August 1958 Popular Electronics
Table of Contents
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
published October 1954 - April 1985. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
Necessity is the
mother of invention, according to a popular saying, and perhaps there is no
greater need that the one for survival as a nation. It cannot be denied that
most of our advanced technology has been invented for the sake of defending the country
against the threat of invasion from a formidable enemy who intends to use its
advanced technology against you*. Whether you love, hate or are neutral on the
military, you have benefitted from its existence both in the form of enduring
freedom and from everyday products and methods produced due to its existence.
Human nature being what it is, history has shown that simply being willing to
lay down your arms and play nice with the rest of the world does not result in
peace - only in your being subject to somebody else's control. Missile
technology - particularly the intercontinental range type - was the primary
concern during the Cold War because of the relative ease with which a salvo
could be launched without ever putting an airplane and crew in the air. Mutually
Assured Destruction (MAD)
philosophy has thus far prevented a doomsday scenario, but now with rouge
countries like Iran and North Korea, willing to commit national suicide, pushing
hard to acquire
ICBM capability, a new reality exists. Unfortunately, some
U.S. administrations and companies have abetted the aforementioned countries in
acquiring nuclear warhead and missile delivery capability. The U.S. Air Force's
Florida Missile Test Range highlighted in this 1958 Popular Electronic
magazine article was established in 1949 and still exists today under the name
* Either directly or indirectly in the form of defense department contracts,
and either directly or indirectly in the form of offensive and defensive weapons
Electronics - Vital to Missile Control
Pop'tronics pays a visit to the test center at
Cape Canaveral, Florida
By Oliver Read
Publisher and Editor
Missiles and electronics are essential to our national defense. At no time in
history has any science played a more vital role than in the development of electronic
devices capable of determining the behavior of guided missiles. We paid a visit
to the Test Center at Cape Canaveral and the Air Force Missile Test Center at Patrick
Air Force Base in order to bring a first-hand report to Pop'tronics readers as to
the function of electronic devices in the fields of control and instrumentation.
Automatic missile tracking antenna.
A technician runs the daily maintenance check on a telemetering
The mission of the Air Force Test Center is: To establish, maintain and operate
the Florida Missile Test Range and its supporting facilities for the purpose of
conducting tests and collecting test data on guided missiles, controlled targets,
drones and allied equipment for the U. S. Air Force, and for the Army and Navy when
directed; to support Air Force contractors and other governmental testing agencies;
to evaluate tests performed by the Air Force or Air Force contractors, and to conduct
and support missile testing and operational training.
Electronic instrumentation is the responsibility of six divisions - these include
radar, optics and telemetry. In other areas are communications, timing and firing,
and a group referred to as "data translation." Instrumentation is described as follows
: making measurements of phenomena and translating these measurements into language
that humans can understand either by on-board telemetry transmitted back to the
ground or by radar optical devices on the ground looking at a distance.
Speed, direction, height and trajectory of test missiles are determined both
by external and internal measurements.
RCA engineers at the Air Force Missile Test Center are concerned primarily with
external measurements. From a fixed position they derive measurements of velocity
and acceleration using pulse radar techniques, c.w. techniques, tracking metric
cameras and long focal-length cameras. Fixed cameras are used along the launch area
for accurate determination of position during the launch phase. The c.w. tracking
systems, which employ the later, more sophisticated techniques of phase comparisons,
determine the position from the velocity and acceleration of the missile.
In the telemetry area, measurements are made primarily to receive and record
information which has been transmitted in accordance with inter-range standards.
Findings are defined to the customers (the missile manufacturers) as well as the
frequencies that they shall use, the deviations they shall use on those frequencies
both for the r.f. transmission and for the sub-carrier composite transmission. These
are recommended as a result of research done by the Instrumentation Engineering
Branch of RCA Service Co. and by others which are combined with the old Research
and Development Board standards and the Inter-Range Instrumentation Group (called
The telemetering process, as it applies to the tracking or the gathering of data
about the performance of a missile, is indeed a fascinating subject. The standards
recommended by IRIG specify the r.f. frequencies between 215 and 245 mc. and that
the sub-carriers will go from some 300 to 400 cycles up to 70 kc. The deviations
are required to be within plus or minus 7 1/2 % of the center frequency.
A system of tape recording has been developed through the years permitting the
recording of all information transmitted via telemetry on half-inch 7-track tape.
All intelligence received from an airborne missile is recorded in addition to range
timing to a very accurate degree. A reference frequency, which is crystal-controlled,
is also mixed with the information and is used later to eliminate wow and flutter
areas. These three - timing, reference and airborne composite - are all recorded
for each radar frequency link.
Maintenance and operation of the telemetry equipment at Cape
Canaveral is a full-time job for RCA engineers and technicians.
A crew calibrates telemetry receivers and recording equipment.
"Timing Central" at the Cape picks up time signals from Station
WWV and retransmits them throughout the vast missile test range to provide accurate
and standardized timing for all missile operations.
Chart of the complete 5000-mile range Air Force Missile Test
Center, which has as its origin the launching area at Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The Variplotter display board, which is a part of the Impact
Range timing is the key to all of the instrumentation because all phenomena occur
as a function of time. If a Snark, for example, lost a wing in flight, instrumentation
would reveal its position, probably its velocity and its acceleration, as well as
provide other pertinent data.
Preparations for a test begin many hours before an actual firing. In order to
provide information for the missile manufacturers, literally hundreds of electronic
instruments are needed in the field. Tests are run on all equipment to determine
what it will and will not do.
The period during "count down" is primarily in the hands of the customer - the
missile contractor. He's the one calling the shots according to a prescribed procedure.
The electronic engineers, in turn, indicate to him that they can or cannot make
the measurements requested. If a radar, for example, scheduled to operate during
the tests, blows up or burns out a tube during the count, the operators inform the
contractor immediately and give an estimate of when the equipment will be back in
service. The contractor makes the decision right on down through the launch as to
whether or not he will "go," depending upon the availability of range instrumentation
or his own missile instrumentation.
It was emphasized to us during our visit that the primary concern is "range safety."
Not only does electronics serve to protect the mainland of Florida, but its function
extends to protect the down-range islands from possible damage. We were told that
several missiles have been deliberately destroyed to prevent them from causing any
potential damage to human life throughout the range.
The 5000-mile range is divided into grids on the charts, and if a missile deviates
into a danger zone, an electronic system called ELSSE takes over. This is an electronic
sky screen which, by using r.f. radiation from telemetry or other signal sources
on the missile, predicts what the flight path will be both in azimuth and programing
(the tilt from the vertical). This information is given to an Air Force officer,
and if the tilt or the azimuth changes from what it should be beyond certain limits,
the officer only has to push a button which sends a signal to the missile and destroys
Importance of Radar
The new instrumentation radar, XN1, built by RCA and pictured on our cover this
month, plays its part after the early ELSSE launch phase. Information from this
radar feeds position information to an IBM 704 computer. The computer has been programed
to predict where the vehicle would impact were the fuel cut at any time. The computer
supplies information so that the range safety officer and Air Force officer know
at all times where the vehicle would impact if either were to push a big red "destruct"
button at the operating position. This is known as the impact prediction system.
When a missile is fired, the radar is directed where to point so that it will
see the target. Information usually comes from sources close to the missile. This
is known as target acquisition data and is provided to the XN1 which then gets on
track. This is known as a monopulse radar.
The position of the "dish" is taken off digitally by digital pickup devices,
and the range is also taken off digitally and is fed to the data transmission system
in terms of frequency tones transmitted over regular land lines to the Cape where
the computer is located. Another one of these radars situated at Grand Bahamas does
the same thing and information is transmitted digitally through a submarine cable.
The reason for using digital devices is that greater accuracy can be maintained
and more precise bits of information transmitted dealing with elevation range.
The impact prediction system is only one of the many fascinating functions of
electronics at the missile test center. Our congenial host, Harold Moriss, Manager
of Instrumentation Engineering at RCA, explains the necessity of electronics as
Tape speed indicator at RCA center is adjusted by technician
before missile launching.
"In the six divisions of instrumentation which I have made in my organizational
setup, five of them are completely electronic, the sixth one is optics. Without
those five that are completely electronic, we could make no measurements on the
missile program at all. Things are happening so fast that the human mind cannot
interpret or measure without electronics. Further, they're happening at a distance
- in other words, we can't ride along piggyback on the missile to find out what's
"We must make measurements and make these electronically and transmit them to
the ground for later analysis. I think the key to the whole problem is speed and
measurement at a distance. Of course the word telemeter, I believe, comes from the
Greek which means to measure at a distance. This is precisely what we are doing
with our radar systems of both pulse and c.w. type because they do the same thing.
So, without electronics there would be no missile testing program."
We learned from Mr. Moriss that the engineers responsible for these fantastic
devices were generally in their early 30's. In answer to our question, "What are
the opportunities for young people who are willing to study electronics in this
particular field ?" he replied: "I couldn't recommend any field more highly. We've
just scratched the surface. I'm reminded of Columbus and the time he set out from
Spain to see if the world was flat or round - this is about the position we're in
regarding space work today. It's a magnificent opportunity for anyone with curiosity
and ambition and who wants to find out about the unknown."
Posted September 6, 2019