itself.
RTCA and Standards
Yes. So then, you're no longer involved with
that particular program?
No, that wasn't quite true.
Okay, then tell me about your continued involvement
once they opened the plant in Fort Lauderdale.
Well, once you get your feet wet in something
it's hard to give it up. As I said earlier, I became involved
in the activities of the RTCA, which formed many special committees.
Eventually their main task turned out to be preparing national
standards for aviation and that involved the military departments
which Bendix Towson had a strong interest in. In preparing such
standards, the government including those military branches that
are impacted, the airline industry, and the manufacturers, had
to come to agreement.
Were there representatives from all these groups
on the RTCA?
Oh, yes, including all our competitors. We all
met together, hashed out the details.
The main function of the RTCA was standards
I think it wound up that way. In the early days
of the RTCA they were essentially doing that but it wasn't officially
identified as a national standard. It was just sort of an agreement
that was useful to the industry. I think there were some other
things the airline industry agreed to. I don't remember what
they were called at this time but they addressed certain problems
that needed attention. I remember, for example, when I designed
the cockpit indicator for the airborne weather unit, it was very
densely packed. I put a pendant cable on it because that saved
a little space within the cabinet itself but RTCA said, no, you
can’t do that. You must have a connector mounted on it.
Well, the connector took up maybe a half a cubic inch more space
and that was important. I remember it because I had to go back
and fix things like that.
Certainly when you're dealing with the confined
space of an aircraft, any place you can save a little space.
Yes. Well it involved more than just space.
I think it was the fact that airplanes are wired by one party
and the equipment is built by another party and somewhere there
had to be an interconnect and they didn’t want the installation
to be constrained by the cable length. I participated in many
RTCA special committees preparing U.S. National Aviation Standards.
As a matter of fact, I was on a committee that was tasked to
write the very first U.S. National Standard. It was the standard
for air-ground communications equipment. The special committee
was chaired by a British gentleman by the name of Featherstone.
I don't know exactly why, but for some reason, he farmed out
the main task – that of actually preparing the standard
- to a subcommittee and RTCA appointed me the chairman of that
subcommittee. It took a couple of years to get all the manufacturers,
our competitors and so forth, to agree on everything. Eventually
they did but Featherstone got all the credit for it. But that
became the very first U.S. National Aviation Standard.
About when was this? Just ballpark is fine.
Oh golly, I suppose it was in the late-50s I'd
What was the ARIA program?
I think the acronym stood for the Apollo Remote
So now we're moving well into the 60s?
Yes. I believe this was getting into the 60s.
Okay. Did I skip things?
Oh, probably. But you know, they all sort of
blend together over time.
Well, that's okay.
At any rate, ARIA was part of the Apollo program.
The Air Force was tasked to develop and operate KC-135 former
tanker aircraft to do this. They were huge jet aircraft with
seven-foot diameter steerable antennas mounted in the nose of
the aircraft. The mission was to put these on station after each
Apollo launch to fill in areas where the ground tracking stations
might not have coverage. Well, the ARIA program had suffered
a long political debate between NASA and the Air Force. The Air
Force imposed a set of standards on the equipment that neither
Bendix nor NASA felt was appropriate. At any rate, our contract
was with the Air Force even though NASA played a part in it.
We developed the instrumentation for these aircraft and got them
operating. The problems that we had were mostly of a political
nature. What happened at Bendix was that the project got off
to a rocky start. The proposal had been prepared by a group of
engineers who had been hired from outside the company because
of their range oriented experience. When Bendix won the award
the problem was that the proposal we won with was just nonsense.
As a result, under the Air Force regulations, and even within
the Bendix Radio organization, the program described in the proposal
was unmanageable. The Air Force awarded the contract based on
that original proposal and I was assigned to a team that had
to make some sense out of what to do with this thing. I think
it was a 20 million dollar program, so it was sizeable. I think
our Vice President and General Manager became petrified about
the potential consequences of failure and cost overruns. We were
actually subcontracting to Douglas Aircraft who did the aircraft
modifications at Tulsa, Oklahoma but were really directed by
the Air Force. We were really the prime in terms of the mission
system development and had the real problem. I say difficult
because the proposal didn't reflect any understanding of how
to build the equipment. What they had written was largely fiction.
Still, we had to develop hardware and my task was to redesign
the system to make it realizable. I had to take the proposal
and convert it into another proposal and then sell that to the
Which the original proposal was not?
Yes. And this was difficult because we went
through cost negotiations and the Air Force officer who was directing
the military side would ask a technical question based on the
proposal we had submitted and I would answer from the document
I had prepared and the answers often didn’t make sense.
I never fully understood why the Air Force didn't just tell us
to go away and forget about it, but they didn't. We wound up
building it and it worked - eventually. But I think quite a few
heads rolled in the wake of that program.
But eventually you were able to build something
Yes. Well I was off of it by that time.
After you got it started and got the contract
renegotiated, then you moved on?
Okay, I get the timing.
Traffic Control, Aircraft Collision
We can back up, I think we must have skipped
over a bunch of things between the weather radar and -
I think I'm talking too much already.
If you can remind me, what did I talk about?
Okay, we talked about the weather radar for
Yes, and the SAGE system.
The SAGE system. And then we skipped to ARIA
and I think we must have jumped over a bunch of years there.
Oh. One thing I wanted to talk about was air
traffic control. I think that's what you were maybe driving at.
Air traffic control had become a huge problem
after the war because the airlines transitioned to jet aircraft
which had different performance capabilities and operated at
higher altitudes and moved much faster and more often. Things
were changing rapidly but the air traffic control system was
essentially operated by hand, you might say. They used radar
information but it was processed mainly by hand. I need to clarify
that when the term radar data is used in connection with ATC
it really is not data from the skin reflected radar signals but
from another system called the Air Traffic Control Radar Beacon
(ATCRBS) system. I expect to say more about ATCRBS later. Our
experience with the SAGE got me interested in the automation
of the air traffic control system. During the Eisenhower administration
a task force was set up at the White House to address the matter.
I think it was called Airways Modernization Board. They issued
an RFP for advisories or proposals on what could be done to fix
it. I thought Bendix was in an excellent position from our knowledge
of the SAGE system and processing radar data and that RFP looked
like a great opportunity.
At the corporate level it was decided to send
in help [for] us to prepare our proposal. This help from headquarters
in Detroit arrived in the form of a portly gentleman who had
a fixation about railroads. His total contribution to the proposal
effort consisted of his idea that the ATC system should be operated
in the same way as the railroads. Well, those of us attempting
to prepare our proposal capitalizing on our radar processing
experience by adding substance and detail to radar processing
could see little if any way to adopt railroad methodology. We
tried in every way to tell him this but he was unmoved by our
arguments. At any rate, I made myself so very unpopular with
him that he threw me off the proposal team. That was good from
my perspective because I had no idea about how to write such
a proposal. Here was an opportunity that could have put Bendix
way ahead of a lot of the industry in ATC affairs and we had
what it took to win, but we just kicked it. It was a great disappointment
to me personally, and an embarrassment to Bendix.
Anything else from that period between SAGE
and the civilian aircraft radar and your work with Apollo?
I'll have to tell you another story.
This matter originated during the airborne weather
radar program and wound up some 30 years later with the TCAS
program. It began when our avionics competitor, Collins Radio
Corporation, announced that they would modify their weather radar
to also provide collision prevention information to the pilot.
And they began to take orders for it. Bendix Radio had a physicist
working in its research department, Dr. John S. Morrel, who said,
they really can't do that. Management asked him if could he prove
his contention and when he said he could he was put to work preparing
a paper. He then wrote a historic treatise that he named, “The
Fundamental Physics of the Aircraft Collision Problem.” In
this, he proved with irrefutable mathematical and scientific
facts that the requirements were well beyond what any airborne
radar would be capable of. In this paper, he also proposed a
simple but elegant solution based on fundamental physical principles.
Bendix Radio released this paper as a service to the aviation
community and it pulled the rug out from under Collins Radio
which was forced to withdraw its sales offer and cancel orders
they had taken. Morrel simply showed that you needed more information
and more precise information to predict a collision. You needed
a lot of things that hadn't even been considered by Collins.
I got interested in the aircraft collision issue
back in the weather radar era and this interest continued until
my retirement. There was a great deal of discussion throughout
the aviation community which continued for many years. It was
fanned into flame by each accident or near miss. It seemed like
everybody had a solution. There were all kinds of hare-brained
ideas from supersonics to lasers. Bendix Avionics Division participated
in an evaluation of a dedicated system using Doppler processing
to derive collision probability data. I think it involved Bendix
Avionics, RCA and United Airlines. Hardware was designed and
tested and it worked. Bendix Radio did some flight-testing based
on somehow deriving collision information using ground reflected
signals The major fault with all of these schemes was that in
order to implement such a system you had to equip every airplane
in the fleet before there was any benefit. Well, anybody who
has ever had anything to do with the industry knows you simply
can't do that. Progress has to come progressively. The objective
was to find a way to begin to do it and to provide some immediate
benefits using what already existed and then to build on that.
So as I say, this argument about what can and can't be done technically
went on for many years even though Morrel had shown the way back
in the 1950’s.
Working with Airlines, TCAS
Through another assignment, associated with
military IFF transponders, I got involved in the beacon system,
generally called ATCRBS, which I referred to earlier. Beacon
transponders are avionic devices that respond to signals from
interrogators associated with the ground radars and provide the
ATC system with the identity and altitude of aircraft in the
system. The beacon system descended from military IFF systems
of WWII and are required equipment for all aircraft operating
within the ATC system worldwide. They respond to a signal from
a special antenna that's mounted on (usually on top of) the ground
radar antenna and rotates with it and sends its own interrogation
signals to which the aircraft transponder replies and sends data
about its identity and altitude back to the ground. The important
thing is that the beacon system existed. So the name of the game
became how to build a collision avoidance system around the beacon
system. Dr. Morrel provided the theory and essential part of
the methodology but the remaining challenge was how to implement
it. His theory was based on the fact that two unaccelerated bodies
moving on a collision course exhibit certain measurable physical
characteristics. If one periodically measures the range between
them and that range decreases at a linear rate or in other words
has a first derivative equal to zero, they will collide. In a
similar manner, if one also observes the angular bearing of each
to the other, it also remains constant. So these two measurable
physical parameters provide a measure of the probability of a
collision. If either varies it indicates they are not on a collision
course. Dr. Morrel felt that bearing measurement was at that
time not within the state of the art but that range measurement
was. He also showed that range difference measurements alone
were adequate to support a collision avoidance system. In the
mid 1970’s the industry had pretty much agreed that extending
the use of the radar beacon system was the way to move forward.
But all elements of the industry had not yet accepted this strategy
and there were obstacles, I'm leading to a point here -
I know you are.
There were actually two problems that needed
clarification. One involved the air traffic controllers who sensed
an overlap and/or possible conflict with their activities. The
answer to this concern was to demonstrate that the airborne detection
worked well within the time line of the ground ATC system and
provided an independent but compatible back-up to their functions.
The other issue was the position taken by airline pilots who
were not interested in range information. They wanted to see
the other airplane, and if they could not see it through the
windshield, they wanted to know what direction it was coming
from so they felt they needed that information from any collision
avoidance system. Through their union, ALPA, they insisted on
this and so the discussions had bogged down for several years.
They simply refused to accept a range only solution even though
it had been clearly established to be safe and adequate. A possible
entry point as I saw it was to find a way to satisfy the pilots.
I had listened carefully to their arguments and I felt that it
was possible to construct an aircraft antenna that would be precise
enough to display the bearing to the pilots and to also support
collision avoidance processing. I began to consult with one of
Bendix’s antenna engineers, Allen Sinsky, an expert on
phased array technology who suggested that an eight element array
fed by a Butler matrix might do the job.
To make a long story short he built the antenna
and I devised a system and through the RTCA primarily I promoted
such a system to the industry. I applied for and was granted
a patent for that system and we submitted an unsolicited proposal
to the FAA based on the patent. That led the FAA to release an
RFP for the development of a flight demonstration system. Bendix
Radio won that award and a group of very bright youngsters led
by Emory Reed developed the equipment which was installed in
an FAA jet aircraft and demonstrated all over the world. It provided
clear and convincing evidence that TCAS worked. However, the
airlines and the FAA were convinced that the system could be
safely simplified and so sometime later, under a separate contract,
a simpler version - meeting the basic U. S. National Standard
but lacking the precision antenna - was built by Bendix Avionics
and installed on operational United Airlines aircraft. Operational
evaluations were completed and that version became the model
for the U.S. Standard for TCAS. Our original version still exists,
at least on paper, in the National Standard, as an undeveloped
super set of the U.S. National Standard and is identified as
full or enhanced TCAS. The postscript to what I have talked about
here is that subsequent to my retirement TCAS together with the Global
Positioning System or GPS has opened up consideration of a whole
new approach to ATC with shared responsibility for separation
assurance. When this restructuring is fully implemented, the
radar systems (that is the skin reflected radars) will likely
cease to exist for ATC purposes although they may still be necessary
to meet air defense needs.
Though ultimately it did not lead to a commercial
Oh yes, that is true, but it provided clear
evidence that the system worked.
I'm confused because you're saying the airlines
No, no, not exactly - what I am trying to say
is that, in my opinion, this demonstration phase was arguably
a form of bait and switch. What they saw and what the got in
the TCAS Standard were not exactly the same, thanks mainly to
the efforts of the airlines.
You're telling me you demonstrated this and
the airlines didn't -
Well when I said Bendix, I need to explain that
there were two Bendixes - one in the airline business was in
Fort Lauderdale and the other in Towson which is tasked to pursue
research and development and military avionics objectives. In
the end the Fort Lauderdale operation benefited directly from
Towson’s efforts and launched a huge new product line.
And of course they had to go along with the airlines. I hope
I have cleared up your confusion.
Of course, the manufacturing division in Fort
Lauderdale was tasked to work with the airlines.
Okay. So you came up with this one proposal
that had these eight to ten inch antennas that was a technologically
excellent proposal. But the commercial system that was adopted
and that Bendix was successful with?
Well, you could call it a subset of our demonstration
system. The airlines simply had no interest in the more precise
antenna, they wanted the simplest and cheapest collision avoidance
system solution so they substituted a less precise four element
array which still could provide pilots with some crude sense
of direction to threats but would not be accurate enough to support
collision threat processing.
Now was the less precise antenna also developed
here in Towson?
No, it wasn't developed at Towson. It was suggested
and promoted mainly by MIT Lincoln Laboratory in line with their
support to the FAA. For the deliverable TCAS it was probably
manufactured at the Fort Lauderdale facility. I was a member
of the RTCA special committee that prepared the standard. Of
course, I was pushing my idea but the airline industry fought
it tooth and nail. Our point was that if you had two criteria,
you should have less risk and greater confidence in the result
of two assessments than one. But that was never really accepted.
As my friend Frank White of the Air Transport Association said,
better is the enemy of the good. At any rate, in the backwash
of the demonstration phase Fort Lauderdale had to work with United
Airlines to do an operational evaluation for the FAA. For whatever
reason, which I think went back to the weather radar fiasco,
Fort Lauderdale and United Airlines maintained a continuing level
of mutual hostility. They didn't want to talk to each other.
I got along with both so just before I retired I was asked to
help them prepare their joint proposal to the FAA for the operational
evaluation phase. I acted as a go-between [for] these two organizations
and got a joint proposal ready to present to the FAA.
So you had to serve as a kind of intermediary
between Bendix in Fort Lauderdale and the customer?
Right, but I don’t think there was much
of a customer relationship at stake. They didn’t like each
other and I don’t think United bought much of anything
from Bendix. Also neither one of them knew how to write a proposal.
You knew how to write proposals and could talk
to both. About when was this?
Oh my, this was probably in 1985. I can't remember
dates very well.
Actually, that's quite sufficient. Over the
years, how frequently did you work with the folks in Fort Lauderdale?
I worked with them off and on through the years.
I got along with them fine because George Church was a personal
friend and I had other friends down there. We often disagreed
on matters but the way I saw it they were right from their perspective
because they looked at customer relationships in a different
way that we didn't have to concern ourselves with.
You're looking at trying to find the optimal
technical solution, which isn't necessarily the same as what
will fly in the marketplace.
Yes. There was another interesting sidelight
to my efforts to sell my idea about TCAS. When ALPA (Airline
Pilots Association) became interested in my concept they promoted
it and asked me to do several things. First I was asked to meet
with one of their technical committees in Miami, which I was
able to do. Then they asked me to deliver a paper at their convention
in Reno and also to testify before a congressional house committee.
Bendix Radio management was apparently under pressure to curtail
my activities in this area and would not approve my plans. I
concluded that I had inadvertently stumbled into the middle of
an old labor dispute between ALPA and the airlines - this was
popularly referred to as the “Third Man in the Cockpit” issue.
I think that my efforts were perceived by the airlines as providing
support to ALPA regarding their demands for an additional crew
member in the cockpit.
How did you find Bendix as a place to work through
the 50s and 70s?
Excellent. It worked for me. I felt they missed
some excellent opportunities as a result of corporate tinkering,
but probably a lot of companies did similar things. Bendix Radio
gave me a lot of freedom and support.
[End of tape 1, beginning of tape 2]
We just finished talking about the TCAS.
TCAS is now installed on all transport aircraft.
So that certainly proved to be a very successful
It did for the Bendix Fort Lauderdale division.
to Allied Signal and Honeywell
As you know the name Bendix has disappeared.
Around 1982 the entire corporation transitioned first to Allied
Signal and later, around 1989, to Honeywell when Bendix purchased
controlling shares in Honeywell and then adopted the Honeywell
name. Those of us retirees who still get together on occasion
still use the name Bendix. I should note here that many of the
times in my discussion I may have referred [to] a Bendix that
did not legally exist. Many of us took the first transition -
that is to Allied Signal - in stride but resisted as far as possible
using that name.
Right. Bendix had been bought by Allied. Which
then became Allied Signal, which then merged with Honeywell and
the combined corporation took the Honeywell name.
Right, I get my pension check from - let's see
- I get it from Honeywell, and I get my healthcare from Raytheon.
I'm not going to try to explain that one, but it's very strange.
That all went back to 1982 when one of the CEOs of Bendix - as
you probably recall the great, what did they call it, PacMan
war. Bendix bought controlling shares in Martin and Martin bought
controlling shares in Bendix.
Yes, I certainly do know about that though I
guess it's a bit outside.
It's outside of technology certainly.
GPS, Mark 15
The next thing you suggested I ask you about
was MLS system.
The microwave landing system was another interesting
experience for me. I forgot what activity I was winding up, but
I was looking for something that we might pick up in the way
of new business. A friend of mine in the Department of Transportation
suggested we look into the microwave landing system, which was
beginning to come into view as a possible replacement for the
aging instrument landing system, ILS, that [had] been in use
in the military and commercially throughout the world for years
and years. ILS was not very precise and the equipment was huge
because of the wavelengths that it used and various other factors.
There was some concern that it needed some sort of replacement.
The idea was to develop a system similar to the old GCA’s,
except present the position data directly to the pilot so he
remained in control of the airplane. The MLS program went through
a number of stages. We started working with the FAA on it and
oh, I don't remember exactly what happened, but we won a feasibility
study. I was responsible for the proposal and the report in which
we evaluated the available technology and chose some rudimentary
equipment. I don't remember the exact program succession - I
think it went through several stages at Bendix. I had moved on
during the later phases but I remained on the RTCA Special Committee
that prepared the MLS standard.
In the course of that activity it started to
become evident to me that the MLS itself, even though it didn't
yet exist, was dated because of the then emerging GPS system.
GPS was beginning to make its way in a lot of fields. It occurred
to me that the GPS could solve about 98 percent of the problems
that the MLS was supposed to solve, the last two percent or so
being that of automatically putting the rubber on the runway.
I was aware that MLS was very hard pressed to do that. In addition,
I also knew that pilots are very reluctant to give control at
that stage of the flight to a machine. At any rate, GPS was making
its inroads into a lot of applications and I could see it directly
impacting the MLS. Notwithstanding, the FAA had launched a program,
it had gone through evaluation phases, and had competitive equipments
built. I began to tell our people that this program probably
wasn't going to go to implementation. They didn't want to hear
it because they'd already invested a great deal of time and money
in it. I guess I made myself persona non grata to the MLS people
because I went on to other things, that being the TCAS, among
other things. I was also involved in the Mark 15, which was to
replace military transponders, which had different requirements
from the civil transponders.
About when was this MLS program?
MLS I guess was in the 70s sometime and it went
through a number of phases. It became a big, big thing for Bendix.
Actually, the real tragedy occurred when Hazeltine, I think,
won the final big production contract. They built, I don’t
know, many of these things but they never were accepted. I believe
it was instrumental in putting Hazeltine out of business. I was
thankful that we didn't win that phase. But you know, once you
launch a program like that, it takes on a life of its own. There
was no way that I could have affected it. So it went to its fruition,
which is to say it died and went away. I think there still may
be some isolated applications for MLS where very precise data
is needed. But that was my experience with the microwave landing
system pretty much. It went through a lot of phases. I wrote
many of the proposals.
You mentioned the Mark 15.
The Mark 15 was the last military program that
I worked on. It was a billion dollar contract to develop replacement
transponders for the military departments which we were in competition
[for] with Texas Instruments. It was an interesting program because
we had to develop and test the systems with data that the government
could look at and evaluate on an apples versus apples basis,
which is not easy to do when you're working with a competitor.
So as Program Test Director I spent a lot of time with Texas
Instruments trying to figure out ways that we could do testing
and evaluation on a comparable basis. Eventually, that program,
for reasons I'm not savvy on, disappeared like a lot of other
things. It went away. The biggest factor there being that it
was a secure program. It had to be crypto-secure and that involved
a lot of things that I don't really know anything about because
I didn't have to deal with them myself. Cryptology is a different
and Phased Array
I want to mention another big program at Bendix
Radio even though I had no part in it. [It] was a phased array
radar, the FPS-85 which was constructed at Eglin Air Force Base
in Florida to catalog space objects. I believe that system has
operated, I am guessing now, for about thirty years, day and
night, 24 hours a day 7 days a week. I can't think of any other
piece of military equipment that ever did that and kept working.
It's been operational from the day it was turned on. It went
through two iterations. It was built and was tested and then
burned to the ground. I happened to be with my boss who was the
director of engineering at the time.
Hochheiser: Who was?
Ken Molz. We were playing cards when he got
the word that it had burned down. This is like a 12 story building,
all concrete, steel, aluminum, and so forth. Its phased array
looks south toward Cape Canaveral. It spawned a lot of phased
array expertise at Bendix, which I had several opportunities
to capitalize on in my work. At any rate, it burned to the ground
and it was in the process of acceptance testing. I think the
documents showed that it technically had been accepted, so they
were the Air Force's embers instead of ours. Bendix was given
a second chance and as you might expect, they did a better job
the second time. I think Bendix should take a huge amount of
pride in that phased array technology. There were many other
phased arrays built by the military in the course of the ballistic
missile intercept programs. They operated for a period and then
they went away. I don’t know that any of them ever survived
or what's being done today. I suppose that as long as that program
keeps coming up on an international level, they'll keep trying
to build these radars.
System and Satellite Communications
What was the ADVENT system?
I guess I didn't talk much about satellite communications.
No, you haven't, so I brought it up.
That had an interesting history also. I had
worked on command sets – radios - for some years, as I
said, early on. My boss, the department head at the time, Bill
Richardson, had a contract with the Wright Patterson Air Force
Base to build a command set. There was a paragraph in that specification
that required the radio to work with satellite communications
systems. Well, this was at a time when nobody had satellite communications.
The military departments were fighting a three way battle for
which was going to get control and it was a huge political mess
in Washington among the tri-service groups. Richardson called
me in one day and said, I got this paragraph in my specification
and I don't know what to do about it. I told him I have no idea
either, but I will try and find out. So he put me to work and
sent me out to Wright Patterson to spend some time with his customer.
I got to know the customer very well however he didn't know either.
[Laughter] He had simply been told to put the requirement in
his contract. And so, working with him, we began to establish
some sort of a mutual understanding of what it might be and what
it wouldn't be. And we established some of its limitations. These
understandings were very crude at the time, of course, but through
our helpful relationship we were given a contract by the Air
Force to build a SATCOM ground station. This was interesting
because nobody knew anything about what it was required to do.
We had the contract. It was cost plus, it was fine.
However, I think some people in the corporation
began to see that this could turn into something big having to
do with satellite communications and maybe we ought to get interested
in this. I was given a new boss by our division, George Sanner,
a very talented engineer. He saw the potential of where this
could go better than anybody else in the division. They simply
saw it as business as usual. The project was named STEER by the
Air Force and it allowed us to explore virtually all of the military
departments as to their plans and objectives. Unfortunately STEER
went away when DOD turned the responsibility for SATCOM ground
stations over to the Army. I had contacts at Fort Monmouth who
called me one day and asked me to come up and tell them what
we knew about SATCOM because they knew we were working for the
Air Force. Sometime after that the Army initiated a large SATCOM
program which they code-named ADVENT. Bendix Radio was at that
time in an excellent position to win a major contract under ADVENT
and we went after it aggressively.
When an RFP was issued for the development of
ground stations we prepared to respond, however the corporation
took a different approach. Even as we were working with the Army
on it at our division the corporation decided [to] set up a whole
new division in Ann Arbor, Michigan they named the Bendix Systems
Division. They staffed this with college professors, recent graduates
and other academics who were able to spend a lot of money but
they didn't know much about the real world, at least that is
what I concluded. The result was they built a big space test
facility there in Ann Arbor which never got used as far as I
know, or got used very little. When the Army RFP came out headquarters
directed that the new division would be responsible for the proposal
and the Radio Division was to assist them. Under the program,
the satellite was to be built by GE and Bendix Systems Division
was to develop the satellite package while the Radio Division
was to build all hardware. Philco was building the telemetry
equipment. I got involved in a lot of the interface discussions
and soon discovered that the equipment from these three companies
wouldn’t work together. Within Bendix we at Towson had
great difficulty determining what we had to build for the ground
stations. I recall following the engineer responsible for the
design all over Ann Arbor to get some idea of the scope of our
construction effort. When we finally cornered him he drew a block
diagram on a bar napkin of the system showing “two flip
flops and a NAN gate.” Subsequently this block diagram
evolved into 19 full racks of equipment.
I got tangled up in that, but eventually we
got these things solved. The equipment to be launched in the
space vehicle was to be designed in Ann Arbor but Towson was
to build it. After they designed this thing at Ann Arbor it didn't
work so they sent it down to us and said, fix it. So we had the
job of trying to fix something that was intrinsically [a] poor
design. In the meantime, the launch schedule had been set up
and everybody was working frantically to meet that. As it turned
out, the launch vehicle - I think it was an Atlas Centaur Rocket
- got scrapped or something. This let everybody off the hook.
It was a great solution to most of these military screw-ups,
So after all this work, then the project simply
Yes well, ADVENT got canceled. But what happened
next was that NASA, which was interested in satellite communications,
had been working with the Hughes Corporation. Hughes, as you
know, was one of the SATCOM pioneers and they came up with a
brilliant scheme for a synchronous orbit satellite using single
sideband technology, the name of the program was Syncom. The
Army then came to the Bendix Radio Division and said, we want
you to develop two transportable ground stations to work with
the Hughes satellite. They made it clear that they did not want
any part of the Bendix Systems Division involved in the new contract.
It was a very interesting experience.
In what ways?
It started out with the Air Force, and then
with the Army, then with NASA and the Army. NASA couldn't understand
why the Army specified certain things, such as the trailers having
to pass the Munson road test. I don't know if you've ever heard
of the Munson road test.
It's an Army test course at Aberdeen Proving
Ground, or it used to be, I don't know what it is today. If,
for an example, you took a commercial trailer and put it over
that test course it would likely come out in pieces. It just
destroyed anything you put on it. NASA couldn't understand why
their equipment had to go through it. We didn't understand it
either, but that was typical of what happened when the Army tried
to put their stamp on anything. Hughes and NASA launched the
first synchronous orbit satellite. As I recall it was placed
in an inclined synchronous orbit - you know, it wasn't stationary
like it is today because of the limitations of the propellant
vehicles available at that time. We built two mobile stations
with transportable 30-foot antennas. I was involved in that program.
After that -
[Interposing] These were mobile ground stations?
Yes, two were mobile, one in New Jersey and
one in Camp Roberts, California.
Okay. So it then got repositioned for Syncom?
Yes. Syncom was the first synchronous orbit
satellite, a very successful program. As I say, my boss George
Sanner could see where everything was going but the corporation
saw it differently and took a different tack.
Board Antenna, Management, ‘Employed Entrepreneur’
I did win a later program - the Navy wanted
a ship board antenna to work with tactical communications satellites.
These were ship board antennas to communicate
Yes, which at the time was a tough deal because
Navy ship-board electronics testing is pretty brutal.
So I got a contract to build this equipment
and I set up a new department. Then the company immediately sent
me away to a sensitivity training course and by the time I got
back, the department was largely out of control because it was
one of the few available charges that were active within the
division. People were loading on to it and as a result, my customer
canceled the contract. I did salvage the antenna design for the
Navy but I have no information on what became of it. I mean,
the antenna structure which was conceived to pass the Navy ship
board test - popularly known as the hammer blow test to simulate
heavy gunfire shock. I can't think of anything I've omitted here.
You just mentioned a group. At what point in
your career did you start managing people?
Well that was one of my weaknesses, I think.
I was perhaps not very good at managing people.
But nonetheless, you did.
I had the responsibility. I guess results often
weren't very good, at least that must have been the management’s
Why do you say that?
Well, I never progressed in the management area
even though I professed to want to at the time. In retrospect
I'm glad it didn’t work out because it probably would not
have been wise since I have always been one who I guess would
be characterized as telling it as it was. Not a desirable attribute
It's a different skill-set from being a good
I wasn't really that good an engineer, to tell
you the honest truth. I was more of an entrepreneur, I guess,
an employed entrepreneur. I think that many of the really good
engineers I came in contact with were great at design but often
could not see beyond the details while I think that, at least
in comparison to most, I had some ability and incentive to think “out
of the box” and to see the bigger picture, as it were.
Good at finding? Can you expand on that - what
do you mean by employed entrepreneur?
Well, I took on the task of finding new business
which function is normally conducted by marketing organizations.
As an engineer I sniffed out where it was potentially and when
I couldn't prove to anybody it was there I just pursued it more
on a personal level for a long time before I would get any acknowledgement
or support from the company. It sometimes led to contracts, which
I didn't become involved in, probably for good reason.
Any particular notable such contracts that come
to mind that we haven't talked about?
I'd have to go through my notes and I don't
want to do that if I can spare you.
Then they don't come to mind?
OK, maybe MLS and TCAS were examples.
I did and that's led to most of the questions
I've asked you. What was the APX-10?
The APX-10, I don't know. APX-10.
Am I reading correctly?
Oh yes. I believe that was the Navy weather
radar unit that we modified and used in the weather flight test
ATC and Surveillance
What effect if any did [the] Allied acquisition
of Bendix in '82 have on your work or Towson in general?
Well, I can't think of anything notable. There
were probably shifts in management as a result of our continued
conflict with some of the other divisions. For example, the corporation
must have realized the futility of the Bendix Systems Division
operation and decided to terminate it. In its death throes it
was turned over to Bendix Radio to complete some weird projects
that they had begun there, and I was part of that and I guess
I felt good helping to finally drive a stake through its heart.
There is one other area I would like to talk
about related to air traffic control. I got the idea of a different
way to use the ATCRBS system to greatly enhance the ATC system
in terms of surveillance data integrity, accuracy, interference,
data rate and general effectiveness. I was granted a patent for
this in 1977, it was my last patent. Based upon it I submitted
an unsolicited proposal to the FAA for a smart surveillance system.
The basic premise was to deploy multiple small non-rotating phased
array antennas as smart interrogators. Whereas the existing ATC
system simply accepts whatever the fixed rotation rate antennas
are able to provide, these agile units would be controlled by
a centralized computer system and the activities of each would
be varied to best satisfy the current needs of the ATC system
for each aircraft. Trilateration and triangulation of the data
from multiple sites would be integral features to achieve these
ends. This multiple site technology, which was conceived by Jerry
Woodall of Bendix, had been proven in a demonstration we performed
under a DOT contract on the surface of Boston’s Logan Airport
where we located targets with about a 10-foot accuracy. The conventional
wisdom up to that time was that ATCRBS was limited to 400-foot
accuracies. This plan would integrate the en-route, terminal
and airport surface surveillance elements into a single system.
Those responsible for FAA research planning at that time were
greatly interested in this idea and attempted to fund it but
apparently it was considered too much of a radical change from
the direction they were going at that time and so nothing came
out of my efforts. For many years I expected that this idea would
eventually be developed but from what I have heard recently about
future ATC planning, the role of surveillance now seems headed
in an entirely new direction. The FAA, having been liberated
from the requirement to insure safe separation of aircraft, an
unanticipated consequence of TCAS, future surveillance is planned
around “dependant surveillance” where each aircraft
will derive its own precise location from GPS and sends this
to the ATC system.
To shift gears a bit, as you know, I'm from
Yes. I've been a member of the IRE since I was
a junior engineer.
Yes, I know. Our records indicate that you joined
back in 1947.
Yes, that would have been about right.
And I'd like to ask about your involvement with
IEEE over the years. Were you involved in any way in conferences,
papers, sections, societies?
I was active in display technology early on
and went to several conferences. My interests transitioned to
ATC and I presented a few papers. I remember one I gave in London
on all-weather operations for the UK IEEE. There were many conferences
I attended, but none of them stand out in my mind particularly.
I was the local chairman for a Baltimore convention of the AIAA
which eventually merged with the IEEE I believe.
In what ways did the Bendix operation in Towson
evolve or change over your many years here?
It's a little hard to characterize. My perspective,
from the Radio Division which was founded around 1937, was that
it went from primarily manufacturing to a more research and development
slanted organization after WWII. Whereas money came in easily
during the war it became necessary to work at acquiring new business
after the war. As a result, the people who were running the division
when I started there were factory oriented, it transitioned to
greater and greater technical orientation. The management transitioned
to people with technical backgrounds. The best example is perhaps
that of the Division Vice President and General Manager when
I retired, Joe McCormick, who had reported to me at one time.
A brilliant manager, he had taken a tiny contract with the Naval
Research Laboratory, NRL, and turned it into a major product
line that sustained the Towson operation for a number of years.
NRL had internally built a military transponder it wanted to
put into production – but without changing anything. This
was difficult because it required a lot of refinement without
identifying it as such. Joe was able to lead NRL through this
and we manufactured tens of thousands of them. And that led to
improved transponder versions that are used by all of the services.
Eventually after Joe became general manager, Bendix evolved towards
management that was sufficiently technical to understand the
businesses that we were in. Prior to that, many times we had
to deal through sales departments with managers who only worried
more about political consequences than business needs.
Oh, that's okay.
How would you characterize your career as a
whole, looking back?
I think I was successful in the sense that I'm
happy with it. There are a lot of things that I wish I would
have done differently, but in many cases I think if I had done
so I probably wouldn't have had the subsequent experiences I
had. So you've got to take the good with the bad. I guess I did
very well for an engineer lacking a college degree. Later on,
college degrees were necessary to even get in the door. I suppose
in a sense I had to stay with Bendix because it had some knowledge
of my value that others would not have seen had I decided to
go elsewhere. In fact, I tried a couple times and I got discouraged
because of various factors. Also, I had roots here and I didn't
want to move around. I don't know what else to say about it.
I'm happy with it. I've been retired 25 years almost.
Now did you retire in 1986 simply because you
reached retirement age or was there some other factor?
No, there was really no other cause. I was happy
with what I was doing at that time but I had other interests
and I just wanted a change of pace. I had gotten into land development
and community affairs which took a lot of my time. My wife and
I liked to travel and I always loved to build things. I had expanded
my home by many times and started more projects at home than
I had time to complete while I was employed. I had a big piece
of property and I wanted to complete some of my unfinished projects
and have more time with my family. Bendix asked me to consult
after I retired but after a few months I saw that consulting
was not my cup of tea and I gave that up.
In what ways have you stayed active, kept yourself
Oh, my farming, construction, traveling and
woodworking days occupied my time for many years but now they
are over. Mostly now I fool around with computers and photography.
I'm living in a condominium where I have one small room which
is stuffed full of books, computers and associated toys. My wife
says she's happy because she can close the door to it and nobody
[Laughter] Well, I started out with a whole
stack of cards face up, they're face down.
Well you've done a good job, Sheldon.
Which means I've asked you everything that I
could think to ask you. But at this point, is there anything
that you would like to add that we didn't cover, that I didn't
think to ask you?
I can't think of anything except to note I have
a total of eight patents, some of which I have talked about.
Other than that we have about covered everything I could think
Well in that case, I would say we're finished.
I thank you very much for coming in and sharing your recollections
Well you're quite welcome, Sheldon. I enjoyed
your professionalism in putting the questions to me.
Well thank you.
Good luck to you.