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Oral-History:Randal Robertson

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[[Category:People_and_organizations|Oral-History:Randal Robertson]] [[Category:Scientists|Oral-History:Randal Robertson]] [[Category:Inventors|Oral-History:Randal Robertson]] [[Category:Research_and_development_labs|Oral-History:Randal Robertson]] [[Category:Culture_and_society|Oral-History:Randal Robertson]] [[Category:Defense_&_security|Category:Defense_&_security]] [[Category:Signals|Oral-History:Randal Robertson]] [[Category:Signal_detection|Oral-History:Randal Robertson]] [[Category:Radar_detection|Oral-History:Randal Robertson]] [[Category:Fields,_waves_&_electromagnetics|Category:Fields,_waves_&_electromagnetics]] [[Category:Antennas|Oral-History:Randal Robertson]] [[Category:Dipole_antennas|Oral-History:Randal Robertson]] [[Category:Environment,_geoscience_&_remote_sensing|Category:Environment,_geoscience_&_remote_sensing]] [[Category:Radar|Oral-History:Randal Robertson]] [[Category:News|Oral-History:Randal Robertson]]
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[[Category:People_and_organizations|Oral-History:Randal Robertson]] [[Category:Scientists|Oral-History:Randal Robertson]] [[Category:Inventors|Oral-History:Randal Robertson]] [[Category:Research_and_development_labs|Oral-History:Randal Robertson]] [[Category:Culture_and_society|Oral-History:Randal Robertson]] [[Category:Defense_&_security|Category:Defense_&_security]] [[Category:Signals|Oral-History:Randal Robertson]] [[Category:Signal_detection|Oral-History:Randal Robertson]] [[Category:Radar_detection|Oral-History:Randal Robertson]] [[Category:Fields,_waves_&_electromagnetics|Category:Fields,_waves_&_electromagnetics]] [[Category:Antennas|Oral-History:Randal Robertson]] [[Category:Environment,_geoscience_&_remote_sensing|Category:Environment,_geoscience_&_remote_sensing]] [[Category:Radar|Oral-History:Randal Robertson]] [[Category:News|Oral-History:Randal Robertson]]

Revision as of 17:12, 8 May 2014

Contents

About Randal Robertson

Robertson got his undergraduate degree at the University of Edinburgh and his PhD from MIT in 1936. After a year postdoc with Rabi at Columbia, he went to work for the Norton Company as an industrial physicist. He was recruited by Luis Alvarez into the Rad Lab when war broke out, and worked for him on Alvarez’ bombing systems. In particular, he worked on the Eagle system, and on antennas for the Ground Control Approach (GCA) system. After the war he was editor for one volume of the Rad Lab technical series, then went to work at the Office of Naval Research in a series of administrative jobs. Emanuel Piore and Robert Conrad were notable figures at the ONR. In 1958 he went to work at the NSF, under Alan Waterman.

About the Interview

RANDAL ROBERTSON: An Interview Conducted by Frederik Nebeker, IEEE History Center, 12 June 1991

Interview # 087 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, 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:

Randal Robertson, an oral history conducted in 1991 by Frederik Nebeker, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.

Interview

Interview: Randal Robertson

Interviewer: Frederik Nebeker

Date: 12 June 1991

Location: Boston, Massachusetts

Education and Background

Nebeker:

I'm talking with Dr. Randall Robertson on the 12th of June 1991 in Boston. This is Rik Nebeker. Before I ask you about Rad Lab, I wonder if you could just briefly tell about your education and experience before the Rad Lab days.

Robertson:

Yes. I graduated with my undergraduate degree at the University of Glasgow in Scotland and went from there to MIT, where I got my Ph.D.

Nebeker:

Did you grow up in Scotland?

Robertson:

No. My father was in the U.S. government service and was assigned to Glasgow. I started the university there. When he left for another assignment, I stayed on to finish my degree.

Nebeker:

What was your undergraduate degree in?

Robertson:

Mathematics and natural philosophy, sometimes known as physics.

Nebeker:

And then you went to MIT?

Robertson:

I went to MIT, where I took my Ph.D. in physics with a minor in mathematics.

Nebeker:

What was your specialty?

Robertson:

You can almost say it was electronics, but actually I did my thesis in the area of electrical phenomena in gases.

Nebeker:

Was that in atomic theory, that branch of physics?

Robertson:

I was looking at the low-pressure copper arc, or vacuum arc it was called. K.T. Compton had done some work on this and had turned up a number of problems. When I went to MIT, he had come there as president and was interested in seeing some of that work continued that he'd started at Princeton. So I went into that field.

Nebeker:

Who was your advisor?

Robertson:

My advisor was Edward Stonestreet Lamar. Everybody called him Eddie. He was in the same sort of field, working with electrical discharges in gases and cathode phenomena.

Nebeker:

What year did you complete your Ph.D.?

Robertson:

In 1936 I completed my Ph.D. work. One of the people responsible for checking out my thesis was Will Allis, who's here at this meeting. He was a young professor there in those days, and he's still cranking along. I spoke to him yesterday.

Nebeker:

When you completed your degree in '36, what did you do then? Those were hard times for getting jobs.

Robertson:

I was fortunate to get a postdoc appointment in Rabi's group in molecular beam research. So I had a one-year appointment there as a postdoc at $1100 per year and managed to live in New York on that. I couldn't do it now. My son's now at the Cornell Medical College in New York as a professor of biochemistry. His son is at MIT as an undergraduate. The tuition's a good deal more than the $400 a year it was when I was there at MIT as a graduate student.

Nebeker:

Were you working with Rabi in Columbia?

Robertson:

Yes. My intent all along had been to get an industrial position and be an industry physicist. I was interested in applied science to a considerable extent. At the end of this year, I got a position with the Norton Company, in Worcester, Massachusetts. I was the only physicist in their laboratory amongst quite a few chemists and ceramicists. Norton was a company that made refractories, abrasives, and grinding machines. It was a very interesting experience, and I was there until World War II broke out, when I was recruited for the Radiation Lab.

Recruitment to Radiation Lab

Nebeker:

Was that because of your acquaintance with Rabi?

Robertson:

No. I was looking around for some way to be useful in the war, and I didn't feel that my job at Norton Company would make sufficient use of my special background, which included some aspects of electronics. So I went down and found that I should talk to Wheeler Loomis, who was then operating a personnel group, and was interviewed by Luis Alvarez. He must have thought I was a promising prospect because I was hired on the spot. They were really trying to build up at that time.

Nebeker:

Was it your initiative to seek employment at Rad Lab?

Robertson:

Well, it was my initiative to go down to MIT and ask them what was going on.

Nebeker:

What had you heard at that point about what was going on at MIT?

Robertson:

Practically nothing at that time. I'd been working on how to make artificial diamonds, and doing some crystallographic research on silicon carbide in its various forms, all of which was oriented towards the abrasives side of Norton's business. As far as I know, I'd heard vague rumors of things happening, more on the atomic bomb side, really, rather than on the radar side. In fact, I had a letter from Herb Anderson, who was at that time at the Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory, working on the first pile. He said in his letter, "We're doing something very interesting here. I think you might like to join us." It turned out that that would have been the atomic bomb project.

Nebeker:

Why did you not pursue that project?

Robertson:

By the time I got the letter, I'd seen Luis Alvarez and was impressed by him.

Nebeker:

Did you know about radar as a device at the time you went to MIT? I know it was highly classified.

Robertson:

I didn't know about it. I know now that the Naval Research Laboratory had been working on an approach to radar and not calling it radar yet.

Nebeker:

The Signal Corps as well.

Robertson:

The Signal Corps was working on it. But I learned all that later.

Nebeker:

Were you hired on the spot after this interview with Alvarez?

Robertson:

Yes.

Eagle System and GCA System

Nebeker:

For what job was it that you were told you were being hired?

Robertson:

I was told almost immediately about radar and what it would do, and about the microwave radar breakthrough. He wanted me to work on some of the ideas that he had and which were awaiting people to come into the Lab. First, I got in on his bombing systems, which I stayed with throughout. He had an idea that you could put a linear-array antenna in the wing of the aircraft and scan back and forth. I remember the sketch that he made of the antenna in the wing. He saw there were numerous ways to scan. You can scan by changing the wavelength and the waveguide if you use waveguides. Or you could put something in there which would change the phase. I haven't thought about this for a long time.

Nebeker:

Did it seem like interesting work to you?

Robertson:

Oh, yes. It did.

Nebeker:

And your background was good.

Robertson:

It was adequate to get into it. Then of course there was a lot to learn right then and there about waveguides and in general about the X-band components. One needed to know all of that, so I had quite a bit of learning to do as well as beginning to figure out how to try out some of Alvarez' ideas. I could see that he was going to be the source of most of the ideas, and I'd better hang with it.

Nebeker:

What was your position there?

Robertson:

I think it was called "staff member." They organized into groups. My division was airborne systems, Alvarez style. He also was working on ground-control landing; GCL they called it, and then GCA when they found they couldn't quite land by it. You had to look out of the window at the last moment to keep from breaking up the landing gear.

Nebeker:

Who was your immediate boss?

Robertson:

Alvarez, really, for the time that he was there, and then Milt White for the rest of the time. Emmeth Luebke was an intermediate boss for some aspects of the Eagle system, such as the linear-array scanning antenna for bombing purposes.

Nebeker:

Is that what you worked on much of the time, the Eagle system?

Robertson:

Yes. The Eagle system and the antennas for the GCA system. A lot of the work that I did was antenna patterns and how to get as much scan as possible out of this linear-array concept. Also, I worked on how to do something about some large side lobes you got at wide angles. But it was generally developing the antennas. I worked closely with the antenna group, Lester Van Atta's group. We had a test mount to put these arrays on, and you measured the characteristics of the beam and the beam width.

Nebeker:

Was it mainly a process of testing certain ideas about antennas? Would you construct a device and then see how it functioned?

Robertson:

Yes. The first thing we did was just to put a row of dipoles plugged into holes in a waveguide. In fact, Alvarez' original idea was to put in slots to allow a little energy to leak out. So it was called a leaky-pipe radar, or leaky-pipe antenna. Well, those slots were hard to handle, and we decided to go for dipoles plugged into the waveguide and developed little dipoles that could be adjusted. They were plugged in this way into the electric field and we could adjust them. A little probe went down into the field and picked off some of the energy that was in the waveguide, as it were. Another person who's here is Dr. Charles A. Fowler. He did quite a bit of development work on the antennas for GCA.

Nebeker:

Was he in your group?

Robertson:

No. He was in a separate group for GCA, ground control approach, that Luis had set up. We all worked together and of course had some of the same problems. A lot of cute things happened. One was, to get more scan angle, it turned out that you could feed the antenna from one end and get the scan like that. Then you could feed it from the other end and get the scan like that. So you doubled the scanning.

Nebeker:

By alternating how you fed the antenna?

Robertson:

We called it alternate-end feed. That involved having an RF switch that would go this way and then that way. I did quite a bit of development work on the RF switch. Finally Western Electric got the contract for it. Bell Labs was the intermediary between Western Electric and our group.

Nebeker:

Was it typical of the way things worked at Rad Lab that the groups would often work together? You mentioned that your airborne systems group worked with the antenna group.

Robertson:

I think it was typical.

Freedom of Communication at Rad Lab

Nebeker:

Did you feel free to talk to anyone at Rad Lab about what you were doing and find out if they had relevant experience?

Robertson:

Yes. They had a tendency to take out anything that was highly classified and do it as a separate enterprise with separate guards and badges and so on.

Nebeker:

Was that within Rad Lab?

Robertson:

The thing they split off was some of the IFF.

Nebeker:

Was that Interrogation of Friend or Foe?

Robertson:

Friend or Foe. Yes. Some of that was highly classified. I wouldn't talk to people about that if I was involved. But most things we were doing, as long as we were careful not to talk about it at lunch or accidentally bring in your wife on some critical secret, we interchanged information pretty well, I think.

Nebeker:

Didn't people talk to their wives about what they were doing?

Robertson:

My wife didn't hear a word. She didn't know what we were doing until the end of the war, when a British scientist visited our house and let the secret out of the bag. I just didn't talk about it at home. Some of the secrets were: Let's not let people know we're working on X-band. Let's hold back the Germans or whoever. Make them do all that development work on the X-band componentry and not steal it all from us. That sort of approach was quite effective. People really tried. I don't think there were very many leaks to the outside world, but I might not have heard about them if there were.

Nebeker:

Well, one common view is that the Americans went too far toward being very security conscious. The British were too lax about it. Did it seem to you that regulations were too strict or that they hampered things?

Robertson:

Well, yes. Too strict would have been closing off one corridor to do some development work on this RF switch, for example.

Nebeker:

Did you feel able to talk to people outside of Rad Lab?

Robertson:

Certainly not in direct terms. The design wavelengths and componentry would have been better if kept secret, and was, I think generally.

Nebeker:

This is from that book that came out right after the war, put out by Rad Lab. It says that you were in system engineering. The first listing here is "Linear-array scanner research and development for Eagle and GCA" from March of '42 until August of '45. It also lists "System engineering, Eagle" from June of '42 to August of '45.

Robertson:

I guess August of '45 must be when I left.

Rad Lab Technical Series

Nebeker:

Did you work as editor of the Rad Lab Technical Series?

Robertson:

I was the editor of some volume. I did not hold any overall editorship. My title was associate editor, RL Technical Series. Those were in-house things, which we decided should be in archives somewhere.

Nebeker:

Were these descriptions of work done there?

Robertson:

Yes, and actual laboratory measurements taken on some of the componentry we were working on.

Nebeker:

And those things were written up and archived?

Robertson:

They were supposed to have been archived. I didn't keep track of what they were doing.

Nebeker:

I know there are Rad Lab archives, so they're probably there.

Robertson:

Yes. For example, there's a book called RL 840 on this variable-width waveguide and scanning antenna, which a few people there have been using in connection with current work.

Nebeker:

Before asking some questions specifically about Rad Lab-military relations, let me just ask about your subsequent career. It looks as if in August or September you stopped work in system development, systems engineering, and started work as the associate editor in that series.

Robertson:

I don't remember that being a full-time operation for me at any time.

Norton Company

Nebeker:

Of course August is when the war ended. What did you do when you left Rad Lab?

Robertson:

I'd been on leave from the Norton Company. I started a series of negotiations with my bosses at the Norton Company, whom I hadn't really kept up with very closely. We couldn't come to an agreement on what my job would be. They wanted me to put full time on their synthetic diamond project. I didn't feel that would pay off for them or me as my sole responsibility. So I suggested that we get into using our machine division as the guinea pig and get into automatic machining and grinding. We made grinding machines as well as abrasives and refractories. My idea was to apply the automation that had been developed during World War II for fire control and so on, to machining.

Nebeker:

Had you worked much with such devices at Rad Lab?

Robertson:

Well, only using them in connection with our overall systems work. So I was familiar with servomechanisms. I had a lot of connections, such as W.A. Higinbotham and people who were in that field. So I thought this was a good chance for the Norton Company to get into what's now called "high tech." I made several presentations to them on this idea and explained some of these servomechanisms and other automated tracking. It was a little early, I guess, for them to take that seriously. The head of the grinding machine division at Norton came down and we went over it. He said, "Look, that all sounds great, but it's something for the long-range future." But we had a friendly separation.

Office of Naval Research

Robertson:

By that time I'd been down to Washington to see about things and talked to Alan Waterman, whom I had known as one of the NDRC people following what the Radiation Lab was doing. Alan Waterman offered me a job at the Office of Naval Research, then called the Office of Research and Inventions of the Navy. This was in the spring of 1946. He told me that it would be administration, not doing scientific work of my own. But he thought that some of the Navy work that the government had been doing should be continued, at least pending setting up the National Science Foundation recommended by Vannevar Bush in his famous memo, "Science, the Endless Frontier." So I got in on more or less the ground floor of the ONR operation, which I thought we could make a permanent Navy program in basic research relevant to Navy operations and hardware.

Nebeker:

What was your position there?

Robertson:

I ran through a series of positions. The person who was my superior for quite a while was a man named Emanuel R. Piore. I started out, because of my industrial background, as the head of the mechanics and materials branch. Then I went on from there to be director of the physical sciences division, and finally science director of ONR. I was in one of the early supergrade-level jobs in the Navy Department, with responsibility for the contract research program.

National Science Foundation

Robertson:

Then in 1958 Alan Waterman came and said, "Time you joined us at the National Science Foundation," and I agreed with that. In '58 after this 12-year career at ONR, I joined the National Science Foundation.

Nebeker:

Did you know Alan Waterman through Rad Lab?

Robertson:

I had met him before, but I knew him mostly through Rad Lab. He left ONR in 1951 and joined NSF as its first director. I knew him through that era, and I'd met him socially before because of my sister teaching in a school where his daughters were pupils.

Nebeker:

The reason I ask is because so many people say that the personal connections or acquaintances they made at Rad Lab turned out to be very important in their subsequent career.

Robertson:

Yes. In my case, going to the Science Foundation was based partly on what they'd observed during my ONR career. They thought I was a good bureaucrat.

Nebeker:

But you went to ONR initially because Waterman knew you and invited you to apply?

Robertson:

Yes, I think that's correct.

Relations with Military and Private Industry

Nebeker:

I want to ask about military and Rad Lab relations. One thing I'm curious about is how much you knew about Army and Navy work being done at the same time as Rad Lab or earlier.

Robertson:

I don't remember any sort of fixed channels of information flow. I feel that there was some effort to keep it separate, especially the operational side of the military. We had a London office, BBRL, which had some representatives on various fronts: new faces, and so on.

Nebeker:

Did you ever have visitors from Naval Research Lab or Signal Corps come to you and talk about what they were doing?

Robertson:

I don't recall any special occasions when that happened. No. Once we got into contracting for system development, for example with Western Electric, then there were military people involved through various procurement channels.

Nebeker:

Would they be involved at the production design stage because it had to meet certain military specifications?

Robertson:

Yes. Definitely. At that time we got into military specifications because Western Electric, for example, was interested in making the device easier to make or cheaper. They would say, "Can't we bypass this specification or reduce it or change it so that we can make this twice as fast?"

Nebeker:

So the production designers would talk with you about modifications of that sort?

Robertson:

Yes. And we had some problems with the fact that we had Western Electric and Bell Labs both on the production-related studies.

Nebeker:

Tell me what that system was that was produced by Western Electric and Bell.

Robertson:

Well, that was the Eagle system, or ANAPQ7 system, for which the Army Air Corps made the contract with us to crank these bombing systems out. It had to be a design adapted to the B-29 bombing plane. They'd decided by that time that there would be a squadron of B-29s equipped with this Eagle system. They actually succeeded in bombing some difficult targets in Japan which the low resolution sets didn't do as well. The high resolution specialized antenna worked very well.

Nebeker:

Some people from the Army Air Corps became involved when production design was done, but not before?

Robertson:

In the group that was working on scanning antennas, quite early on we had an Army lieutenant, Lt. Higley, with a technical background assigned to that project. I don't know what the circumstances were, but he suddenly appeared and went to work.

Nebeker:

Did he stay with you there?

Robertson:

He stayed a couple of years anyway.

Nebeker:

Was he working as another team member?

Robertson:

Yes. He did a very good job and became a good team member.

Nebeker:

Was his job to be a liaison? Was he talking about how the system was being developed with military people?

Robertson:

I never got into that.

Nebeker:

I'm just curious how much of the development that went on at Rad Lab was relatively independent and then sold to the military? How much military input was there into the development itself?

Robertson:

Well, I never saw any. These people who were assigned to help with the technical work were very valuable. But I never felt that they were much of a communication link with the field forces or the contractors. A big operation like Western Electric had a whole set of military officers who were there as procurement officers, but a lot of them had technical backgrounds.

Nebeker:

Was that mainly a matter of meeting the military specifications for electronics and manufacture in general?

Robertson:

Yes. And the Western Electric and Bell Labs people did what you might call the human engineering. That is, they made sure that people would fit into this bomber, and that there was adequate ability to get from here to there, and that all the bells rang that had to ring. There's a lot of detailed work in that area, in going from a breadboard set-up to a fully manufacturable, fully designed gadget. I admired the people who did that. They were able to see the whole picture and make sure that they didn't end up with some technical disaster that had to be modified in the field.

Nebeker:

What involvement did you have, if any, in that production design? I was just wondering if you acted as a consultant during that production design.

Robertson:

Yes.

Nebeker:

Would you go often to Western Electric or Bell?

Robertson:

Yes. And so would some of the subcontractors of Western Electric who were making critical parts or wanted to change something. That was one of our problems, Western Electric felt that Bell Labs had tightened up the specifications too much and had not adequately developed a broad-banded thing that would tolerate some difference in wavelength and still be usable. Western Electric would be anxious to get the thing into full production while Bell Labs was saying, "Gosh, we'd better tighten up on this specification." I said, "Well, it'll cost another million dollars." But it was a necessary step in working the thing out, I think, to have a confrontation between the technical designers.

Nebeker:

So they came to you as a mediator with Bell Labs?

Robertson:

Yes. Generally. There were a few cases where they actually saw that something could be done a little differently and better. Then they came with a rush job to Bell Labs and us, asking "Can't we bypass this connection in some way that will enable the thing to work but won't be so complicated and so easy to get out of adjustment in the field?" They thought how is this thing going to stand up when it's got flack hitting it?

Nebeker:

And extreme temperatures and humidity and whatever problems?

Robertson:

Yes.

Nebeker:

It seems to me those are more the field people who would worry about that and of course notice those problems when they'd come up. Maybe it was that the Western Electric people had a good deal of input from the military?

Robertson:

I think they had a fair amount. They had people out in the field anyway. It's really an interesting field, going from breadboard to production. I don't know whether we can eliminate some of that step using computers now. I think we can.

Nebeker:

What about military input early on in the basic conception of Eagle? Was it just that you wanted a higher-resolution bombing radar?

Robertson:

I think Alvarez's primary goal was a higher resolution or a longer antenna which would therefore have a narrower beam to do the scanning. Instead of having one blob for the target, you'd have the Boston Common showing up plain as day. That was his motivation. Luis Alvarez tended to look at the total military situation and then try to figure out where he could make a contribution. His notebook shows this sketch of the linear-array antenna with some kind of phase-shifting mechanism built into it.

Nebeker:

So this was a case of Alvarez realizing that he could do something better and designing a system, rather than a case of the Army Air Corps or anyone else coming and saying, "We would like a system of this sort," and almost giving specifications.

Robertson:

Yes, that would put it into a different category.

Nebeker:

So with many of these projects, such as Eagle, there was this high-level contact with the military and knowledge that this would be a valuable device for the military. Then it would be developed at Rad Lab without a lot of interaction with the military. Then there would be more interaction in the production stage.

Robertson:

Yes. If we were thinking about some revolutionary change that might jeopardize the military applications, somebody like Luis Alvarez would have rushed down to Washington and said, "Let's do it this way. What do you think?" Then somebody might say from the military point of view, "That will make it so difficult to maintain in the field, or fuel, or whatever, that we shouldn't do it. We should go ahead with the project as planned, or let us make the change." So there were possibilities. Alvarez kept very close to it. And if it was being held up or questioned, he personally went down and let them have it.

Nebeker:

What was your personal involvement with military people?

Robertson:

Well, it was very slight at the Rad Lab. This lieutenant that I mentioned was a military guy that I knew and respected. But when I came to ONR especially, there I was immediately exposed to Captain Robert D. Conrad, who had this dream of a Navy research operation, keeping in close touch with the frontiers of science and looking at the possibilities of applying the frontiers of science work to Navy problems. That was the Office of Research and Inventions. It's been written up a number of times. Captain Conrad was really a marvelous person. He was the one who got the Office of Naval Research into the long-range basic research for the Navy operation as distinct from "let's be sure that we get everything we can out of the OSRD work and wind up things." I think Alan Waterman never quite viewed the ONR as a permanent connection between basic research and the Navy, except in a rather limited way. And that's the way it's actually turned out, so he was probably right. He felt that one purpose of ONR was to get basic research in nuclear physics and other fields started, pending the Vannevar Bush concept of ONR operations.

Nebeker:

I know how ONR functioned in those years as a National Science Foundation until it got going.

Robertson:

Until '51 when NSF was actually started.

Nebeker:

Well certainly you had a lot of dealings with the Navy there.

Robertson:

Yes. I really respected the Navy people. There's always some inter-service rivalry or misunderstanding, which could be straightened out quite easily. I think I was a pretty good catalyst to bring about cooperation. I was at a level in the government in the equivalent rank of major general at one time as a civilian. But I could influence them into cooperating and not just being part of a rivalry, which goes back to the football field.

Nebeker:

Did you have dealings with the Navy when you were at Rad Lab?

Robertson:

No. I only knew about some things that related to my work.

Nebeker:

When you look back on the whole development of the Eagle system and other work that you did at Rad Lab, do you think that there was adequate communication with the military in the whole process? In other words, were you responsive to military needs, was the military aware of what you were capable of doing, and did it take advantage of what was done?

Robertson:

Well, I think we had what might be called adequate communication in areas where it really mattered. I don't feel that we had, in general, enough communication with the Naval Research Laboratory. There seemed to be a definite shut-off there. And I think it was by some mutual agreement: Let's not let this spread out to too many places. Let's keep them working separately. I think there was some of that.

Nebeker:

I have heard from others that they were annoyed when they later found out that the Signal Corps already had some device that they'd worked months on.

Robertson:

That specific kind of thing never happened to me, at least that I knew of. I don't know whether some of the services felt that they weren't getting enough information from us. But I think when we heard that somebody was working on, let's say, linear-array scanning, we tried to find out what was going on and suggest, at least, getting together. But I don't have a very good memory of that kind of thing.

Nebeker:

But from what you've said, I gather that there wasn't a lot of exchange of information.

Robertson:

There was not. I don't know that it would have made things any better if we had had more exchange of information. We might just have gotten confused. We were able to work on our thing, which was the Eagle and the GCA, without doing a lot of traveling around the country and entertaining people. For example, we never interacted with the atomic bomb project at all. Except Alvarez had some discussions about whether to use this Eagle antenna on the flights to Japan. It was decided to use the standard bomber configuration, the B-29, and not the Eagle-equipped. He was involved in that decision.

Nebeker:

I know at Nagasaki they missed pretty badly on that drop. Do you think Eagle would have made a difference?

Robertson:

It maybe would, or it may not have been the antenna resolution.

Nebeker:

Were you involved in selling the Eagle system to the military?

Robertson:

Well, Luis Alvarez did most of the selling on his systems that he had dreamed up. I can't remember any specific occasions when I was called to Washington. We certainly didn't have any contact with Congress. We did a lot of explaining and discussing the actual design of the scanner. I didn't think of it as "selling" the thing. By the time we talked to Western Electric, it had already been bought by the Army Air Corps. It's hard to go back and get the feel of those days. I was satisfied with the job I had and did. It was a great thing working with Luis Alvarez. Some people thought he was arrogant and didn't pay adequate attention to what you might call the "little people." But I didn't find that. I could see how brilliant he was and make allowances for a little arrogance.

Nebeker:

How long did you work with him?

Robertson:

A little over two years. He came back fairly often and checked on his projects after he had gone to Los Alamos.

Nebeker:

I have looked at his book. It's very, very interesting.

Robertson:

Oh, yes.

Nebeker:

Well, thank you very much.