About Ben Vester:
Ben Vester was born in North Carolina and later in his childhood
moved to Norfolk, Virginia. Inspired by his father’s tinkering
with electronics, Vester became interested in electronics. After
graduating from high school in 1944, Vester went into the Army
Air Corps where he went to airplane mechanic school, ending up
in Alabama as a mechanic. After leaving the military, Vester went
to William and Mary/VPI (now called Old Dominion) majoring in electrical
power. He graduatedin 1950 and went directly to work for Westinghouse.
At Westinghouse, Vester began in the Westinghouse graduate student
program, then Special Products in Pittsburgh where he worked on
an autopilot assignment. In 1951, Vester moved to Baltimore with
the Air Arm Division, working on projects such as BOMARC radar,
the Gemini program and SAINT program. Vester eventually became
manager of Electrical Design and later General Manager of Aerospace.
Vester retired from Westinghouse in 1984.
In this interview, Vester discusses the various projects he worked
on at Westinghouse, particularly radar. Vester also talks about
his experience as a manager, talking about his managerial philosophy
but also his desire to remain in the ‘middle’ of engineering,
discussing the importance of engineers as resources. Vester also
describes the atmosphere at Baltimore, talking about various colleagues
such as Bill
Jones, Harry Smith, George Axelby, Frank Rushing and Paul Pan.
About the Interview:
BEN VESTER: An Interview Conducted by Sheldon Hochheiser, IEEE
History Center, 22 July 2009
Interview #512 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:
Ben Vester, an oral history conducted in 2009 by Sheldon Hochheiser,
IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA at the National Electronics
Museum, Linthicum, MD, USA
Interview: Ben Vester
Interviewer: Sheldon Hochheiser
Date: 22 July 2009
Location: National Electronics Museum, Baltimore, MD
Background and Education
This is July 22nd, 2009. This is Sheldon Hochheiser of the IEEE.
I’m here at the National Electronics Museum in Maryland with
Ben Vester, conducting an oral history. Good morning.
Good morning. How you doing, Sheldon?
We can start with some background. Where were you born and raised?
I was born down in North Carolina in a little town called Nashville.
Lived there through the 2nd grade and then moved up to Roanoke
Rapids in North Carolina for a few years. These were depression
years and I had my first jobs there when I was 12 years old. The
family moved on to Norfolk where I attended middle school and high
school at Maury High.
What did your parents do?
Well my mother, of course, was a homemaker.
And my father was a tinkerer, an electronics tinkerer, as a matter
of fact. And the house was always full of copies of Hugo Gernsback’s
Radio News, and you know, that kind of stuff. Actually he told
a story about years before I was born, of course, that he had used
some of Gernsback’s stuff and built a receiver. He ran the
antenna up the church steeple and had the whole town over there
tuned into KDKA, which was a Westinghouse station [Laughs].
And it didn’t work, okay. He had to wait for another month,
until the next magazine, and it had a correction---they had the
tickler coil backwards on this [Laughs] regenerative receiver.
He had worked for his father in grand daddy’s General Store
until the depression hit and wiped out grand daddy’s business.
So he started his own business in radio repairing
and that kind of stuff. We were in great demand for Sunday dinner
around town from people whose radio had quit. Daddy had a great
little trick with a small screwdriver that he carried around in
his shirt pocket, and a little pair of dikes. Those old sets had
lots of tubes in them. The weakest things in these sets were the
screen bypass capacitors,
and he’d go through with that little screwdriver and find
out which one wouldn’t spark, and then he would cut loose
the capacitor, and they were back on the air [Laughs]. That’s
one of the things that I remember from then. He was quite a tinkerer.
And I guess he passed his love for things electrical on to you.
Yes, he sure did.
So that I guess answers the question about how you got interested
in this whole area.
You finished high school during World War II? Is that correct?
Yes, during World War II in 1944.
Right, so then did you go into the service---
Yes. I was in the Army Air Corps. Went in thinking I was going
to pilot school but they had way too many people that they didn’t
have room for in pilot school.
So where did they send you?
Well I ended up getting sent to airplane mechanic school, which
was kind of fortuitous because I learned a lot about airplane hardware
and systems that I didn’t know before. I guess I was in the
service about a year before the war ended.
And then, of course, I didn’t have enough points to get
out. I was attending preflight school at Maxwell Field prior to
going to B29 fire control officer school. Instead I was shipped
to Selma, Alabama to serve out my time as a mechanic.
Did that help shape what you wanted to do when you got out?
It eventually did. Although when I went to college, there were
some zigzags along the way. Discharged in mid summer, my only choice
for college was a community college in Norfolk, William and Mary/VPI
at that time but now known as Old Dominion. I had worked as the
telephone company night-time test board operator for Norfolk my
last two years in high school, so I resumed that role while in
college in Norfolk. Two years later I went on to finish at VPI.
I wanted to take electronics, but the head of the EE department
talked me out of it. First of all they didn’t have many electronics
courses at VPI at that time and he told me that many electronics
PhD’s were walking the streets---which was probably true
at that time. So he talked me into majoring in power--electrical
Incidentally I was actually chairman of the AIEE/IRE back
The student branch?
Yes, at VPI. So I got introduced to that pretty early too. And
also I was a ham by then and also served as president of the Ham
Radio Club. The ham radio stuff was a tremendous motivator during
my whole life.
Right, and did you do that growing up with your dad too?
No, I didn’t actually get my ham ticket until I got in the
service. When the war ended we were assigned to sitting around,
and I decided I’d go and get my ham ticket. There was a Colonel
on the field, Signal Corps fellow, who gave me the exam.
And so you finished up your degree---
In 1950 at VPI.
Beginning at Westinghouse
And did you go directly from there to Westinghouse?
Yes. What happened is I did pretty well in school, the usual honor
societies and all that. But I won what was called the Westinghouse
Achievement Award, and it was given every year to some student
in the engineering department at VPI. So, I ended up getting floods
of information from Westinghouse. I even had one of the Westinghouse
district managers in that area call me and beg me to go to Westinghouse
because he had got that award put in VPI and then nobody had ever
ended up at Westinghouse [Laughs]. So I signed on and since jobs
were scarce that year didn’t even interview any one else.
When I got to Westinghouse I went into the graduate student program,
which is a great program because they let you move around to different
Right. So when you first joined Westinghouse you were in this
program where you spent a certain amount of time at a variety of
Right. The first couple were not very interesting, so I decided
to try for what looked more exciting, an assignment to nuclear.
So I signed up to get a Q clearance, which takes a long time to
get, and while I was waiting for that I took an assignment in something
called Special Products.
Which was in Pittsburgh?
In Pittsburgh. And it was a little side place. The idea was the
Research Lab guys would come up with some new idea for a product,
Special Products would try to promote it to the point that they
could get a development contract or get something started---which
was a pretty good idea actually.
Was there a particular product you were working on?
When I started out, I had this student assignment. I had no idea
that I was going to stay there. But I went in and they were working
on a new type of jet airplane autopilot using three rate gyros
instead of the single vertical gyro which had been used for slower,
less agile planes. I walked in the door and in less than an hour
they had me working on a piece of this autopilot that they had
to flight test in about a month. It was actually plenty interesting---the
little flight controller box that the pilot flies the plane with.
They needed a little servo to drive the controller to a position
that matched the position of the plane’s manual controls,
so there would be no transient when they switched the autopilot
on. I couldn’t believe I was going to get a chance to design
this. And we got it going---used something called a micropositioner
relay and with some finagling on a lead network managed to stabilize
the servo. It worked great in flight test----and I was hooked by
then, of course.
So you never went into nuclear?
No. The flight tests went well on this first prototype and we
got a contract for a few autopilots for the F94---was called the
W3A. I designed the magnetic servo amplifiers for that. The W3A
worked well enough that we got a new $200 million contract---a
lot of money back then---to make a version of this autopilot, called
the E-9, that was going to go in all the F-84’s. And I ended
up as an engineering group leader on the E-9, and was responsible
for the design of a box, the M4 box which had the three rate gyros
in it and also all of the servo amplifiers.
Now as a group leader, did that mean you now had people reporting
Yes, for technical direction on the design---but it was not a
Air Arm Division
The big contract award led the company to move the whole operation
to Baltimore and built us a new plant---the Air Arm Division.
Okay. So about when was that, when you moved to Baltimore.
So you weren’t in Pittsburgh very long then.
Right. Just long enough to have our first daughter [Laughter].
Incidentally, one of the key figures in the team who came down
here was Sy Herwald. Dr. Herwald was our first Engineering Manager.
Here in Baltimore?
Here in Baltimore. He immediately got us setup so we could get
into night school at Hopkins. And he was the kind of guy who showed
up at 2am in the morning to see what was going on. And I learned
how valuable the boss showing up at times like that for the people
that are really motivated. We had a problem getting the E-9 gyros
built in the new plant because nobody in manufacturing had built
anything with such precision before. The factory didn’t believe
our tolerances. At one point we convinced the superintendent of
the factory to visit the small Westinghouse facility in Pittsburgh
which had made the gyros for our previous autopilots along with
me to see if they could help us. The superintendent, along with
one of his honchos and me piled into his big Buick, and headed
up to Pittsburgh. But we soon stopped for a beer. After a few stops,
I concluded these guys knew every barmaid on the way to Pittsburgh.
About half way, I talked them into giving me the car keys. When
I drove into the hotel at a very late hour our rooms had been taken
and we had to share a room. While the Pittsburgh machining facility
couldn’t do the job themselves, they offered to send some
skilled machinists and quality control guys to show our machinists
how to make the parts. And I had two new friends who helped me
push things through manufacturing from then on.
And eventually the factory managed to make them to the tolerances?
Yes, and I learned a lot about how factories worked and the men
that manned them. The factory was turning out a few units and we
started flight testing.
And it wasn’t like the F-94 results at all. What was different
was the F-84 had what’s called an infinite boost hydraulic
system which doesn’t give the pilot any force feedback from
the valve. So on the F-84 they had to put a spring-loaded thing
in there to give you some feel. And General Boyd , who was in charge
of the program, wanted it adjusted to suit him, and that turned
out to be enough stiction so that the servos couldn’t handle
it. A young engineer named John Knight---a MIT grad---was working
the problem with our mockup of the system which included all the
real hardware from the autopilot and the F-84---with an analog
computer tied in to simulate the aerodynamics---a very sophisticated
setup for those times. I’m pretty sure Herwald was the driver
behind that since he was a recognized expert in the field. He taught
the servo course I took at Pitt and we used his book for the course.
Any way we were sure that the problem was the non-linearity of
the spring loaded feel thing. John dug deeper and found there was
another non-linearity in the autopilot that we didn’t know
was there. It was in the wire wound potentiometer that followed
the motion of the airplane control surfaces. So we went into overdrive
and I personally designed and built an infinite resolution magnetic
pickup to try---and it worked in the mockup. We rushed a set of
pickups through the model shop and then they actually flew us out
to Wright Field, and our pilot actually talked his way into letting
us land at Wright Field at 1:00am in the morning. Which was good
because we got past having to get in through the gate and all the
But we ran out of time. We got the stuff installed just before
Flag Day and they took the airplane away from us because they had
to put it out for display on Flag Day. The company even flew a
corporate VP out to plead our case---but to no avail. And we were
sure it would have worked. But it was a lesson hammered home---that
you better look at it from the customer’s viewpoint and not
give them reason to cut you off. Any way I had to come back home
and face all those people in the factory, you know, who I had spent
a lot of time with trying to get stuff made. It was pretty tough.
Did you tell them that the project was cancelled?
They already knew. And it was cancelled on Flag Day, which as
it turns out is my wedding anniversary day [Laughter].
You’re not going to forget that day.
No, no. [Laughs] So the big question the company had was, what
do we do with these guys? And since I had established myself as
fairly competent in the magnetic amplifier field they had a spot
for me. Westinghouse had invented the Hipernik material around
1950 which made magnetic amplifiers practical, so we had a jump
on the world use for a period before it was released to the public.
The tape wound toroids had an almost perfect rectangular hysteresis
curve which lent itself to use as a high power controllable switch.
And in more recent years we see the same technology base used for
hard drive memories. Anyway a fellow in England published a paper
in 1951 that used Hipernik cores in sequence to progressively sharpen
pulses to get a large radar pulse to drive a magnetron. One of
our development engineers had picked this up and had built one
of these for a new radar we
were proposing for the BOMARC missile---the radar that became the
DPN-33. When I joined the program they had progressed to the point
where they would make a bunch of toroidal coils and---
But only occasionally would one set be good enough to work.
Would work, yes. To meet MIL specs it had to work over a wide
range of voltages and that was a real challenge. I did manage to
solve the problem with a different circuit arrangement and Westinghouse
decided to patent it since it used their Hipernik cores, I guess.
It also offered me a good subject for my Master’s thesis
And so your whole group moved over with you?
Well, no. They were spread all over the place because we had other
things going on at the time.
And of course when the company moved this aerospace group from
Pittsburgh to Baltimore to form Air Arm, they also moved the surface
radar division, which had been in Baltimore for a long time, out
to the airport alongside Air Arm. So then all of a sudden I’m
in the radar business, and being a ham, and knowing a fair amount
about communications electronics and that kind of stuff, at least
from a practical standpoint, plus my Master’s program courses
I could hold my own in some ways. Since I had been promoted to
supervisory engineer in the autopilot program, I assumed the same
role in BOMARC in the electrical engineering section there.
And so we pumped out the first BOMARC radars. Now that was a very
crucial program probably for both the airborne and space stuff
we did in the years to come. BOMARC was a very advanced missile.
It used ram jet engines, of all things. It may be the only living
example of a ramjet program that succeeded [Laughter]. It had very
high vibration. It was very hard to make stuff that would live
in the environment. A number of the companies who took part in
things like the launching equipment---for example, Moog in hydraulics
etc---became leaders in later space work.
Now how closely did you work with other groups here at Westinghouse
who were doing pieces of the BOMARC radar and then with other contractors?
Okay, that’s a good question---one that hadn’t occurred
to me. First of all, we had not yet adopted a matrix organization.
So the electric design and the mechanical design sections line-reported
to the BOMARC program manager. The engineers in those two sections
were permanently assigned to the program for the duration of the
program, and were located across the hall from each other.
Right, so there was a program manager on top.
And who was that?
Well, there were several. We actually had two retired Marine Colonels
in sequence, first was Cliff Parody who was more technically qualified
and more of a consensus builder. Next was Joe Dickey who was more
top down oriented and after he adapted to being talked back to
by an unruly bunch of engineers, did well.
So there were several groups working on different pieces of Westinghouse’s
part of the BOMARC project?
Yes, there was a model shop, and an engineering lab organization,
and the factory had a large group of people assigned to the program
for build and test. At that time we had no antenna design in house
so we bought the antenna dishes from Sander’s Associates.
My group was responsible for the antenna and microwave stuff, the
receiver, and transmitter, so we handled the Sander’s subcontract.
I believe our Surface division had a separate contract with Boeing
for BOMARC ground equipment.
The second generation BOMARC radar, the DPN-34, was something
completely new, a Pulse Doppler radar system. There had been experimental
PD work done before, but this was the first production system.
That was quite an experience.
In what way?
Well, it was the first of its kind. We had an advanced development
group under Harry Smith’s guidance who created the first
breadboard models of the system. And Harry was a talented entrepreneur
who sold it to Boeing---got them to put it into their missile.
Operationally it offered full down-look capability for the BOMARC,
something no other missile or plane had. Pulse Doppler radar required
unbelievably stable local oscillators (STALO) and receivers with
extraordinary intermod capability to pick up very weak target signals
buried in very large ground clutter. We finally got it to work.
But significantly we got it to work in a ramjet vibration environment,
and that really gave us a leg up in future competitions for Pulse
Doppler systems. You don’t think of microphonics being a
major problem, but when extreme signal purity is the game you have
to control mechanical resonances all through the system.
One other thing I should mention---I always felt that the technicians
working on the program were in some cases more important than the
engineers [Laughs] and so in addition to trying to hire the right
kind of engineers out of college, we really did try to reward the
guys without a degree because they were such a key part of making
all that stuff work.
So you were working on the BOMARC project for a fair number of
Between the two generations?
Yes, up until oh 1961, somewhere along in there.
And did your role change over the years? Did you become more of
Well, yes. I spent pretty close to 15 years at the supervisor
level, and that was fine with me---kept me close to the engineering
work I loved. As a matter of fact, Dr. Herwald early in the game
asked if I was interested in being submitted as a candidate for
a Harvard Business School thing they had for guys with potential.
I said no way. There was a guy in the plant who had gone that route
and I said “no way I want to be [Laughs] doing what Jack’s
doing.” So I really was an engineer at heart, and that carried
on right up until I walked out the door in 1984.
Well that’s good, to do what you want to do---
Yes. And I still moved up through the ranks eventually but with
a better than average grasp of what went on at the lower levels.
The next assignment I got was for a program called SAINT, which
was a satellite interceptor. You probably never heard of it.
It didn’t last very long. It got started at RCA in
Boston. One of the guys there was a high profile, big science type,
so they won the contract for this thing. I was assigned since they
were going to use the BOMARC pulse radar---a tried and true machine
with an inventory already available. So I became head engineer
on this. And what happened is that RCA had to eventually look at
what they were doing, and they came out with some real cost numbers
and I guess the Air Force bailed out. It didn’t last very
long. But it was pretty important to me in a way because when we
finished the two BOMARC programs, somebody decided to put me over
in Advanced Development. Don’t know who it was, but in any
case I was now the Supervisor of a small development group with
several projects going on---one of which was a rendezvous radar
conceived by an engineer named Elbie Green.
We were coming up on John Kennedy’s “going to the
moon” pronouncements. And McDonnell Douglas who we had
sold a lot of radars to for their airplanes and so forth, and I
don’t know for sure but I think they probably knew we were
in the SAINT program, which had just been cancelled. Anyway, they
were setting up to do the Gemini program, to basically prove that
you could rendezvous in space along with doing space walks outside
the spacecraft. Anyway, I was asked to go out to McDonnell Douglas,
and it was such a low profile visit I went without the usual local
marketing guy. So I got in there talking with a young engineer
named George Scism. He had a spec. for a rendezvous radar he wanted
to show us and solicit comments.
How do you spell that?
S-C-I-S-M. Scism. Anyway, a very bright young guy, and I started
to show him details of our concept for a cooperative rendezvous
radar using a transponder on the target vehicle. And he said wait
a minute and he went and got his boss. And his boss came and I
went over it again for him. And I went through a couple of bosses
until we got to Ray Hill, who was the head of Avionics. And I was,
you know, a 32 or 33 year-old young fellow. It was a little above
my experience level [Laughs].
Anyway, they really got turned on by what we had, and it really
was a cute idea. As a matter of fact, I used to carry this little---where
is it? Let’s see if I’ve got it here. This is a little
dipole spiral---the ones used were about the size of a CD disk
with a printed circuit spiral on it. The idea was you use one of
these to transmit through and use as reference on receive and a
coupla’ more, one in each axis and as you rotate these things
you advance or retard the phase of the received signal thus measuring
the angle of the target in two axes. It is basically a two axis
circular polarized interferometer. It’s so simple, very small.
It’s got tremendous appeal. And the other thing was, due
to the fact that I had worked on the autopilot stuff, I knew a
little bit about the problem---the fact that we went from vertical
gyros for slow airplanes to rate gyros for fast jets---that this
was going back to the old slow stuff. Just a range measuring and
a pointing angle measuring system was quite adequate for the job.
It turns out that a couple of guys at MIT, Sears and Feldman,
had written a classic paper on rendezvous, and they had sort of
captured the rest of the industry; it was sort of a gold standard.
But I convinced Ray Hill because Ray had worked on autopilots,
and he saw that this simple thing was what you need. So anyway
they changed their specs to accommodate our system---basically
it made it very hard for anyone else to compete. This was going
to be a very light thing that fit right on the nose of Gemini.
George Axelby and Gemini
I promised to tell you a story about George Axelby who gained
fame for his work in IEEE on feedback control systems. One of the
things that we had done to promote our little radar was send a
few systems guys out to San Diego, to General Dynamics and they
were trying to make the arguments we just talked about. And the
G.D. guys said “we know you make good radars, but leave the
systems to us, okay.” [Laughter] So they came back with their
tails between their legs.
This thing was progressing along to where Gemini looked like the
program was going and it was getting funded. Dr. Von Braun had
been fighting to make the moon mission a direct ascent mission
without rendezvous. All of a sudden, he came out with a public
announcement, which was in all the newspapers, that we’re
going to have to make a state of the art improvement in radar to
make the rendezvous possible. So here we are with this little simple
thing and here’s the Sears/Feldman indoctrinated people.
So shortly after Von Braun made his announcement---I’m not
sure who scheduled this visit for us---it probably was McDonnell.
But we had to go down to Huntsville to talk with Von Braun’s
system engineering group run by a guy named Fred Digesu, D-I-G-E-S-U,
I guess it is. So having been snubbed by the systems guys at San
Diego, I decided to use a secret weapon there at the plant, George
Axelby. And at that time, George, in addition to working for Westinghouse,
was also the editor of Feedback Controls Magazine. He was a guy
with some stature.
So I took George down with me, and I’ll have to tell you
what happened at the meeting. We marched in and sat down, and a
young lady came in and unfolded her steno pad. And I thought, my
God, they’re going to take a short hand transcript of the
meeting. We’ll have [to] be careful what we say. So we go
through our song and dance and George gets up. George is a---you
ought to meet him sometime. He’s still here in Baltimore.
He’s a real “aw shucks” kind of guy, but very
credible. So when we got through with our pitch and answered questions,
all of a sudden here we are with these high powered systems guys
at Huntsville, and they turned to this girl that I thought was
a secretary, and say “what do you think?” And so
she tells them what the answer is. [Laughter] It really was an
extraordinary moment to me, one I’ll remember for a long
time. But she said they’re equivalent. You can measure the
target angle and range over time and calculate from the data what
corrections to make.
Now we had it. We did make the radar. It was the first digital
radar. This is back in the early 60’s.
Now you’re moving from analog to digital?
With the Gemini project?
Yes. All the measurement data was in digital format. The range
was measured by a digital counter using a clock rate of 1.000 mhz.
The master timing unit we made for Apollo was basically a digital
thing, with clock speeds in the kilohertz range.
If I can back up, do you recall the name of the woman at that
meeting in Huntsville?
I never knew it. I wish I could find out.
It’s interesting because as I’m sure you know there
weren’t that many women involved back then.
Yes. Well as a matter of fact, we had some pretty good women engineers
at the plant back then. Naomi MacAfee headed the Reliability/Quality
stuff at the plant and was the highest ranked female in the corporation,
So anyway, a week to ten days later Von Braun retracted his radar
statement. [Laughs] And so the program moved on. We had a great
team of guys for the program and were making schedules. Lockheed
was making the target vehicle but were having big schedule problems,
so McDonnell asked us to make a little satellite with the target
electronics and the antenna in it---it was dubbed a Rendezvous
Evaluation Pod---so they could carry it into orbit on the Gemini
and try out the non-docking part of the mission. That was made
and used for a mission before Lockheed got well. McDonnell decided
they needed a communication link to send digital control messages
to the target, so we cobbled together a mod to jitter the transmitter
pulse back and forth for 1’s and 0’s to send messages
with and added a little circuit on the target receiver to decode
it. Needless to say, McDonnell was very pleased with our extra
Were there any noticeable differences between working on a project
for NASA versus working for the military?
Not really. Not really. The big difference on the Gemini was we
had a very small group of dedicated guys---best of the best. The
importance of this job to me was to sort of get my head above the
pack a bit because it was successful. I did get listed in the Laurels
For The Year in Aviation Week’s December 1985 issue for the
But the other thing of more importance is that it got us into
the space game. And this whole reliability kind of stuff for manned
space flight really is almost a religion kind of thing. You no
longer have random failures. They’ve all got a reason they
failed and you better find out what it is. And since the guys who
worked on these programs moved off to other programs, the reliability
philosophy started to permeate into the airborne products.
Management Position and a Lost Contract
Lets see, where are we now? I had pretty well finished that project
and they had---
Finished the Gemini work?
Yes. The company had decided to reorganize the engineering department
into a different format, into a more matrix type organization.
So I ended up as Manager of Electrical Design and P. J. Miller
as Manager of Mechanical Design. Both sections served all of the
So now you’re head of Electrical Design. You have responsibility
for people who are doing the electrical design for a number of
Right. Now there’s a smaller group that’s off in advanced
development that’s playing around with making onesy, twosy
kind of things. Once a production contract was obtained, the electrical
and mechanical design groups finalized the designs to meet Mil
specs, etc. and prepared the drawings, test requirements, etc.
that the factory would use to build stuff.
We had won contracts for all of the F-4 radars for both the Air
Force and the Navy. And we had projects going for both a pulse
type radar, called the APG-120 and then the AWG-10, which was a
Down-Look Pulse Doppler radar for the F-4. So it was kinda’ like
we did on the BOMARC, but with different form factors. We even
did a redesign of the Mark 48 torpedo electronics to bail out a
sister organization located in Baltimore.
And then at one point which was around ’67 or ’68---I’ve
forgotten the exact dates. I remember well when it occurred because
what happened is that we had competed for the radar for the F-15,
and had lost, which was a big blow, and we sure as hell hadn’t
planned to lose that to Hughes. I ended up as Engineering Manager
of the BWI site about then. I remember that well, because one of
the early things I had to do was take care of the fact that we
had more people than we had work for. The whole Air Arm philosophy
from the beginning was to treat all your co-workers as family---and
we had not had a RIF in engineering before. Well when we had to
actually reduce force---
After losing the F-15 contract?
Yes. I pretty well told the management team, we’re going
to do this from the bottom up, okay.
Bottom meaning seniority?
No. The guys who are going to make the decisions are the supervisors.
Ah, not the guys at the top of the organization.
Right. I’m a great believer in bottom up management. The
folks at the top are never necessarily well informed enough about
individual capabilities of personnel.
Any way, I pretty well said we’ve got to get set for the
long haul, so don’t just get rid of the youngsters or anything
like that. Just out of curiosity after it was all over, I plotted
the experience levels of what was left and compared it with the
experience levels before, and the curves were essentially identical.
The guys had done a good job.
But this approach was not without some peril. One of the guys
chosen to go in the Surface Division was a “he wrote the
book” type and the then current President of Westinghouse,
Bob Kirby, who had come up through the ranks at Surface, got a
call from him. Bob sent Dr. Hutchinson on his staff down to see
what the hell was going on. Hutch had a long history at Westinghouse
dating back to Rickover and knew a lot of older people who worked
there who apparently approved our actions, so no changes were made
to the plan. Hutch was a ham and often dropped in to see me when
in Baltimore---he was sort of a mentor over the years. A question
he asked had major impact on me---”How do the French design
airplanes with so few engineers?”
Another thing we did, and I think this is another important factor
that helped us in years to come, we set up a guy named Earl King,
and his job was to get a job for every one of the lay-offs. And
he spent a year to 18 months and got every one of those people
The guys you had to let go, were they generally with other companies
or with other parts of Westinghouse, or some other---
All over the area. And you know, a lot of them went with the government
due to where we’re located here.
Some of them ended up being customers. It was the right thing
to do and was a big, big plus with the people who were left.
Okay, so you’re now the chief engineer. One of the first
things you have to do is figure out how to reduce the size of the
organization because you lost this big contract.
But there were other contracts going on.
Right, Right. My management style at that stage was to focus on
the show-stopper problems. Since our role was almost always as
a subcontractor of a key subsystem we could really screw up a customer’s
program if we didn’t fix such problems quickly. My actions
were not much different from previously---get a real understanding
of the problem directly from the working level engineers and pull
in resources to solve it. Since I had years of direct contact with
the best engineers and what they could bring to the party, and
could make them available for advice quickly---I felt that was
a most productive use of my time. And I think that worked for me.
I know that’s not conventional management theory, but I only
showed up for show-stoppers and hoped that the lower level managers
would bring the same urgency to the problem. I never took ownership
for the problem---just was a friendly helper. I guess it also satisfied
my desire to be in the middle of the engineering. [Laughter]
Customers were often aware of such major problems so it helped
that I knew the details when talking with them. So I spent very
little time in my office. I spent most of the time wandering around
talking. As a general rule when I wanted to talk to someone I went
to their office or desk---guess I wasn’t comfortable asking
them to come up to my office.
We won some pretty big contracts over time. We won the AWACS radar
from our friends at Boeing and there were a lot of other things---electro-optical
systems, like Pave Spike---an airborne laser target designator.
I haven’t even mentioned the electronic countermeasures
field. We made almost all of the electronic countermeasure pods
for “under the wing” mounting on fighters.
And what systems did they go into?
They went on all the fighters that had the wing mounts---F-4 being
the most common. The ALQ-131 was one of the major ones we won in
this period. For example, sometime in the early 70’s, I noticed
that I hadn’t seen John McKinley for several days---John
ran the countermeasures engineering group. I asked “where’s
John? Is he sick or something?” And it turned out that he
was at the Pentagon and he had been sequestered there with several
of his guys for almost a week. [Laughs] Israel was in a war at
the time---not sure which one.
That would make it 1973.
Okay. That would be about the time. And the trouble was they were
losing, and the Russians had pumped in a lot of new anti-aircraft
stuff. And the countermeasures they had wasn’t taking care
of it. Some colonels in the Air Force decided to bypass the system,
called our guys in and they collectively came up with what was
needed. Our guys came up with the mods, incorporated them into
a bunch of pods and nobody had even gotten the President’s
permission to do it. [Laughs] But by the time we finished the pods
in a few days, somebody finally convinced the President, whoever
that was at the time, to approve flying the pods over. And it turned
the whole battle around. So that certainly helped our reputation
in the customer community.
Did you yourself have a lot of interface with the customer during
Only when there was a show-stopper problem, generally. The engineers,
like McKinley, who ran the engineering on major product lines,
had a lot more direct contact with their customers, so I always
had info on what the customer was thinking through them.
Engineers as Resources
And so resources, I assume there are several aspects. The right
people? Funding? Equipment? Do all these things go into resources?
Yes, but I was most interested in the people---am I running out
No. We’ve got plenty of time.
Plenty of time. Okay--
I mean, yeah, part of my job is to check that but no, we’ve
got plenty of time. I’m enjoying this. Just keep going.
Okay. Well let me tell you a few other things that I was doing
at that time.
The things that I thought were important most of all was the caliber
of the engineers, and we were fortunate in that the Westinghouse
student course had a good reputation and all the universities were
happy to have them show up. They had a network with the colleges
that worked to get a lot of talented engineers. So I did spend
a modicum of time interviewing kids who my guys had identified
as high potential. I spent significant time with them, basically
patting them on the butt you might say. But it was mostly trying
to convince them that hey, this is a really exciting place to work---and
I really believed that.
The other thing we did during that period, and I not sure who
started this, but we set up a program to finger high potential
high school kids here in Baltimore and get them to sign up for
a co-op work/study program with us and John Hopkins. And that was
probably one of the most successful programs we’ve had. Most
of us in engineering management took part in interviewing some
of the kids and took particular pride in seeing them succeed. Of
course, Hopkins was part of the bait and it’s a pretty damn
Incidentally, I got my Masters at Hopkins eventually.
Doing this at night while you were here?
Yeah, during the first 8 or 9 years. And I wrote my Masters paper
on that magnetic modulator I was telling you about.
So I worried about the caliber of our people and even went out
to schools recruiting occasionally, since we were a major customer
for GSC hired kids.
The other part was we had an extremely aggressive educational
program, basically college level courses.
Taught right here?
Taught right here?
Yes, and courses taught by some of our top engineers. Guys like
George Axelby. It’s one thing to be a college professor,
but teachers who are doing state of the art design and development
all day are a cut above that. My own son, who instead of taking
engineering or something he chose liberal arts, majored in psychology
with a minor in math. He basically majored in unemployment [Laughter]
according to one of our friends who had a similar situation. But
I did get someone at Westinghouse to give him a job back then,
and he ended up taking a series of computer programming courses
taught by one of our software hot shots in the Surface Division---and
became a very proficient software programmer. He didn’t stay
at Westinghouse much longer than it took to get that education,
but being taught by a guy that was really good. And that’s
been his life’s work and he’s done very well at it.
So let’s see now. Where are we?
We were talking about the various things you did during the years
you were chief engineer.
Yeah, yeah. Well I learned a lot technically. There was a wide
spectrum of different technologies being pursued---fire control
radars, tactical ground radars, FAA systems, communication systems,
electro-optical systems, etc. PAVE SPIKE was our first airborne
laser target designator. I think they may have flown just a few
of those before the Vietnam War ended.
So that was coming along just at the end of the Vietnam War?
Right. It’s kind of interesting because the initial buy
of SPIKES was rather small. I think we made more of those for the
Brits than for the U. S. And the reason they were so good was our
mechanical design capability had grown very sophisticated with
gyros, making high rate hydraulically driven antennas which had
to be very stable in a high vibration environment, etc. PAVE SPIKE
was the best laser designator, bar none, I think anybody ever built.
But they didn’t make very many and I believe that a Martin
subsidiary down in Florida got the laser designator for the later
fighters like the F-16. And when they had the first Iraq war, you
know, they were---we had those pictures of the bombs going right
through the selected windows---
Right. Yeah, I remember.
You remember seeing that. Well I could tell which missions were
the Brit’s and which were the U. S. F-16’s because
in the U. S.’s you could see the vibration. And the Brit’s
was kinda’ super stabilized. Charlie Kline was in charge
of our electro-optical group and he was a great engineer and a
I’m going to change the subject a little and tell you some
of my management philosophy. First I was always very direct and
demanded my guys be the same---tell it like it is---that is, drop
the BSing. I suspect that some of my bosses thought I lacked finesse
and that had something to do with my long tenure as a supervisor.
But that was me--take it or leave it. As I moved on where I had
more customer face time, I’m convinced that was an asset.
Most of them at the higher levels understood that the first step
to solving a problem was admitting you had one.
The other thing I would never tolerate was the internal game playing
stuff. It’s pretty easy and a lot of people end up doing
this in companies, and I think it’s a terrible mistake to
play one group off against another in terms of trying to motivate
them to do better. And my idea was no, no, no, we’re not
competitors inside---the competition is Hughes. And frequently
it was Hughes, but there were others, of course.
I inherited the matrix organization, which some people think waters
down the lines of authority so much until it shouldn’t work;
actually it works great because nobody can mandate from on high
that you’ve got to do this or that. Let’s look at a
guy that’s, lets say, an engineering manager of a program
that’s trying to get his job through. He gets assigned some
people, and obviously the caliber of these people is important
so he gets to make some choices, but as the job progresses he’s
got to use the right touch, which is a light touch, to get the
job done with these people. And in many respects, actually separating
the management line of authority for pay and all that kind of stuff
from the working thing, it’s not a bad idea. If you’re
managing a group of engineers, for example, in the matrix, and
they are signed over to a program, you’ve got a leg in that
program and feel responsibility for its success---sort of another
manager pair of eyes looking at progress and lending help to the
program engineering managers. And the engineers gained a lot of
System Development and Stanford Executive Program
And let’s see what else. I failed to mention that a new
organization was established around the time I became Engineering
Manager of the BWI site. It was called the System Development Division,
and it centralized the business responsibility for all of the development
programs and also included all of the engineers on site plus the
program management of development programs---
Okay, so you reported to the head of System Development---?
Who was that?
John Stuntz at that time.
I eventually got to be general manager of SDD but before that
I had been in just engineering kind of roles. So I guess the company
decided that you didn’t want to go to Harvard but you’ve
got to go somewhere to get a little business learning. [Laughter]
So I went out to Stanford, to the Stanford Executive Program, which
was like a summer spent on courses like creative accounting and---just
kidding! In fact, the guy that taught accounting was the top expert
in the accounting standards organization in the U. S. at that time.
But that was a nice summer break from---
Were the things you studied there useful?
Yes. Because I was really an engineer, you know. Any management
thoughts I had were pretty much whatever come to you naturally
without formal training. I do think I had accumulated some wisdom
from previous bosses.
But it was definitely useful with respect to the people who were
there---from every industry you can name---banking, mining, wine,
retailing, oil, railroads, gambling, insurance, chemicals, etc.,
etc.---from all over the world. Most of the professors were big
name experts in their fields so the instruction was first class.
But the relations and discussions with the attendees were the highlight
of the course for me.
One of the guys who I spent some time with was Don Schulz from
HP. Don was GM of their plant in Loveland, Colorado. He was the
program manager on the first HP calculator which created such a
stir. Now HP had been one of our test equipment suppliers for years
and I had many HP friends. Anyway, Don passed along a business
rule that had been created by an HP marketing manager. The rule
was used when you wanted to expand your business---’twas
called the three-legged stool rule. The legs of the stool were:
Customers-Technology-A Product. Rule was don’t charge out
to expand on more than one leg at a time---that’s conservative
but raises your probability of success significantly.
Then the head of the Westinghouse Research Lab, George Mechlin,
who incidentally ran our Underseas Division in Annapolis before
going to the lab, started chipping at me about the three-legged
stool rule. He said it’s too conservative, which for the
lab is true since they typically have only one leg. And at SDD
we had a similar problem. Most of our new business planning was
done, to a large extent, based on where you put your R&D money.
And we had set up some guidelines that if a guy comes in with a
great idea but it doesn’t fit exactly, but you don’t
know, maybe don’t even know who the customer might be, you
give them a little money but we’d set it up so they got minimal
money until they sold one of the military labs into putting up
some earnest money. And part of the philosophy behind that is it’s
a lot harder to sell something new if the labs don’t have
a part in creating it. Once a lab spends some of their money, then
all of a sudden you’ve got an advocate over on the customer
side. So if the technology works out, you’ve got almost two
of the legs covered.
Right, because now they’ve got an investment in it as well
Right. Now Stuntz moved up to run the Aerospace Division and I
replaced him as SDD general manager. But I ended up actually holding
that job plus my Engineering Manager job, reporting to myself so
to speak, [Laughter] for about the first year.
That must have been an awful lot to do.
Yes. But the business responsibility for the development contracts
wasn’t that much of an additional load.
And that’s the first time you had business responsibility.
Yes, but we eventually broke free a competent manager to fill
the Engineering Manager slot.
And who is it that you finally---?
Johnny Pearson, a good old boy from North Carolina, who had played
a significant management role in the original Pulse Doppler development
under Harry Smith and had been a solid manager since. Now we had
a lot of active development programs in SDD at that time. I noticed
from your schedule that Bill
Jones is coming in this afternoon.
Bill’s coming in this afternoon.
Well he was in charge of something called the EAR program, which
featured an electronically agile antenna, which eventually grew
to be the B-1 radar. And some of these guys in Advanced Development,
like Bill, had enough marketing, management, and technical skills
to have started something in development and had a chance to carry
it all the way to production. And as you’ll see, he’s
a very dynamic fellow and quite a good guy.
Advanced Technology Lab and VHSIC
One other asset we had in SDD was an integrated circuit facility
called ATL or Advanced Technology Lab. Westinghouse had entered
the commercial IC business at a time when the super entrepreneurs
were promising just about anything and hoping they could do it.
And I suppose the corporate fathers couldn’t live with that.
So they folded the business and gave the facility to the Defense
Center. So we were able to do some other things that we couldn‘t
So is that plant here in Baltimore then?
Yes, it was, and I guess it’s still there. I’ve been
retired 25 years now so---[Laughter] I used to drive down the road
outside going home, but there was nothing here but woods. [Laughs]
Speaking of ATL, they had a contract on the Very High Speed Integrated
Circuit back then.
Right, I’ve come across that.
The VHSIC program.
And we had one of the contracts along with most of the commercial
IC companies. But there was one company who refused to take a contract,
namely Intel. And you know the rest of the story.
Intel’s story is certainly well known.
Yes. [Laughter] But they proved an important fact---namely that
if you have to spend your own money on a development, you sure
as hell spend it a lot more wisely. Gordon
Moore used to visit Gene
Strull at ATL about once a year and was most interested in
the IC manufacturing tools we were using. Gene was often first
in line to buy the latest equipment to support a classified program
we had, and Moore was probably steering some wise equipment purchases
WX-200 and Defense Center Reorganization
Now, Harry Smith had moved up to GM of the Aerospace Division
and looking out towards the next generation of fighter aircraft
had started an in-house program called the WX-200. There were a
few people in the Pentagon who were worrying about the spiraling
cost of fighter planes---driven somewhat by the electronic systems
on board. So Harry set a target of $200K for the cost, about ½ the
current costs. I was in the middle of this since Harry and I were,
at heart, engineers---Noel Longuemare was the chief architect of
the system. Anyway the forces in the Pentagon who were pushing
lower costs won some battles and the light weight fighter program
was born. After General Dynamics won the flyoff against McDonnell,
we had a competitive pulse doppler radar flyoff against Hughes
for the winning F-16. The conceptual work that was done on the
WX-200 had changed the mind set in engineering to focus on cost,
and although the GD specs made some changes to the WX-200 plans,
we had a leg up already. We also used some of my old Electrical
Design guys to design the flyoff radar, giving us reliable hardware
to use in the flyoff-which after we won gave us a leg up on the
transition to production of the APQ-66 radar. The F-16 contract
has proved to be what is surely the most lucrative business area
for the BWI site---I note that 30 some years later Northrop-Grumman
are still updating F-16 radars.
In about 1978, there was a major reorganization of the Defense
Center triggered by the move of Nick Petrou to Pittsburgh to fill
a corporate job. Harry Smith moved up to head up the Defense Group.
Harry made changes to balance the load between the Aerospace and
Surface divisions. He moved the AWACS program to the Surface Division---AWACS
radar was physically big---and appointed Maurice Ani as GM. I moved
over as GM of Aerospace, and took along a coupla’ classified
programs where we wanted to keep customer continuity.
So this was a lateral move to run a different part of the operation?
Well it wasn’t a lateral move, it was a promotion.
Because it was a bigger chunk of the business it was a promotion?
Yes. In my first year we did $165 million worth of business.
In the Aerospace division?
In the Aerospace division. When I retired in ’84 we did
That’s quite a lot of growth.
In six years.
Six years. The billings increased by a factor of 6 and the profits
increased by a factor of 10 approximately. Since the biggest challenges
facing Aerospace at that time was getting the production of the
F-16 radar up to speed and I had built up good relations with GD
engineering during the fly-off and also was the only senior manager
with production experience was probably a factor in the appointment.
What were the factors that led to such dynamic growth in the business?
Well, Carter’s inflation and Reagan’s defense build-up
contributed. There were a number of programs we had won and were
entering production about then---the APQ-66 for the F-16 being
the biggest, the ALQ131 ECM pods, a Tail Warning radar for the
B-52, the B-1 radar which used the EAR electronically agile antenna
married with F-16 radar hardware. There was about $100 million
of space program billings in the $982 million for 1984.
And I was kinda’ using the three-legged stool rule to select
targets. As soon as we got the F-16 radar rolling in the factory,
my division engineering manager, Noel Longuemare, started a dialog
with the Tactical Air Command to create a new set of requirements
for a follow-on to the APQ-66 radar for the F-16. The idea was
to box out a new aircraft to do the mission of the F-15. So we
were able to give birth to a APQ-68 which gave the F-16 competitive
capabilities to the F-15, and some capabilities beyond. I borrowed
John Stuepnagel from SDD to run this program The ECM department
won a next generation system called ALQ-135, which was planned
for joint use by both the Air Force and the Navy.
One of the most important wins we had at Aerospace was something
called DIVADS. Now you probably never heard of that.
No. How do you spell that?
D_I_V_A_D_S which stood for Division Air Defense System. We had
a major goal of getting into the Army systems. One prime contractor
who was competing was Ford Aerospace, and we sold them on the idea
that we’ve got a big production line going here with F-16
radars, and these are digital, so we can get you into a learning
curve thing with lower costs, and higher reliability both in the
fly-off with General Dynamics in San Diego and in the production
phase. They bought in and we together waxed the GD team---GD’s
radar was so unreliable, they were using a very sharp eyed gunner
who was manually sighting and tracking incoming targets in some
final tests. And this whole idea of using an airborne radar to
direct an air defense gun we sold hard and got a coupla’ generals
in the Army procurement as advocates for the concept.
I also got invited to some seminars at the Carlisle, PA Army think
tank facility and managed to provoke a confrontation with the head
of Hughes Aircraft when he started bitching about the costs of
underfunded fly-offs. I made the point that the Army was served
better by a war between two engineering groups than by a war between
two marketing groups. What I didn’t say then, but later did
to individual Army folks, was that the thinly funded fly-off required
use of your best talent, and led to designs that used a maximum
of already existing designs---cheaper and more reliable.
This was a big opening into the Army and it led to an opening
for SDD to compete for a radar surveillance and fire control system
for the Army’s new Apache helicopter. I retired before that
got to the production phase. But we had added a third customer
leg to our stool.
Now let me tell you an IEEE story.
Sometime after we lost the E-9, Sy Herwald got pulled back to
Pittsburgh where he went on to become an Executive Vice President
in other things. And we got a new GM for Air Arm Division named
Dr. Pat Conley. We never saw Pat. He was a more introverted General
Manager. The only time I ever saw him was when we had a small fire
in the plant and he summoned all the supervisors to a general meeting
where he said “The next guy who has a fire in this place
is going to be fired.” [Laughter] I never saw him walking
That wasn’t his style.
For sure, but he didn’t stay very long and returned to Pittsburgh,
and later went to work for the Boston Consulting Group. In the
late ‘60s he wrote a paper for the IEEE about learning curves.
Have you heard about this before?
No I haven’t.
The whole learning curve stuff started in World War II where the
government used those to monitor later lots [of] manpower costs
on things they were buying to catch cheaters. They were a straight
line on semi-log paper. Pat’s paper was a very insightful
paper. He showed that in any selection of industries, each had
a distinct learning curve for the total costs--not just the labor
costs. For each doubling of units built, they would have X% decrease
in costs. Now you could calculate what buying market shares was
Well that paper did several things. Don Povejsil who was GM of
the Nuclear Fuels Division at the time, and had been at Air Arm
when Pat was there, almost surely read Pat’s paper. Because
what he did is he went out and sold a number of long term contracts
to supply nuclear fuel to utilities. This was fairly early in the
nuclear game. And clearly he was selling them at what the current
price was, and he was going to make a mint downstream. But he had
one slight problem, and the slight problem is that [Laughs] the
people that were feeding the nuclear fuels business wasn’t
a free market outfit, okay. It was----what do [you] call them?
It turned out to be a cartel. And that almost broke Westinghouse.
As a matter of fact, Westinghouse got out of it by invoking the “no
longer commercially viable” clause part of contract law.
I read Pat’s paper and passed a copy around to some of our
engineering management fellows who were in Electrical Design. We
had our yearly R&D show coming up. Our Chief Scientist, Dr.
Paul Pan, organized the show and it drew a standing room only crowd
from the military labs. You’ve heard of Paul before?
Yes, I have.
Well I was scheduled to give the opening address at the show---so
I sent a photographer out to take pictures of the most picturesque,
ingenious use of bricks that he could find. He came back with a
lot of pretty fancy architecture kind of stuff. So my pitch started
with a sequence of these pictures with some patter about architects
being really ingenious people. “But did you notice that all
of those fine structures were made with one building block---just
a plain bloody brick which was designed centuries ago?” And
I was trying to get in the idea that you can use your ingenuity
to do a lot of cool things, but why make it with different newly
designed blocks? Why not use something that’s got all this
learning curve on? And I talked a bit about learning curves and
ended with saying, one of the things we’re doing in our R&D
programs is looking for the next brick.
Now Harry Brown and Irv Kaplan in Electrical Design were at the
show and had read Pat’s paper. And at that point we all were
busy as hell trying to win the F-16 program and Harry and Irv came
[up] with a great idea, which was we’re going to pick most
of the “bricks” (ie; integrated circuits) that we put
in this thing out of what we expect to be used in the commercial
computer market for the next few years. And so they did. And they
made some damn good choices. So we tapped into all the Moore’s
law stuff and in essence fed off the learning curve of the commercial
computer business. I’m not sure, 25 years later now, how
much that impacts, but I do notice that the Northrop-Grumman folks
seem to be winning all the ball games. Of the only new fighters,
the F-22 and the F-35, they’ve got the whole ball of wax
on both of them. And their new scalable active aperture system
looks like it is built with the ultimate “brick.”
But that whole emphasis on learning curves, I think, had a pretty
good impact on our cost competitiveness. And I used to, occasionally,
when I was working the Navy, trying to get them to let us into
some of their programs, pull out an old handwritten piece of graph
paper. It was a record of the costs of the F-16 radars rolling
out. It wasn’t a nicely manicured piece of propaganda, it
was just my record of the learning curve on that product. I think
that was pretty effective as most of them really perked up when
they saw how fast we were moving on the learning curve. Several
Admirals commented that most of their suppliers’ costs were
going up instead of down. And part of that, I believe, was due
to growth in the computer field---but more of it was due to Emmett
Wheeler’s efforts pushing the systems through production---he
was the ultimate problem solver and while he was solving problems,
costs went down and reliability went up.
So now I’ll give you the last piece of this story which
involved a friend of mine, Bob
Right. I spoke to him yesterday.
Bob’s a great guy. He and I worked together for Chuck Bagwell,
who ran the autopilot job, way back. And Bob was great friends
with Pat Conley---I guess because they both lived on Gibson Island.
Anyway, in later years I was in the corner office that Conley used
to occupy and Bob brought him in and I met him for the first time.
[Laughs] He came in to see Bob and wanted to see his old office.
He looked around, looked at the pictures on the wall, and he said
Jesus, the same pictures are still here. [Laughter] And obviously
the guys that had been in that office had all been engineers and
they could care less about that. He was pleased to see the same
old desk, dents and all. But what was most interesting to me was
that Pat was working as a consultant to MITI in Japan of all things.
Now why would the Japanese be interested in Pat Conley? I started
looking at what was going on in Japan, and realized his learning
curve paper had been well read there. In later years at Aerospace,
we were doing work with Mitsubishi so I visited over there occasionally.
I was struck by the fact that the general manager of every plant
I went to was an engineer. I asked about their financial control,
and all they had was a bookkeeper. Once when I was being escorted
through a plant, I was querying a first line supervisor about things---and
many of the charts, etc. he had on his bulletin board were in English---obviously
aimed at visiting firemen like me. In looking at the ones in Japanese,
one looked familiar, so I asked what that was. From his body language
and smile, I knew it was important to him, and he proceeded to
tell me about their growth in market share. I was struck by the
powerfulness of having a first line supervisor being motivated
by market share. Course I had watched the Japanese capture the
market in Ham Radio gear, so I now saw some of their tactics. But
I think we’ve gone off the subject a little bit so let’s
Articles, Observations and Retirement
Yes. So I guess we’re getting up close now into the 1980’s
and getting close to the end of your career at Westinghouse.
Yes. Let me see if there are other points.
[End of tape one. Start of tape two]
I guess one thing I hadn’t mentioned before is that the
reliability lessons that we learned on the space systems---I think
I did mention that---migrated into the airborne stuff. And I think
that was a big plus to us.
I don’t know if there’s anything else you wanted to
Well, from my own personal viewpoint, I got quite a lesson out
of the loss of the E-9. I mean, if you aren’t careful, you
push the customer into a spot where you almost force him to bail
out on you. That’s sort of an obvious lesson, but it gets
to be a gut lesson when it happens to you.
I have a couple other questions.
One, since I’m from the IEEE, I’d like to ask you
about your participation, if any, in IEEE over the years. You briefly
touched about it back in your student days.
No. [Laughs] Well, first of all I was more of a doer than a paper
I actually wrote more articles for the ham magazines than I did---
Than for the engineering.
Now I wrote articles on Gemini because that was high profile so
people asked me to and I gave a pitch to the German Rocket Society
in Munich, and you know, that kind of stuff.
Just a word about the ham articles---in 1959 we had used a high
frequency crystal filter to solve an intermod problem on the BOMARC
pulse Doppler. I saw the opportunity to make a ham version with
4 surplus crystals---at $1 per crystal, which turned out to be
a very popular idea. Then we used that filter to create a single-conversion
transceiver which had about ½ the tubes of the only other
available transceiver made by Collins---which cost $1100. A little
outfit named Swan had a version of my design on the market in about
a year---which cost around $300. So that was very satisfying.
After I retired, I taught myself machine language programming.
And in my sailing, I needed weather fax information, but the machines
to copy that were expensive. So I created a software program WEFAX
to copy the fax information direct from the ham receiver with only
a simple clipper between the receiver and any laptop. Later I used
the same clipper and an expansion of the software to allow full
transmitting and receiving of ham color SSTV (slow scan television).
That was very popular also, and the program was included in a disk
that was attached to the ARRL Handbook for a few years after.
One thing I forgot to mention during the Gemini discussion. I
actually got invited up to MIT to give a paper on the Gemini radar,
okay. And so I gave it and got questions and so forth. And when
it was over, there’s always a few folks come up. And a guy
introduced himself as Norman Sears of the famous Sears and Feldman.
[Laughs] That’s not what he said, he just said he was Norman
And he was really fuming at me a little bit. He said I know you
guys are tops in the fire control radar business, but he didn’t
think this was going to work. And later, I figured out why he probably
thought that. It’s that his paper was written back when the
talk was the stuff we were going to do on SAINT, which was to go
after an uncooperative target. In other words, I think he wrote
his paper back then. And somehow or other he hadn’t grasped
the fact that the actual thing we were doing was a different mission.
Mission, right, because you had two things that were trying both
to hook up.
Yes. But the MIT brand had been carrying the day early on.
Another guy to mention, one of the people we had working in our
mechanical engineering department was a guy named Frank Rushing.
And the reason Frank is important is he was such a fantastic mechanical
engineer. He was a resource beyond belief. And he was a lot older
than the rest of us. He had won the Timoshenko Prize early in his
career. Westinghouse gave this to their top mechanical engineer
and he had been sent over to Europe to a German university to study.
The other thing about it is he actually was at the table with the
lady who wrote the Ship of Fools, on the ship journey to Europe.
Katherine Ann Porter?
Yes. And so I asked him about that and he said well she had her
own gigolo that took care of her, okay. When Frank finally retired
for the second time I told this little story at his retirement
party. If you read the book, there’s a Texas engineer in
there that she really unloads on, okay. And Frank is one of these
unbelievably great guys, you know, good looking, smart, friendly---the
kind of fellow that any gal could go for, I think. And I’m
sure what happened, she was probably making a pass at him and it
But to tell you a few other things about Frank, as he went on
from there. During World War II, Westinghouse was one of the companies
that was working on how to enrich uranium.
And Frank was Chief Engineer of that centrifuge program. Prior
to that Frank had designed a highly precise rotating-machinery
dynamic balancing tool. Westinghouse, before WWII, sold off the
balancing machine to another company since the potential market
looked to be about 20 units. And that machine was used for all
those gyros and many other devices that were produced for World
War II. Anyway, Frank’s centrifuges worked, but the government
chose a more expensive alternative because they figured the centrifuge
technology would be too easily reproduced by smaller countries.
Now a little post script to that, which is again, interesting,
but maybe not appropriate for what we’re doing here but let
me mention it to you real quick.
There was a guy in our class at Stanford that worked for an outfit
in Sweden who made centrifuges for milk separation. And I was standing
next to him with a group at cocktail hour. And he was talking about
doing business with the Red Chinese, and he said that it was kind
of hard negotiating with them because they wouldn’t let you
go home until you agreed with them. So later on I grabbed him and
said you people helped the Red Chinese get their centrifuges. He
turned a little pale and finally said, they asked us but we didn’t
do it--- his body language said something different. Frank had
previously told me he thought that the Chinese bomb was using centrifuges.
So it’s a small world.
Yes, so you retired in 1984?
Now is that because you were 65 at the time.
No, no, no.
So you retired a bit early.
Yes. I retired as soon as I got 58, which was the earliest you
I have two passions in life. One of them is ham radio.
And I’ve gotten out of bed before daylight almost all my
life---getting up to work some DX. And the other passion is sailing.
And I had decided sometime earlier that I was going to go sailing,
and I was going to do it early while my health was good. So that’s
what I did. [Laughs] The Aerospace Division had grown to be three
Divisions by then and there were three good men to keep the fires
burning--- namely Jim Holman, Bill Montgomery, and Carl Shyman.
How was Westinghouse-Baltimore as a place to work? In terms of
colleagues, in terms of social life, activities?
It was great, great. One of the most significant social events
we had were the parties we had after every win. And I’ll
tell you that was another part of the family getting together to
celebrate kind of thing. And I still get the Northrop-Grumman magazine
that they put out and a lot of that collegial family thing is still
carried through since they bought it, which I’m happy to
see, because some of the people who have worked for both companies
have told me they are more business-like.
I was talking to Joe Laine just a few weeks ago. Joe was a supplier
trouble shooter---a very good one. Our practice was to send in
talent like Joe to help single source suppliers who got into trouble.
But Joe said he couldn’t do that in Northrop-Grumman now.
And you see, with a big Systems contractor there’s a lot
of worry about ‘is something improper going to go on,’ so
a much greater arm’s length relation with suppliers is enforced.
But I’ve held you guys up too long so lets---
Well no, I think you held us up just about the right time. But
I think we’re finished.
Thank you very much.
Yes, I enjoyed it.