Oral-History:Cary Spitzer


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About Cary Spitzer

Spitzer received his Bachelor’s from Virginia Polytechnic Institute (1959) and his Masters from George Washington University (1970). As an undergraduate he did co-op work at Aberdeen Proving Grounds; he then was in the Air Force for 3 years; he then joined NASA’s Langley Research Center (their oldest research complex) in 1962, working there until his retirement in 1994. At Langley he worked until 1969 on wind tunnel (heat transfer instrumentation); from 1969 to 1978 on surface material experiments for the Viking unmanned mission to Mars; from 1978 to 1985 in an avionics planning office; and from 1985 to 1994 on the Advanced Transport Operating System Office (ATOPS), a research airplane that NASA used to test the Microwave Landing System (MLS), the Global Positioning System (GPS), automatic landing systems, digital date exchange, and runway traction experiments. After his retirement in 1994 he consulted and lectured.

Carey discusses his involvement with the Aerospace and Electronic Systems Society (AESS), the IEEE, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), and the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). He defines avionics as “anything on the airplane or spacecraft that has an active device in it and consumes electrons,” and discusses key developments in the field, such as radio-enabled air-to-ground communications in 1920s, radar in late 1930s, integrated circuits, data buses in the late 1970s, and microprocessors. He published a textbook on digital avionics in 1987, and has taught courses on the subject. People in the field of note include John Houbolt, who invented the lunar orbiter rendezvous technique; John Ruth, a principal player at Wright Patterson in development of data bus; Dick Peal, who was instrumental in the installation of digital avionics on commercial transports; and Eli Brookner and Dave Barton in radar, Brad Parkinson on GPS, Myron Kayton, Eric Herz, Dave Dobson, Henry Oman, and Warren Cooper. He identifies as two useful references the Summer 1972 Transactions on the AESS, with a cumulative index from 1951 to 1971, plus related history; and the June 1965 IEEE Transactions on Aerospace, Vol. NS3, No. 2, 79-82, which announced the merger of various societies.