First-Hand:The Trident Submarine Communication System and Other Innovations in Electronics and Communications Engineering
Submitted by Elias Weinberger
When I graduated from high school, it was January, 1937 and I had just turned sixteen. The depression was still around in all its glory and things at my house were pretty bad economically. I wanted to go to college and my parents wanted me to go. I registered at Brooklyn College. I had made up my mind that I was going to major in chemistry and that is what I did. However, when it came to buying the necessary books and paying the necessary lab fees, I found the money required was not available.
It almost broke my parents' hearts but I managed to get a job in a factory earning about ten dollars per week and transferred to night classes. During the next two years, I earned approximately twenty-three credits. Working in a factory for eight to ten hours a day and trying to stay awake in lectures was just too much, I finally had to call it quits. I was earning about twenty dollars per week by then and was the main breadwinner of the household.
The next big event was WWII. I had just turned twenty-one and had applied for a job in Washington, DC. In January, 1942, I was called to Washington where I started to work for the War Production Board as a clerk. I was drafted into the Army in December, 1942. After going to school for electronics (where I also did some teaching in math), I was sent overseas in March, 1944 to join the 51st Fighter Control Squadron. Working with "Merrill's Marauders," we chased the Japanese out of India and then out of Burma when the war ended in August, 1945.
During the time spent in the China, Burma, India (CBI) Theater of operations, I wrote to a wonderful young lady for about two years. Upon arriving home in 1946, I took a trip up to New York where she was living at the time. We met for the first time on February 14, 1946, St. Valentine's Day. On June 23, 1946, we were married and went to Washington, DC, to live.
My first inclination was to forget about my promise to myself about finishing college, but my wife wouldn't hear of it. After being out of school for about nine years, I registered at George Washington University, College of Engineering, under the GI Bill. To my surprise, I was accepted in February, 1947. My original plan of being a chemical engineer had been modified; I was now going for electrical engineering in electronics. Graduation came in May, 1950 and I got my BEE degree which required one hundred and fifty-five credits.
Throughout my Army career (and now in my university work), I kept specializing in one aspect of electronics, which was communications. That was how I wanted to apply myself. I began looking for a position in the field of communications electronics, but 1950 seemed to be a slump year for hiring electronic engineers. I tried all of the big firms but all I was offered was a job as a lab technician. I kept turning these down. After traveling up and down the east coast, my wife and I returned to Washington. I was hired in September, 1950 by the Civil Aeronautics Administration as a communications engineer. I was put in charge of the "Overseas Foreign Aeronautical Communications Stations (OFACS)."
I found myself, at the age of forty-four, beginning to worry about retirement, especially with sixteen years of U.S. government employment under my belt. I made some calls to Washington, DC, and found that the Defense Communications Agency (DCA) was looking to hire a new Research and Development Chief for the Planning Division. I sent my application in.
After a very interesting interview, I was told that the position was mine. Even though this was a "supergrade" job, it was still quite a cut in salary from the job in Ohio. Considering the other factors, however, the reduction in salary turned out to be very minor. I spent the next five happy years at DCA.
I then accepted a request from the Navy Department's Naval Electronic Systems Command (NAVELEX) to return to the Navy to take over the design of the communication system for the Trident Submarine. I acted for the Chief of NAVELEX on the staff of Admiral Lyons, who was the project officer for the Trident Submarine. The Trident Submarine communication system is now aboard the submarine in all its glory. It was one of the few triumphs of my career.
I was always very careful not to do anything unethical. If I thought something was not ethical, I would discuss it with the supervisor before taking any action. I can remember only one case in my career while a young engineer. I was the project engineer for the procurement of several hundred special communication devices from a small firm in the New York area.
Upon visiting the firm to determine progress on the contract, I discovered that the owner was using nonapproved parts in the unit. I informed him that this was not acceptable. After a long and loud discussion, he offered me what appeared to be a bribe. (Although, I never did open the envelope.) I left the factory, returned to Washington, informed my supervisor of the incident and asked to be taken off the project. One of my colleagues was assigned the project and I briefed him on what I had found at the plant. That particular contract was never completed! That is as close as I ever came to an unethical situation.