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Oral-History:Peter Sandretto

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About Peter Sandretto

Peter Sandretto, a leader in aeronautical radio engineering and other electronic fields, was born in Point Canavaze, Italy. He came with his family to the US when he was six and grew up in Ladd, Illinois. He graduated from Purdue University in 1930 and worked for Bell Labs in aviation radio from 1930 to 1932. In 1932, he left Bell Labs for a position with United Airlines, where he worked until 1942. He was commissioned into the Air Force in 1942, where he was assigned as assistant chief of the radar division. Near the end of the war, Sandretto was assigned as countermeasures officer to the Seventh Air Force in the Pacific. After the war, he became director of Aviation for International Communications Labs.

The interview begins with Sandretto's early experiences in commercial radio broadcast during the late 1920s. After graduating from Purdue in 1930, he took a job in aviation radio with Bell Labs. He discusses his various projects in airline voice radio transmission, and provides a useful background of the development of United Airlines and Thorpe Hiscock's role in aviation communications. The interview continues with a discussion of Sandretto's work for United Airlines from 1932 to 1942. In 1942, Sandretto received a commission in the US Air Force. He discusses his work in the radar division as well as his work in countermeasures. The interview concludes with comments upon Sandretto's work with the organization that eventually became ITT Communications and his authorship of three engineering books, including The Principles of Aeronautical Radio Engineering, which established Sandretto's international reputation in the field.


About the Interview

PETER C. SANDRETTO: An Interview Conducted by Frank A. Polkinghorn, June 19, 1974

Interview # 018 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, Rutgers - the State University, 39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Peter C. Sandretto, an oral history conducted in 1974 by Frank A. Polkinghorn, IEEE History Center, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.


Interview

Interview: Peter C. Sandretto Interviewer: Frank A. Polkinghorn Date: 19 June 1974

Background and Education

Polkinghorn:

This is a recording of an interview made with Peter C. Sandretto, who spent most of his career with the Federal Telecommunications Labs at Nutley, New Jersey. The recording was made on June 19th, 1974 by Frank A. Polkinghorn, assisted by Ralph Lamarr. Mr. Sandretto, according to the information I obtained from the Who's Who in Engineering, you were born in Italy.

Sandretto:

That's right, in the little town, Point Canavaze, in the Piedmont. The Piedmont is probably not too well known outside of Italy, but it's the place where Italy originated. Italy only had its origin in about 1843 and all the kings of Italy had come from the Piedmont.

Polkinghorn:

How old were you when you came over here?

Sandretto:

I was six years of age. I was born while my father was on a business trip, and we lived there for a few years before he came back.

Polkinghorn:

I see. He originated here then?

Sandretto:

No, he originated in Europe, but he had been coming over here since he was about sixteen years of age.

Polkinghorn:

I see, and where did you live when you came over here?

Sandretto:

In the little town of Ladd, Illinois. It once grew to a population of five thousand.

They showed me the wireless set on the ship we came over on. So my interest in electronics went back a long time, and I was interested as a kid in amateur radio. Then the broadcasting era came along. I got a commercial operator's license, went to Purdue, and ran their broadcasting station. In all I ran some five different broadcasting stations.

Polkinghorn:

Broadcasting in those days was quite different from what it is today. Tell us a little bit about how it was.

Sandretto:

I should say it was! It was very informal, both the commercial stations I operated and the Purdue station. The Purdue station burned down, and I got the job of rebuilding it. It was one of the first crystal-controlled stations to be in operation in the midwest. The programming consisted of having some boy call up his friends to see who he could scrape up for that night. One of the important things was that either he or his girlfriend would be able to play the piano, because they had to fill in. They would rustle up a program from the rest of them.

Polkinghorn:

You graduated from Purdue in 1930.

Sandretto:

That's right.

Polkinghorn:

I see by a notice here and also by your certificate you were a member of Eta Kappa Nu, which meant that you were up among the top of the class somewhere.

Sandretto:

Yes.

Early Broadcasting Business

Polkinghorn:

Tell us some more about this broadcasting business. When you first went in, in the 1925 era they were just beginning to have remote pickups.

Sandretto:

That's right.

Polkinghorn:

Up to that time most everything was in the studio. There must have been a lot more things like that, that you could tell us about.

Sandretto:

Well, yes. The first station I operated, I should tell you a little bit of the history. I was in amateur radio and got acquainted with a man in Joliette, Illinois, the vice-president of the steel re-rolling mill. He was very much interested in radio and took a liking to me, and offered me the unpaid, unsalaried job as operator at his broadcasting station. It was at the Masonic Hall, and most of their recordings were Masonic functions. He took an interest in me, as I said, and I went to Chicago to get my broadcast operator's license. I still remember it was a very hot day in Chicago. I got into the office and went to what was called the superintendent of radio, I think, in Chicago. I said, "I want to take the examination." He said, "Sonny, we don't give amateur radio examinations on Monday." I said, "But I'm here for a broadcasting station operator's license." He said, "I think you're crazy with the heat." That was a nice welcome, and the bastard flunked me by three-tenths of a point after I had had to hold a telegraph key together with one hand because it was broken. Well, I came back three months later and passed.

My first station was called WJBA, and this program, as I said, was Masonic functions. Then I went to Purdue. I went over there to keep my license current. Incidentally, this license was signed by Herbert Hoover, the Secretary of Commerce, and the station had been built by students. It consisted of two, two-hundred-and-fifty watt tubes in parallel, and two others as modulators: two as oscillators and two as modulators. That's all there was, just an oscillator and a modulator. When it burned down we had to do it right. Using a little information from the Western Electric handbook, we built one with a kilowatt water-cooled tube. We did this after-hours and during the summer, working there for seventy five cents an hour until we got the thing done.

Polkinghorn:

It must have been about 1928 or 1930?

Sandretto:

Yes. 1928, 1929. In that era. You mentioned remote pickups. The third or fourth broadcasting station I had, in which I was operator, was WKBB, in Joliette. No, it was WCLS. WKBB was owned by an automobile parts dealer, and he arranged the programs and I ran the transmitter. The other one was called WCLS, and it was a station of the biggest department store in town. That was up on the top floor of this seven-story building, and they had a regular operator on a full-time basis. He was quitting, going to Chicago, and they asked me if I would take over the station. I said, "Well, I've already got a job as an electrician, working in the steel mill." They said, "Maybe we could work it out anyway, on a part-time basis." So I agreed to that and they said, "How much do you want?" I thought and thought about some princely sum, and I came up with fifteen dollars a week. So I had the only station in town; I could have held them up, really. They had been paying the previous operator fifty dollars a week, I came to find out. Well, I would get up early in the morning before the street-cars were running. Of course, automobiles were out of the question; people my age just didn't own them. So I would get up before the street-cars were working and go to the steel mill because they started early, and then they worked late. I think they worked twelve hours a day. I'd get home dirty, clean up, shower, and get to the broadcasting station. It was in the furniture department, so I would pull up a nice comfortable chair in front of this thing and turn it on and all the pickups were remote from a place called Delwood Park. You were right about that, remotes coming in for the first time. It was at one of those stations that the use of recordings came into being for the first time.

Polkinghorn:

You stayed with this until 1930.

Sandretto:

Until I was graduated, that's right.

Bell Labs

Aviation Radio Projects

Polkinghorn:

Yes. Then I guess that when I first met you, you were at Bell Labs in 1930-1932, and you were doing aviation radio.

Sandretto:

That's right. I came to Bell Labs on the basis that I would continue in broadcasting station work. Do you remember Roy Corum, who headed the department?

Polkinghorn:

Yes.

Sandretto:

Well, Roy said he didn't have much work, and Streibey wanted me to go into carrier on cable, and Ralph Bear had a rush job; he wanted somebody who fitted in, who knew what radio transmitting was all about. So I got into Ralph Bear's transmitter group.

Polkinghorn:

Yes, I remember him too. What were you doing in aviation at that time?

Sandretto:

We worked on a revision of the first airborne transmitter that came out of Western Electric. It was called the 8A. It was a fifty-watt tube with two fifties or one other fifty as a modulator, the so-called Heising modulation. I worked on that one, then worked on what was called an itinerant flyer's set transmitter, on a 10A, which was an airport station transmitter, and finally we wound up working for Tinus on the 13A. 13A was quite a new thing in aviation. It had nine necessary tuning adjustments, and it was multi-channel. I've forgotten, something like six channels. The airlines had had to take the 8A and modify it so that the frequency could be changed from the cockpit because as they flew along and night came they had to change to the night frequency from the day frequency. I don't know why that wasn't provided initially, but they were anxious to get something. I guess that was the reason the 8A had only one frequency. When the aircraft would land, somebody had to come out and put in a different crystal and re-tune it to the night frequency or the day frequency, as the case may be. So with the 13A you were able to select six frequencies, I think, from the cockpit.

United Airlines and 8A Transmitter

Polkinghorn:

The engineering department of the Western Electric Company did aviation radio work in World War I just as far as demonstrations were concerned. I believe they built a small amount of equipment, but am I to understand that there was practically no work done between World War I and this period, 1930 or so?

Sandretto:

Yes. I read the files the first two weeks I was at the Labs, and I recall that it only began about two years sooner than that.

Polkinghorn:

1928.

Sandretto:

They had had success with the carrier — radio to shipboard telephony — as a public service, and so they saw the aviation coming, saw some money with the long-range point of view, and said, "We ought to be in this business to make a success of supplying service to passengers flying these airplanes." So they started the study. I don't know how big the effort was, but pretty small. They went out and studied propagation, and so on. Then Thorpe Hiscock, who was then superintendent or vice president of communications for United Airlines, came to them to ask if they would make it for United. He had gone to RCA.

Polkinghorn:

At the beginning of this period or at the end of it?

Sandretto:

At the beginning of the period. Hiscock had gone to RCA first, and RCA wouldn't give him voice communications. The communications was for the pilot, and he is the one who should have it. They thought he was crazy. A pilot couldn't operate a set, and he didn't want Morse code to be used: he wanted voice. He said, "That's what the pilot can understand; he doesn't have to write it down on a pad of paper." He had good reason for doing that because in Europe, which at that time was way ahead of us in aviation, they were using manual operators, as Pan American was using manual operators. But he said, "None of that kind. This communication is for the pilot and should be by the pilot." So he went to Bell Labs and found that they were willing to try to attempt to make a crystal work in an airplane, which was quite a development at that time. He found a very receptive mood. So he gave them the first job of building a quantity. I don't know how many there were, maybe sixty or a hundred of these 8A transmitters and receivers to go with the two. I think it was S. E. Anderson who did the receivers, and D. K. Martin did the system for it. All three men were under Fran Ryan. Remember Fran Ryan?

Polkinghorn:

Oh yes, very well. Foghorn Ryan.

Sandretto:

Yes.

Polkinghorn:

As I recall it, you had certain difficulties with the airplane companies in those days because they were complaining that by the time they served meals on a plane and put radio on it, there wasn't any room for passengers.

Sandretto:

Well, that came later. They didn't worry about passengers in the year I'm talking about.

Polkinghorn:

Oh, I see.

Sandretto:

They made all their money carrying mail.

Polkinghorn:

I see.

Sandretto:

And you think that that's bad? United had an airplane called the 40B2 and another called the 40B4, in which the pilot had his head out of the cockpit and the passengers sat on the floor with their legs stretched out, one on either side of the airplane. They couldn't even communicate. The 40B4 was the same arrangement, but they had four persons instead of only two.

Passenger Air Travel

Polkinghorn:

When did passenger carrying really start?

Sandretto:

Passenger carrying didn't get serious really until about 1936. At that time, I think, United started a flight every hour on the hour from Newark to Chicago, and the first of the bi-motor single plane aircraft came in. Complaints about passenger comfort didn't come until later. But at that time the Post Office had credit for it. Brown in the U.S. Post Office, who was condemned [does he mean commended?] by Roosevelt in later years, said that they had to have radio in their aircraft because when they came down they wanted to know where to send the truck to pick up the mail! They got a little extra money for it, so much extra per mile, a cent a mile, or something like that, if they carried radio equipment. So they were very anxious to get it in and get it going.

United Airlines

Leaving Bell Labs

Polkinghorn:

How did you happen to leave the Bell Labs and go with United Airlines?

Sandretto:

I was in aviation radio and we had just designed this new set, so we had people coming and asking for us. But they put at the end the ten percent cut. Every department lost one man for every ten they had at that time. I was unmarried and had the least attractive background at that time, so I was one of those that went.

Polkinghorn:

Tell me a little about that later, and that was just for ten years.

Sandretto:

That's right.

Early Ground-Station Communication

Polkinghorn:

Until 1942. Tell us about the development of radio in aviation in that period.

Sandretto:

Well, this man Hiscock was a very unusual character. He was very far-sighted, a brilliant man. He had graduated from Cornell. The dean called him up one day and said, "Look, you've taken a lot of courses and done well in them, but they don't make a formal course for any particular course of study." He said, "Well, that's all right. I'm just going to take all of the subjects in which I have interest, and then when I get through those I'll quit." He became a vice president of a bank at a very early age, developed TB, and went out west. He started hop farming as a means of curing himself, which he did, and during the First World War he was a bombing instructor, Bill Boeing's brother-in-law.

There were five lines that made up United eventually, but Boeing Air Transport ran from San Francisco to Chicago; Pacific Air Transport ran from San Diego to Seattle; Varney Airlines ran from Portland to Salt Lake; The National Air Transport ran from Chicago to Dallas and Chicago to New York. That was the four or five lines that made up United Airlines. His clock felt that he should conduct himself for the benefit of all aviation, and he was very imaginative. He began amateur radio when he was running the hop farm, and Bill asked him to come in to try and make radio work for the airplanes, which of course involved problems. Shielding was a very severe problem at that time. Incidentally, when Frank Alrow was given the award for the variable-pitch prop he gave credit to Hiscock because he'd seen Hiscock's mathematics on it. It was unusual work, very hard, and you'd go to work in Chicago and never know in what city you'd have breakfast next morning. He'd call you up from the west coast and say, "I think there's an unusual condition out here. You'd better come out and see it." So I'd crawl out of bed, go down to the lab, pick up some test equipment, climb on an airplane, fly out, sleep on the way maybe, and work all day. The hours we put in at that time were just amazing. I wish I could do it now!

Polkinghorn:

The radio telephone equipment on airlines at that time was used somewhat differently than it is now, wasn't it?

Sandretto:

No, it was used about the same way. The pilots reported position on a time schedule. Every so many minutes they called in and told the ground where they were.

Polkinghorn:

I see.

Sandretto:

Later on it became used for communications with traffic control, but initially there was no traffic control. All communications went directly to the airline station along the terminals. Once an hour each ground station would come on. One of them would start it out, then they would relay a report that they were all right, and so on, and check that the circuit was working.

Polkinghorn:

How many ground stations would you have, say, between Chicago and San Francisco?

Sandretto:

Let's take Chicago and New York, because I don't remember —

Polkinghorn:

All right.

Sandretto:

Oh, I remember the San Francisco ones too. There was one at Newark, and one in the mountains of Pennsylvania, one at Toledo, one in Cleveland, and finally one in Chicago, so there were five.

Polkinghorn:

And you contacted the nearest one?

Sandretto:

You contacted the nearest one or whatever one could hear you. If one was in the skip range and the other one would hear you, then he would transmit your message to one of the stations that you were supposed to report to.

Polkinghorn:

All of these ground stations were connected together by telegraph or teletype?

Sandretto:

They had some teletype, but not very much. Most of the relaying that they did was just by voice.

Polkinghorn:

I see. Just telephone. By private wire.

Sandretto:

Nearly all. They developed some good procedures. Initially they operated with using sea-going radio operators. They were the ones who had a license. Then they found that these men were getting into the equipment and improving on it. Hiscock took a very dim view of that procedure, so more and more they were replaced by clerks who knew something about air operations. At that time the airlines were very attractive to young college grads. They didn't know anything about radio, so one of the duties of the engineering department was to work up a manual for passing the test. On one page they would draw four forces stamps, and the next they had some bent wires, and so on. That's how they learned to pass the examination because they had to do circuit diagrams. They passed, and the stations began to work a lot better as they were replaced by men who didn't know enough to get their fingers into the equipment.

World War Two

Signal Corps Radar Division

Polkinghorn:

When the war came along you went in the Air Force.

Sandretto:

There were a lot of developments in the laboratory by that time, and the Air Force story is a long one. In 1934 the air mail was cancelled. The Air Corps took over the flying of it. I don't know if you remember, but it was terrible what happened, the number of men that were killed. They were completely unskilled. They had been reduced to a very few hours of flying. Their aircraft were not only old, but they didn't have instruments in them. They started to put in instruments the day they got the order to fly. Radio communications was out of the question. We saw some of these, I remember. I happened to be working at Iowa City at that time, and a station manager was talking to one of these young fellows. He told him, "Here's the weather." He gave him a weather teletype tape. The boy couldn't read a teletype tape, let alone do anything about flying weather. He had an instrument in his ship, and he didn't know whether it was working or not. You could see it was brand new, that it had just been put in a day or two before. This man was just like a father to these boys, trying to keep them from breaking their necks. When the Signal Corps running the laboratory at Wright Field in conjunction with the Air Corps sent a representative up to my laboratory to find out how we did it, we got on a very friendly basis and exchanged trips between my laboratory and Wright Field. So I became very well acquainted with all that. When the war came, General Mike De Armand asked me if I would come to Washington as his deputy for the radar division, and I said, "Sure." He put orders through for me.

Polkinghorn:

So he gave you a major commission in 1942?

Sandretto:

That's right.

Polkinghorn:

And you went in as assistant chief of the radar division?

Sandretto:

That's right.

Polkinghorn:

Tell us about the state of radar at that time.

Sandretto:

I was told I should go on duty as Mike's deputy. I got there and I found I was a deputy, but I didn't have a boss because Mike had somehow crossed Arnold up over the radar for the Panama Canal. I don't know what the argument was, but Arnold was a man with a considerable temper. He'd thrown Mike out, and a new chap had been put in. His name was T. Baxter. He was the chief, but he wasn't chief in fact because he had received this assignment on his way down to the Panama Canal, and was pulled off in Texas because yellow fever shots had gone bad on him. So he had contracted yellow fever as a result of taking these shots, and it left him in a weakened condition. So after being there two weeks or less than that, I went on a trip to find out what this radar was all about. I went to Bell Laboratories, I went to ITT, I went to Wright Field and several other places.

But I didn't finish my tour when I got a call from General Mariner, who was director of communications, which included three divisions: radio, radar, and systems. Somewhere in that was the personnel department, the organization. Mariner had control of everything that he needed. He called me up and said, "For heaven's sake, come up and run this thing!" So I went there. You can imagine my knowledge of the subject at that time, but there were a lot of smart boys in the organization. That's what Mike had said: they were trained at MIT, but they'd never used a screwdriver in their lives. They didn't know what the problem of installation of equipment meant, with procurement and so on. So we got this thing organized and had it running pretty well before T. Baxter came back. When he came back we said, "Well, it's yours." And he said, "I've looked around, and you've done what I would do. You just keep running it." He was very valuable because he knew the Air Corps in and out, and he had the contacts which I didn't have. We made a good team until the first of the year came around. He was supposed to go on duty with the Royal Air Force in London, as we had an interchange of officers. His team came, but he was again in the hospital at that time, so I took over and went to England.

Polkinghorn:

If I recall correctly, it was the spring of 1941 when the Bell Laboratories put out its first bombing through overcast equipment. Bill Shockley and — oh, I've forgotten who else was working on this equipment. Was this the kind of equipment that you had used, or were there other kinds?

Sandretto:

No, we had a very much more primitive equipment. In actual operation there was a two-hundred-megacycle thing with a lot of close lines on the airplane. The Signal Corps had a gun laying radar, a 268, and early warning radar, the 270, in operation.

Polkinghorn:

Yes, I remember both of those.

England

Sandretto:

Before I left for Europe, we were just beginning to get the first ASV from Bell Laboratories. It was the ten-centimeter equipment, and I went out to see General Roy Lynn at Wright Patterson Field in connection with installation of this radar equipment to go to coastal command in England. Air Marshal Gaobert, I think, was the one who wrote telegrams to Arnold that kept us hopping. I found the same thing when I went over to the Air Ministry. Was it Tedder? Ted Knoll? I can't remember his name. He kept ragging me because of the countermeasures equipment we promised to deliver and didn't. Our deliveries were not at all the thing that anybody wanted.

Polkinghorn:

What was the job in England? Was it a materials type of job, or an administrative operating type of job?

Sandretto:

It was everything.

Polkinghorn:

Everything?

Sandretto:

Yes, and I was in the office of Air Vice Marshal Tate. Now Sir Victor Tate, who later was chairman of the OIC, by the way. He was of Canadian origin. A very fine man, and I enjoyed working with him. He had three deputies, one for countermeasures, one for radar, and one for communications. I have kept in touch with the man recently.

Polkinghorn:

You were there in a period when things were pretty tough, if I recall correctly. The London raids.

Sandretto:

Yes, but the heavy part of the raids were over with, and they were followed by the V-1. I was out of there by the time the V-1 came.

Polkinghorn:

I see.

Countermeasure Activities

Sandretto:

I took quite a part in the countermeasures activities. We had a little committee. It was a rump committee with no official standing except that we made some things happen. It consisted of a representative from the Signal Corps, who was usually Jim McCrae of Bell Labs.

Sandretto:

The committee had been formed by Lloyd Berkner, at his suggestion. I formed it at his suggestion. For some reason or other we discussed it and he said, "Well, why don't you do it?" I did it, and the committee would meet once a month in my office. We would check out how we were going on all three sides, and then take some action. That's the way the first bombing radars in Europe for the Air Force came in to being. They came over some ASV equipment that I got from Lloyd Berkner. One day he came in with a British visitor. I'll think of his name in a little while. He later became very high in the Government. He became Minister of Technology for the British. [Frank Cousins?] We had had a countermeasure program going, but he started a new one. He told me how advanced they were, and how they were prepared in just a month or two to release lots of jammers and so on. Our boys were taking a whale of a beating in Europe, and we didn't have any countermeasures over there at all, so I said, "Something must be done in a hurry." I got the bright idea that we would have a place where we could send people to be trained and other people would be there to install equipment. We would do this in a hurry, assemble it, and then send aircraft off to give protection to the other aircraft that were already flying.

Well, the young fellow I had working for me was very ambitious and active, and he got the thing pinned down to Agland Field. The program started off in a very short time, a surprisingly short time, and we were going to do this. I went to Europe, and I came back to find that the Directorate of Communications had been completely re-organized. Mariner no longer had all control, only a small part of the business. The rest of the bits and pieces were placed all around the Pentagon, in spite of the effort by him and General McClowan. General Mariner went off to Europe, but General McClowan stayed on the job, and communications in the Air Force never really worked during the rest of the war as an effective organization. Well, I came back and was sent to Florida to try and do something with this baby that we had started. We amalgamated it into the rest of the testing activity, where we tested radar equipment. We had some radar equipment, but principally jammers. We had a Japanese radar and a German radar set up there, and we worked against them and then did other testing. I did that for a few months until I went to the Pacific.

The Pacific War

Polkinghorn:

Where did you go in the Pacific?

Sandretto:

That's another long story. I want to think of these names before I start talking. General Flood called General McClowan. General Flood was with the Seventh Air Force, either its commander, or its vice commander, I have forgotten which. Bill Flood. He started talking to me about doing something about countermeasures. "I need a man." So McClowan said, "I'll send you the best man in the Air Force." I heard this recording. So he sent me out. I went to be on the Seventh Air Force as their countermeasures officer, which was a very bad choice because of the man who had initiated the request, John McDavid, vice president of North Electric at the moment. A friend of mine, he was younger than I was in rank, in age, in experience. Any way you look at it. He was looking for something like a captain, not a lieutenant-colonel. So we came out and saw what it was all about, the reason that McClowan had got all excited. He hated the Navy, and if the Navy was going to do something, he was going to do it better. So I got out there and we discussed the situation, but I was very fortunate in an unfortunate situation. I was fortunate because at that time they dissolved the South Pacific command, which had been under Halsey and those people moved up to the Hawaiian Islands to regroup and be a group that would go forward. General Ikenbrandt was the director of communications, and we knew each other for years, due to my working with United Airlines when I was at Wright Field. He asked me what I had been doing. I told him my experience. He said, "You're just the man I want to run my electronics division," which was a very large division, as it turned out. It included ground radar efforts that had to be made. For invasions, countermeasures had a separate organization — Pacific Countermeasures Activity, something like that — which I manned with men that I knew in the service and had worked with on traffic control. I found a major out there who had been a school-mate of mine, and I made him head of that activity. All in all, it was quite an operation. It included four hundred men and the radio intelligence company. It was the first of January the following year when the Marianas were cleared up. They got the Japanese quieted down, and we went to move forward from the Hawaiian Islands to Guam and the Marianas.

Polkinghorn:

And then the war came to an end.

Sandretto:

Then the war came to an end, as we predicted. We had intelligence that had told us they were ready to quit long before the atom bomb was ever dropped. I should like to know if President Truman didn't have some of the information that we had, because apparently at Yalta we made a lot of concessions to the Russians when our intelligence out there indicated that the Japanese were through. We made concessions to the Russians to help win the war against Japan when our information indicated that they had already gone to the Emperor and said, "We're through, boss." He said, "I'll figure out a way to save face." Also, there were things I saw that surprised me, the effort to launch a very large offensive invasion of Japan, like they did in Europe. That would have been catastrophic, and there was no need for it because we had reports that the bombing had been so effective. We had twice the Air Force coming out. That had been accomplished with five wings. There were five more coming out. The first was already in place, under Doolittle, and the British were sending two wings. If they had done that much, I don't see why there was any reason for mounting an invasion. They surrendered before they ever got that invasion under way. Thank heavens.

Polkinghorn:

They ended up correspondingly sending about twenty percent of the people they intended to into there, but it took them a long time to figure out that was all they needed.

Sandretto:

I'm glad they finally figured it out because from my point of view I couldn't see why they needed any of them. Incidentally, the man's name came to me. Dr. Cockburn was the leader of the British activities at the laboratory in England.

Polkinghorn:

After the war you came back, and were discharged, and went into the reserves?

Sandretto:

That's right.

International Telecommunications

Corporate Background and Names

Polkinghorn:

And then you became director of aviation for International Communications Labs?

Sandretto:

That's right.

Polkinghorn:

That's what was known in 1930 or so as the ITT laboratories, wasn't it?

Sandretto:

Federal Telecommunications Laboratories initially, then it changed its name to ITT Communications.

Polkinghorn:

Oh, I see. I had forgotten that was the name. They started the International Telephone and Telegraph Laboratories in lower Manhattan?

Sandretto:

That's right.

Polkinghorn:

About 1930?

Sandretto:

Right.

Polkinghorn:

And they ran into difficulties?

Sandretto:

That's right.

Polkinghorn:

The head man, whose name escapes me at the moment, was let go, and the second man took charge and ran it for a good many years. But I never knew how that blended in to this other, when the Federal got going.

Sandretto:

In the 1930s they didn't even own all of Federal. Then they bought Federal quite late. They had owned a part of it, and it was chiefly of interest to them because it produced marine radios. Radios for shipping. They're still active in that. I know some of that closed down, but there's still a little shred of it somewhere. This laboratory was founded after the war by DeLorraine, who escaped from France and brought with him the blueprints and photographs of equipment that they had been developing not only for the French but for the English.

Polkinghorn:

Did they go into this laboratory that was founded in 1930?

Sandretto:

There was no vestige of the 1930 laboratory.

Polkinghorn:

There wasn't any left?

Sandretto:

No.

Polkinghorn:

I see.

Sandretto:

What had happened was that the Federal Telegraph Company, I think it was called at the time, at Newark —

Polkinghorn:

Yes.

Sandretto:

— they had taken a contract from what is now the CAA, to develop a so-called blind landing system. It was considered a very big contract. I think it was for thirty thousand dollars. Harold Butner's the one who tells this story. He took the contract that included the development of three receivers and transmitters for flight path and localizer, and he gave the contract for the receivers to Bell Laboratories. Bell Labs developed the receivers on that. Then they formed a separate group to do that alone. Federal was producing the transmitters, I guess, and then they used this as a nucleus for forming the Federal Telecommunications Laboratory.

Polkinghorn:

At the end of the war you had gone to the International Communications Laboratory, and you were there from 1947 to 1950. About that time they changed the Federal Labs name.

Sandretto:

No, there was a thing called International Telecommunications Laboratory. It was a paper organization, but under this it collected money from the other ITT companies, and it gave them back a certain amount of money. It handled the research and development funds, but its function was a purely administrative.

Polkinghorn:

I see.

Sandretto:

Federal Telecommunications Laboratories, which had been organized at that time, its purpose was to develop apparatus which supposedly went into tests, went into production at Federal Telephone and Radio. There were three separate corporations. International Telecommunications Laboratories still exists on the books of ITT as a paper company now, but its function was trying to unify R&D efforts in all of the ITT companies, internationally.

Polkinghorn:

Something like the old R&D of AT&T.

Sandretto:

Yes, that's right. That's a good analogy.

Polkinghorn:

Then from 1950 on you were with the Federal Labs. Tell us something about where the Labs stood.

Early Work

Sandretto:

Can I go back and tell you a little about my work at International Telecommunications?

Polkinghorn:

Fine, I'd be glad to have it.

Sandretto:

If I can get everything right. Well, DeLorraine had invested a lot of money after the war in developing aircraft equipment. They looked at that as being the future. He said, "Well, now we have to tell our companies what this is all about." So my purpose, and General Mariner's, who came on board shortly thereafter, was to try and indoctrinate these companies into what the aviation business was all about. As such I traveled around, and as a result of this work I got some interesting assignments in the Argentine, in the Middle East, and in Venezuela. That's before I transferred to the Laboratories as assistant technical director to Businney. Now we can talk about Federal Telecommunications Laboratory.

Federal Telecommunications Lab

Polkinghorn:

All right. Go ahead.

Sandretto:

At that time it was divided into parts with Businney as Technical Director of the side that looked after navigation and aviation, and a chap by the name of Labanne in charge of the vacuum tube activities and the communications activities, the PCM that they were developing at the time. I was made assistant technical director under Businney. Bill Short got the job as assistant technical director under Labanne.

Polkinghorn:

I haven't followed Federal very much since the war as a matter of fact. They have changed their field a bit since that period?

Sandretto:

I don't know where they stand at this time, but they changed very much. We had activities in guided missiles, and our biggest success was the development of the Tachan, which was a combined distance and direction system, which had been spelled out pretty well by RTCA subcommittee SC31, only people refused to read the report after it was written. At least they read it the way they wanted it. We had countermeasures development. In 1954 I became vice president and technical director for the company. Businney left for France. He's dead now. Under Businney we had five major laboratories. These were navigation, countermeasures, guided missiles, vacuum tubes, chemical and physical laboratories. The organization grew to three thousand professional people, and in our biggest year we had a total sales of about fifty-two million dollars.

Polkinghorn:

I see there were a number of patents listed for you in Who's Who in Engineering. Do you have anything in particular to say about those?

Sandretto:

There were a couple of patents that in retrospect I should have done a lot more with. One of them I developed for United Airlines. It was the use of electronics in the ignition system, which as you know is a current thing. That was a little ahead of my time. The other was a multi-frequency radar. We never took the right action on it.

Polkinghorn:

This was simultaneous operation on more than one frequency?

Sandretto:

Yes. Using a color tube for the display. But by that time I recognized that we had a lot of brilliant engineers around, and I let them do the inventing. We just tried to keep them out of trouble, and keep ourselves out of trouble.

Polkinghorn:

I worked on the SCR 546.

Sandretto:

Oh, yes.

Polkinghorn:

It was also a multi-frequency radar, if you recall. It didn't take, either. I guess ten-centimeter equipment got perfected to the point where they really didn't need the other to pick things up.

Published Work

Polkinghorn:

You have one book, The Principles of Aeronautical Radio Engineering, which I have at home and have read with interest. You have a whole list of organizations.

Sandretto:

I have three books, actually.

Polkinghorn:

Oh, you have more than one? I don't know about those.

Sandretto:

This is the one you know.

Polkinghorn:

Yes.

Sandretto:

This is the one that gave me an international reputation in the field.

Polkinghorn:

Yes, this is the one.

Sandretto:

This one is my biggest effort. Unfortunately it was very badly handled. It took me eight years to write.

Polkinghorn:

Electronic Navigation Engineering. Yes, I have seen this, and I guess maybe I didn't distinguish it from the other.

Sandretto:

Well, you see, that was something that Bell Labs had asked for. They had a number of authors come out, printed with the same covering on the books.

They were put out by Van Nostrand. We tried to do the same thing within ITT, because they had a handbook, The ITT Handbook, that was selling. But this was handled very badly. It came out way too late for the time. I had to revise it, add a chapter actually, and it still is in demand. It's out of print. They've didn't do very well with it. The University of Wisconsin is selling copies of this for forty dollars now, and they're still requested; they sell a few every year.

Polkinghorn:

I was just noticing your chapter on Loran. I worked on the development of that thing, the early part of it.

Sandretto:

Is that so?

Polkinghorn:

Starting in November of 1940.

Sandretto:

Is that so? Was John Fink the head of that?

Polkinghorn:

No, John wasn't in on it at that time at all. The NDRC Committee got the notion that they wanted to do this job, and they let out a whole bunch of contracts to RCA, Sperry, Bell Labs, Westinghouse, and GE. GE and Westinghouse were making high-powered transmitters. Sperry and Bell Labs were making receiving equipment and indicator equipment. I've forgotten just how RCA fit in. I was the executive secretary of that group committee that coordinated all of this. This was all at UHF, and line-of-sight at that moment. I wrote a memorandum on the use of reflected waves for that kind of thing and on what could be done with them, and sent it up to Boston. This thing was all being governed from the NDRC there. Then we put in a station out at Heather Plains at the end of Long Island, and one in Delaware. Indian Hill? Indian Beach? Something of that sort. We tested the system out with just two stations, to see how it would work, and about this time we dropped that kind of work and passed the whole thing to MIT, and MIT took it from there with the Navy.

Sandretto:

Did you know that AT&T once was interested in furnishing airway equipment for the government?

Polkinghorn:

What?

Sandretto:

Furnishing airway equipment for the government. Running the facilities, the navigation facilities.

Polkinghorn:

No.

Sandretto:

John Grieg developed the first omni-directional radio range, the phase comparison type, for which Gluck of RCA gets credit. Gluck knows he got his stuff from Grieg. He said the patent was not very good, but John Grieg is dead now. Actually built one and they tested it, and they found that it had a lot of error. I don't think they understood the law of apertures, but the CAA repeated the same development and mistakes after the war, or during the period at that time.

Polkinghorn:

This is your third book, The Economic Management of Research and Engineering. That's something I have had some interest in. This one I didn't know about at all. This was 1968.

Sandretto:

By John Wiley.

Polkinghorn:

Well, I'll have to read this sometime.

Sandretto:

I promised to write another one, an amplification of this, but I don't know that I'll ever get around to it.

Honors

Polkinghorn:

In my work in Japan we had this kind of problem on our hands. I didn't do the detailed work myself on it, but I had management of the job. Well, I see you've got a bunch of medals over here. Do you want to tell us about some of those?

Sandretto:

Oh, they're not very glamorous. That's the Legion of Merit, and the Bronze Star, and theater ribbons, and a couple of others.

Polkinghorn:

And you're a Fellow of the IRE in 1954.

Sandretto:

I'm also a fellow of the British Institute, a chartered engineer of the British Institute.