February 1964 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.
In this "Pi in the Sky
and Big Twist" episode of John Frye's "Carl & Jerry" series, the boys are by
now into their college years at Parvoo University. Having been a mix of electronics
experimenters, Ham radio operators, and high tech sleuths since high school times,
the two friends find themselves once again participating in an event that depends
upon cool heads and quick thinking. As is typical of Mr. Frye's tales, more
than one topic is woven into the story, and usually real-life products, companies,
and scenarios are incorporated in an effort to inform his readers. The Midwest Program
on Airborne Television Instruction (MPATI) mentioned was an out-of-the-box idea
in the pre-satellite era for broadcasting educational programming to areas that
otherwise did not experience good quality over-the-air reception.
Purdue University (note the similarity to "Parvoo U."), in Indiana, played a
key role in the program where
were outfitted with a transmitter and a hydraulically stabilized antenna, and would
fly for many hours at a time to provide rural areas with classroom instruction via
TV. MPATI is a obvious spin-off of the
Stratovision system experimented with by Westinghouse Electric
Corporation and The Glenn L. Martin Company in the mid 1940s.
Carl & Jerry: Pi in the Sky and Big Twist
A Carl and Jerry Adventure in Electronics
By John T. Frye W9EGV
The February afternoon was unseasonably warm. Low clouds scudded across the sky
and a gusty, damp wind was blowing from the southwest as Carl parked the car at
the Parvoo University Airport.
"There's Bill's Cessna parked on the apron," Jerry said, climbing out of the
car, "but I don't see Bill. You sure he wanted us to fly up-river with him to see
the ice jam this afternoon ?"
"Sure I'm sure," Carl retorted. "There he is now over by that hangar. He's motioning
to us. Let's see what he wants."
Bill Vardon, a senior at Parvoo, had a wealthy father back in Texas who had the
poor taste to make his fortune in neither cattle nor oil. Instead, he had piled
up dimes from a chain of root beer and hot dog stands extending clear across the
country, but those dimes had bought Bill his own airplane and had made him a BMOC.
He was, though, a "very right guy" in both Carl's and Jerry's eyes.
"Before we take off, I thought you electronic buffs might like a close-up look
at the DC-six MPATI plane in the hangar here," tall, lanky Bill drawled. "I've got
permission for us to go inside."
"We sure would," Jerry said promptly.
Both boys, of course, knew about MPATI, the Midwest Program on Airborne Television
Instruction, that now was in its third year of operation. They knew that every Monday
through Thursday morning of the school year a big DC-6 took off from its base at
the Parvoo University Airport and climbed to its station at 23,000 feet over the
little town of Montpelier in northeastern Indiana. There, staying within a ten-mile
circle, it flew for better than five hours in a shallow figure-eight pattern so
that turns could always be made into the wind. During this time two complete UHF
TV transmitters inside the plane telecast simultaneous but different programs on
channels 72 and 76. The video-taped educational programs telecast had been prepared
by the finest TV instructors discovered in a nationwide talent search, and they
covered such subjects as English, French, Spanish, history, literature, music, dramatics,
science, and math. Because of the last subject, some wag had dubbed the program
"Pi in the Sky." The educational telecasts were picked up and used by schools in
six states within a 200-mile radius of Montpelier.
There she is, fellows," Bill said as they stopped beneath the wing of the plane
that looked much larger inside the hangar than it did outside. "This plane is kept
standing by in case something goes wrong with the other one flying on station. It's
stocked with duplicate tapes and could take over the telecast as soon as it takes
off and climbs to position."
"What's that long thing in the plastic cover sticking back beneath the belly
of the plane?" Carl wanted to know.
"That's the twenty-four-foot transmitting antenna," Bill answered. "When the
plane is on station, this is moved hydraulically to a straight-down position and
a gyro keeps it within one degree of the vertical during all normal flight maneuvers.
If it wasn't for that, the transmitted signal pattern would be tilting all over
the place when the plane banks or climbs, and reception in many places would be
"One antenna for two transmitters?" Jerry queried with raised eyebrows.
"That's right. The klystron final stages
of both transmitters - which operate at about five kw each - feed the same antenna
through a diplexer arrangement that prevents interaction. That's just one of some
of the 'firsts' the MPATI engineers have worked out."
"Must be a lot of valuable electronic gear inside that plane," Carl observed
"I'm sorry I couldn't wangle permission for us to go inside the plane today,"
Bill replied, "but it's really something to see. Six and a half tons of transmitters,
video tape equipment, operating consoles, and test equipment are bolted down in
there. I say 'bolted down' because every bit of equipment has to be mounted solidly
enough to take the stress of a very rough landing. Aviation authorities insist on
this. At the same time, the stuff has to be shock-mounted to prevent the vibration
of the plane from knocking the sensitive, high-gain circuits out of whack."
"It must take a lot of power to feed two complete TV transmitters," Jerry said
thoughtfully. "Where does it come from ?"
"Back in the non-pressurized tail section are gas-turbine-driven, four-hundred-cycle
generators that put out seventy-five kw. The standard TV transmitters had to be
modified to use the four-hundred-cycle a.c., but they had to do it - higher-frequency
power means a lot less iron in the generators and transformers, and a lot less weight."
"How many guys does it take to man this flying TV station?" Carl asked.
"Six. Three are flight crew, and the other three are technicians who operate
the transmitters and keep an eye on performance. The signals are monitored all the
time by technicians right here in the hangar, and they keep in touch with the TV
guys in the plane through a radio circuit entirely separate from the one used by
the pilot and the control tower. Any time the received signal gets bad, it's seen
by the technicians on the ground and corrected by those in the plane if possible.
Right now no live programs are shown, but they have a camera in the plane for transmitting
test patterns between programs and to make slide announcements on program changes,
transmission quality, and so on."
"How would you like this kind of set-up for ham TV experiments?" Carl asked Jerry.
"Great, but a little expensive to operate," Jerry replied laughingly.
"Well, men, we'd better be shoving off for a look at that ice jam," Bill broke
in. "The flying weather is not so hot, and I want to be back at the airport before
dark. The air is unstable, and there's an alert out for possible tornadoes up until
midnight. I don't think there's anything to worry about, or I wouldn't go up, but
I don't want to be up there in the dark playing blindman's buff with some twisters
I can't see."
A few minutes later the boys were in the Cessna four-place plane waiting for
permission to take off. Jerry sat to the right of Bill; Carl took one of the seats
behind them. Permission was given, and they were off down the runway, gathering
speed as melted snow-water splattered from beneath the wheels of the tricycle landing
gear up against the bottom of the plane.
Bill, an expert pilot, took the plane off the ground quickly and smoothly. He
circled and then leveled off well below the clouds and set a northeast course that
followed the twisting ribbon of the Wabash River. The air was rough and bumpy, but
a tail wind sped them along upstream until they reached the jam in the river some
thirty miles from their starting point.
As Bill dipped a wing and circled lower, the boys could see the jam was a big
one. Great cakes of ice had humped up to a height of several feet above the normal
level of the river, and the dammed-up water had spread out across the fields on
either side and was cutting new channels back into the river below the jam. Broken
cakes of ice stood on end as far upstream as the boys could see, and Bill flew on
up-river to find out how far the jam extended. No open water was seen until they
were almost to the town where Carl and Jerry lived, nearly seven miles above where
the jam started.
"Guess I'll fly south a ways and then cut across to fifty-two and follow that
back into Parvoo," Bill said, banking the Cessna away from the river. "Say, what
school's that down there?"
"Lincoln Township Consolidated School," Jerry said, looking down at the brick
school building surrounded by soggy cornfields. "Look at the parabolic antenna on
top of the building pointing over to the east. They must watch the MPATI programs.
"Hey, Bill, look over to the right!" Carl interrupted. "Is that what I'm afraid
Bill took one look at the dark funnel that had suddenly lowered from the clouds
two or three miles to the southwest and then banked the plane sharply away from
the course he had been flying.
"It's a twister, all right," he said grimly, "and we don't want to tangle with
With awe the. boys watched the slender, writhing column of the tornado and the
path of destruction it was leaving behind it. "It's sure traveling in a straight
line," Carl remarked. "Look at it chewing up that telephone line! Say, if it keeps
going the way it's headed, that school is going to be right in its path!"
Bill was already on the plane's radio calling the control tower at Parvoo and
asking the operator to call the school and warn them of the approaching tornado.
In a few seconds-they seemed like minutes to the boys watching the relentless advance
of the evil thing - the tower reported it was impossible to get through to the school.
The telephone lines were down. Probably they were the same lines the boys had seen
"Maybe I can buzz the school and get someone's attention," Bill suggested, heading
back toward the building.
"Not a prayer of a chance," Carl said, shaking his head. "With that big SAC base
only ten miles away, there's hardly a minute of the day or night without the sound
of some kind of plane around here. Even if you got someone outside, that grove of
trees southwest of the school screens off the sight of anything coming from there.
Could you land, maybe?"
Bill shook his head. "I can't land along the road because of the power lines.
The fields are so soupy with this thaw that we would flip over as soon as our wheels
touched. I sure hate ... "
"Wait! There's still a chance!" Jerry exclaimed. "Call the control tower and
lave them phone the guys in the MPATI hangar. Ask them to have the technicians in
the plane put warning slides in front of the announcement cameras for both transmitters.
It's a slim chance, rut it's all we've got."
Bill was on the radio before Jerry finished. The alert control tower operator
immediately grasped the plan. By the time he radioed back to tell the boys the MPATI
plane was telecasting the warning, the tornado was scarcely half a mile away. Bill
flew away from the storm at right angles to its path, and the boys watched helplessly
as the funnel cut through the grove of trees, uprooting them and tossing them about
as though they were straws, and then advanced directly on the school building.
For several minutes after the funnel struck the building nothing could be seen
but flying debris; then, suddenly, .the funnel was sucked back up into the clouds
as though satisfied with the devastation it had wrought. As the dust settled, the
boys saw that a whole wall of the upper story on the north side had been torn out.
Most of the roof was gone. As Bill circled the building at a low level, the boys
could not see a single unbroken pane of glass.
But even as they watched, sick at heart, students and teachers came pouring up
an outside basement entrance and spread out over the brick-strewn yard. A young
man, apparently the principal, noticed the plane flying anxiously overhead and suddenly
began shoving the students into groups. At first the boys in the plane were puzzled;
then they saw what he was doing. The groups of students spelled out in ragged letters:
"O.K." The plane carried three light hearts as it turned toward Parvoo.
When the boys landed, they learned the rest of the story that had been relayed
to the MPATI people by the principal as soon as he had been able to get through
on the telephone. A class had been watching a French telecast when the hastily-printed
warning flashed on the screen of the receiver. The teacher told the principal, and
he immediately herded all students into the southwest corner of the basement according
to a prearranged disaster plan. Not a single child received a scratch.
"Everything and everybody got into the act today," Carl mused as he and Jerry
drove back to their residence hall. "Ice jam, Bill's Cessna, the DC-six, the airborne
transmitters, the receiver in the school, two-way radio circuits, telephone lines,
the three of us, the MPATI crew and technicians, the tower operator, the school
teacher, the principal - take away anyone of these essential links, and I hate to
think of the results.
"Yep," Jerry agreed. "Roles from the hero, Pi in the Sky, villainous Big Twist!"
Carl Anderson and Jerry Bishop were two teenage boys whose
love of electronics, Ham radio, and all things technical afforded them ample opportunities
to satisfy their own curiosities, assist law enforcement and neighbors with solving
problems, and impressing – and sometimes toying with - friends based on their proclivity
for serious undertakings as well as fun.
Vox Electronik, September 1958
- Pi in
the Sky and Big Twist, February 1964
Bell Bull Session, December 1961
Boogie, August 1958
- TV Picture,
Electronic Eraser, August 1962
Trap, March 1956
at Work, June 1956
Aweigh, July 1956
Bosco Has His Day, August 1956
Hand of Selene, November 1960
or Not?, October 1956
Electronic Beach Buggy, September 1956
Extra Sensory Perception, December 1956
in a Chimney, January 1956
Performance, November 1958
of Judas, July 1961
- The Sucker,
New Year, January 1963
Snow Machine, December 1960
Extracurricular Education, July 1963
Slow Motion for Quick Action, April 1963
Sleuthing, August 1963
- TV Antennas,
a Soroban, March 1963
Fair --", September 1963
Worm Warming, May 1961
Santa's Little Helpers - December 1955
Two Tough Customers - June 1960
Pocket Radio, TV Receivers
Yagi Antennas, May 1955
Stomping, March 1962
Blubber Banisher, July 1959
- The Sparkling
Light, May 1962
Research Rewarded, June 1962
- A Hot Idea, March
- The Hot
Dog Case, December 1954
A New Company is Launched, October 1956
Under the Mistletoe, December 1958
Electronic Eraser, August 1962
- "BBI", May 1959
Sound Waves, July 1955
- The River
Sniffer, July 1962
- Ham Radio,
Torero Electronico, April 1960
Wireless, January 1962
Electronic Shadow, September 1957
Elementary Induction, June 1963
- He Went
Electronic Detective, February 1958
Aiding an Instinct, December 1962
- Two Detectors,
with a Tachometer, July 1960
and the Pirates, April 1961
The Crazy Clock Caper, October 1960
Carl & Jerry: Their Complete Adventures is
now available. "From 1954 through 1964, Popular Electronics published 119 adventures
of Carl Anderson and Jerry Bishop, two teen boys with a passion for electronics
and a knack for getting into and out of trouble with haywire lash-ups built in Jerry's
basement. Better still, the boys explained how it all worked, and in doing so, launched
countless young people into careers in science and technology. Now, for the first
time ever, the full run of Carl and Jerry yarns by John T. Frye are available again,
in five authorized anthologies that include the full text and all illustrations."
Posted February 3, 2020