First-Hand:Recollections on Education and Missile Guidance Systems

Submitted by Emil Gaynor

I honestly cannot remember when I first thought about becoming an engineer. It must have been when I was about ten. I tried putting together a telegraph set from nails, scrounged wire, some pieces of a tin can and an old 1.5 volt dry cell (# 6). I started checking out electrical texts from the library even though I couldn't understand them. This all took place in the Big Apple (New York City) where we were all severely impoverished by the depression.

The junior high school had some excellent shop courses that added to the urge to be an engineer. I was extremely fortunate in being able to go to the Brooklyn Children's Museum-an hour's subway ride from the Bronx where I lived. This outstanding facility was a hands-on place. Here we learned about and handled different kinds of reptiles, worked with microscopes, tested many minerals for hardness and their specific gravity, along with studying insects and birds. This was a very important step in learning how to learn.

Unfortunately, while I was cultivating this varied interest in scientific and technical things, I neglected my other studies which I found quite boring. As a result, my mother was called to the school on several occasions to hear how bad a student I was. My parents, however, were very supportive and in spite of severe economic problems managed to buy me a microscope and, more importantly, a super regenerative radio receiver kit.

I decided to go to Stuyvesant High School (a technical high school) so I had to take an entrance exam. My homeroom teacher told me I wouldn't make it and not to go. I ignored her, played hookey, and took and passed the exam.

The school in downtown New York had a superb and dedicated faculty and outstanding labs. One of the teachers who became a lifelong mentor and friend ran an after school lab in physics and electronics. We spent our afternoons doing some very fascinating things.

As I approached graduation, I attended a session sponsored by the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn to attract students. They held an essay contest to describe why we wanted to be engineers. I entered and won a slide rule that is a keepsake. Not being able to pay the tuition, I used the excellent machine shop training to get a job in a tool room. I enrolled in Poly's night school.

Later I went to work for the old Federal Telephone and Radio Company in New Jersey. This resulted in a very long and time consuming commute that allowed me to catch up on homework and reading. The U.S. was now involved in World War II. I was offered a job as a tool designer with the Consolidated Aircraft Co. (now General Dynamics) in San Diego, CA. Knowing I would soon be drafted, I went to the west coast for about ten months before Uncle Sam called me.

I was offered a scholarship by Westinghouse for a master's degree. However, I decided it was not fair to my wife so I signed up for night school and went to work. During the three years it took me, I worked as a research and development engineer for the ADT Company and the Fairchild Guided Missiles Division.

There it was my very good fortune to work on ferrite microwave devices, and the first transistor circuit to fly on a U.S. missile (the Lark). Because transistors were so new, we had to do our own testing and devised a test set that was the first on the market. Fairchild was not really interested in making them. So we built and sold twenty-five ourselves and then dropped it.

With some prompting by a colleague who had gone to RCA, I applied and got a job at the Moorestown facility. There I took the lead in building a hybrid fire control computer for the Talos weapon system. It was made of relays, crossbar switches, and the usual complex of servos and resolvers. After that I was sent to the West Coast facility, now General Dynamics, to work on the launch control system for the Atlas missile. My next assignment was back in Moorestown to design and build the various display systems for the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS). I became a third level manager. We built the first computer to operate with no scheduled downtime. It was a very successful design thanks to some very talented designers and enough government funding to allow adequate testing of the components. As the program neared completion, I was assigned to complete a large space chamber at RCA, East Windsor-that was exciting. Looking for new programs became a major part of my work. This was my first exposure to marketing, which would evolve into my later career activities.