First-Hand:Wartime Work on Missile Guidance to Federal Telecommunications System
Submitted by M. Lloyd Bond
And then came THE WAR. On December 8, 1941, I volunteered to the Navy. Because radio (soon to be called "electronic") engineers were so scarce, I was an ensign! My work was almost entirely engineering. And, in my four plus years in the Navy, I was never aboard a ship (except for one three hour visit). My toughest challenge was setting up a specialized navigation radio equipment training school, and becoming its Superintendent of Training. Being quite inexperienced in management, I stepped on lots of toes and ruffled a lot of feathers. However, I gradually got promotions in spite of myself.
The first job I landed was as a test engineer (sic) at Cornell Dubilier testing X-ray system capacitors. (This was in 1938.) The training was minimal-enough to accent the safety provisions of working with tens and hundreds of thousands of volts. This was emphatically NOT what I had expected-but I had to eat! On eighteen dollars a week, I paid room and board, came home on weekends, and even had enough money (on occasion) for a date.
However, a few months on the job, with complete boredom arising, led me to quit. For a little while, until I could land a better job, I fixed radios for a living. Then, in 1939, I became an associate in a consulting firm that designed broadcast antenna systems and performed proof-of-performance tests for broadcast stations. Now, this was real engineering. My boss was attentive and caring, teaching me the nuances and the shortcuts, the necessities for doing a good job. The pay was GREAT (forty dollars a week)!
In the late '40s, my work was generally in engineering design under military contracts with the final job (of the '40s) as Project Engineer on a missile guidance system. Unrealistic deadlines led to enormous amounts of overtime-all unpaid. When the group which I directed complained, there was a discussion between the plant manager and myself which led to the comment, "If you make an official complaint about unpaid overtime, you'll get it, but you will not have a job any longer." There were also major shortcuts in quality control tests resulting in improper release of missile units. It was necessary to resort to personal calls (off hours) to the government's Project Manager. He then just "happened to" drop in to witness tests of units about to be released for flight testing. Whistle blowing was averted this way.
The sixties saw a major change. I became a senior appointed government official in Communications (technical) and was responsible for the design, execution, and operation of the Federal Telecommunications System (FTS) and the Advanced Record System. The civil service pay was far less than what I had been receiving before joining the government, but the training, responsibility, and challenges were the best I had during my career. After Kennedy's death, the challenges disappeared since LBJ's government was predominantly politically (and not technically) motivated. In the latter half of the sixties, I gravitated towards marketing administration clearly technical and needing engineering background, but not of a design nature. I had become too "old and dated" in my learning to continue in engineering or engineering management. The money in marketing administration was very good, however.
The FTS system has to be the landmark of my career while the experiences in training while in the Navy, the worst. Yet I enjoyed engineering so much that I probably would not have done anything differently (except modify my aggressive personality). The last seven or eight years before retirement were frustrating. I wanted to use my technical expertise in communications more than being a vice president of marketing would allow. But age was a factor. Discrimination? Yes. Subtle, but there nevertheless. Was I ready for retirement? I asked for it! Am I enjoying it? Yes, thanks to a reasonably satisfactory income (almost all of it NOT in pensions, because pensions were lost in moving from one location to another), and to reasonable health. Am I glad I was an EE ... .I mean, am? Not only glad, PROUD! Am I glad to be a Life member of IEEE? Naturally!