My Aerospace Years

Rough Draft for a book for my kids I had printed by

This is not an advertisement for you to buy the was just for my family.


By Mike Pickett

Autonetics, and S&ID Divisions of North American Aviation

s/n 444691


Note - there are errors in the text which I have not bothered to correct in the rough draft, but did in the printed copy. That includes my putting in the incorrect latitude for the Tropic of Cancer.


I’m posting this because there are people still poking around for early Autonetics and S&ID schtik...good luck.












These page numbers are off by at least one, now, perhaps more depending  on how the graphics interplay with the text.




1) Summer 1955 - PCC and Poly Placement

2) Summer 1956 - Burnell; Navajo

3) Summer 1958 - Burnell; Navajo

4) Summer - 1958, Cowboying at the Targhee Ranch

5) Summer - 1959 Union Gas Station


7) My Job Description

8) Project Classifications

9) First Job - N3A

      9A) My first “Red Alert”

      9B) My first Pay Raise

10) Second Job - the B-58 Hustler ground check equipment.

      10A) The Bendix G-15 computer and Fellow employees in 3042

11) Our unit’s description

12) My job specifically

      12A) A little bit about the process of programming system tests

13) Program Test facilities and locations.

      13-A) Building 39

      13-B) Our workplace

      13-C) LAX Airborne Test Bed.

14)  My/our home in Downey.

       14A)  Our Porsche - purchased in ‘61

       14B) Hound Dog runs away into ignominy

15) Hound Dog Project Office

16) Thermonuclear capacity of Hound-Dog

       16A) CEL, about 1962-63

17) Cuban Missile Crisis

18) My Computer Programs
19) My Accelerometer Program

       19A) MODAP, toward the end of my tenure at Autonetics

       19B) Our home in Orange, California….

        19C) The Kennedy Assassination

20) Tiring - Possible Teaching of the Air Force how to Program.

21) Looking for Work in Alaska

22) S&ID - Space and Information Systems Division


24) SSGS (Standardized Space Guidance System)

       24A) A bit more about security..

25A) University work - Space Physics - SSGS

        25B) Project Fire Re-Entry Vehicle.

26) Alaska calls more and more

27) That night at  “Brigadoon”










Dear reader…particularly my children and my children’s children. This “tome” was drawn from my memory starting 52 years after it occurred. The end of the story is 43 years ago. There are going to be some errors in times…who’s world lines are that well embedded in their minds? None-the-less, I did this not just for my family, I embarked on this journey to re-live one of the many exceptionally wonderful times in my life. I could not say it better than Ben Franklin did in the preface to his own autobiography, so I will quote him, whose words I could not dare to match in simplicity:


“Hereby, too, I shall indulge the inclination so natural in old men, to be talking of themselves and their own past actions; and I shall indulge it without being tiresome to others, who, through respect to age, might conceive themselves obliged to give me a hearing, since this may be read or not as any one pleases. And, lastly (I may as well confess it, since my denial of it will be believed by nobody), perhaps I shall a good deal gratify my own vanity. Indeed, I scarce ever heard or saw the introductory words, "Without vanity I may say," &c., but some vain thing immediately followed. Most people dislike vanity in others, whatever share they have of it themselves; but I give it fair quarter wherever I meet with it, being persuaded that it is often productive of good to the possessor, and to others that are within his sphere of action; and therefore, in many cases, it would not be altogether absurd if a man were to thank God for his vanity among the other comforts of life. (The Autobiography of Ben Franklin)


Ah, to be able to craft works as wonderfully as that. But in that skill and talent, as my English teachers would hasten to tell you,  I am woefully lacking. None-the-less, here goes:


1) Summer, 1955 - The “Path” gels….


My wonderful cousin Kerry Bruce and I signed up for Math classes at Pasadena City College. I took a whole battery of Advanced Algebra work while I gardened on the side. The college level courses were a real hum-dinger. They had us doing scores of problems every night, but I really shone doing matrices, determinants, and other algebras. Little did I know this was a small indication of where I would be going. I just took it to be sure I could handle the Cal Poly placement tests.


This was the summer I was parking cars for Aunt Helen and Uncle Bill as they sponsored garden parties and dinner party expeditions to the Hollywood Bowl in an effort to save it from bankruptcy. I parked Rolls Royce’s, Jaguars, you name it, and began to wonder what the hullabaloo was about the Hollywood Bowl.

I gardened for them also, and they got me a job gardening for Wilkenson, the fellow who invented the first magnetic mine detector. He lived in Flintridge and had a very good yard for a gardener like me. I’d become quite well known because of the great work I was doing for Aunt Helen’s place.


When I applied for college at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, I had signed up as an Aeronautical Engineer. Why? Because I’d looked through the newspapers and they made great money. Then, after doing the tests at Poly during the summer break, I noticed that ‘Electronic Engineers’ made even greater money, and commanded even greater respect. After all, why would I be interested in airplanes and the likes? I didn’t fly, and I had vertigo. So, as an astute 17 year old (the 2nd youngest to ever attend Cal Poly in 1955), wise, and full of knowledge, I wrote the college and changed majors to “Electronic Engineering.”


I’d taken the entry exams during the summer. They were not SAT exams (which are totally meaningless), they were very practical placement exams in Math, Science and English. I scored the 2nd highest math score they’d ever had.  That enabled me to get an automatic “B” for all those classes, and start my Math at Cal Poly in the Engineering Math courses. Those were the same courses I later taught at Poly in ‘87-’88.


One story needs mentioning here that occurred in 1956. There were a number of Korean War Veterans in our Electronics Engineering classes. They were the “old guys” that raised the grade average on us young bucks. Anyway, one day we were working in Electronics Lab. It was then held in a Quonset hut across from the Swimming Pool Building and Administration Building. We heard the sound of a jet place. It was a military jet and it was having engine trouble. There were several loud BANGS, and I mean LOUD. They were preceded by a voooooooooot sound. One of our guys, Don Samuels I think, said, very seriously, this is BAD. That was a flame out. Jet engines make a loud popping sound when they are running out of fuel. We heard the sound of the plane gliding over us. The pilot had made several passes trying to get the plane to a speed where he could land at the San Luis Obispo municipal airport.


Later that day we learned that the pilot had tried a landing, but had to much speed. He ended up gliding over the airport, and in an effort to miss a home in the area, banked the plane and crashed in a field. He lost his life, but saved the people in the home. I will never forget that sound, and  the story has meaning for an occasion that happened when I was working at Autonetics six or seven years later.


2) 1956 - Burnell, Incorporated, South Pasadena, California.


I had finished my freshman year in Electronics Engineering at Cal Poly . I needed a job. I had sold Christmas Trees during Xmas break, but it was time to get serious college oriented employment.


My uncle, Bill Fox, was friends with the owner and manager (Frank Edmunds) of Burnell, either through the Masons, or, more probably, the Elks, in Pasadena.  He suggested I apply for work at Burnell, so I did. Burnell was one of many subcontractors working on the Navajo Program . The Navajo was the first inertially guided missile to be created. It didn’t work worth a flip but it was a giant step forward in the cruise missile technology, which the Soviets neglected in their work on ICBMs. It was also extremely beautiful to look at.


[pix - Navajo]


The Navajo Missile was the predecessor to the Hound Dog Missile and was being built at North American

Aviation, where I would find myself about 4 years hence.


I began work at $1.25 per hour. That was very good pay for those days, when gasoline was 17 cents a gallon, and a person could go on a good date for 3 bucks: meal (Bob’s Big Boy) and drive in movie.


[pix - Bob’s Big Boy]


I wasn’t dating much, though. After a month or so, I received a raise to about $1.50. That was pretty substantial, actually. People would wonder why a person would work for so little in such a seemingly menial job. Actually, it wasn’t menial. I was given some pretty heavy responsibility, ranging from security issues to repairing equipment, any piece of which would buy a brand new Cadillac.


I was given the title “Trainee Engineer.” That doesn’t seem like much, but the next level, one I would not reach until 4 years later, was “Engineer.” I became a “Research Engineer” at North American and that title was worth its weight in gold. Had I stayed on at NAA, I could have branched off to “Senior Engineer” like the fellow I worked for at Burnell, or “Project Engineer” like the folks I later encountered  at NAA.  So, to return to College in my Sophomore year as a “Trainee Engineer” gained me great status amongst the Freshmen. My roommates sought the same titles wherever they did summer work.


My roommates and fellow electronics engineers were striving to work for Hewlett-Packard or Ampex, the two “primo” employers in the eyes of Cal Poly engineering students. At that time, Bob Hewlett would come by Poly and deliver lectures to the IRE meetings. Ergo, popular company  in the eyes of our students.


Another thing we all kept in mind during our college years was building a really substantial resume’. The resume’ was going to be our key to important jobs, and our desire to work, civility, trustworthiness, dress,  and successes were paramount to success.


Burnell was one of hundreds of sub-contractors supplying  to other major contactors who, in turn, made modules for the Navajo under contract to NAA. Burnell specialized in Toroidal filters. I had training in filter design in classes, and at Burnell, as a “trainee engineer” All our work was, from what I could see, cutting edge technology.


[picture - Toroidal filter]


All the work we did there was “Classified.” That was the lowest level of classification found in the sequence of classification from Classified to “Top Secret” or “Eyes Only.” Top Secret and “Eyes Only” were reserved pretty much for either nuclear stuff or political stuff, not the aerospace industry in general. “Classified” meant that you couldn’t talk about it, share it with family, or anything. It also meant that paperwork had to be controlled and tracked all the time.


Toroids came in many sizes. They were magnetic materials pressed into donut shapes, much the shape of Cheerios, but in sizes from the Capitol O in NOrth (Hand wound with tiny sewing type needles), up to the size of donuts. They were transformers and “chokes.” I could wax on, but shan’t, the theory not being of interest here.


Burnell was formerly a rather nice home on the Main Street of South Pasadena. The house had been made into offices. The garage became two rooms: a room where a half dozen women worked at fine little sewing-machine-like devices that wound through the center of the larger “donuts.” (that’s what we called them, too) and  a room for a shipping department. 


The ladies who did the winding had counters that told about how many winds they’d applied, or they would count to themselves as they wound.. Their circuit diagrams (yes these women could read circuit diagrams) would tell how many winds, what size wire, and how far apart. They would wind with various kinds of insulated wire, and leave “pig tails” for soldering across the alley in the other building.


The company had added a shop 60 feet in length across the driveway from the garage. That building housed a number of workbenches, an office, a paint shop, and a machine shop. I’d guess that portion of the little plant had about 20 employees. The workers there had  an incredible array of soldering irons which they used to solder wires to the toroids so they could be mounted in cans or put on circuit boards and mounted in cans. I have one of those soldering irons in my garage. It had gone defunct, but I managed to find parts to repair it back in ‘56, so I could take it home. It has a silver tip, and is astonishing in how quickly it heats cools, and solders.


Our Project Engineer was Wayne A. Brown, a nice fellow and member of the IRE (Institute of Radio Engineers - which I had just joined as a “student member”). Wayne would design the toroids for specific jobs based on circuit requirements sent from other vendors, and they’d get wound, mounted in cans, encapsulated and identified with military markings for their clients. The designs were generally based on specifications for RF filtering and amplification needed in the Navajo. I think they were also working on sub-systems for the Atlas (Convair) and Redstone (Chrysler/Army).


[pix - IRE pin]


As an aside, Cal Poly did not allow “Greek” fraternities on campus, and tried generally to keep them from the campus scene when they formed off campus. Students were, instead, encouraged to join professional organizations like the IRE, SAE, &c., because those associations would  help the students get jobs when they finished college and joined the professions.


The IRE later morphed into the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) we know today as the manager of many of the electrical and electronics standards we see in computers and  audio video equipment. None of us were pleased with the IRE  for joining because there was a distinction between us Electronics Engineers and the Electrical guys. Electrical engineers specialized in power equipment, motors, transmission lines, power distribution and the likes. We EL’s specialized in vacuum tubes, transistors,  audio, radio and high frequency technology, microwave transmission, TV technology. Two quite different fields to be merging under one tent, so to speak.  So I am exceptionally proud to have been a member of the IRE while it still existed.


My first summer saw me working everything from delivery to the repair and calibration of an incredible mass of test equipment. Since I only had my ‘39 Plymouth, the shop manager,  Frank (can’t remember) would have me drive his souped up Pontiac into LA to make deliveries. I mean SOUPED up, too. He’d put a hot cam, high compression,  and multiple carburetors on the engine. I learnt to drive in wild Industrial East LA areas with a lead foot, and I was just 18 years old. I’d be racing delivery trucks that knew only two speeds. Go and stop.


Having already used Hewlett Packard, GE, Motorola, General Radio, and the finest of  Tektronix Oscilloscopes in college, and having studied their circuitry, I was expected to either calibrate them myself (which I did), or when they were of exceptionally accurate settings, like Bureau of Standards level, take them up to Beckman Instruments in Pasadena  ( I went to school with Arnie Beckman, whose dad owned Beckman), and get them calibrated. We had EPUT meters that could  actually count millions of events in one second and give a  record.  So I repaired and calibrated VTVMs, Multimeters, Scopes, Frequency Generators, Audio Oscillators, RF Oscillators, and, even resistance loads.


I would take these things apart, remove tubes and replace them. Those vertical columns were digit lamps, 0 through 9, that lit up. My tube replacements wouldn’t change the calibration, unless they were oscillator tubes. Then I’d have to have them re-calibrated, provided they were used in standards type processes.


Any of our equipment that had to be certified against NBS standards had to be taken to either Beckman or another company in Pasadena who specialized in their calibration and who could certify their accuracy to various D.O.D. requirements.


[pix - Beckman EPUT meter, taken from the wonderful site of Stefan Graef]


Though it has little to do with the aerospace years, it was this summer that I discovered the Hollywood Bowl. I would go  every night it was open. They ordinarily had Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday night Dinner Concerts. I would go with my mom, my cousin Kerry, and, occasionally, my aunt and uncle Art and Bonnie. I had learnt of the Bowl working as a gardener and  car valet for Uncle Bill while I was in high school and he and Aunt Helen were trying to save the Bowl from financial failure.


Another “character” who played a part in my  life was Walter Cross, a black man who worked at Burnell as a chemical mixer for encapsulation of cans,  a machinist, and a painter. Walter was in the fight in Korea, in the  all Black Army Division. Walter went the full length of Korea 2 times, and was finally massively wounded at the battle of Heartbreak Ridge. He was all shot to pieces from a grease gun and  grenade fragments. He was a  very pleasant fellow…full of joy, civil, and extremely interesting in conversation. We had a picnic table in a little orchard of avocados where we all sat and listened to him and his war encounters.


I worked for Walter in his shop, encapsulating toroids and circuits in military cans. I learnt to mix epoxy,

“Epon” and Resin and watched the stuff heat itself and solidify the circuitry in a can. I also helped build

“Jigs” for testing the various “cans.” Some of the encapsulations required glass beads in the mix to provide some kind of insulation.  At the time I had to learn all about the processes. When they were encapsulated, we’d lose about 1 out of 10 because the intense heat, or the pressure of solidification, would tear up a toroid or break a circuit.


Another character I’ll never forget was Helene Shultz. She was a “Rosie the Riveter” in that she had worked in the shipyards during WWII. She was the head solderer in the shop, and the Union Shop Steward. She could cuss like a Marine, and was so full of motherly advice for this 18 year old that it was hilarious. I did some soldering just to learn how it was done. I had already built a “Knight Kit” Audio Amplifier, so I wasn’t too bad at soldering.  But these ladies were spectacular.


[Image - 39 Plymouth]


This summer the ‘39 Plymouth I’d bought from my brother for $75 (he’d gone into the Army) was getting pretty feeble, so I bought a ‘42 Chrysler Royal from a lady on my dad’s postal route. It was truly one of those cars driven by a “little old lady in Pasadena.” It had about 30,000 miles on it and it was a  jewel. Her husband had died, and she rarely drove it, so my dad helped me buy it for $150. I used it for the next 4 years.


My Chrysler didn’t have those fancy wheel well covers like this one, but it sure looked like this one. Mine also had cartoons on the rear fenders that were really great. Pictures of the Alligator from Pogo Comics, smoking a big cigar. They were carefully put on my fender by my cousin Kerry, who, amongst over things was a great cartoonist.


[Image 42 Chrysler]


Summer went pretty quickly, and it was back to college. My dad and mom paid a lot of my expenses, because the money I made during summer was only good for a quarter of food and books. Believe it or not, my room and board at Cal Poly was $150 per quarter. Books ran another $75 or so


When winter break arrived, I worked for the Post Office. My dad helped me get an interview with the office on East Washington where my Uncle Burch worked. So, I worked for Burch for 2 weeks, delivering Christmas mail. I learnt then what it meant to HURT, walking the route twice a day, carrying a bag of mail that weighed about 40 pounds. I’d deliver 12 dispatches a day, 7 days a week, but again, the money helped me get my next semester expenses, repair the car, you name it. I didn’t date, because I was just too damned tired. I’d get to work at 5 AM, and deliver mail until about 5 PM.


3) 1957 - Burnell, Incorporated, South Pasadena, California.


The second summer at Burnell saw me have increasing responsibility. I had enough experience now to know the plant, and I had enough training in circuits and design (I’d taken drafting in my freshman year that included inking on plastic vellum, drafting all kinds of electronic circuits, and the likes). So Wayne had me design an electronic counter for counting windings as the ladies wound coils. They had previously done it by counting as they watched or taking a count off a rather destructive machine that broke circuit as wire repeatedly passed through it. It was a rather rude counter that would as often as not break the wires as it made contact with the shuttle passing wire through the toroid. I tried to create a counter using the new Veeder Root counting technology that would sense the wires but not put tension on them.


Otherwise, it was back to calibrating and maintaining their test equipment as last year. I had no idea at the time, but the Navajo missile was anything but successful. It was nothing but a “tree full of owls” as Ralph Nix would call it. Of course, I was still attending all kinds of Hollywood Bowl performances. That could be a book in itself. 


The Redstone had gone operational, and the first Atlas was launched. These systems, then, were less on R&D, and more on basic maintenance and filling the arsenal needs. That meant less work for Burnell. 

I had no notion at the time, but as I look back, I should have sensed it. There were problems with the Navajo that were becoming worse and worse. The missile was very undependable. Well, why not. The equipment was beyond anything ever designed. They were using a guidance computer that had a rotating memory in it, a disk that depended upon air bearings for stability, and that ran very close to fixed read heads.  Anyway, business was headed for a collapse, but it didn’t happen during my 2nd year at Burnell. We were churning our filters and the likes, and I was doing machining, drilling cans, encapsulating stuff, and trying to find ways to make the filters survive the encapsulation.


Walter and I worked a lot on that problem. The failure rate for encapsulation was pretty damned high. As the various epoxies hardened, vis-à-vis their own chemical heat and pressure, wires would break, soldered joints would come off pins within the can. We tried to devise ways to encapsulate part of a circuit, then the other part, shield wires from epoxy resins, and what have you. I don’t think we were very successful. We even used vacuum pumps to evacuate air bubbles from the cans before the mixes hardened.


When summer ended, I went back to college to do my Junior year. By this time I was becoming quite un-enamored with electronics engineering. I had discovered that I really enjoyed applied Mathematics. I had discovered Dr. David Moe, a physicist who taught Math, and particularly, I had discovered Dr. James T. Culbertson, teacher of Philosophy and Computer Logic Math. I managed to become grader for Dr. Culbertson. I also managed to proctor a few tests, and did a very occasional correction to his tests. He was an amazing man. The only thing I knew about “Culby” was that he was, at the time, “Chief Consulting Scientist” for the “Human Brain Computer Project” with Rand Corporation. He used to pass on little tidbits in class, like “you can’t make a computer on the scale of the human  brain. It will melt itself.”


Midway through the year, after despising the class on microwaves, and the guy who was teaching it, I changed majors to Applied Math. Interestingly enough, a number of fellows similarly changed majors to Applied Math. People were becoming quite tired of electronics engineering. As it was, this was the most fortuitous decision I made, because it changed my “Path” to head me toward the most incredible portion of the missile industry, programming system checks and the likes.


Come winter, I worked at the Post Office again. Same drill, but my uncle taught me “casing” the mail. I was also allowed to collect postage dues (in those days, most people left a small container of coins in their mail boxes from which the postman would take the postage due he needed). I was also taught how to process the papers for return receipts, certified mail, and special deliveries.


4) Summer - 1958, Cowboying at the Targhee Ranch


But, when summer came along in 1958, the Navajo Program had gone down the drain. I couldn’t get work at Burnell, and they were on the verge of closing. So, Jim Finlay had returned from his stint in the Army, and been my roommate at college. He invited me to come with him to his dad’s ranch and work for the summer. The pay would be $100 per month and “keep.” I took him up on it. We headed for the Targhee Ranch in Idaho for the summer. No more aerospace.


My senior year began in ‘58, and was pretty “unspectacular.” I was still reading for “Culby,” and I was nailing one applied math class after another. The only problem was that I’d lost about a quarter of time when I changed majors, so even though I had my senior project done, I was still short on units to graduate and walk in ‘59.


I had discovered Science Fiction, too, so I spent incredible hours lying on the leather couches in the library reading Sci-Fi. That gave me a great understanding of space concepts because the writers at that time (considered the Golden Age of Sci-Fi) used that medium to “float” theories of the cosmos, ether, sociology, telekinesis, relativity, and even quantum physics.

I believe it was then that I met, and forgot until I re-read the series, R. Daneel Olivaw…the sentient robot to be found in Isaac Asimov’s incredible “Foundation” Series. Little did I know it for 50 years how much these books fit into what Dr. Culbertson was teaching us in computer logic and Philosophy.  Culby was already way beyond Einstein in relativistic theory, dealing with quantum mechanics and consciousness. We received little tidbits of information from him all the time about wormhole theories, gravatic string theories, &c. Enough for now, I’ve digressed too far.


At Poly I had also taken  a course in Astronomy as an elective. That just set me afire about the subject. I used that same first course to develop the courses I taught many years later in Alaska.


This was the year, though, that the Nautilus and Skate went under the North Pole Ice Pack. I didn’t know it at the time, but I would be working with one of the engineers in the aerospace program who represented the company who built the guidance system used on that trip. He was actually on board the Skate submarine for the trip and his picture shows up in a National Geographic issue of the late 50’s. Not only that, but I would be learning the system by practicing programming of that guidance and navigation computer when I arrived in the aerospace industry.


I spent my final year with the Post Office at Christmas, working on Uncle Burch’s route. It was a bit more tolerable when I knew what to expect, where the dispatches would be, and how long I’d be walking. It was still quite painful to take up walking as much as 12 hours a day.


Every year at Cal Poly we held a “Math Contest.” It was the brain child of Volmar Folsom, an absolutely wonderful teacher from whom I’d learnt differential and integral Calculus. We Math students had to proctor the Contest every year. We didn’t grade the exams, but we did proctor the tests that were administered in the “Kennedy Library.” At the time there was a girl from Santa Maria High School taking the contest. I didn’t see her specifically, but she’d come to have a part in my life and pioneering. Somehow I think I saw her. I mean, we were boys, and we stared at all the young girls, so I’m guessing I saw her. Her name was Laurella Edwards.


5) Summer - 1959 Union Gas Station


My roommates and I all decided to take an extra year of college. We had to take at least a quarter to finalize our diploma requirements, but a year would give us post-graduate status, and that was very important to our job seeking. So, for the summer, there being absolutely NO work in the aerospace industry for kids like me, I took a job at the local Union Gas Station on Foothill Blvd. and Lincoln Ave. The owner was Bart Parker. He was a great guy to work for. His brother worked there too. He was a bit of a ding-dong but a lot of fun.


That gave me enough money to help get me back to college, once again. Now begins the “Aerospace Years.”


In the fall of 1959, I went on a group date with some girls from Cal Poly’s Heron Dorm. One of those girls was  named Laurella Edwards. She had come to Poly to be a Math Major. It wasn’t long and we became “an item.” I tutored her in math, in fact, we spent tons of time together. For what it is worth, I gave her a spring of seaweed at Avila Beach on our first date, and many years later found a picture of my mom and dad cavorting about a beach on one of their first dates, festooned with seaweed.


So, when it came time to start looking for work, I figured the best bet was to get a job close to Poly where Laurella and I could continue our dating. I remember interviewing with Lockheed because they had a massive tracking station on Vandenberg AFB. That would be quite nicely close to Santa Maria. But, the job didn’t open. They were looking for electronic engineers, not computer specialists like me. I was forced to look to the Los Angeles area for employment in the aerospace industry.


As I look back, that couldn’t have been better for the both of us. I had to “get a life,” so to speak, and she had to get grounded in college classes. We’d be 250 miles apart, and in those days that was quite a drive.

My cousin Denny Pickett had suggested I apply to Autonetics, where he worked. I wrote them a letter and got an interview, but all was silent for a while after that. I had the interview at Cal Poly and this is the letter I got back from Autonetics, the opening shot, so to speak.


I had the interview in January. Laurella and I were really getting serious about life together by then. I had taken her to a Rose Princess Ball at the Civic Auditorium. Here is the letter I got from Autonetics about Denny recommending me, and the letter I got from them after the interview later in January. I was really excited by this time:





I interviewed with Autonetics, filled out all the boiler-plate job applications and sent them in. Shortly afterward I received this response to my application. Things were temporarily looking up, employment wise.




Their idea of “several weeks” stretched out to “several months.” I was becoming concerned, needless to say, about getting a job within visiting distance of  Laurella. There were jobs at Convair in San Diego. Had I gotten one, I might have actually worked near my future Alaskan mining partner, Milo Flothe. He was working on the Atlas at about that time. Had that occurred, though, would I have ever gotten to Alaska???


Later in the Spring, Laurella and I were down at my folks place in Altadena, and my uncle Chuck came by to visit. I had heard nothing more from Autonetics about employment there, and was getting a bit nervous about work. Chuck had a very close friend named Maury McGinty. I think they had served together during WWII. Maury was a fixture in personnel at the Autonetics Division of North American Aviation. Chuck recommended that I contact Maury about the job. It seems Autonetics was the major force in all the aerospace industry. So, I wrote Maury and he seems to have kicked things loose.  All I have is the rough draft I wrote up, but it is better than nothing. They were unsure what position to offer me I guess, but it couldn‘t have been resolved much better..








I received this letter back from Maury, followed by a letter with a job offer. I promptly returned an acceptance, of which I still have the rough draft.







The rest is history. I landed the job. It was interesting to find my cousin Denny Pickett working in Personnel at Autonetics.




In June of 1960, after 5 years of college and several years as at Trainee Engineer with a subcontractor for the Navajo Program, and one summer "cowboying" with a dear friend (Jim Finlay) and his family in NE Idaho (the Navajo Program had work that summer) I joined the innermost sanctum of the Aerospace Industry, as far as guidance and navigation systems were concerned. Actually I’d joined the innermost sanctum of the largest single contractor in the Aerospace industry. Boeing was then aircraft, as was Douglas, though  Douglas was trying to stick its nose under the tent with their airborne B-52 borne missile the “Skyhawk.” It never replaced our Hound Dog because they didn’t have the clout to make it fly.  I would receive occasional phone calls, right in the office, from Douglas recruiters trying to pirate me off to their facility to work on their Skyhawk.


Summary of  Projects: 3243-67 Inertial Navigation Section of Inertial Navigation Division, Autonetics


I was offered a job working as a "Research Engineer" in the Inertial Systems Section of the Inertial Systems Division of Autonetics, one of the 7 divisions of North American Aviation. My group at Autonetics did all the computer program engineering for the Hound Dog Missile, the B-52, Naval aircraft carrier guidance systems (Enterprise, etc.,) the Naval A3J Vigilante aircraft that flew off the carriers (NAA also built the A3J at its Columbus Plant), the Navy's Atomic Submarine guidance systems, the B-58 Hustler aircraft,  the then new Minuteman Missile guidance system and the B-70 Valkyrie, another incredibly beautiful machine.





The A3J Vigilante aircraft was astonishing in that it would launch its atomic weapon from its tail section, like an egg, while flying into a vertical climb into a loop-the-loop, then race away as the weapon flew in a ballistic path to its target. All this was accomplished by computer programs…the pilot actually let go of the stick during the weapon launch phase of the attack.


My boss, initially, was Lloyd White. His boss was Dave Loop, who was my group leader for quite a while. You’ll notice that I was initially authorized to work 40 hours per week. That did not last long. Shortly after I began working, my schedule involving in-plant classes and program engineering, I received overtime.


7) My Job Description - Autonetics


I was a computer program specialist with an enormous amount of schooling in electronics engineering, synaptic computer logic design, statistical analysis, analog and digital computers, and physical science. So it was a shoe-in for me to specialize in machine language programming of a special purpose airborne digital computer that not only could guide a missile but check out the missile's electronic systems and the systems of the B-52 that carried the missile.


The first programs I wrote were for under-wing tests of the flight readiness of the Hound-Dog/B-52 missile system. These programs were called “Hangar tests,” and the missiles and B-52 had to pass them to go into service that day.  I also wrote programs that were used for bench maintenance of various components of the missile guidance and navigation system.


Dick Mueller once wrote a recommendation for me that said something like this: ‘ Mike’s programs were responsible for guaranteeing the flight readiness of 13 wings of B-52’s with their Hound-Dog Missiles., including the readiness of some 600 thermonuclear weapons mounted in the Missiles.’


8) Project Classifications


Everything we did was classified. It was years before we could talk about what we did. As I moved from one project to another, classifications would change, so basically I couldn't talk about my work for something like 18 years (I don't remember where I got that number, but I stuck with it). I thought it would be neat to show what a classification form looked like. From what I was told, the FBI or whomever did that kind of thing actually talked to all these people, Neighbors, schools, employers, you name it. The form was 4 pages long. Believe it or not, it took an “act of Congress” to get my application approved. It was sent back several times because my mom didn’t have a middle name. Finally, after conferring with the authorities, I had to put NMN in the form and specify “my mom does not have a middle name.” Believe it or not, 50 years later, I found out she did have a middle name. I think she hated her middle name, who knows?


Page 1 of the form:




If you can read this thing, you will notice toward the top,  that I was going to have access to “Secret”  materials. I also claimed to be some taller, and quite considerably skinnier. Those things happen.


Page 2 of the form:



After I left NAA I did put information on the form. I did later attempt re-enter the aerospace industry.


Page 3 of the form:







9) First Job - N3A


My initial training on the VERDAN Special Purpose Computer was checking programs that had been written for the N3A guidance system. The N3A was a ships inertial guidance system that used a system of 6 NAVAN-ing gyros and pendulous integrating gyroscopic accelerometers to provide information to the computer on ships position. NAVAN gyros had 3 orthogonal gyros rotating at 12,000 rpm in one direction as the others spooled down and reversed spin direction for 2 minutes…then the reverse set would spin as the others reversed spin rotation...this caused drift errors to decrease significantly by averaging out. The last I heard this system was on display in the entrance to the Naval Facility at Point Magu in California. This would have been the same type of system that was used on the Nautilus and Skate Submarines in their trips under the North Pole. Zane Sandusky, a senior engineer in our unit, rode on the Skate, and is shown in the National Geographic at the console of the computer system.


[picture - N3A guidance system]



Actually I spent a lot of time going over the coding for the programs for the N3A.  My job was to look for ways to streamline the program and make it work faster. That, though, served to teach me how the VERDAN program worked.  At the same time we took classes right in the plant on programming the machine that included learning all the codes that were needed to make the computer function. I had already learned flow diagrams in college so I worked on the flow diagrams as well.


[picture - Verdan Airborne digital computer]




I had already learned binary to octal conversions when I took the computer class at Poly, so all I had to do to learn the VERDAN was the various codes for add, subtract, clear-and-add, multiply, and the myriad codes for taking in various analog and digital signals from guidance and navigation equipment.


At that time all programs were either entered into the computer by hand (which was eternally slow), or by punched tape.


[picture-Verdan Control Panel]


This was the “screen” for the Verdan Computer. The switches on the left could be preset to a specific location on the rotating memory. The top windows on the right had “nixie lights,” little lamps that had 8 digits in them, 0 through 7, octal. They would give you the contents of any register or memory location. The dial on the left would select a channel on the rotating memory for you to look at. The keyboard on the right, though extremely inconvenient (vertical) was where we would punch in computer commands and constants. So we had to be able to think in Octal and we had to be able to type. This keyboard was exactly like an adding machine, which made it pretty quick to use, but imagine entering a couple dozen computer commands that were 8 octal digits long, plus a sign.


The tape readers were optical scanners, and they read the tape as it sped through the reader.  The tape coding was “Octal,“ so if a person was familiar with binary to octal conversion, the tapes were really pretty easy to read.  I learned in a hurry to read the tapes right on the spot, and even glue in holes and punch new ones to change a specific command in the program. The tape was black because it had a little graphite right in the paper to keep from wearing the readers badly as it sped by the optical read heads.


[picture - 5 level punched tape. Octal punched tape, the wider variety. Ours was narrower, 5 channel. 3 for the octal, and one for parity check]

I can still read this tape…that is so cool. The only difference between this and our tape is that the “start pulse” would have been a line of holes clear across the tape. Then, reading to the right in octal, you have 221174264743016415532017...all of which means nothing. So, I am going to use my Photoshop program to change this tape into two commands and explain them.


For your information, double row of holes below the “clock pulse” (also the drive gear tooth holes) was used  for “Parity Checks.” The machine that punched the tapes would put some numbers in those sections that made the number of holes in each column add up to a specific total. If they didn’t there was an error on the tape and it was “bad.” I do not remember how the parity total was computed. I thought it was always an odd number of holes, but I just don’t remember. These tapes would get frazzled after speeding through a reader a few times. When they did, the reader would stop and the VERDAN would blink a “Parity Check Error” sign, and you tried to repair the tape (it would stop very quickly) or you would have to use a new tape.


[Picture-Recoded Tape]


OK - I “re-punched” the tape, only using Photoshop. Recall that we used to repair them by gluing in holes, punching them (yes, we had a little jig that could punch one column at a time), or by gluing in whole sections of tape. I’ll be the first to admit I have forgotten exactly how the “Parity Bit’s” worked. All I can remember is “odd parity,” so I just put my numbers in and made sure the number of holes was “odd,” but I don’t’ think that was how it worked.


Anyway, this tape has been set to start in a certain sector of any channel, preferably channel 30. The first  code says “to to sector 11, put (20) the contents of the Accumulator (that was automatic) into channel 30, sector 132.” The computer would then go to Sector 11, where it would read “go to sector 10, boost the index register one and put it in sector 10.” That would boost the number you see, 01123132 up to 01123133. That means that the next time the accumulator would be put into channel 31, sector 133. This is called a “tight loop” because the computer is stuck going back and forth between the two sectors.

Here’s the kicker. If we preset the accumulator to zero, it would fill sector 132 with zeroes. Then it would fill sector 133 with zeroes. Since that was the end of the channel, the computer would jump back to channel one and continue to fill itself with zeroes. This would go on until the computer finally erased the first instruction of these two.


THIS WAS A VIRUS!!! We actually had a little program we sold the Air Force a small tape that cleared the computer memory by filling it with zeroes. It WIPED the hard drive. We could do it with a zero fill, or we could do it with our little “virus” by putting the virus in the last 2 sectors of memory where it would systematically erase the memory until it came back and erased the first instruction of the two. ERGO: the computer memory would be erased.


Autonetics encouraged us to “mess” with things like this. The more we “played” with programs like this the better we were at programming systems. We were the best in the world. We had the finest, most advanced computer in the world. Even now, this machine is amazing. It is large compared to a laptop, but the Digital Differential Analyzer portion it had in it could continually process all three dimensions of a flight, roll, pitch and azimuth, as they were fed into the computer by the guidance system.  The DDA had in it the matrix flight equations Ray worked with, and Don, Bob Clint and Dick Powers on theirs, and finally, Ray on the Minuteman. I have a book with the equations of inertial navigation that was written by one of my bosses, George Katchikas. It would, and does,  take scores of pages to mathematically describe the computations this simple little computer was able to process in real time.


Meanwhile this same computer was also taking in stellar readings from the astrotracker when in stellar-inertial mode, the inertial system components, accelerometers, gyro torquers, gimble angle encoders, and signals from the navigator in the B-52. This computer had, if I remember correctly, nearly 100 analog-digital and digital-analog inputs and outputs. The computer was also feeding signals OUT of itself to the Navigator panel, and signals driving various devices on the inertial system or astrotracker. Eventually, too, the VERDAN could, when the flight was approaching a target, set off the Arm Warhead Relay, and finally (thankfully it was never done) the “Fuze Relay” that actually detonated the Nuclear device which rode in the missile. Your laptop has a phone input, a n input/output for the keyboard, and a couple of USB ports for input/output. The VERDAN had a control panel input-output, and then DOZENS of input-output devices, so it paled our laptops in its ability to communicate. The only difference between the VERDAN of the pioneering days and the computers now used on the Shuttle and similar systems is the SIZE. PERIOD. The rest of the game is exactly the same. I’m sure there are more input-outputs now than then, look at the switches on the Shuttle, alone, but the G&N systems are still roll, pitch, azimuth, velocity, position….


One thing I specifically remember was the “Ledex (brand name) Stepper” or Ledex Step Switch. Our Ledex stepper was a rotary solenoid. I don’t recall how many positions it had, or wafers. I seem to think it was something like an 12 position 2 wafer switch, but that is only a vague memory. I did have a circuit diagram that showed all the circuits from all the pylon boxes and navigator panel connected to various positions on the Ledex switch so the VERDAN could pulse the switch a certain number of times and get various inputs or outputs on line. We also had to be very clever in doing our testing so we didn’t have to rotate the Ledex a complete rotation because we forgot one input was behind us in testing instead of ahead. The Ledex could only rotate in one direction if I remember correctly.


We couldn’t get all those lines connected to the VERDAN at one time, so the lines were connected to the Ledex  stepping switch which was, in turn, connected to various buffer channels on the VERDAN, either directly or through Analog Digital or Digital Analog converters. I would move to another test in my programs, and jump to the “stepper” subroutine I’d programmed, step the Ledex switch to another position, and a whole new set of readings would be available to the VERDAN from the system. Needless to say, these same readings were being used via the Ledex, during flight. One would have to assume that once the missile was launched, the Ledex was gone (back on the aircraft), and the signals the VERDAN then had were only direct readings from the Guidance System, and the only other signals going out were steering signals to the Hound Dog steering surfaces.


Programming machine language was pretty simple. You had a bunch of commands, like add, or subtract, multiply or divide. Each “instruction” was 8 octal digits long. So if I wrote 02023133, it meant to “put’ something in  channel 30 (the hard drive had channels numbered in octal up to channel 32...that would be like the old 4 channel tape recording, only on a rotary disk memory. So a channel would be divided into sectors, and I had commanded “put” the contents of the “accumulator” in channel 30 sector 133 (3133), then move to sector 020 of the channel you are already in for the next command.


Moving to the next sector for the next command or the constant meant you  had to be very resourceful because there was a delay of 4 sectors before the computer could be ready to do another command. If you commanded that it go just 3 sectors for the next command it meant the computer memory had to go one complete cycle before it could do the next operation. Major delay. So we had to plan our programs to they would go 4 or 5 sectors before the next command, and we had to be sure information coming in from the missile into fixed locations in the input/output channels was not too “far away.” Sometimes, though, you had no choice but to wait a major part of a revolution to do the next operation if it meant reading an azimuth input, or a navigator signal in the buffer channels. Their locations were fixed on the memory disk.


There were also “jump” commands with a return to the channel  you were in. The jump commands would jump to a “sine-cosine,” “square root,” or some other subroutine, work a number out, and return to the  “return” with an answer in the accumulator. We had to become very aware of processes we were repeating quite often. If I was constantly looking for an input from the navigator in the B-52 cockpit, I would create a subroutine that looked for the command and returned with the results of the command in the accumulator of the computer.


The VERDAN had an index register that kept track of return addresses, and the likes, so we had to be constantly aware of the contents of not only the accumulator, but the other several registers as well. Sometimes we would be so hard pressed for storage that we would use the contents of the index register for something, knowing the numerical value that was stored there at that very moment.


9A) My first “Red Alert”


Early in October of 1960, the plant was under a “Red Alert.” It was pretty scary for all of us. No one knew what was going on, except that the Thule Greenland BMEWS antenna was sending a signal that there was an object coming over the horizon from a very bad direction. We were not comfortable about this, but there wasn’t much we could do about it except wait. It turned out that the very powerful signals being sent out by the BMEWS system were bouncing off the moon as it rose above the horizon. Moose had told me once that were a person to walk in front of one of those transceivers, they would be fried (like a micro-wave oven).

The computers at that time could detect the moon, but they could not calculate any kind of target data as if there were aircraft or missiles headed for some target.


I looked back to see what day it was that the “Red Alert” went out. It was a Wednesday. The situation was resolved after a couple of hours, but history tells us that the Air Force in Colorado Springs actually closed their blast doors for a couple of hours. We obviously laughed a bit nervously, then went back to work. I do remember the occasion, though.


9B) My first Pay Raise


About 6 months after I arrived in 3243-67, I received my first raise. It was customary to consider a person for a raise every 6 months. It was also well known in the unit that when you didn’t get a raise it was management’s way of saying you might want to look for another job, either by transferring, or by joining another company. By this time, Lloyd White had moved to a different job, and Jack Brosius had taken his place. Jack was a really cool guy. He drove a restored 1941 Lincoln Continental that was a jewel.


The pay doesn’t sound like much, but $615 per month, purchasing power, was about the same as $6,100 per month now. In fact, as I now write this I would say purchase value was approaching 1500 percent, or about $10,000. We could rent a HOUSE for $125 a month, and our utilities might be 20 or 30 dollars a month. The rest was gravy. I didn’t mention it before, but when I began at Autonetics at $570 per month I was making $50 a month more than my dad, who was then a postal supervisor. He was DELIGHTED for me.

According to my calculations, this was a 7.9% raise in 6 months. Not bad, not bad at all.


If you look closely at the form you will see that I was already authorized to receive pay for a 53 hour week. Why 53, I have no idea now. But that meant that I was getting $615 per month  for a 40 hour week, but I was then getting an additional time and a half for 13 hours a week. I was already putting in, generally 80 or so hours a week.





10) Second Job - the B-58 Hustler ground check equipment.


That same VERDAN console was used for all our guidance system applications which included SINS for the Atomic Submarines and aircraft carriers like the Enterprise, and the N5 system used on the B-52 and its Hound Dog missiles (my specialty), and the hybrid system used on the B-58 Hustler. I worked on the B-58 system check program. Then the plane crashed over at the Paris Air Show - no it wasn't my fault *grin*. I have to tell you...there was so much test equipment on the plane that the pilot had to taxi at 1/2 throttle to keep the systems on line. I'm told it burned up a set of brakes every 2 flights. I personally think that is why the bird crashed...too much junk on board. Convair and the Air Force had the plane loaded to the gills with test equipment, sensors, telemetry of all kinds. So the word was that to keep the systems electrified, the main engine had to run at ½ throttle. I’m sure modern kids with the boom boxes in their cars would be familiar with this power drain dilemma.


10A) The Bendix G-15 computer and Fellow employees in 3243-67


Autonetics sent me to a Bendix school over in Santa Monica, next to the beach,, to learn how to program their G-15 General Purpose computer.  We did a lot of schooling at Autonetics expense. I’d had classes in inertial navigation math and systems, digital programming, and other subjects I’ve long since forgotten.


I must add at this point that we were assigned to senior engineers early on for lunch at the cafeteria. They would teach us about corporate attitudes, loyalty and the general operation of NAA. They were what we would now call mentors, and I must say I really appreciated being with them. One of my “mentors” was Jerry Henry. Another, I believe, was Bill Roper, both senior engineers in our group.


[pix - Bendix G-15]


I went to the school with Don Pierson, who handled the A3J (N5H) programming, and a couple of kids whose names I no longer remember. I just had the pleasure of hearing from Don. The Bendix was a "Hex" machine language, but pretty easy to program. It also had a digital differential analyzer like the VERDAN. I also programmed the Recomp Computer...North American tried to sell the VERDAN as a scientific computer, calling it the Recomp, but it was too pricy.


[picture - Autonetics Recomp Computer system]





The RECOMP computer was used in quite a few locations. The Air Force had one at Vandenberg. It was quite like the VERDAN in its appearance. It filled by punched tape (you can see the punched tape container on the front of the machine to the right of the operator). You could see into memory with the display gadget on the right of the table. The computer was in the box to the right, pretty nicely packaged. It was far more compact than the Bendix, having no tubes in it’s circuits. It was early transistor, and had a rotating disk memory.


Somewhere along the way, I had to learn BCD, too. That was Binary Coded Decimal. There had to be converters in the systems that would take binary or octal information and convert it to decimal so a person could see the results of position and velocity data in Decimal displays.


11) Our unit’s description


Our little group did all the electronic check programs for bench maintenance and under-wing flight readiness tests (my specialty), and the flight programs. Added to that our group was the programming the Minuteman Missile system test and flight programs. As a matter of fact, Boeing has forgotten that Ken Gow of our very 3243 Unit was dictating the 2000 page program description document that soon became the sales package that got North American Aviation the Apollo Program. We had to listen to Ken dictate, play back, dictate, play back, for hours, days, weeks and months. He actually laid the whole Apollo program together and our secretary typed it up for him. The package was then given to our Corporate CEO, "Dutch' Kindelberger, who took it back to his WWI ace and fellow pilot, Secretary of the Air Force Curtis LeMay, and we got the program. Politics, huh!


So, we were heavy duty in the Defense programs and moving into the space realm. The Hound-Dog missiles were built in the HUGE (1 million square foot) building next door to mine...formerly the Chance Vultee aircraft building where they built WWII fighter aircraft. Quite often I would go over and wander about to see the missiles being put together. We had a missile test facility on the old runway, behind security locks, and I'd spend countless hours running my programs on the system and checking to make them perfect. That is where I met our friend Howard "Moose" Thornburg, the system Tech for the Hound Dog test lab. Howard was the one who got us interested in going to Alaska.


The Vultee plant brings up a great story.  North American Aviation had purchased the plant and changed the name. When I got to Colville, I found myself teaching with Pete Vultee who is the son of the creator of not only the Vultee plant, but the famous Vultee aircraft used in WWII. Pete’s dad died in an aviation accident when he was less than a year old. Pete is about 6 months older than I. His office is full of pictures of the father he never knew and the famous aircraft.


[Picture Hound-Dog] I've never seen a more beautiful piece of equipment than the Hound Dog Missile and B-70. The Hound Dog Missile in flight. Once the missiles were completed we would see them come down Imperial Boulevard, on their way over to LAX or somewhere. They were a sight to behold coming down the street on a trailer.




The B-70, which I didn't get to work on, was  designed to accept atomic engines, should the program have been successful.  Intense study of atomic engines was then being performed at a site in Idaho. That is why the cockpit is so separated from the power plant area. Notice the rest of the design, which was used so much in the creation of the British Concorde.


[Picture B-70]Her horizontal surfaces turned down like keels so she could surf her own sonic boom


[Picture B-70] Look how high her cockpit sits above the competition, yet her engine area is very low



[Picture B-70] Here she sits in the hangar, so beautiful. Culmination of NAA designs



12) My job specifically


So I became an expert on programming the electronic check of the Hound-Dog missile and the B-52 G&N system.  I had to become intimately familiar with not only the electronics of the systems, but the electromechanical devices like digital encoders, accelerometers, analog-to-digital converters, digital-to-analog converters, Navigator panel displays (pulse driven dials like range, azimuth, elevation, and the likes), as well as the gyro-torquers, and gimble-angled encoders. 


I had to understand everything from diode and transistor behavior (we did not use “tubes” any more), to signals created by the Kollsman astrotracker star sensors and  pointing servos. As I said before, I had to understand  Octal, Binary, and BCD displays.


My programs would check out the Bomb-Nav(igation)  package, missile-tie in converter, astro-tracker (yes, the Hound Dog missile had access to a star tracker mounted in the B-52 pylon…the Kollsman star tracker was so sensitive it could track a star 10 degrees from the sun in daylight...), navigator panels with all their position servo displays, all the relays in the Hound-Dog, right to the spooky "Arm Warhead" and "Fuse" relays, and all the diodes, analog to digital and digital to analog devices in the systems. I also worked on programs to check the astrotracker in the missile pylon, and a first-time-ever program that checked the the commutator contacts in an PIGA (accelerometer) for lead and lag failures. I had to learn all the wiring for the missile and the B-52...piece of cake *grin*


At one time I had a notebook with 12” by “run” circuit and system diagrams for all the systems in the Hound Dog, the Pylon and the B-52 that related to the G&N systems. 12” by “run” diagrams were prints of diagrams that originally were many feet long, and several feet tall. They would reduce them and run them either through a blue-print or an Ozalid print maker. The Ozalid prints were far better, and black or blue on white paper. Some of the diagrams, though were 12” by 60” or more, giving you an idea of the complexity of the systems. I wish I still had those drawings. I poked around and all I could find for system diagrams looked like this:



Yes, I knew every bit of this circuitry, including the Navigator Panel display devices, but right down to the wiring harnesses and all the componentry.


12A) A little bit about the process of programming system tests


The Project office would lay out a sequence of tests to do on a specific piece of hardware, in an order that would get the tests done as rapidly as possible, without  having to back up for any devices so they could be checked. The tests would specify what was wrong with the device, should it fail, and what action the system operator needed to take to correct the malfunction.  They would then give me the program requirements and I would lay out a flow diagram. We used those nice 24x36 inch desk pads that were huge pads of paper like huge post-its or something. I would open my program by displaying the program number on the nixie display on the computer control panel on the  C2-2A console (Picture somewhere in this story). I would then program in a simple check to look for a non-zero voltage in a specific buffer location in the computer memory. That meant that the Air Force guy had pushed a toggle switch that was in effect saying “I’m here, let’s get going.”


My flow diagrams would have an operation or several operations, then a question whether to go to the next operation or group of operations. If anything failed that I tested, I would jump to the “No-Go” subroutine I’d programmed in a separate location. As testing went on, the program number on the nixies would get the last digit boosted by one for each test, so the operator could see what test was being performed at the end of the display. It might say “40300001” which would mean Console Control Panel test 403, first test.  When the test was done I would boost that location (which was digital location in the Buffer (the buffer was the input/output to the system) by one and the display would suddenly change to 40300002. I had written a program description document for the Air Force that described the details of each test. If the system failed the test, they had to correct the problem and re-run the test. They could do that by pulling a module out and putting another in, then hitting a switch on the Control Panel…when my program saw that switch voltage change, it would jump back and re-run the test on that device. On it went. There were some tests that would keep the plane from flying if this was a hangar test. They would ground the plane and pull the missile, or ground the plane, pull the box out of the plane or missile and replace it, or whatever. If they did a major change, they would have to start over with the computer check and run up through the tapes again.


So, I would check circuits, navigator panel displays, you name it. I believe we even had a way to check the Ledex stepper, too, to make sure we could cycle through all the system tests. I would put a “constant” in a buffer channel that fed, say, the Navigator’s Panel Azimuth display. If the display showed something like 10 degrees 10 minutes, 10 seconds, we would have checked the contacts in the display. If they were OK, the navigator would depress a “go” switch which would put a 10 volt reading in that sector of the buffer,…my program would be in a loop, waiting for that signal. As we became more sophisticated in the choices we offered, the program would stay in that loop and, via the display, ask if the operator wanted to go back to the beginning of the test or quit the program.  Then, depending on the response, the program would jump back to the beginning of the program whilst they pulled and replaced the panel.


I would have sheet after sheet of these flow diagrams.  When I wrote the final program description document the operator would have  operations, displays, choices in one section. The next section would have a printout of the instructions (these were there for Reps to use on site…we tried to keep the Air Force guys from getting into the programs…of course they had  their black books with various commands in them and where to put them…they would mess around in the computer).


Once I finished the flow diagrams I would block out sections of memory for my subroutines, my constants, and my program. Then I would get coding sheets and write each instruction in Octal in a specific location on the sheet.  It looked like a check book in reverse. I would write the instruction on the left, and  put short notes about what each instruction was to the right.  If the instructions were too long for one punched card, I would continue on the next line. One “fill” of the computer would be about 500-800 instructions…


I would send my coding sheets off to the punch-card facility (there is a picture of that in section 13-B below). They would punch out the instructions on the left of the card, and the notes on the right. I would get a box back with at least 500 cards in it. Where my notes were long, there would be a card with no octal instructions. No problem. When Tom Feigenbaum’s group got my cards they would read them and a punch would make a black folded tape of the instructions and ignore cards that had no instructions.


When my cards came back, Tom would also run them through a printer and it would print out my instructions, notes, everything on huge sheets of IBM paper…folded, sheet after sheet. They would usually separate the sheets for us, but when we were a hurry we’d run our own and just thumb through the folded sheets looking for problem instructions to change. 

I would then take the folded tape to Building 39 or LAX to run on the system. We called that “System Test.”


When we wrote the Program Description document, we would write a description of each test, what it was testing, what had to be replaced if the test failed, the display for the test, the “operator action” required for the test, all the way through the program. Then I would write up a “flow diagram” of the operations that looked a bit like my computer flow diagram but didn’t have any code. It, again, would show the test name, displays to expect, and “operator actions.” It would also show where the program would go depending on which response the operator gave to the instruction from the computer. The next section would have a column/tabular list of test, display, operator action, module tested, replacement options.  Then, finally, for the Reps, there would be a listing of instructions and notes. The Air Force didn’t get this section of the PD.


Once the program was completely tested we‘d send it to the “vendor“ (USAF). We’d better not have mistakes. Of course we’d always have oversights, but the Project Office would get those complaints from the Air Force and we’d make the changes…called MOD’s to our program, and re-issue the PD, and tape..


My PD for the Missile Tie-In Converter was over 500 pages long. I think the PD for 403 was over 300 pages in length. On it went.


13) Program Test facilities and locations.


We tested all our programs in Building 39 on the opposite side of the old Vultee runway. Access to the facility was by buzzer-door. We could travel over there with any kind of classified documents and not leave the  guarded portion of the facility (the parking lots were off grounds, so one had to show identification to get on the grounds).  We also tested programs on board the company Gooney Bird that was kept parked on the North American Side of the Inglewood Los Angeles Airport facility. Again, we had to present ID to get on, but if we had classified material, we had to check it out of the Downey facility in a sealed container, and likewise check it in at LAX for testing.


13-A) Building 39


The facility in Building 39 had a bench test console for our tests, running a standing inertial guidance system. There was also a ping-pong table because sometimes it would be several  hours of testing before our programs would get to an area with which we had problems in the programming. That is where I first met

Moose (Howard) Thornburg. He was a genius, as it says on the web writing I put up.


Dick Caruso was the head technician in Building 39, at least on the GAM-77 (Hound Dog) systems. At the same time there were engine tests going on in another part of the building. They would take a completed missile out of Building one and trundle it over to 39 where the engine would be run up for various tests. You could hear the engine all over our part of Downey, day and night. I only lived a couple of blocks from the facility the first year, and Laurella and I lived there a short while after we were married. The engine whining was ever present. Every so often they would run the engine up to 100% and run other tests on it. There was a deflection device outside the building, on wheels, to divert the exhaust and noise skyward. Funny story about that device. One night it tore across the runway toward the west, where we parked for

Building 4. It tore through the fence and ended up in executive parking. Turns out that there was a lot of money riding on just how far the device would go on 100% run-up if someone forgot to put the chocks  and tie-downs in place. Moose told me about that one. Needless to say, they used to have occasional fun at Building 39.


I can still hear the fans of the cooling systems running. It was quite high pitched and a bit noisy, but one got used to it.  It was mixed with the constant whine of GEJ-52 turbines being tested in another part of the building. There were no windows in the facility and the entrances were all push-button actuated steel reinforced doors.


We would sit at the bench-maintenance console for hours at a time, flow diagrams and command lists all over the counter, typing and changing instructions via the console. In those days we did not have a keyboard like computers now have. We had  what looked like an adding machine keyboard, only there were other dials to display specific computer registers so we could see our commands and their results. We could “single-step” a program as well, watching all the computer registers for the proper results. Ergonomics then, was not an issue. As I look at the C2-2A now I can see that we were sitting pretty straight, and our arms would have been out in front of us. We were also looking down at the console control panel. So I’d guess we were ergonomically in the ball park.


The keyboard had a key lock out system. If you pushed one key, the others wouldn’t be registered if you accidentally pushed them. That lock-out no longer exists on computers. If you hit two keys at a time, you get the results of both.


This picture is nearly identical to the one we had in Building 39. Who knows, it may have come from there. The only difference was that we could use the console for hanger tests as well as bench tests.


[picture-bench test console]



We had food carts moving all about the facilities day and night. They would come by 3 times a day, and at midnight, with full meals, sandwiches, coffee, you name it. Our coffee and pop machines were strategically placed throughout the buildings. One Bobby Baker (I think that was his name), servant of one Lyndon Johnson, ended up with the contracts for all the food services, and it went to hell in a hand basket. I remember that specifically. The company name was “Serv-U” or something. I recall that Bobby Baker, a good ol’ boy friend of LBJ was backed by a bunch of gangsters and got the concessions for all Federal facilities. We had good coffee until Bobby got his hands on it, then it was horrid.


The first Christmas I worked at Autonetics saw Laurella coming down and staying at my folks’ place in Altadena. It was at this time that we used tickets to the Rose Parade Queen’s Ball at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. When I was in High School I used to take dates there thanks to my Uncle and Aunt’s generosity with their tickets. I would always rent a tuxedo, so I was quite comfortable with Tuxedos. I rented a real nice one and Laurella and I went to the ball. Shortly thereafter we talked about marriage, so we were “engaged” about that time.


As I said, Howard ("Moose") was one of the technicians in the Hound Dog Missile System Test facility at Autonetics. He also worked, being a certified pilot, on the test plane we used to fly our system on for system trials, out of Los Angeles International airport. I would go over there and run an astrotracker test tape (program) on the system before flight, and Howard and I would sit in the Pilot and Copilot seats and listen to the air traffic while the system was calibrating. We became fast friends, and began going shooting together on our days off. Moose was so good at programming that I could trust him to check one of my programs, find and correct mistakes and leave me notes on the changes. He was a genius. And...a fine shot!!!


[pix - Moose and me]


I could write a book about Moose...incredible man. WWII vet...Aleutians and Okinawa…Pilot Certified multi-engine… 2 meter and 1st Class RTO...Built buildings in Anchorage, Alaska, lived in Homer Alaska, worked at KFAR in Fairbanks with the famous Alaskan bard Reuben Gaines....on and on...I sure miss him. As an aside, after we all moved to Alaska, Moose became a highly regarded Elder in the Mormon Church, and a district manager for the State of Alaska Highway department.


When I wanted to get my programs “on the system” in Building 39, I had to get an appointment with their secretary Bess. I might get in during the daytime, or, I might get on at night. It really didn’t matter as long as I got on the system “post haste.” It was Bess who later showed up at our Alaska property with Moose, and her two nearly teen age kids. Moose married Bess and they left the aerospace industry and moved to Homer Alaska to start the business Moose and I had hoped to start together. We were going to design and repair communication systems for the fishermen of the region. Unfortunately, I had to have work, so I began teaching.


The business did not pan out for Moose, so he and Bess moved to Anchorage to live, and he worked for the Highway department until he retired. Moose passed about 10 years ago, and Bess about 7. I wish we could have shared more of the Building 39 stories, but it just didn’t occur to me that I would ever be writing this tome. Moose and Bess were also tied to the same security rules I was, so their kids may never have known much about the “early days” either.


It was those “Building 39 years”  that Moose and I began taking our guns out to the desert to shoot on weekends. We did that for all the years I worked at Autonetics, even up to the 1964 where we actually saw the “Pregnant Guppy” being tested for Apollo booster stage transport. We even got snowed upon one trip. It was also at that point that I began reloading my own ammunition. We would shoot up 500 rounds of high velocity ammo every trip we made to the desert. We always took his jeep because we could go chase rabbits across the desert. We even took Vernon Edwards, Laurella’s dad, on one trip. He’d shoot at rabbits as we trucked across the sand in the jeep.


It was also those years that Moose came to visit us in our Long Beach Apartment to show Laurella the pictures and movies he’d shown me of Homer and Anchorage Alaska. It was then that I fell in love with

Alaska, and the seed was planted.


Ah, but I digress.


13-B) Our workplace


I can still remember the exact layout of our office. I think it was building 4 then. I sat right next to Dave Loop’s (section leader) office in an open area. The German fellow who took care of the computer test tape sat in front of me. Bob Clint sat behind me, and Don Pierson behind or across from him. Dick Powers sat in front of Bob, and that fellow Rick Overmeyer, whom I helped hire, moved in right behind me. Ahead of us sat Joe Sobrara, who was incessantly clowning and telling jokes.


Update - I have recently been in contact with Marshall "Mac" McMurran, my former supervisor and, I believe, one of the group that interviewed and hired me in the first place. I seem to recall Lloyd White, Mac and Dave Loop at my interview, but that is a stretch now, that day having been so exciting and daunting at the same time. Mac is still in touch with a few of the group, and apparently they have occasional get-togethers. I would love to attend one.


Other members of our group and section were Steve Roper, a system engineer, Don Wong, one of the  designers of the VERDAN, Jerry Henry,  Wa Lee, Lee Young computer system engineers for either Hound Dog, ships systems, Submarine systems,  B-58, and, later the Minuteman and B-70.


 C.P Moran worked either in our group or one of the Project Offices. I remember him because he had formerly been a US Marine Corps D.I. He spent a lot of time with us describing the way they would train recruits. I shan’t relate the stories here except to note that when my son went in the Corps, the stories he tells of Basic were pretty much the same as those related to us by “C.P.” Some people made light of his name, but I thought it was pretty cool. Definitely Irish. “Cornelius Patrick Moran.” Semper Fi, CP, wherever you are. Someone dared me, one day, to call CP a “sea-going bell-hop.” Dumb me…I did, and he chased me right out of the unit area, down the hall by the coke machine and into the “head.” He then gave me a light thump on the shoulder, like a bigger brother. I had no idea until he explained it to me about the duty some Marines had to do as “police” on board various Naval Vessels. They were called ‘bell-hops” because of their uniforms. Needless to say, when my son became a Marine 30 years later I learnt the real animosity between the “Squids,” and the Corps, particularly when my son was charged “room and board,” so to speak, while on “float” on the Naval vessels.  So, now, I completely understand CP and wish I’d been a jar-head myself.


We used to get all over Wa Lee and Lee Young. They were busy buying strawberry fields near Disneyland and various orchards out around Orange and Anaheim. The property was cheap but we couldn’t understand why they’d want to be bothered buying the land. Who needs and orchard (think about that sometime).


Don Pierson, Dick Powers, and Bob Clint worked on the Ships systems…the ships and submarines had  our guidance systems on them, fixed, and, if I remember correctly, the A3J had a similar system that would be slaved to the ships system for alignment, then it would fly independently on its own guidance when under way.


We also had the guidance and navigation systems on submarines, but the Minuteman missile was only being proposed, so the SINS systems on the Carriers may have been the same systems used on the Subs. I just don’t remember now.


Many days we would get a bit tired of the facility so we would go out and play “Pitch and Putt” golf…a par 3, 9 hole round that was popular in those days. We’d continue discussing our various programming problems out there. We played every course we could find, from the new one at Disneyland in Santa Ana to the one in Bellflower, another in Downey. I never did well at golf. I didn’t realize it but my posture, the “scoliosis” I had from the broken back I didn’t know I had, was ruining my swing.


One trip out to the Bellflower “pitch-and-put” course went really badly one day. Rick Overmeyer was a former semi-pro or pro football player. He had a temper. We were rounding the turn on about the 7th hole which paralleled the Los Angeles River bed between the golf course and the freeway. Rick got so mad at his playing that he took his golf bag and the clubs and give them a huge discus-style toss out into the concrete river bed. He never played again. For what it’s worth, we only began with 3 clubs, a wedge and a putter. We’d buy a 5, 7 and 9 iron, and the wedge, and a putter. So Rick didn’t toss a whole lot of money over the fence.


We had what we called a “machine room” attached to our unit.  The machine room was set up to produce program cards, printed sheets, punched tapes and the likes in a hurry so we didn‘t have to send out and wait for the more busy rooms in the facility.


[picture -  typical card punch facility]




Ours had a printing machine, card machines, tape punches, card sorters and the likes. Tom Feigenbaum ran the facility and gained a reputation for being a bit loud and obnoxious, being the “ruler” of the Machine Room. I remember Mona, and Mary Jo,  who punched cards, ran printouts and the likes. We would hand our coding sheets to them and they would type the numbers in the instruction zones…the IBM card puncher would cycle a card into position and they’d type the numbers. It would punch the numbers in their appropriate position on the card. They would then type our description of the instruction and it would be punched in another zone on the card. The would assemble drawers of these cards because our programs might have several thousand instructions in them. They had a card reader that would print the card’s information on a large sheet of paper, and we’d get these long packages of connected sheets of papers that represented our programs.


[picture - IBM Key punch]


Anyway, Mona showed me how the card machine worked, how to set up the zones, and when I needed to at night, I could sit down and make a correction card for my card drawer. They also showed me how to use the high speed card sorter so I could sort the cards by comment zones, or by instruction sequence. Tom was always fussing at us for changing the wiring boards on the printer and sorter to change the sorting and printing  for ourselves. It consisted of a rectangular board where you ran little plug wires from one zone to another, feeding signals to the machine for sorting or printing.


[picture - punched IBM card]


Our printing machine had 80 vertical typing bars that would rise, position themselves into a line like this one I’m typing, each vertical bar at the proper level for the letter in its space, and it would be struck from behind making a whole line of print. This thing was bangy but it printed whole pages quite quickly.


I always marvel at those IBM machines. The had little oil pumps in them that very slowly ran oil through a beautifully crafted series of tiny lines (like tubing smaller than spaghetti) to various bearings in the machine.


Like I said, we also had access to a more sophisticated machine room than our own. It had high speed  printers that were a chain of type, literally chain, horizontal, that raced about faster than you could see.  As the chains sped around, they were struck from behind by solenoids, and created whole lines of print so fast that they could do something like 600 pages a minute. The paper came out so quickly that it flew through the air, so they had a circular bale/guide over the machine that guided the paper through the air, into a nice folded pile, which they then would give to us. Our complete program, printed in a matter of seconds.


We visited a lot whilst working. It was intense because we were each brainstorming as we programmed. It was a real challenge to get programs to fit the computer and function properly. So, stories would fly during mental breaks. One such story was about the “Snark” missile. It was an Air Force cruise missile project that would be launched using JATO booster rockets but fly thousands of miles. It was not a NAA project, but some of our guys had worked on it with Northrup. It was so unsuccessful out of Canaveral, that the waters off Florida acquired the name “SNARK infested waters” amongst the engineering folk.


Another story was fielded by Rick Overmeyer one day. He had worked on the Army Redstone project before we hired him. They had launched a Redstone missile out of White Sands, Ft. Bliss,  or one of those places, and it went off course and crashed into the cemetery down in Jaurez Mexico. Created quite a stir. We were all speculating what would happen if one of our missiles were to crash into a cemetery in Havana, Fidel Castro being such a thorn in our sides at that time.


Many of us smoked. They had a really powerful air conditioning system then so it wasn’t really noticeable. The only time it was obnoxious was when Overmeyer would show up with a cigar. One day he lit off a stogie that wasn’t even shaped like a stogie. It was squarish and had a couple of mild bends in it. He was always smoking cigars, but this one was particularly noxious. Joe Sorbrara turned around in his desk, and yelled, “Rick, I keep telling you NOT to pick up those things on your front lawn. They are NOT cigars.”


13-C) LAX Airborne Test Bed.


Once I was competent with the  programs for the Hound Dog, I would drive over to the Los Angeles Airport to run them on the airplane North American used for flight testing the system. I recall it being a Gooney Bird, but can’t remember for sure. The Guidance Assembly sat in the middle of the airplane and the astrotracker on top of the G&N package. Moose would fly with the team to test the accuracy of our alignments. This is where I learned about the “first order survey.” A first order survey is accurate to one second of arc. It is a very tedious job to do one, as any surveyor will tell you, but our system had to be accurate to a second or two of arc, so we had to have a way to align it to that accuracy. The plane was positioned on the parking tarmac in such a way as the astrotracker could see an autocollimator out on the ground next to the plane. The autocollimator is a source of “collimated” light that looks like a pinpoint. This was prior to the advent of the laser, so collimation was a close second to maintaining a point.


On board the airplane, where the passengers or freight would ride, about mid-ship, but behind the wing-root, the “stable platform” was mounted. It was all covered with insulation, as it would be on the missile. We didn’t have it open like over at Building 39, so we couldn’t watch it move hither and yon during various platform alignment and gyro alignment procedures. That was fun to watch.


[picture-platform assembly]


When the system was aligning itself using some of the other programs our group provided, it would use the astrotracker to look a the autocollimator and determine exact longitude and latitude for the guidance computer (VERDAN) to use for calculating flight information, position, and what have you.  This process took time, so Moose and I would sit in the cockpit, don the earphones and listen to the air-ground-tower conversations. Moose, being certified in multi-engine planes knew exactly what was going on with the airlines conversations. One night I remember well, a JAL pilot was asking for a departure runway. The tower have him 27 north, and he said “Good, sir. I am going to need every inch of it.” Moose explained to me that he was either loaded to the limit, or overloaded, and he knew it, so he needed the longest runway on the facility…the one that went out over the ocean and passed right in front of our nose as we sat on the south side of the airport.


[picture-autocollimator system]






Whenever there was a problem with alignment or check-out, I would get notes and return them to the plant for the appropriate programmer, or myself, to make corrections. Moose was an incredible “de-bugger,” and I was no slouch myself, so when there were alignment problems we could find them. When we did, as often as not, the phone call would go out to cancel the flight that night.


If I remember correctly, when the system was properly aligned I would either go home, or up to Laurella’s grandmother’s place in  Torrance and the plane would take off. They would fly a triangular pattern that flew took them over a first order surveyed flight path. I recall that it went into Nevada, down to Arizona and back to LAX. When they arrived back at LAX they would have data on exactly how accurately the guidance system had calculated their position and speed. They would treat 3 corners as “targets,” and determine just how closely the missile guidance had been. I can tell you that it was accurate enough that had we needed to  send it to the Soviet Union, we could have parked the warhead within the confines of the Kremlin. I believe we were able to get accuracies as close as 600 feet, and that was damned spectacular. We were light years ahead of the Soviets and anyone else. Officially we were able to get within 2.2 miles, but that was, like all defense data, “official.”


It was that mathematics and technology on which we had the market cornered. It was that way until Bill Clinton sold the whole ball of wax to the Chinese, forever erasing our lead in the G&N field. The reason the Soviets couldn’t get to the moon…they didn’t have the Guidance technology to do it. In fact, the Soviets had to turn to copying National Geographic maps to find where on their continent THEY were. They also used National Geographic maps to get locations for our cities. We were also in the dark about longitude and latitude of places like the Kremlin, but it didn’t take much of a rocket scientist to realize why we did so many over flights over  their continent, including the U-2 flights.


Back to LAX. One night Moose and I were aligning the system. It was going badly and wouldn’t align. We sat and watched the displays, and Latitude and Longitude were doing the craziest almost sinusoidal oscillation. We thought something was suddenly wrong with the  DDA (digital differential analyzer) portion of the Verdan that calculated Latitude, longitude,  roll, pitch, velocity &c. Finally Moose and I were standing next to the G&N assembly, its window looking out the window of the plane, and we noticed a mild glow near the autocollimator out on the tarmac. There was a technician SMOKING A CIGARETTE out there and the damned  Kollsman was tracking his cigarette. 


The Kollsman astrotracker was basically a tiny telescope that used light amplification behind its lenses to detect lights. The astrotracker could move in celestial longitude, latitude, right ascension and declination since it was gimbaled in 3 dimensions. It could only look down a limited amount, so our theoeolite with the autocollimator had to be out on the tarmac far enough to allow the Kollsman to look down  for it. Meanwhile, though, this thing was so sensitive that it could detect a star like Canopus within 10 degrees of the sun in full daylight. So, mounted on the missile pylon on the B-52, the Kollsman could track stars in the daytime and tell the guidance system where it was, allowing it more accurate position corrections during its calculations of position, range to target, and the likes.


[picture - Kollsman Astrotracker]


Mind you, though, the Kollsman did not go with the Hound Dog when the missile was launched.  The astrotracker only kept the aircraft and missile corrected during the travel to the launch point. From there the missile was on its own. But realize that the missile had a range of 600 miles, so it would rarely develop any appreciable position errors as it went on its way to the target.


Part of the mathematics of the Kollsman was a search program built into the VERDAN to help the Kollsman find a star, lock on to it, then find a second star and third, to use for triangulation. If I remember correctly, we tracked stars like Canopus, Sirius, and Procyon. I don’t remember for sure. But I do remember that there had to be a most efficient way to find a star. If you knew the time of the day (the G&N could give you that since it knew Latitude and Longitude), you could find the sun. From the sun, and predetermined celestial positions, you could find the appropriate star in the region. Once you found that star, it was easy find the next one and go back and forth between the two, determining position. Here’s the deal. How do you search for a star, though. The least inefficient way is to use a square pattern. Obviously a diagonal is a closer distance between two points than a rectangular or square pattern. That still doesn’t help you find a star efficiently once you find the sun and slew to the star. So it was determined that the best, quickest and most efficient search was a “prolate hypercycloid.” I think you’d call it a clover pattern. Actually it is very special search, and with that shape has the highest percentage of quick find of a star of any search pattern.


Just for kicks, here is a prolate hypercycloid. Imagine the tracker going from the sun to the area of the appropriate star for that day, night or location. It is within a few minutes of arc (width of the apparent moon is ½  degree, or 1800 arc seconds. If we search for a pinpoint of light like Canopus in a region that large, we’d better have a quick way to find the star. That would be the prolate hypercycloid:


[picture-prolate hypercycloid]





The math of this figure is quite complex, but it amounts to one circle of one size rotating about another circle, leaving a track of its position dependent upon the sizes of the radii of the two circles. Imagine, though, the “Petals” rotating inside the circle so they eventually cover the whole circle. That is what the Kollsman device would do, and finding the star was quite quick, particularly if you knew your starting point accurately. FWIW - the Wankel rotary engine is a machine using another hypocycloid design  to harness the energy of explosions.


The Kollsman was mounted, as I said, in the Missile Pylon. Part of the equipment there was the Missile-Tie-In Converter. It talked to the Astrotracker and the Missile Guidance system. It was FULL of electronics to convert analog signals to digital and vice versa, sending signals and information back and forth from the missile to the Navigator’s panel, and signals from the Navigator back to the missile, including the launch signal. It was that program that finally took much of my time. I’ll discuss that later.


Realize, too, the VERDAN had to have access to specific stellar coordinates, either by data stored in the computer, or positions fed to the computer by the B-52 navigator. The whole purpose of having the Kollsman in the missile Pylon was to provide even more accurate position information to the missile guidance computer and the crew flying the B-52. Stellar information is extremely reliable, and since stars are actually “points” in the sky, their position can be used down to parts of seconds of arc in terms of latitude and longitude. Celestial Right Ascension and Declination are easily correlated to terrestrial latitude and longitude.


[picture - Missile pylon electronics assembly]

[picture - Missile pylon block diagram]


Back to the airport. When I was done at night and the plane ready to leave, I would go over to Laurella’s grandmother Smith’s house in Torrance stay overnight. It was there that I began reading “Ben Hur” by the Governor of the Territory of Arizona, Wallace. I loved that story. Quite often, too, as I had to go to the airport at night for alignments and tests, I would go to Grandma Smith’s place for dinner. She made the most wonderful soup in the universe, I thought. She had cooked for many men in her days, so she loved to cook and dote on a man’s appetite. Grandma Smith had an apartment attached to her garage, and I’d stay out there overnight. Saved a nasty drive back to Downey on that damnable Imperial Blvd. There were no quick and dirty freeways then unless one drove up to the Santa Ana, over to the Long Beach, and back down. It was just as bad going across all the way on Imperial.


14)  My/our home in Downey.


For a little while in 1960, I lived in Altadena and worked in Downey. That was absolutely insane. I had to drive across Pasadena to Rosemead Boulevard and all the way down to Downey and the plant. That meant 25 miles of speeding up and slowing down  stop lights. Horrid drive. I would try the Pasadena Freeway, but it would be jammed going into LA, making the trip just as slow, because  I then had to go back out the Santa Ana, and either go down Rosemead still, or down the Long Beach and over Imperial, which was just as slow. It was a lose-lose situation. So I scouted for an apartment of my own in Downey.


I found a nice complex with a pool, just off Rosemead on Imperial. I could walk to work, but I usually didn’t being in a hurry. At the time, my job being as critical as it was, I was working 70 hours a week, and my income was staggering.


I lived in the apartment in Downey for a year, until Laurella and I married in ‘61. We moved to Long Beach shortly after we were married. Laurella attended Long Beach State College to finish up her Bachelor’s degree.


14A)  Our Porsche - purchased in ‘61



Politics became rampant in our section of Autonetics. The management drove MG's and played bridge. I bought a Porshe Speedster (1956 - Fire Engine Red), and played hearts. As time went on, my welcome ran out, though I was doing the lions share of their systems check programs.


[Pictures - Laurella and me with the Speedster] The two true loves of my we miss the Porsche

Young Program Engineer, in a suit...on San Marcos Pass above Santa Barbara...boy did we make time on those mountain roads


My old 42 Chrysler was smoking. Those old cars had cast iron engines, and the technology wasn’t what it is now, so an engine would make about 100,000 miles and you either got an overhaul, or you lost an engine.


My friend Ollie Kilham had a Porsche and I was in love with it. I found a  Speedster for sale in  East Pasadena for $2100 dollars ( they were $3500 new). I bought it. My dad co-signed my loan for me to help me with my credit. I began using that car to date Laurella on weekends up in Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo. I’d get off work and roar up there, over San Marcos Pass at some enormous speed, and we’d spend the weekend together. One trip we took, we decided to drove from Santa Maria out to Lanfair, a valley east of 29 Palms, on the way to Searchlight and Las Vegas. I’d heard about land bargains out there so we decided we’d go see the property.  We did it in one day…from Santa Maria over to Lancaster, then over to

Barstow, then down to 29 Palms and east to Lanfair Valley….then back. We were crazy kids, and we still are. Mind you, I’d driven from Downey to Santa Maria, stayed over night, then we made this drive to Lanfair and back on Saturday. Then, Sunday I’d drive back to Downey.


June of 1961 saw me getting my second raise in pay. This form even named one of the programs upon which I was working, the “Platform Electronics Tape.” This program checked gyros, accelerometers, gimble angle encoders, and the likes by forcing the platform to specific angles and seeing how the gyros reported their position with respect to the gimble angles we’d anticipated. This was Tape 303 which became tape 403. I have to say I loved that program. It grew into a monster and had a reputation for being super engineered thanks to Phil Williams, Bob Takazumi and myself.





So in June of ‘61, I received another 7.3% (including that mysterious raise, which was probably company wide across the board). So, in all, from $570 to $660 in one year comprised a 15.8% raise. That is pretty bloomin’ incredible, isn’t it. You’ll notice here that I was authorized to work 60 hours per week. That meant that I was receiving base pay for 40, and time and a half for another 20 per week.

You can see that Marshall McMurran was now my group leader, and Jack my supervisor. Now the funny part…


14B) Hound Dog runs away into ignominy


Once and a while, the Air Force would have a live launch  down the AMR (Atlantic Missile Range). I have referred to of those launches for many years in my Math classes to exemplify the problems with a lost sign in an arithmetic process. I won't mention his name but Ray ________ *GRIN* accidentally changed a sign in the Cross Track equations and a Hound Dog turned around and went the wrong direction. The story is going in the book...but it created some problems for us. It occurred the week I was getting married to Mrs. Gruff *Laurella*...and we had to work over 110 hours to find all the problems....I'm going from memory there Ray, so don't flame me...*grin*


I found a little about that event on the AMMS site. They say, along with the picture of the missile: “This is the Famous Missile, S/N 59-2807 that outflew its F-100 chase plane and then when it failed to destruct made a unscheduled visit to a little southern agricultural town of Samson, Alabama


[cartoon - snoopy parachute]



[picture - Hound Dog on its way to crash]



OK - here’s the story, because this is the book…..this missile was launched down range out of Eglin AFB, about July 1 of 1961. It was a live launch, targeted at something down range 600 miles or so. There were two F-100 chase planes following the missile as it barreled down range from the B-52. If you are familiar with our planet, we had two latitudes 10 degrees above and below the Equator. The one 10 degrees above the equator is called the Tropic of Cancer, about 23 degrees north of the Equator. A quick check will show you that this line of Latitude runs just south of Florida, so the missile traveling south had to cross the Tropic on it’s trip.


When the missile gets to the Tropic, calculations have to change to make sure the missile maintains it’s proper geographic signs should it cross the equator. Thus, when it crosses the tropic, the flight equations are changed into what was called, I recall, “cross track.” The calculations were done in increments, continually checking the distance from the equator.


Mind you, the target, in this case was NORTH of the Equator, somewhere. There was probably a Navy vessel in the area to check on the target accuracy of the missile. They were supposed to get within one Nautical mile of the target (public/official).


So when this missile arrived at the tropic, it suddenly found a negative sign in the Cross-track equations for Latitude. That  suddenly told the missile it was south of the Equator, way below the target. Simple, turn around and go back. So it did. It turned around and the jets had to probably duck, as it came roaring by them, it’s GE J52 turbine purring like a kitten. So, it headed back up range. Now comes the problem…it decided to go into high/low operation. We had two defensive programs in the missile. One was called high/low, the other, “dog-leg.” In high-low, it would drop from an altitude like 5000 feet down to the ground plus 500 feet. It had down/forward radar, so it could sense the ground and fly above it, and not “through it,” so to speak.


Suddenly the missile drops to nearly sea level….the chase planes are radioing frantically. Someone tries to destruct the missile, but lo and behold, the destruct doesn’t function, so Snoopy keeps barreling north at 500+ mph. 


The missile flew over Eglin, they say , at about 200 feet. I don’t know for sure. Sounds too low to me. Anyway, it gave the tower a bit of a start, we heard. The chase planes were low on fuel, so they had to land.


[Picture - the Missile in flight to Alabama]





Unfortunately the missile wasn’t about to land for more fuel, it was going to run itself until it ran out of fuel. So it disappeared north, not to be seen again for some little while.


Here is what we heard at the plant. There was a farmer near Samson, Alabama, plowing his corn field. I don’t know if you have ever heard a jet engine do what is called a “flame-out,” but I have, as I described up at the top when I was in Radio Lab at Cal Poly. There was a series of bangs, then silence. The farmer is said to have looked to see this beautiful missile gliding into his crop. I guess it must have plowed a real trench. These birds have only two speeds, stop and go. This Hound Dog was in “go” mode, so I’d guess it impacted this fellows corn field at about 500 miles per hour. I’d also guess the only way he knew it was coming was if he heard the horrid noise of “flame-out,” when the engine ran out of fuel. Even then  the missile would have been traveling as fast as a 22 bullet, subsonic, but really hustling.


Corporate received a phone call from the Air Force or DOD saying that there had been a serious problem and if we didn’t fix it in 2 weeks they would cancel the contract, or some such similar threat. They were really pissed. We found out later that the reason they were pissed was that the missile had penetrated past Eglin undetected by any early warning systems. Actually the word was that there was some embarrassment about their systems not being able to track the Hound Dog, and it showed a major weakness in our “distance early warning systems” in general. So they got extremely angry at us, a bit like “lashing out.”


So we spent at least the next week trying to find the problem with the system. I checked my tapes, everyone checked theirs. Finally Ray found that the problem was with one binary bit in, it think, the latitude sign. It had been set negative, which told the missile it was in the southern hemisphere instead of the northern. Ergo…turn around and fly back to the target.


Now, as Paul Harvey says, (to the best of my recall) you know the rest of the story. I would imagine that somewhere near Samson there is a wonderful farm, with a huge mansion of a house, and workers taking care of the corn while the owner sits on the porch, rocking, drinking mint juleps. There might even be a picture of some wreckage, framed, over the fireplace in his house. Who knows?


I worked nights until 2 AM, and I think that was the week that Laurella and her mom came into the apartment in Long Beach at about 2 AM from a trip as I was leaving for work to chase this problem some more. Anyway, we were to be married on Saturday, and I made it up to Santa Maria on time. We had a bachelor party at the bowling alley near the motel where I was staying. Ollie Kilham and Larry Goforth got smashed, so they were pretty hung over at the wedding ceremony. You can still see it on their faces…a bit rung out so to speak.


Laurella and I were married July of 1961 just a couple weeks after the “lost missile“ episode. Since we were working in Downey, we wanted to live at the beach so she could go to school at Long Beach State and do her practice teaching down there. Wouldn’t you know it but after we’d moved  to Long Beach and gotten settled,  Autonetics moved, lock stock and barrel, out to Anaheim. So, I was back to commuting. I’d purchased a Model A, too, but restoring it proved to not be my desire. I drove it on the freeways between Long Beach and Anaheim.



15) Hound Dog Project Office


During the time I worked on Hound-Dog, the Hound-Dog project office, led by Ross Shubert (Sp?) had folks like Dick Mueller (1923-2004), Phil Williams, whom I became very close to, Bob Takazumi, and others directing all the program engineering aspects of the Hound-Dog and B-52. Phil and I, and others, called Dick 'Papa' because of his fatherly approach to team leadership, and his natural tendency to mentor us young, wealthy engineers.


I’m not sure where I heard this story about the Navajo. It might have been when we were playing hearts. As I said, most of the people played bridge at lunch. They played what I called “combat bridge.” I was a very opinionated,  extremely conservative kid and I wasn’t about to get into a situation where I had to play bridge with the group to get forward in engineering. Instead I would play hearts over in the Hound Dog Project office with Dick, Phil and others. Anyway, they were talking about the Navajo. Many of the people I worked with worked on the Navajo, and morphed right into the Hound Dog, it being the final product after a 700 million dollar investment in the Navajo. The Navajo didn’t work. Usually it would crash or some such. On one such crash out on the dry lakes somewhere, it broke up. The guidance system, which looks like a giant padded steel beach ball, went bounding down the lake like a giant BB.


After the guidance system bounced and rolled to a halt, it had a shock for everyone. They fired it up in a test stand and the system still worked. They howled laughing about  the sight of that ball, making a long trip down the dry lake, like those skip bombs that the British used as dam busters in WWII that skipped across the water and sank at the dam. The guidance system had to look exactly like a skip-bomb but quite out of place.


16) Thermonuclear capacity of Hound-Dog


[Picture - Hydrogen Bomb] Wanna see the hydrogen bomb that was on the Hound Dog? Here it is:

Bet you thought you were really going to see something, huh. Well...sorry!



This thing  (the Mark 28) was about a 1 megaton thermonuclear weapon. It was about as wide as a weather balloon and considerably longer. It fit in the mid section of the missile. It was only put on the missile during alerts. The rest of the time they carried "blanks." *grin* And, no, I never saw the weapon until this picture showed up on the Internet these last few years.


My biggest regret at that point was that I had a chance to ride a B-52 on a missile test flight out of Eglin AFB, went through the briefing for the trip, but it was cancelled. I was told, among other things, that the plane had 18 feet of dihedral lift (the wings they ran on tip-wheels 'til they came off the ground, then just kept bending up until they were up above the roots)...and that the plane could land or take off canted to the runway to take advantage of side winds for lift...whoaaaaa. But I didn't get to go.

[Picture B-52:Here the old lady sits, wings down to the tip wheels]


[Picture - B-52 Flying] Hard to see but her wings have flexed up 18 feet (nearly 2 stories, if you will)


Late in 1961 I received another raise. We were going great guns on MTIC programs, modifications of tape 403, and so on. The Air Force was asking for, and getting, modifications to the programs that would allow the operators more latitude in replacement and re-starting, sometimes keeping a bird airborne instead of grounded. That was very important to the SAC.





So, I had received another 7.6% raise in 6 months. My salary was quite good. The thing that goes unmentioned is the massive amount of money I was making on overtime. I was usually on 48 hours, but often more. My overtime pay was time and a half. That meant that for 8 hours each week I was being paid at the rate of $1000 per month. Weekend pay was double, as was holidays, and as often as not, we would be putting in time on weekends and holidays. When we weren’t I would be going to the desert with Moose, Laurella when she could (she was still going to college), and shooting the place up.


16A) CEL, about 1962-63


At one point, I worked with my friends Dick Mueller and Phil Williams on a program called CEL (Combat Evaluation Launch). We ran flight tests on our various programs out of bases across the nation...the B-52 would fly, and the missile would pretend to launch, all the while gathering telemetry on its ability to do its job. There were something like 1300 launches a month going on during that period. The actual program began December of 1961. I’d been with Autonetics 1-½  years and was quite comfortable in my position as a computer systems specialist.


At this time in my career at Autonetics, it was becoming difficult to get overtime over 48 hours per week. I was given 55 hours but that was very difficult to get approved. I finally ended up approved for 60 hours per week, but it took approval from the Autonetics Management to get that level.


I should mention that even if we were approved for 48, 55 or 60 hours per week, we were expected to work more than that. That was part of being a professional  on the research level in the aerospace industry. Here is how it worked. I would work, say, 80 hours one week. They would pay me for 55, 60, or whatever was authorized. The accounting department would then charge the vendor, namely the Air Force in this case, what was called 8108 money. That was “uncompensated” overtime…obviously.  Autonetics would bill the Air Force for 32 hours of 8108 if I was being paid for 48 but charged  80 hours. Then that money would  be used to pay the secretarial and support staff, as well as all supplies and maintenance expenses. In other words, the company would pay all its operating expenses with 8018, and peel off a bit for the stock holders.

Ergo - I could average 80 hours a week and not feel bad not being paid for it. Realize that I was making, at the beginning, the equivalent of $5800 a month on present dollar value, and by the time I arrived at CEL, with my overtime, I was pulling in well over $12,000 a month in 1998/2000 dollars. 





I believe they were paying me at 60 hours per week. This document meant that at the end of 8 weeks I could continue at that rate. It was approved by the Chief Engineer. Note that at this time, Jack Brosius was no longer my supervisor. It was now Barbara Conrad.


I was making so much money that I would forget to cash or deposit paychecks. Finally I would get a phone call from Chris Ganarakis, the head of Autonetics Finance Department, begging me to cash the checks.


Laurella and I bought coins and I tried numismatics. We had gold eagles, silver dollars, mint sets…and I collected unusual double strike pennies.  I would buy packs of $2 bills because I liked their looks. Generally I took numismatics seriously, but eventually we sold the whole bloomin’ collection for money to get us to Alaska (more later). I was also buying rifles and having them gun-smithed to my specifications. When we traveled to Colorado with my folks, I bought several good antique rifles, because I was loving black powder shooting.


Meanwhile, though, back to CEL.


I think it was during the CEL “flap” that I had the opportunity to make a program change in a hurry. We had to have the change made to the program, and cut new tapes ASAP. There was no way I could get my program “assembled” through the ordinary channels. I had to take it to the IBM room in Building 6, with my form in hand and get it assembled NOW. That meant they had to find some way to get my cards into the system, but all the magnetic tape units were running. It meant feeding my punched cards into the reader and letting it read them one at a time. I have never seen an operator more thoroughly upset as this guy was as that clunky reader was reading my cards into a system that was easily as complex as this laptop upon which I am now typing.


North American had 7 divisions. Autonetics, Atomics International, Space and Information Systems, Columbus, Palmdale, Corporate over at LAX and Rocketdyne. Each  division had an IBM 7094 system. It was in a room the size of a basketball court. There were banks of tape readers, usually 15 of them on a side, all whirring like you can’t believe. There was a huge magnetic reader…magnetic plates, 12 deep, racing with a read head popping in amongst them to get and store data, a 600 page a minute printer….and they had tied the 7 computers together by microwave so they were working not only series but in parallel. Stanford had, at that time, referred to the set up as IBM “Stretch”….


The IBM 7094 was mounted on an artificial floor so the huge bundles of wiring could run from unit to unit under the floor. There was also an IMMENSE air conditioning unit outside the room against the outside wall. It was several large water cooler/refrigeration systems. They exchanged the air in the room through the machines and all under the artificial floor. This place used electricity like you can’t imagine.


Here’s the deal. They were running the corporate payroll…all 7 divisions at one time. They were also running the telemetry from a live X-15 flight that was  coming in from Palmdale. They were also running a Minuteman simulation. And I needed to have my cards assembled, printed out, and a tape made. So, this guy is about apoplectic, watching my cards read, one by thunking one, into the system, through the only available port, a totally dinosaur card reader that should never have even been there. I kept hearing him mutter things like “Jesus, I can’t believe this.” “Oh-my-god…this is awful.”


[picture - IBM 7094]


But he did it because if he hadn’t the Corporate head would have keel-hauled him or some such thing. The Air Force needed my change YESTERDAY. I had clout like you can’t imagine at that time, and the Hound Dog was coming of age, so it HAD to work and my programs were instrumental in guaranteeing flight readiness in the hangar, missiles mounted on the wings, live.


An Aside…Speaking of cousins, my Cousin Byron (Bob Pickett), was in charge of the radar tracking system for the AMR (Atlantic Missile Range) for RCA (I think). So his systems were tracking “My” missile launches.


About this time, as CEL was winding down and Wings were firming up at SAC, I had been given a $50,000 grant to design a working computer test bench to put in our Machine Room for us to simulate all the systems of the  Hound Dog, Navigator’s displays &c. The project was terminated when the CEL kept me too busy to work on the simulator. Even though  overtime hours were hard to get, money in general flowed like water in the industry. The government was throwing money at the space and defense programs like there was no end to the supplies. On the next is a picture of the picture of the Navigator’s panel that I was supposed to get up and running in a C2-2A type panel, using a VERDAN and appropriate programming.


[picture - B-52 Navigator’s panel]



17) Cuban Missile Crisis

I had to look up the dates, which is very easy now with internet. October 14, 1962 was the time when the US began raising hell about the missiles that were being stored in Cuba by the Soviet Union. At Autonetics, we were aware of the level of SAC at all times, though we didn’t give it much attention. At that time, though, we knew that the SAC had gone on a very high alert, so we were becoming rather tense about the situation. Fortunately, the confrontation came to the UN, so our families were aware of the mess we were in to a certain degree. Sometime during that time, close to the last weekend of October, we were made aware in the plant that SAC had gone to red alert.


I really don’t remember what we did. I seem to recall we may have gone north to the Edwards’ place in Santa Maria to stay for that weekend. Fortunately, the whole thing was being reported on TV, with the exception of the secret stuff the Kennedy Cabinet was doing to keep from having to touch the magic launch button. I am sure our missiles were mounted at that time, and armed with atomics. Everyone was ready to launch something, it was just a matter of who would “flinch” first. Fortunately, Khrushchev flinched and it all ended.



18) My Computer Programs:

Hangar tapes for Flight Readiness:
403 Missile/Aircraft flight readiness test (Power Supply & Platform Electronics)

433 Missile Tie-In Converter test (there is some question about this tape number, but this is the

        One I remember. This, though, may have been the Conversion and Control program, and it was

         Never purchased by the Air Force??


Bench Maintenance Tests for testing and repairing circuit boards in modules that failed Hangar tests


476 Console Control Panel

483 (I think this was 433 in our inventory) Power Supply & Platform Electronics

492  Missile Tie-In Converter  bench test


During the process of doing these programs I had to write program description documents. The most famous being 433...huh, Phil...550 pages of typing, coding description, and technical instructions on running the program for the Air Force Techs....I guess that is why I can write so much...I never learned to shut up after those PDs..403, 404, 433, Mod 1 mod infinitum...


 I think I’ve pretty well dissected the programming process up in the section (12-A) about the creation of programs and program documents.


I received my next raise, after the Missile Crisis, in December of 1962. I was really making the money. Laurella was still doing college, in her senior year by that time.





So by December of ‘62, I am up to $800 per month. That was a 7.2% raise. My work in the CEL was really paying off.


19) My Accelerometer Program


I even worked out the math and programmed a package for the VERDAN that would check an accelerometer for bad contacts by using Fourier Analysis of the signals from the torquer motor and the commutator contacts. We would set the platform at a specific angle, simulating a specific acceleration. Then the accelerometers (the were called PIGA’s…Pendulous integrating gyroscopic accelerometers) would start to operate. The pendulum would swing slightly, and a tiny motor would carefully pull it back in place. As the motor turned, a square wave signal would be used to turn it. If there was any problem with the accelerometer motors, like chattering, it would show up in the wave form of the square waves being used to torque the pendulum We could sample the torquer voltage on specific input locations in the VERDAN computer. I would then sample the readings, and apply the data to a Fourier Series computation that would then determine if there were any harmonics in the signal that should not be there.  Realize that there are theoretically and infinite number of frequencies making up a square wave. But, they are regular, so if there was any kind of deformity in the signal, it indicated that there was a problem with the accelerometer torquer. I finished the program, and when I left Autonetics I don’t know what ever happened to it.


I do know that when I left, that fellow Overmeyer was reported to have signed all my programs in his name. He had told me when we hired him that he would take my job. He was rather a “climber.” I told him at the time that he had better look to the stock holders and not the climbing. None-the-less, I was told that upon my departure he changed 404, 433, 492 over to his name. I could care less. Shortly after that he took one of those regular phone calls from Douglas to work on Skyhawk, and off he went. I heard later that in a year or two either Skyhawk ended or Overmeyer left them or both. I don’t know which.


19A) MODAP, toward the end of my tenure at Autonetics.


Dick Mueller had gone to work on MODAP...about that time...over at S&ID. MODAP was the "Modified Apollo"...supposed to go to Mars. He inquired if I wanted to get involved. I just didn't see any future in it. I was taking classes in Space Physics, and all I could see was that a trip to Mars was beyond our ability, now, and for a LOOOOOOOONG time to come. We could barely keep a crew alive to the moon and back in 3 days of space exposure. How the hell were we supposed to protect a crew for 18 months, each way??? Garbage!!! I'll talk about that elsewhere.


If you do a “Google” on MODAP you will find it was a logistic supply vehicle for a Space Station. Actually, though, the one Dick was working on was intended to be considered for a Mars trip. I’d guess the Modified Logistics variety is the one the artist painted for me when I was working on SSGS over at Space and Information Systems (see below after I left Autonetics.). I recently did a “Google” on the subject and found a huge NASA/Boeing document that included the MODAP as a 6 man Mars Landing device, so they hadn’t given up on the concept as of 1968. They certainly did waste a lot of money on it, because this document describes nuclear driven rockets, a space station and all kinds of equipment, in detail:


At this time I had 3 years with Autonetics. I received one of the cherished NAA pins.


[pix-3 year pin]


We treasured our year-pins. This was my 3rd year. Had I finished 5, it would have been a gemstone



19B) Our home in Orange, California….

We loved our apartment in Long Beach. I can still remember the address: 653 Winslow, at the corner of Pacific Coast Highway, Bellflower Blvd, and 7th Avenue. As I said before, the reason we moved there was so Laurella could finish her college at Long Beach State College. When I asked for her hand in marriage, I had to promise her folks that she’d finish college. Needless to say, that is what we wanted anyway. So, she continued her schooling just walking to and from LBSC…it was only a long block or two, walking past the huge Veteran’s Hospital between us and the College.


It wasn’t too long after we moved there that Autonetics moved, lock stock and barrel, out to Anaheim. That way Space Systems could have the whole Downey facility for the Apollo. The last Hound Dog was built in about ‘63, and the whole fleet of 600 was in service at SAC bases all over the nation. Anyway, here we were, the commute not too bad, and now I had to commute from Long Beach to Anaheim every day. That was one hell-ova commute. Up Bellflower to the Santa Ana Freeway, out to the Orange freeway, up to Anaheim.


I did receive another raise, this one in June of ‘63. It was modest, something like 3 percent. Things were slowing down now . I was going to college, having been told that furthering my education would be beneficial in my advancement at Autonetics. I lost that raise slip.


So, when Laurella finished her college and began student teaching, we moved out to a nice house (rented) on Washington street in Orange. Orange was a quiet little town then. Like our area of Long Beach, which was called Belmont Shores, we could still walk about town in the evening and feel safe. We rented a nice 2 BR house, with a patio…for something like $125 per month. That was “HOUSE.”  It had a fireplace. We used it in the winter using wood we’d gotten from Uncle Bill’s Ranch down in Indio. Anyway, here we were, settled into Orange, comfortable.


I was still reloading ammunition and we were going out to the Mojave desert with Moose for shooting forays. His mom lived on top of the mountain between  the Santa Ana freeway and Azusa, and he lived there, so we’d meet there and go out to the desert for weekends. It was then that Laurella fell in love with the little “M1 Carbine” that Moose had. She loved that rifle. We had wonderful times weekends, out chasing rabbits.


We were close to Anaheim now. It was so much more convenient a drive. But it wasn’t to last. I was about to transfer back to Downey. Talk about an irony.


19C) The Kennedy Assassination


JFK was assassinated Friday, the 23 of November, 1963, mid-morning, Autonetics, Anaheim time. I can still remember the shock we all felt when it was announced. Unbeknownst to the rest of the world, the nation went on Red Alert at that time. It made sense considering that there had to be an almost instant transfer of power to LBJ, including the ability to defend ourselves from the Soviets. When we went on Red Alert, I called my folks and we made arrangements to leave town. I never told them specifically that we were living with SAC B-52’s loaded, but they were.


Uncle Burch Pickett had a home out on a small lake east of Joshua Tree, between  JT and 29 Palms. It has been used for years as a maneuvering area and bomb range for the USMC at the base at 29 Palms. When I was a kid we would go out there and collect spent shells and pieces of shrapnel left over from training for WWII and Korea. There were occasionally even dud bombs…and uncle Burch had a couple for show at his house on the edge of the lake. I decided that if we went over the low hills to the east of his place, we would be safe from any effects of a nuclear attack on Los Angeles, should the Soviets do it. Needless to say, I had information about which way clouds would drift after an attack.


So, when the lid came off (the public did NOT know it was a “red alert” situation) I took Laurella, joined my parents, and we camped in the lee of that hill across the dry lake from Burch’s place. It was fun, too, because we did some shooting and walking about looking for stuff. My folks were inveterate rock hounds so they looked for rocks and stuff. We stayed there all weekend, and may have stayed there even Monday, I don’t remember. Sunday was the day the  President and Khrushchev came to an agreement and Khrushchev moved the missiles out of  Cuba.


We had recently traded the Porsche in on a VW Bus. We bought it in Long Beach, and were initially pretty pleased with the machine. We’d intended to use it for camping. I’d set it up with cots in the interior, but actually we still used the Paraffin based umbrella tent we’d bought from Uncle Charlie Lingle. We’d bought all his camping gear and used it thereafter for many years. We still have bits and pieces of it, mostly in the cooking utensils.


Again, my family never knew how much I knew about the seriousness of that situation.  We went home at the end of the week and the government was continuing with LBJ at the helm, though the nation was in shock, so many of them having loved JFK.


The VW bus turned out to be a “rat” over the next few years. The factory had to replace the rear end several times, and the engine was burning valves, and being repaired on warranty.


20) Tiring - Possible Teaching of the Air Force how to Program.


Several things were taking place at Anaheim. The Hound Dog was operational. Program modifications were becoming harder to sell to the Air Force. I wasn’t on the most favored list of the present management . I was told I needed to go to college and bone up, so I did. I began a spate of Post Graduate studies with the UCLA extension program out at Buena Park. I began my studies with  Laplace Transforms in Electronic Circuits.


As it was, though, I didn’t receive a raise at the end of my 3rd year. That was the method used by management at North American when it was time for you to move on. They didn’t want to fire a person because they were too good, so they would send a message; “you need to start looking for work,” by not giving you the raise you’d expected at the end of the year. Yes, raises were annual things (or more frequent). So I began looking for work in a hurry.


Meanwhile they kept me busy preparing a full spate of lectures I was to deliver to the Air Force personnel back at Wright Patterson AFB on how to program the VERDAN computer. I did NOT want to go teach the Air Force people ANYTHING, thank you very much. That  assignment was also a message that I need to get out of there. So I called Dick Mueller. He had moved to S&ID from the Hound Dog project office.


As I said many pages before, the management had a way of telling a person their ‘parking meter’ was about to expire. It makes sense now. The Hound Dog was on the line. The only thing available was to try to talk the Air Force into more modifications. They weren’t going to do that. There were no new systems other than the Minuteman on line, so my position was no longer needed. So I received the “warning shot across the bow,” so to speak. This is the piece of paper that says “you aren’t getting a raise and you have about  6 months to find something. We don’t want to fire you, but….”




21) Looking for Work in Alaska


I was also putting out feelers and inquiries up in Alaska. I tried all kinds of  employment possibilities up there, mainly based upon Moose’s experience. He had worked on the Dew line and with RCA, who I knew well from their involvement in the tracking industry. I wasn’t having any success, though.


At Dick Mueller’s suggestion, I interviewed at S&ID and we really hit it off. I was into the Apollo/Space Systems sections where there was seemingly unending  jobs to tackle. Still, though, I was spending a lot of time with Moose, looking at Alaskan pictures, talking about starting a business in Homer…we were willing to take anything to get up there at this point. I was tiring of aerospace and sensing an end to the golden rainbow was in sight, even through the Apollo was still in planning.


22) S&ID - Space and Information Systems Division


In January of '64, I transferred to S&ID, the famous Space and Information Systems Division of NAA, and went to work in a special section, the Information Systems Division. My new Job Description was pretty general...math analyses, advanced studies and proposals, derive math models, lab research...I had a good time there...but Alaska was now pulling hard on me. I was earning the equivalent of at least $12,000 per month...but it wasn't fun. Young people were having heart attacks. I remember a guy shaped like a pear being taken out on a stretcher...34 years old, and nearly dead. NAA pioneered, though, the creation of an on site exercise facility, staffed with retired physical education types, the first corporate Heart Disease prevention program. They had steam rooms, and a 9 hole pitch and put golf course set up...and you could go work out, day or night. It did cut the heart problems according to what I've since read. By the bye...this is where I began weight lifting. The instructor taught me how to do aerobic weight more skinny kid with the pipe...We never had to leave the Security area to go work out. Just leave a message with the secretary where we'd be and go work out.


[Pix - My Job Description (I’ll just copy the hiring slip, insert it here, and talk about it)]




When I began at Autonetics I was in Building 4, which was over next to the huge Building 1 facility. When I transferred to S&ID, I was in building 5, across Imperial Blvd from the main facility. Building 6 was where I interviewed for Autonetics, Personnel having been in the West end of the Building. The facility was now all S&ID engineering offices for Information Systems.


Their job description was probably taken from a boilerplate job description book? I don’t know. I do know that I wasn’t going to do any lab research, error analysis, or the likes. I think Curt (Zoller) and Mark (Campbell) put out a job description to cover a number of areas in which they might need help. I also think Dick Mueller, who was already in the building, had something to do with my getting a job with this department. They needed someone who was good at programming, engineering, &c., because they dealt with the Apollo and other projects.


So, I had to turn in my file cabinet lock and clear security to get to S&ID security and start over with security. Little did I know how much security I as about to  get into.






Across the street from Building 5, what was once runway for Vultee, and parking facilities, for Autonetics, had now been converted to a huge tower where Apollo “Boilerplates” could be dropped on the ground or in the water to simulate ground and water landings. They were preparing to land in water, but they had to consider missing the return window and ending up on the ground somewhere. Here are pictures of the drops. I watched a number of them from our offices. I remember several of us rushing into Curt’s office to watch a drop across the street.


Our engineers didn’t miss a thing. Every aspect of the trip that Ken Gow had dictated some 3 years before was now being tested, either here or at Rocketdyne, out in Idaho, you name it. The main engines were so loud they were tested out in the Mojave east of the 4 corners junction.


[picture - Artists conception of drop facility]


[picture - Actual drop across Imperial from Building 6. I might have watched this one because I saw quite a few]




Yes, the smog was that bad in those days. It was terrible. My Uncle Art, head of the Los Angeles Water District, always asserted that the smog was the result of the refineries in the area, and believe me, Downey was within smoke distance of all the coastal refineries.




For a few months I was working on the "Moonglow" computer program to be used for the Apollo. It had been designed by MIT. I was overwhelmed with it. It wouldn't have worked in a million years. I was very worried about the program, and losing my zeal for the whole thing. Their keyboard entries were called “nouns” and “verbs,” depending on whether they were doing something or entering some fact. I couldn’t believe such a  complex computer could be expected to be useful with test pilots. I was very depressed by this thing because I couldn’t get my brain around the theory of its operation. The computer was purely theoretical an so its programming was similarly theoretical. NASA documentation on-line shows that they were already considering the use of the IBM computer for several Lunar Stages.


I must mention here that when the MIT computer was found to be unsatisfactory, IBM was engaged to produce a “solid state” computer for the mission. The IBM computer memory was made of TOROIDS, mind you.  They were wired in such a was as to be programmed by maintaining their state, as toroids are wont to do, keeping their magnetism within. There was a TV program on a while back showing a lady making the Toroidal memory by hand.


I also had some input in the team that designed the "Apollo Astronaut Part Task Trainer," particularly when I shot down their idea of driving the trainer with screw drives over mock landscapes, pointing out the slop in screw systems. I believe that is where they switched to hydraulics. Eventually, though, the Trainer was dropped from the program.


My other regret was that we could go from our facility in Downey over to Rocketdyne and see the H-1engines tested for the Apollo.  I believe that we could have also gone out to the site in the Mojave where the F-1 was tested. I couldn't go because I was so busy on the SSGS. Would you believe that they have since lost all the plans for all the Apollo, including those magnificent engines? I've always said, "check with the Soviets. They've got copies of it all." Not very funny, huh.


I remember that at that time they were using the fuel turbines to pump water down the flame chute to keep the engines from ripping up the concrete. That way they could test the fuel pumps for full capacity pumping.


I think it was about this time, at S&ID,  that I first saw the “Minerva” (mini-VERDAN) that Autonetics was playing with. It was the size of a shoe box…I would guess it was the predecessor to improved Minuteman computers, as well, being one order of shrinkage over the VERDAN.



24)  SSGS -  (Standardized Space Guidance System)


I worked on a very classified project called the SSGS (Standardized Space Guidance System). Suddenly I was on the distribution list for documentation, right under Von Braun...and assembling huge project proposals.


The objective of the SSGS was for one manufacturer (us, hopefully) to be able to provide one guidance and navigation system that would work in any vehicle, be it submarine, airborne, ballistic, or space. That meant that we had to list all the environmental effects on a guidance system, and show how our system would survive them and provide good self contained operation. It meant the guidance system would have to be able to withstand  cosmic particles, heat, vacuum, &c. To do so, we really had to compile all the things we knew about the environment, and all the things available on surveillance, ranging from the DEW line, to BMEWS, to orbital photography (which wasn’t being done, but sure was being planned on).


I was very good at assembling huge projects. I had proven that with my massive programs on Hound Dog. So Campbell, my boss, and others, decided I should be in charge of assembling the SSGS proposal document for delivery to Aerospace Corporation (the wing of DOD that handled scientific programs). They put me right under Werner Von Braun on his distribution list for documentation from NASA on all the systems being proposed for the future.  This stuff was all future, of course, because we were trying to anticipate all the uses that would come up for guidance and navigation systems, from traveling to the moon to orbital spying, to orbital space stations, to supersonic spying…and, of course, the future sea and air systems that were being considered.


So I would get documents in from JPL, NASA,  TRW/STL, Aerospace, Rand…and I would have to route them to the appropriate scientist who would need them to extract “outside” and “inside” information about a guidance system in that project. I would then get the extracted data from the scientists and feed it into the appropriate portion of the proposal. The proposal looked like a hyper-test…hundreds of pages of “fill in the blanks” for project environments, needs, equipment. So I would have to take the data and write it into the blanks in the proposal. I would also have to feed additional sheets, citations, and the likes for each of the sections of the proposal. This meant that I had to have at least a working knowledge of every subject being covered in the proposal, or, for sure, learn about it very quickly.


One of the things I remember clearly was supplying and receiving information to one Dr. Hap Arnold. He was the son of the “Hap Arnold” of WWII fame. The son was a physicist. We also had a fellow, Gary Andrews, who was a specialist in fuels. It was he who explained to me the meaning of Hypergolic, and such terminology as UMDH (Unsymmetrical Di-ethyl Hydrazine….and I didn’t look it up on the internet, so I may have said that wrong. Remember, this is a fun “recall” on my part, not a technical document).


But, I had a chart of personnel for a long time that showed my name under Von Braun’s. It had been passed out to Campbell’s group so everyone would know who was taking care of documentation. It was there I learnt to have blue prints made and run…we had a HUGE printing facility on the first floor next to the IBM 7094 room…they would run a blue-print 12 inches by “run” that would go 8 feet, in a heart beat. Yes, there were people who blue-printed stuff 15 or 20 feet long on one sheet. We were no small facility.


About that time, though, there was a need for data on extraterrestrial effects on space systems and men. I then took a course with UCLA called Space Physics. The course was put together by Drs LeGalley and Rosen of TRW/Space Technology. The lecturers for the course included  Dr. Sydney Chapman (the father of Astrophysics at the University of Alaska) and Larmore (of Lockheed fame). It was there that I gathered information to feed into the SSGS proposal on auroral effects, Bremstrahllung (secondary radiation), radiation effects on men (dosimetry) and electronic systems like our guidance and navigation systems.


This course made me somewhat of an amateur expert on the Aurora, the Earth’s Magnetosphere, and solar mechanics. I’ll speak of the coursework again, when I talk about the “Alaska urge,” below.

It was also there, providing information for the SSGS, that I learnt that on the average the Eurasian Continent was covered with cloud 50% of the time. Of course you might wonder why we ‘d be concerned with that. There were no orbiting satellites, were there? Well, there were sure going to be some. They were already on the boards. Gary Power’s U-2 had already been knocked out of the sky, and the U-2 had already done some very good work in Cuba, finding Khrushchev’s missiles.


All in all, I assembled information about metallurgy and radiation, wiring and radiation, g-forces and guidance systems, radiation hardening of circuitry. It went on and on.  I had somewhere near 250 highly classified documents in my care at all times. I would get them in, sign for them, then get them to the guys who needed them for their part in the proposal. Then I’d have to get them back, and sign them off. That is why, when I left NAA, I was in the unusual position of having to show security signed off security cards for hundreds of documents.  Other guys had left, only to find one document was unaccounted for. They would have to come back to the plant, and, by-damn, find it or else. I had to clear the plant with 250 or more signed off. I did it, too. I kept those signed security cards in our desk for 18 years. Mom probably remembers them but not what they were for. Their titles usually weren’t classified. Classified titles were even  more thoroughly controlled. Now that I think about it, we had a unit in our division called “Document Control.” They were the document cops, so to speak.


One of the very FEW things I saved from those days (a piece of the Apollo capsule heat shield titanium webbing, a gimble encoder I bought at NAA surplus, and some small printed circuit examples) was a picture of the FIRST proposed Space Shuttle. We had to have this picture as part of our SSGS proposal in terms of having a guidance system for a “shuttle device.“ So our group had a resident artist, so I "commissioned" him to draw a 6 man shuttle based on the Apollo Command Module. I kept a photograph of the picture he drew (I wish we had the picture - it was awesome). The photo was on display in my classrooms for YEARS, so it is a bit "beat." The other copies of the drawing went into the SSGS proposal and probably into some shredder many decades ago.


[Picture- Space Shuttle] If you would like to see a full size copy of

the photo, click on the picture




Many of us ("rocket scientists") were against the Shuttle design chosen some years ago because it was considered bad science to attach any payloads to the side of boosters. The safest mode of transport was always considered having the payload on TOP of the booster, where it could be detached and de-boosted should the need arise. One did not have to deal with the immense torques on side mounted devices, the shift of the center of gravity, and, as we well know, the horrors of having debris impact the payload during boost and insertion.


So, we now find that the astronauts and Columbia investigation team are leaning toward the original concept my group and company suggested for shuttles: Apollo-like capsule may replace shuttle.


24A) A bit more about security..


Funny thing, though, in retrospect. When I was at Autonetics, everything was about security. Our file cabinets all had “crash bars” on them with security locks that were signed out to us. Every night the security guards (armed) would come through the plant and check every crash bar. If yours was neglectfully left unlocked, you got a security violation on the bosses desk. We were paranoid about being “gigged” for leaving a bar open or leaving a classified document on our desks.


Anyway…one day,  a Fed walked right in to the headquarters building of S&ID. He walked into the headquarters offices, walked up to a secretary who had a file cabinet open. He started shouting…”give me that document. Give it to me NOW. Quick….” The poor lady handed him the document and he walked out of the PLANT with it. Get THIS….it was a highly classified document for the brand spanking new Minuteman Program


You talk about the stuff hitting the fan. This guy had gotten in and out of the main building,  main entrance with a classified document concerning the most sophisticated ballistic missile on the planet. Well, they  nearly cancelled our security status. They threatened our contracts. But, in the long run, you can guess it…our security program went up several orders of power, exponentially. The guards were even shaking locks on the crash bars.


Picture- security card for padlock


We still have a saying, though, when we saw the Soviets building a copy of the Air Craft Carrier Enterprise, right down to the nuts and bolts…if you lose a document, just go to the Soviets. They have copies of all of it. Our security meant absolutely NOTHING.


They say we can’t find the designs for the F-1 Engines Rocketdyne built for the Saturn booster. Immediately a bunch of us said, the Iron Curtain is down. Just ask the Russians for copies of the plans. You can be they have all of them.


By this time I had applied to the Arctic Institute for work. I was so impressed with Dr. Chapman at the Space Physics lectures. He announced at one of the lectures that he had conferred full professorship upon Dr. Sun Ichi Akasofu, a new Geophysical Institute. Akasofu had identified the mechanism by which energy was transferred from the Solar Wind to the Magnetosphere.


25A) University work - Space Physics - SSGS


As I said above, at that time I was taking some classes, including studies of Space Science, so my specialty migrated to Extra-terrestrial effects on men and equipment and the going‘s on of aurorae. I also became knowledgeable about  dosimetry, nuclear overblast and radiation pulses, auroral particle flux, and Bremstrahllung, amongst other things. Bremstrahllungen was so powerful that it actually melted little paths in the astronaut's plastic helmets and they would see flashes as the radiation whacked their optic nerves.


Laurella bought me a set of the “holy grail” of Space Physics. The Cambridge editions of auroral research by Chapman and Bartels, among others.  I used them quite a bit, including on the SSGS program if I remember correctly. They had frequencies of events in them, altitudes, particle densities ( as far as balloons could go up in the atmosphere).


We actually had to be concerned with these effects on our proposed guidance systems.  Not only would dosimetry be a problem, so would magnetic fields, or the lack thereof. The guidance system would be going through  areas having vibrating magnetic fields. What would be the results?


I learned a lot about aurora borealis, and australis. I saw pictures of them and movies. I also learned a lot of the math involved in the magnetosphere. I had studied Maxwell’s Equations in vector analysis, so when we were talking about the flux of particles through the magnetosphere , atmosphere, or space vehicles, I was pretty well informed.


I knew, too, that aurorae were quite frequent in Alaska. Moose had kept me in touch with Alaskan beauty that included aurorae. I had seen movies of them in my Space Physics course, because they were getting movies of them at the Geophysical Institute in Fairbanks.


I was still assembling the SSGS proposal in June. I got a modest raise, enough to tell me that I was still in favor in the building.





25B) Project Fire Re-Entry Vehicle.

Somewhere during this period, Dick Mueller asked me to write a proposal for the Project Fire Re-Entry Vehicle. The project had been ongoing for quite a while, and quite a few contractors were involved in various aspects of the project. This “shot” was to test the Apollo Heat Shield, a portion of which I had been given just for a “keep-sake.” I had to write a proposal that described what would happen to the heat shield in terms of ablation of the material, ionization of the material, and the shroud of ionization that would  envelop the space craft at that velocity (about  29,000 feet per second - that would be about 5 times the speed of a 30-06 bullet, or 5.5 miles per SECOND).


Other portions of Project Fire were intended to test other portions of the Spacecraft and conditions it would incur during cis-earth activity. The project used a “Little Joe” missile for boosting, and the “Little Joe” was built by North American.


I spent several days considering everything I knew about ionization, radio wave absorption, and the likes, and cobbled together several pages of proposal. Dick took it, read it, then came back to me and plopped down at my desk. “You need to re-write this so it is about a page long.” I was quite surprised. I asked why…it needed some explanation of the reasons for the telemetry I was proposing. He said “No, that is not how scientific proposals work.” “You write what the conditions are, and the readers are supposed to figure out what you were intending and how to do it.” “They have to take your proposal sentences and expand them to determine how to make the tests that determine the conditions you are anticipating.”


So I re-wrote the thing down to 1 page. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever cobbled together. I had to actually think about what they would think about as they read my proposal, and write it so they would come up with the proper tests and proper methods to accomplish them.

I didn’t really enjoy writing  the “Project Fire” proposal. I guess they used it, or parts of it. I’m sure they combined parts of my proposal with others, or at least, compared them. The actual test of the heat shield was done in 1965, according to NASA. They didn’t make 29,000 fps, they only went for 25,500.…aw shucks.


26) Alaska calls more and more


I was beginning to see that the Aerospace Business was NOT going to last forever. The Apollo thing was purely political. It was going to end...and I was headed for one "grant" project after another, until the money died out. About that time Howard "Moose" Thornburg and I talked about going to Alaska. Howard had gotten me interested in Alaska in '61 as he and I used to go shooting together out in the Mojave. He had showed Laurella and me slide show after slide show of Homer and other parts of Alaska. We even talked about going into business together in Homer…perhaps radar and radio repair for the fishermen in the area.


Howard had been to Alaska and was going back. I fell in love with the pictures. So, Laurella and I decided I'd quit the aerospace industry as soon as I could get a job in Alaska. She was finishing her college and getting her teaching certificate, so we were looking for aerospace jobs for me, and teaching jobs for her.


Somewhere in this time I saw the offering of a position at the Geophysical Institute in Fairbanks. I immediately applied for the position. They were looking for someone who was familiar with telemetry, computer systems, the aurorae and rocketry. I was a natural. I was really hoping to get that position. Laurella could teach in Fairbanks and I could work at the Institute. I could even pursue a Doctorate in the subject. Why not?


I received a job offer in late '63 to take part in the system development of the auroral research facility at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.  Then, shortly after, I received an apology. That job fell through with a National Science Foundation grant cut during the recession that was starting.


But, we were on our way. Laurella was applying for teaching positions on the Kenai Peninsula. I was applying for teaching, too. Sterling Sears, then superintendent of the Kenai Schools, was trying even to get us a job in Seldovia. He felt that with my experience in the aerospace industry, I should be able to get a job teaching.

I was still applying to technical firms, though. Howard had worked for RCA on the BMEWS line, so I tried to get into the facility in Homer. Unfortunately, Homer was the highest step on the system, so people who had been  with RCA a while migrated to Homer as the “ring on the merry-go-round.” I also applied, even, for work Thule, Greenland. I’m glad I didn’t get it.


27) That night at  “Brigadoon”


Laurella, her mom, Moose and  I were at a play, Brigadoon, in Anaheim or Buena Park. We had  JUST received a job offer to go to Anchorage. Laurella had received an offer to teach at East High school in Anchorage. It was there that we made the decision to go. It was time to go to Alaska. I had called Bob Hall in Anchorage. He thought I could be a teacher there. The head of teaching training seemed to think there would be no problem. We’d try it for a year, and if we didn’t like it, we’d come back and I’d go back to NAA.


When management at S&ID found out I was resigning, they offered me a pretty substantial raise in pay.


Then, that not successful, they offered me a position upon return, should we decide not to stay in Alaska. Actually, we'd opted to "try it for one year," so Mark Campbell said, "You come BACK here, and we'll be waiting." Wasn't going to happen. My mind was made up. Curt Zoller said the same thing. I can still remember how Curt and Mark both exclaimed how much they envied me for making such a bold move. They said they would LOVE to do something like that, but it just wasn’t in the cards.


I had a huge job. I had to prove I had returned all the secret documents in my SSGS inventory. Fortunately for me, I was pretty fastidious about record keeping. I got this letter from Security.





Here is the note I wrote on the back when I returned this form to Security with all the cleared document receipts.





One of the last things I did, besides clear hundreds of Secret and Classified documents with Security, was walk over to Building One, now clear of Hound Dog missiles, and walk out amongst the Apollo "Boilerplates" (the Command Modules that would soon go to the Moon, and be used for various kinds of tests). I even climbed a ladder and peeked inside one that was in the process of being wired. That Friday, though, we were packing in my folks back yard, and heading for Alaska. End of the first era of the Pickett pioneering life.


I took the security cards with me to Alaska, and some other stuff. Can you imagine living in a 12x18 cabin, with no water or electricity, and in your beautiful oak desk, a carefully bundled package of library type cards, each with some incredible title from the defense electronics space environment, stuffed away in a little letter cubicle, waiting to expire. They did, and went into a stove some years later.


There are no decent pictures of the plant full of Apollo boilerplates. So that is only a memory I have.


I resigned the field in August of 1964. Because I had not used a bunch of vacation or sick leave, I had a fist-full of checks to take with me, helping us to get started in Alaska. It was going to be a lot less money, but I found myself the last several months at NAA, wandering about the building quite frequently, bored, and tired of what I was seeing as NASA wormed its way into the business. I had finished SSGS and personally driven the packages over to Aerospace  Corporation near LAX. I had to get special permission from Security to take the documents out, and deliver them. But, I was done.





You see that I had 80 hours of unused vacation, and the reason I left was “Better type of work.” I think that was a bit harsh, but it reflected my feelings about this industry. It didn’t have the magic it had when I was mightily struggling with the Hound Dog. Maybe it was me? I think I was a pioneer, and pioneers and miners have this thing of moving on after they make a discovery.


I had no security issues. I was clear and I was on my way. There is, somewhere, a picture of us loading our VW at my folks place that week. We were on our way north to Alaska..







We'd just arrived in Alaska to find out, to my joy, that the industry had canned the Moonglow and had IBM build a special all Toroidal memory computer for the Apollo. It was a jewel and worked perfectly. Also, when Moose left Autonetics and came to Alaska to visit the Christmas of ‘64, he told us that the B-70 took off from Palmdale, lifting the pavement off the highway next to the runway as it climbed at its extreme angle, into the history books. That was the highway past Palmdale airport that Moose, Laurella and I had driven back and forth so many times on our way to hunt rabbits on the Mojave.  I was still not sorry I left, though.


                                                BEAUTY UNPRECIDENTED



I would guess the reader would wonder how in the world I could have learnt so much in so little time. I worked in the aerospace industry at NAA for 4 years. At one time I had a week by week list of the overtime I’d put in on the job. If you look at the CEL section above, you’ll see that I did so much overtime that my pay level had to be approved by  the president of Autonetics.


Over the 4 years I kept detailed records of several things. One was my abysmal golf scores at pitch and putt, which I carefully graphed….the other was my weekly time on the job. My calculations show that I averaged over 80 hours per week. Mind you, that includes the week Laurella and I took off for our honeymoon. Here’s the deal. 40 hours per week is a normal week. It is fair to say that I actually worked there over 8 years. Now, those of you who were in the service would understand that under this kind of pressure, a person can learn far more than normal. So, my ability to remember places and environments, added to a fair memory, and I really accumulated a huge body of knowledge.


That ended the aerospace years, and began the Alaska years, and more pioneering. We've been pioneering ever since.

Most Sincerely,

Mike Pickett, NAA - 444691

Aka Gruffy








Addendum #1 - The INS Textbook


Across the page is a picture of the cover of the Textbook I was given when I first came into my group. As I said, we attended classes, and  I recall this being either the textbook we were given for the class, or shortly afterwards. I know we had a lot of hand-outs as well, covering various Math of gyroscopes and Pendulous Integrating Gyroscopic Accelerometers.


We learned in detail about the right hand rule of the precession of a gyroscope when it received forces normal to its spin axis. I recall that because when I later went into teaching and was teaching physical science, we had little gyros for the students to play with, and I used my "expertise" to show them just why a gyro would stay in various positions, including when it was on a string.


We also learned about gyro mass unbalance, an inherent  problem with all gyros, and how that would cause a gyro to drift, or, in other words, precess. We learned how the Inertial System was controlled by "torquing" the gimbal upon which the gyro was mounted. The amount of torque it took to keep the gyro in its proper position was a measure of both the unbalance, and the change of position in inertial space. As the missile moved, the gyro wanted to stay where it was before. That would tell us how fast the missile was moving if we could factor out the mass unbalance.


We had specific programs for the VERDAN to use on the inertial system to determine extremely precisely the amount of drift on all three axes of the system caused by gyro mass unbalance. Those drift rates would then be fed into the guidance matrix (equations) to ferret out the exact position of the missile in space.


As I said before, the gyros were also reversed every 2 minutes, and re-spooled in the opposite direction so that the mass unbalance drift rates in one direction would cancel out the same drift rates in the other direction. This, too, added a great deal of accuracy to the system.


All this was covered in detail in our classes. I remember being taught by George Katchikas, one of the authors of the book, Don Wong, and others.


I do not  remember how long the classes went on. It couldn't have been too long because we were soon off to Bendix G-15 school across the valley. All the while I was already beginning to program and make changes to programs. I was obviously far more fluent with the electro-mechanical side of this process than the mathematics  with which Don Pierson, Ray Schmidt and others were so proficient.


The clases reviewed binary and octal math, but mostly how to use the Friden Calculators to convert decimal to octal or binary by the process of "residues." It was slow but it worked.


I will quite probably see if there is some Museum associated with this era of the aerospace program that would like to have this book in their inventory. We shall see.














Addendum #2 The DDA Code Wheel or "Coder"


I came away from Autonetics with two code wheels. One was a wheel for the GP (General Purpose) portion of the VERDAN, and one  was for the DDA. I saw a cool note on the AMMS  (Airborne Missile Maintenance Squadron) web page somewhere asking if anyone knew how to "use one of these things."


Actually I did know how to use one. I wasn't very good at its manipulation because I wasn't involved with the flight programs. This device is all about programming the DDA for the VERDAN. It is laid out somewhat  the same as the read heads are laid out on the rotating disk memory of the VERDAN. The idea is to get computations that are rolling serially and parallel from one portion of the memory to the next as quickly as possible.


One side of the device has the  memory sectors laid out in octal on the rim. Then there are openings in the wheel that show what memory locations are available to you when the memory is at that location on the drum. The rest of the sectors are not available to you at that time. You want to feed outputs from one calculating location to another at that point, or soon thereafter.


The other thing to remember is that this device is operating in "Real Time." It has a clock rate that is available to the computer, so that clock rate is fed in increments to the DDA as you need it. From one little bit of time to the next is a small difference of time, called "delta t." This is perfect for Calculus fans because you can see that you can multiply "delta t" by various functions, and would be doing "integration" (as it is referred to in Calculus).


The flight equations are a series of Newtonian equations of position in space. We based ours on roll, pitch and azimuth (rather than "yaw"). Realizing that  the tangent to a point in space is the first derivative of the function, and the rate of change of that tangent is acceleration, you have the integration of acceleration giving you a position in space, which , when you have initial conditions, gives you present position on the planet in terms of Latitude and Longitude. So, the DDA was able to take inputs from the guidance system and multiply them by "delta t" and get all kinds of position and velocity data, along with distances to target and the likes. That's enough of that, technically.


Now on the back of the "coder" you'll see some boxes with information in them that relates to

various inputs that come into the computer from the guidance system,  and the navigator and astrotracker (before launch). Those inputs come into specific locations as digital conversions of analog voltages, or pulses from various pulse driven devices, like the gyro torquers. If you could feed that information into the integrator, of course, you would have a real time calculation going on, right in the Newtonian Matrix for flight. Some boxes describe all the inputs, their type,  where they are located in the memory when they come  in and what they look like. Others describe the logic the computer will automatically apply to some of the inputs, eliminating decisions on the part of the programmer.


One little box describes shaft/voltage. That is self explanatory. Another box, blue and large, talks about voltage in, voltage out, shaft in, shaft out, so some of these signals were "readings," and others were steering signals and guidance system control. Of course, somewhere in there was also an instruction to set off a nuclear weapon should it be authorized and the missile on target. That  would have been a a voltage output to those relays my program checked: "Arm" and "Fuze."


Some of the outputs were incremental, meaning they were pulses that drove some servo. Amongst that, of course, would be the servos that put readings on the navigator's panels. The rest is long forgotten to me.






Addendum #3 - Lunar Vehicle Guidance Study


Actually, this book  (across the page)is available on the Internet by purchasing it from some source, I don't remember which. It was unclassified when I got it. I'm presuming that it was part of the huge wad of documents that came our way during the SSGS studies. I received scores of unclassified documents from all over the place, including Dr. Von Braun's offices at Huntsville. I'm quite sure that what happened with this one was that I asked what to do with it and was told, "you can either throw it away, or you can keep it." I chose to keep it.


I am glad I did. This document has been in the hands of literally thousands of students over the years. I would pass it out at the end of the semester in every class so they could see the kinds of things that were actually done with the foundation of science and math they'd covered in my classes.

Most of them were, in one way or another, impressed, even if it was only that they were handling something from the aerospace industry.


I may or may not keep it. I haven't decided. Right now, as long as I am teaching it will continue to be circulated to my classes. The Junior College students are pretty impressed because they realize the amount of education it took to produce documents like this. They also realize the incredible thing we did with the Apollo and all other space projects, much less our defense projects.


This book was written by and produced by General Dynamics/Astronautics of San Diego.


I just wish there was some way to get a copy of the document Ken Gow dictated which, in turn,was taken by "Dutch Kindleberger" back to Curtis LeMay, wherein we (North American Aviation) gathered in the Apollo contract. I also often wonder what ever happened to Ken Gow. The few  folks with whom I've been in contact don't know.


I'm adding a couple of blank pages, just for me to scribble in any more things I might remember...


When I was at Burnell, working on the Navajo, we had an employee whose name was Heinrich Frey, so he claimed. He claimed to have been an American born  German who was high in the military and invoved in the siege of Leningrad. He knew an awful lot about the military. Claimed he was also involved in the attack on Poland. He was "Fired" by Hitler, and put on the front in Italy, where he was gravely wounded. I believe the bit about the wounds, because he showed us ...he was all torn up. Anyway, he was imprisoned in England, and demanded to be heard about his American citizenship.


We called him Henry. He claimed to have had an affair with Rita Streich, who was one of the darlings of the Nazi regime. He was trained as an attorney in Germany when he went to war, but was also supposedly a military officer. I recall him living in a nice area of East LA, where we went, once for a party. He got pretty lit one night, and told us all this stuff, and his wife corroborated it. Last I heard he was going to renew his law degree at USC or somewhere. What a story...or what a story teller. We'll never know.




I just remembered another member of our group, Arnie Schroeder. I believe that was his last name. It was he who would add huge  columns of multi-digit numbers, one pass, and get the correct answer. He loved to show  it, and we'd occasionally encourage him by cobbling together a bunch of numbers.


I finally remembered the name of the German fellow who sat in front of me and took care of the VERDAN test tape. His name was Earnst Schoernig. We called him, at his request, Earnie. I can't tell if I spelled his last name correctly, but this sure seemed correct.


Two other engineers suddenly popped up in my memory, Bill Ward and Bill Sward. I can't remember much about Bill Ward, but I do remember Bill Sward as a very friendly fellow. I believe he worked on the Naval systems, but  can't remember any more.


I think I'll have to publish this thing now...I know more will pop into my mind. I will at least get them penciled into the kids' copy. Right now I am toying with the notion of printing a copy for the Downey Museum that is concentrating on  NAA history. I've been in touch with their director and he wants to talk about accumulating some  of the goodies I have, and I really think that is the best place for them to be stored. There is a meeting this fall of the denizens of Group 69, and I'd like to attend. I will see what I can put together. It means missing several classes, but I think I can manage it. (9/11/08)