TAPE 1, SIDE 1
MR. COLLINS: We'd like to follow on to some of the things we discussed in our previous interview about Draper Labs, and then discuss your work at RCA. First, a fairly specific question, and then a few more general ones. During the war period in Draper Lab, I was wondering whether there was any particular concerns for issues relating to patents that resulted from work that was funded by government contracts? Was it an issue you were aware of? I know that Doc Draper, during this period, filed for a number of patents, and there was some concern at the OSRD about this whole question, about how it should be handled. Were you familiar at all with this particular issue?
DR. SEAMANS: Well, it wasn't an area that I was completely immersed in, but I know that the spring suspension of the gyro in the Mark 14 was a patentable item, and I know that the Institute obtained some kind of a royalty on it, on its use, and that there was a fairly sizeable sum of money involved. Now, I guess I ought to say, this is somewhat hearsay on my part, because we sometimes had trouble having walls painted and various other things done for the Laboratory. Doc would partly in jest, point out that he felt that it ought to be done because he'd brought quite a bit of revenue into the Institute, and he'd like to see some of it coming back. But, now, the normal practice, of course, is, when you obtain a patent using government funds, that you give a royalty-free use of the patent to the government. I'm really not the ultimate authority on this matter, but that's the way I remember it. I know that J. Forrester, this was right after the war, with Project Whirlwind, was able to get a patent on magnetic core memories, for which I think that the Institute, before they were through, received license fees on the order of a million dollars or more.
COLLINS: I understand this is not your area of expertise, but I'm still curious. Was the patent structured so that the patent was actually in the name of the Institute?
SEAMANS: Well, I really don't know, on particular patents, including the one about the Mark 14 and the Jay Forrester one, for sure, but my understanding has always been that it was in the name of the Institute.
COLLINS: Did you have, even during war period or afterwards, any licenses?
SEAMANS: Yes, I did. I obtained a patent on the use of integrating gyros for stabilization of aircraft. And this grew out of the work that I did right after the war, in the tracking control project. Frank Wilkins and I obtained a patent on that, for which I have received absolutely nothing. I doubt the Institute has either.
COLLINS: What were the arrangements? Was the patent in your name or in the Institute's name, do you recall?
SEAMANS: Well, I know my name was on it. But the--I understood that the Institute itself was filing, and that any royalties would accrue to the Institute. Certainly there was absolutely no expectation on my part that I would realize any return. I'm sure neither Doc Draper nor Jay Forrester received any direct fees.
COLLINS: Yes. What I'm getting at is, I'm curious how it was handled organizationally.
SEAMANS: Organizationally, there was a legal department at MIT, headed by a patent lawyer named Dick Hildreth. I'm not positive whether he was employed by the Institute or whether he worked in a Boston law firm that represented MIT. I spent quite a bit of time sitting with him, explaining how an integrating gyro worked and how the gyro in turn tied in with the aircraft and its controls. And I actually signed off on the application, before it went to the Patent Office.
COLLINS: I wonder if this played in at all to the concern of Killian, for example, with sponsored laboratories, how this issue even though this brought in money to the university, which was kind of a mitigating factor in the presence of sponsored laboratories.
SEAMANS: Frankly, I never heard it come up in that context. But it is a matter of great policy consequence to the Institute even up to the present time. When a company like Exxon, ten years ago, wanted to provide a grant, they finally did provide a million dollars a year for ten years, but the intellectual right to what was done was a big issue. I negotiated a smaller one with General Motors, and we were able to develop an understanding just as though we were working for the government. MIT would hold the patent, and the company that was doing the sponsoring would have a royalty-free license to use whatever came out, and almost equally important from the Institute's standpoint, MIT would have complete publishing rights, without the approval of the company in question. We would not have to go to them to get permission to publish any of our findings.
COLLINS: All right, let's move on to another subject. I'm a little bit curious, from a previous interview, if you could quickly outline the titles that you held while you were at MIT and the Instrumentation Laboratory, just as a clarification.
SEAMANS: Well, I think it's easier to think of them in terms of, first, academic titles, and then research titles, because they're really independent. The basic title of course has to do with the academic side, and my first job there, for just a matter of a week or two, was as a research assistant. But then I became an instructor, and this would be in the fall of '41, and I was an instructor for four years, and then I became an assistant professor. I don't really remember exactly when I became an associate professor, but somewhere in that period. I would guess that for the last five years or more I was there, I was an associate professor. And of course, what that doesn't really tell you, because you don't carry that as part of your title, is when a person gets tenure. But I actually, you couldn't do it today, I actually had tenure a year before I became an associate professor. You've got my biog. I think it's right in the biog, when I became associate professor, but maybe not.
COLLINS: Did you receive tenure then before you formally received your PhD or SCD in 1951?
SEAMANS: I'd have to look it up. I think I did. I reached the point where I was on the faculty, and I almost think I was an associate professor before I got my PhD, and Dr. Hunsaker came to me in, I would think it was 1948, when he said, "Look, you're going up this track pretty fast, and it will be unreasonable pretty soon for you to go after your doctor's degree. It wouldn't be appropriate," or words to that effect. I wasn't quite sure why but that's what he said. "So if you're really interested, you'd better get going on it." We had quite a discussion at home, because I realized I guess more than my wife did what this was going to mean to our family life, and it was a real struggle for my wife and me, too, for three years. From '48 to '51 I did both. I never took any leave of absence or cut back on the work I was doing for the Institute, as I was going after my doctor's degree, except for the time I took going to classes.
COLLINS: So you did have to take classes to move on to a PhD.
SEAMANS: I had to take classes in my minor. I did not have to take them in the field of instrumentation. Instrumentation was a special program at the Institute at that time that was administered by six faculty members, chaired by Dr. Draper, and the others were Gordon Brown in Electrical Engineering, he was a control person, eventually became dean of the Engineering School, Franklin in mathematics, Sears in physics, Den Hartog in mechanical, and maybe that's it. What you had to do was, in effect, to meet with that committee, and agree on what the major field of study would involve. But in addition I needed a minor, and I took my minor in mathematics, and I had to formally take graduate courses in mathematics. I took advanced calculus for engineers with Hildebrand, and I took differential geometry with a person named Dirk Struik, who was one of our announced Communists at MIT. He had a great sense of humor, and at one time when he was talking about bodies of revolution, he said, "Oops, I shouldn't say that--bodies of rotation." He was Dutch and he was a great teacher, but he was indicted, finally, and had to take a leave of absence. This was in the McCarthy period. Anyway, I had to take those courses, and I also had to pass a German and a French exam. The French was okay. I passed that. I'd had French. But I actually had to study German there at the Institute and take an exam.
COLLINS: I was going to ask whether your focus on mathematics for a minor was the result perhaps of perceiving the need in doing the work that you'd done during the war and just after for a stronger mathematics?
SEAMANS: Yes, it was, and it was also because, in discussing with Doc Draper, that's exactly what he did, and he felt that one of the most important courses he took was differential geometry which is a natural lead-in to tensor analysis. As it turned out, I really didn't need it. The computer came along and I never really had to use it, except as a sort of state of mind in dealing with, say, spatial problems and the geometry of the gyro and navigation in space. On the research side, you could over-do this title business. Early on I started working with Walter McKay on aircraft flight instruments. I was just a member of a group that he had. This is not really in the Draper Laboratory. It was a separate laboratory--I don't know that it even had a name to it--but this was a naval study of the performance of aircraft under what might be thought of as extreme conditions, a very high speed dive for an F-6F, that kind of thing, and we had to calibrate certain instruments. We had to actually develop a couple of instruments that didn't exist, like an angular accelerometer I worked on, and that took about a year and a half before we were through. Then I was invited by Doc to come in and work first on the A-1 sight within the Draper Lab. I was a member of the team. And then I was given a very small project to do, sort of in the middle of all of that, which was to build what was called the target acquisition system for the Mark-63 director. I think we discussed that. And then right after the war, the whole matter of the dynamics of everything involved, the pilot,the control, the inertia of the airplane, the dynamics of the radar, the computer, came into question, and we started a project which was called the tracking control project, and I was director of that project, within the Instrumentation Laboratory. That was a project that had something like 35 staff employees and I guess we might have had 80 or some number like that thesis students, mostly Master's but I think six or seven Doctoral students, working on it in the course of roughly a three or four year period. Then I was asked by the Institute to become the, let me get the right title here, the systems engineer of the Meteor project.
COLLINS: Okay, so you worked as director of this flight dynamics project for about four years.
SEAMANS: Yes, something like that.
COLLINS: '46 to '50 approximately.
SEAMANS: Yes, that's right, and that's when we had an A-26 aircraft and we got its dynamics. We worked with the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory. We moved the controls, in known ways, and measured the total response of the airplane, first longitudinally and then laterally. First we learned how to do it by applying sinesoidal motion, then by just putting in pulses to the controls, and measuring the response. We wrote papers on the results. It was great fun. It was a good project. And it ended up with a big demonstration at Wright Field of all the different things we'd done. Not just with the aircraft but with all the electronics in the aircraft including the fire control. That's when the Meteor project came along, and I was the systems engineer. This is, I think I described it, a project that involved maybe seven different departments at MIT. It was not within the Instrumentation Laboratory, although the Instrumentation Lab had a piece of it. And I continued in that capacity until the Meteor project was cancelled. By then I had a team of maybe a hundred and twenty to a hundred and thirty or forty people working with me, as a sort of a nucleus, for the systems part of that program, and the question was what to do with them. So we said, "Well, it's a group that can do a lot of other things," and we called it the Flight Control Lab and I became the director. It was a laboratory within the Aeronautical Department, of which Doc Draper was by then the head. So I came back, and all of a sudden I was working for Doc Draper again, not just academically, as I had been all along, but also on the project work that I was doing.
COLLINS: One of the reasons I asked you to sketch that out is so we could begin to get an overview of the development of your participation in management and development of management skills. One statement that you made during the previous interview was that Doc Draper had a real knack for identifying sensitive points in the development and execution of a project. I just wonder whether that kind of observation about his managerial skill kind of was the beginnings of your own understanding of the management process, and on one small point provided you some insight into how to tackle these management jobs?
SEAMANS: Well, I'd like to think that I was smart enough to observer it and use that as one of the guides. I know it came into full focus in the days of Apollo, when we had to figure out what were the most critical elements and were we really addressing them properly. Prior to that, I guess in the Meteor project-- which was the first big one I got into when I wasn't really working for Doc Draper--the most critical element was definitely the so-called seeker, you might call it the radar, whatever it was that was observing the target. The seeker had received a lot of theoretical work, but had not really been put to practice with any hardware. One of the real issues was, how to get that hardware built, call it research environment. You know, a lot of these laboratories at MIT were not like the Draper Lab, that took pride not just in the more fundamental work but in good engineering practice. A lot of the labs--and I don't say they're wrong-- didn't have all of the capabilities that the Draper Lab had to actually construct good working hardware. They're much stronger, as I say, on the mathematical and the theoretical, than on the breadboarding and engineering.
COLLINS: To follow this a little bit further, was this kind of a difference in philosophy between Doc Draper and some of the others?
SEAMANS: Yes. I guess Gordon Brown was also in that same camp, he had the Servo Lab and so on. They felt that the committal to practice, the taking of the idea over into something that could be fully tested in what Doc Draper used to call "the real world environment" was an important part of, not just of the research, but of education itself. They called it the hands-on experience of a graduate student. You know, actually having to sit down at a drawing board and design something, not just all by oneself but working with others, and get the parts machined or the electronic circuitboards built, and then run out and actually see if it worked the way it was supposed to. That was a very important part of the educational process. And it was not unanimous at all at MIT, that that was the right way to go.
COLLINS: In the Meteor project, there seems to be something different, and that was that you were serving as a systems integrator as well as providing some technical development.
SEAMANS: That's true. It was sort of a strange project, in that it started right after the war, and it was understood that although the U.S. was ahead in many technologies, we were really behind in the missile areas, compared to what the Germans had done. We wanted to move ahead in those areas, and avail ourselves of what the Germans had done and move beyond that. So the six or seven different departments at MIT were encouraged to get involved. The Servo Lab people, to get involved in new hydraulic, high performance actuators, and the Propulsion people in new kinds of rocket propellants for example and new nozzle designs, and to build a supersonic wind tunnel for the aerodynamic side, and the electronic side, to get people involved in new kinds of seekers and so on. Then out of those studies came the idea of what was called the phase comparison seeker, where instead of having a dish like this, you'd have, in one plane two antennas, and you'd measure the difference between the phase of a signal coming to this one versus this one, which would give you an indication of the target direction. But what you were really interested in was how fast the target's moving across your nose, and so it was actually the rate of change of this phase angle that was important. That was a new concept, and by the time I got there, a lot of this had been going on for three and four years, but by then, the tone of things in Washington had changed somewhat. There was a lot of emphasis on actually getting some missile hardware, and a person named K.T. Keller had come over the horizon. The question was, whether we had the elements that would be needed for a new air-to-air missile? That's the reason I was thrown into this thing, to try to pull that off.
COLLINS: When the project began, there was some understanding that some prototype, some piece of hardware--
SEAMANS: I wasn't really there when it was started, but I'd say, at least by those at the Institute, they didn't see that there was any great rush about it. There wasn't the kind of tempo on the Meteor that you'd find in Draper's laboratory.
COLLINS: You said that these various departments were encouraged to explore the different technologies to produce the missile; who was doing the encouraging?
SEAMANS: Well, the original encouragement happened to come from the Bureau of Ordnance of the U.S. Navy.
COLLINS: So it was external to the university.
SEAMANS: Oh yes.
COLLINS: What I'm partly interested in, as this project moved along and the Bureau of Ordnance was the sponsor of it, how consistently did they come around to check on the progress? How did that aspect of it work, this interaction with the Bureau of Ordnance?
SEAMANS: Well, first of all, there were a couple of naval people who were assigned to MIT, and then down in the Bureau, there was always a project person who would be not only concerned with MIT but with all the other "contractors." They tended to lump us all together as somewhat equals, you might say, because you had Bell Aircraft and United Aircraft and the--what did they call it, the Federal Telecommunication Laboratories of IT and T. There were a couple more but I can't quite name them now. So these project people were worried about what was going on across the board. Then they brought in a company that was going to build all the test equipment, and here we were, MIT, all of a sudden in the role of being responsible for the design, and yet we didn't even have a prototype, and the contractors were just hot to build something. They were looking for big production of missiles. And the Navy people--there were both naval officers and Marine officers who actually ended up in project roles in the Bureau of Ordnance, and they were hammering away trying to get MIT, they looked at MIT as a bunch of somewhat sluggish research-oriented people who weren't properly motivated to give the Bureau of Ordnance the hardware it wanted.
COLLINS: When you came on as project director, were you the main point of contact for these Bureau of Ordnance people?
SEAMANS: Well, Ed Sneider was the overall boss of Project Meteor--he was, I guess, what was called chairman of the Meteor Committee. So in effect I reported to him, but I really had the responsibility for trying to put together this missile. Ed had to worry about administration problems. There was a Meteor library and a lot of other stuff that sort of went with this whole program, and there was some additional research funds that weren't looked at as part of what I was responsible for. I'd say that the thing I really learned in addititon to Doc Draper's dictum, to go for the weak points, was, how do you get disparate groups to work together? In the Instrumentation Lab, there was never that problem. I mean, on a given project, you had a project officer and all the people on the project reported directly to the individual. Doc was a believer, in those days, in organizing that way. When the project's over, you disband the group. By then you have another project, and some of the people leave MIT and other people come in and you re-arrange things, you get another stack of people with a project head who reports to Doc, and that's the way it was run. But when you end up with a systems engineering responsibility for groups of people in seven different departments, your hold over them, control of what happens, is a lot more ephemeral than anything I was used to. And I can't say I always handled myself very well. I think I mentioned the case, perhaps I didn't, of finally deciding I had to have a central systems group that would, at the very least, spell out what each group was supposed to be working on, from a sort of a technical requirements standpoint. Then I'd take the results and put them together and make the whole, everything, sing from the same score of music, if you will. And I needed to get expertise in this central group that understood what all the individual groups were doing. There were several people I had in mind that I wanted to have transferred, and the Aero department was very generous in what they did. They actually transferred the people I wanted, and that was the start of the nucleus of people I had to build with. But some of the other departments, were reluctant to give up their staff. I got pretty upset about it, you know. I thought if I was going to take on this responsibility, the people had to be a little more forthcoming. I think I may have mentioned, we finally ended up with a meeting, in Killian's office on this issue with all the various people there. I said, "You've got to transfer," and I actually named a person, and somebody said, "Well, supposing they don't want to join you?" That's when I made one of my big mistakes, I think I mentioned this. I said, "I think it's time we got a little discipline in this place," and that was the wrong answer. What I should have said was, "Well, obviously if he doesn't want to work with me, I don't want to have him. Let me choose somebody else."
COLLINS: How did Killian respond to this general problem of getting this project?
SEAMANS: I think he wished it would go away.
COLLINS: I mean, did he see any dramatic issues in terms of academic freedom?
SEAMANS: I think when I said what I did, that was quite an anathema to the people running MIT. You know, you like to think that there's a lot of academic freedom. You don't move people around. It was about that time Ed Sneider decided to leave MIT, and they put Dr. Hunsaker in as the new chairman, and he was just retiring as the head. He'd retired, I guess, maybe six or seven years before as head of the department and Doc Draper took over. But he was just retiring as the head of the NACA, just about that time. I think I'm right on that. Anyway, he must have been about my age now, late sixties, early seventies, and he was wonderful. He understood these kinds of problems, management kind of issues, and he was very supportive. He traveled with me, I think I mentioned, out to the West Coast, and because he was with me, we could actually meet not just with lieutenants and lieutenant commanders, but with captains and admirals. We got the program, I would say, on a fairly solid footing, just about the time that we were torpedoed in the engine room, as Nat Sage said.
COLLINS: In recounting that story of being torpedoed, it basically seemed like a decision of Keller that this was not a project that was really leading anywhere. But did you ever convey to the Navy that there were problems in having a university undertake this kind of work? Just the problems you've mentioned.
SEAMANS: I tried to. We tried to work both ways, tried to explain this to the Navy, and tried to get, not me to explain it--I was just a young squirt. We tried to get somebody like a Dr. Hunsaker explaining it, only he wasn't involved then, or Jim Killian or somebody else. Nat Sage, whom I think I mentioned, understood it very well, and he did his best, but it had sort of gone too far. It had been allowed to drift for too long. It was hard to pull it back. You know, some of the meetings we had were wild. Larry Bell of Bell Aircraft would be at the meeting. There would be a meeting that the Navy would call out in Buffalo at the Bell Aircraft plant, where there might be two hundred people at the project meeting, trying to decide something. I'd go up to the blackboard and try to put something responsible up there, and try to get agreement out of it.
COLLINS: When you say Hunsaker was the chairman, this was just for the group at MIT?
SEAMANS: Oh yes.
COLLINS: How did the representation from all these other things work? Was everyone on an equal footing?
COLLINS: Or was one of the companies or MIT appointed as chairman or overseer of the whole effort?
SEAMANS: There really wasn't. In the beginning, it was sort of expected that MIT would be the technical leader of this. But it got beyond MIT's ability to do much about it. You know, it's not a simple problem, and it's one that is addressed every time something gets developed in a place like MIT or the present Draper Lab. How do you go from having either an idea or a couple of working prototypes, to actually manufacturing something in large quantities? How do you keep the quality as you go through this? The people who take it over, the manufacturers, the contractors, will always feel that the design is very awkward to build, that it's sort of a scientist's view of the world or a physicist's view, but it's got to be redesigned considerably in order to be manufactured. They believe that in so doing, that it still will have the same performance, it will still meet the same requirements, but often it doesn't. There may be subtle reasons why it doesn't work the way it's supposed to. How do you get that transition properly supervised is a tough nut. If you look at the present Draper Laboratory, you can see right now, a good example of two ways of doing it. In one way, this is now the Trident project. The development of the guidance system is not only managed by the Draper Lab, but the Draper Lab in turn contracts for the production that goes on by the manufacturers. They've taken on a major commitment, where passing through the Draper Lab there's probably 100 million dollars of work. Now, we would never have done that at MIT. I don't think Killian would have ever agreed to it. However, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which works for NASA, subcontracted everything that they did in the planetary and the unmanned lunar program. Everything that went to JPL, in turn ended up as a subcontract to Hughes Aircraft and TRW, so that we, the government and NASA, were contracting for I would guess two or three or four hundred million dollars a year of contractor effort through the Scientific Teams at JPL. That's like the Trident. The other way of doing it is to say--this is the way the Air Force does it--"We, the Air Force, are going to have a string on MIT and a string on the contractor, and we want the contractor to make something that works as well as what has been built over here by say MIT or the Draper Lab, and we're going to give MIT the technical direction, in the sense that they've got this contractor, to keep them informed of what they're doing, and if this group at MIT feels that it's not being done correctly, then we, the Air Force, want to know about it and we, the Air Force, will straighten the contractor out."
COLLINS: That was basically the model that was employed with the development of various fire control devices, is that correct?
SEAMANS: Yes, it was. I don't believe there was a transfer, that I didn't hear Draper mutter and complain and say the contractors were lousing up his design. But if you look at the record, you have to say that it's remarkable how well the contractors did. That was the model that we followed on the guidance for the Apollo. The Draper Lab built the first model of the guidance system,and then it was up to the contractors to take over. The contractors were I think, Minneapolis Honeywell, Perkin-Elmer, I'm not quite sure of that, and it was up to them to make, you might say, Chinese copies. But there was a lot more to it than just making the Chinese copies.
COLLINS: Right. So you didn't have experience with the first model that you outlined of the subcontracting being done through the contractor until you came to NASA.
SEAMANS: I guess that's right. But we didn't even have the second arrangement, really, on the Meteor project. It had gone too far. It was sort of out of control. The people of Bureau of Ordnance were so impatient to get going, they really didn't want to hear, oftentimes, what we--MIT--had to say. I remember going out to Bell Aircraft and just begging them to do a better job of designing the internal layout of the missile. It was what I called an inside-the-egg design, everything on top of everything else. If something failed you had to take 19 other things out before you could get at the faulty part. Everything should be, in my book, called it modularized, so that if something goes wrong, you can take a whole module out and you can work on that and put a new module in.
COLLINS: How well developed was that concept at the time?
SEAMANS: Not very well, but it's what we had in mind. It's what we had learned working with Doc. But it was very hard to sell it.
COLLINS: I'm kind of curious. I know somewhere along in this period, a missile section or sub-unit was established within the aeronautics department that was headed up by Guy Stever. What was the character of that department, and what brought it into being?
SEAMANS: Which department would that have been?
COLLINS: It was called missiles, and it was sort of an opposite to weapons systems and weapons structures, or maybe these were just sub-units of study within the department. I'm not exactly clear. Do you recall?
SEAMANS: No, I don't exactly. Guy Stever was somewhat involved when Meteor was started, working with Ed Sneider, and I remember the two of them came around to try to sell Doc and me on the program early on, and we didn't want to have much to do with it. I'm a little vague about that. Guy had a lot of very important roles at MIT, and he ended up being, you know, the head of mechanical engineering.
COLLINS: Let me just see what I've been trying to reference to what I'm talking about here. This is how it goes. This is from a 1952 organizational chart, I guess it's called the weapons system division, which is, I assume, part of the aeronautics department.
SEAMANS: Yes. This is Doc Draper as head of the department. Walter Wrigley was the person who's really the great theoretician on inertial matters. Very able person. He was never involved in the research and development. He was strictly on the academic side, and if I'm not mistaken--and he was very much involved also with all of the Navy people that came through. You know, something like ten or fifteen a year would come through naval architecture and another ten or fifteen came through the so-called weapons systems program, all working toward their Master's degree.
COLLINS: You're talking about students?
SEAMANS: I'm talking about students. These were students who had graduated from Annapolis and they had five years of sea duty before they did graduate work . They used to do it at Annapolis, and then they went out on the West Coast, you know, Monterey. Then they would have a year either at Michigan or MIT, and that's what this was, I think, the group responsible for that Navy program. And there was a tie to the Instrumentation Lab because that's where they would do their thesis work. I think, if I'm not mistaken, that all of this would have to do with the academic program, special courses that were given. Jim Mar, I know, was working with Ray Bisplinghoff and they were looking at so-called weapon effects, the effect of nuclear blasts on aircraft structures and things of that sort. Sid Lees did a lot of work with Walt Wrigley and Doc on writing up the fire control program that Doc had. Each program ended up with pretty vast library of books with all the theory in it and so on, which was all written for posterity. I think probably Hal Lanning was the mathematician person in the whole thing. He's still in the Draper Lab, by the way. So I think Guy Stever was the person that would have been talking about how missiles might be deployed, and sort of overall use of them. That would be my guess on that.
COLLINS: The origins of interest in missiles in the MIT aeronautics department in the post-war period, certainly the project Meteor endeavor reflects this, and I'm curious that it was also reflected in this other program.
SEAMANS: I think in general you'll find, you have to figure out who all the players were. Working was going on on both sides. That was the overall intention, that the academic side would feed positively into the research side, the research side would feed positively back into new ideas, new technology and so on, for the academic side.
COLLINS: Did Doc Draper have any particular strong feelings about missiles as an area of application for inertial guidance? I know you briefly mentioned that he did not seem particularly interested in the Meteor project.
SEAMANS: I would say that in the beginning, Doc's interest was almost entirely in the use of inertial equipment for navigation of inhabited machines, be they bombers or submarines. It was somewhat later that the ICBM came into the picture. The inertial work was well under way prior to the time that this country got really interested in the development of the ICBM.
COLLINS: So why do you think Doc Draper took this particular stance, about preference for inhabited vehicles?
SEAMANS: Well, I think it was his sort of uncanny ability to look ahead and figure out what the needs were going to be for the next decade. When the ballistic missiles did come along, he was aboard them. But in the very beginning, there was no funding at all. He couldn't have raised a nickel, I don't believe, for work on inertial equipment, for ICBMs, when he could get the money for inertial guidance for aircraft.
COLLINS: Just to take project Meteor as an example--
SEAMANS: That was a small missile. That was just an air-to-air missile. It didn't need to have anything like the precision gyroscopes that were needed for inertial navigation, by a factor of about a thousand times. So it was not a challenge for the technology that he was interested in. That's not true of the ICBM. The ICBM took every bit of precision he could get.
COLLINS: So in the immediate postwar period, although there was this general interest in missile development, he just didn't see it as an immediate area of application.
SEAMANS: No. I guess the one area where he might have seen it was a thing called the Navajo, for example, which was an air-breathing missile. You can think of it as almost like a baby bomber. I mean, I don't think he ever really did show much interest in it, though. It's a good question. I think I've given you a fair answer.
COLLINS: Yes. Just to sort of step back a little bit to when you were directing this flight dynamics project, going back to the management question, here you basically stepped up from rather small scale activity as a member of the Instrumentation Laboratory to heading a project. Did that seem like a dramatic transition to you? Were there any special problems in adapting to managing a fairly large staff?
SEAMANS: Well, it sort of grew nicely, in that I had had the experience of that little target acquisition project. Much to my surprise, I found that I really enjoyed it, you know, the fact that I could make decisions and get things done. People would respond. When the tracking control project started, it wasn't I guess imagined right at the very start, the scope that it eventually grew into. So when I started in, I only had, I don't know, ten people or something like that, and it grew up to 35. It still wasn't a very big project.
COLLINS: It does present certain management concerns, about how you effectively get your work done.
SEAMANS: Yes. And I guess I have to say that I found I really enjoyed it, because I could do two things at once. On the one hand, there was still a lot of specific theoretical work particularly that I could do, actually that I wrote my thesis on. My thesis work, doctoral thesis, was really made use of that project, including some of the equipment and so on. And at the same time, there was the fun of working with people and getting something done, you know, getting some results, and everybody could see the results, that were important, and everybody got a lot of satisfaction out of building some gear and putting it in an airplane. You take it up in the air and you come back and you get the data, and you look at it, and it comes out the way you expect. There's a lot of satisfaction in that.
TAPE 1, SIDE 2
COLLINS: As you became a director of a project, did your relationship with Doc Draper change in any way? Did he see that he had to give you any special attention in terms of handling this management responsibility that you now had?
SEAMANS: That's a good question. Let me just make one other point here first. Somewhere along the line, as the result of the tracking control project, I was given the Elmer Sperry Award. This was given to somebody, I guess it was called "a young engineer for" an outstanding contribution in aeronautics, or something of that sort. It was given in memory of one of the Sperry family who died at an early age, and it was clearly for the tracking control project. I got a lot of satisfaction out of taking the money, the stipend that came with it, and going out and buying some pewter mugs, beer mugs with glass bottoms on them, and inscribing them withthe names of the various people who actually were reporting to me. I guess there were six or seven of them, in charge of different parts of that project. And then all going out and having some drinks, and I gave them all the pewter mugs. I don't know, it just seemed like a natural thing to do, nothing heroic about it or anything, but it was sort of fun, working with people and achieving results. As for Doc, by the time I was working on the tracking control project, he was really getting involved in inertial navigation. That's where his mental energies were really going, his creative energies, and I would say that he--you know, I'd keep him posted. From time to time I'd tell him about some of the things we had in the airplane. One time, I think I mentioned, when we took all these aircraft out to China Lake for a conference with the Navy, and he came along, and he loved flying the planes. He and Lee Davis would climb into the A-26 with all this gear in it. There was no co-pilot seat. There was an engineer's seat and a pilot's seat. And they'd get up there in the air, and they'd actually swap, and Doc would fly this stuff. I'd explained it to him and he'd get up there and he'd fly it. I don't know if I told you the story about a crew chief who went along, who was from Texas. I was flying out in a B-25 at the time, when the A-26 started making pursuit passes at us, and when I got out to Inyokern I was talking to the crew chief. He was visibly shaken by this experience, and he said, "I'm so glad when I finally get out here." He said, "When that little fat man climbed into the controls, I never thought we were going to make it." I told Doc the story on a number of occasions. He thought it was a big joke, because at that time he was pretty fat. He really was. He was overweight. But then, when I finally got over the Meteor project, he wasn't too partial to the program anyway. He wasn't particularly interested in what I was doing, and so we didn't really have very much communication back and forth.
COLLINS: You had increasing management responsibility during your time at the Instrumentation Laboratory at MIT. What impact did Doc Draper have on your ability to carry on this increasing responsibility?
SEAMANS: Well, it's very hard to itemize. It was very, very profound, I think. I'd say that, you know, of the people who have been an influence on the way I've thought, from a professional standpoint, probably Doc Draper is number 1. That he-- we've already talked about one thing that he would really stress: you've got to figure out where the critical elements are and then really go after them. I mean, that's one thing. Another thing he deeply believed was that you can't do things entirely intuitively just by trial and error, nor can you get anywhere by doing things by just being too theoretical without committing to practice. You've got to keep the two in balance--and that's pretty fundamental. When it comes to the management, I would say that Doc did one thing that's absolutely essential, and he did it right, and that was, great concern about all the people who worked with him, in many ways. I mean, day to day. It didn't matter who they were. If somebody was doing a very key job on a milling machine, you know, he'd go down there and he'd know him by his first name, and they'd call him Doc. You know, up and down the line, sideways, you name it. He always had a couple of open houses at his own house. You know, this was a great big thing, 500 people kind of stuff, and at the same time, I did not learn from him some things I learned later, which was how to work with other groups. As long as everything was within the Instrumentation Laboratory, within the Draper Lab, he was extremely effective. I learned a lot by the way he operated, but this sort of ordeal I went through in the Meteor project, I really wasn't trained for. I had to learn that the hard way by making some mistakes, bad mistakes, and--but fortunately I did get that experience at MIT, because it was absolutely essential to what happened in NASA, to understand how to try to get nine or ten different big centers around the country working together on a common project.
COLLINS: Did Draper have someone in the laboratory, a deputy or something, who helped him with this kind of external affairs problem?
SEAMANS: Doc never had what I'd call a deputy, or an alter ego. He had some very good administrative people who worked with him, who would worry about the budgets and the facilities and all of that. But he never really--but those people were never really involved in the intellectual side of the laboratory, even though some of them were quite capable of it. I remember very well a fellow named Al Coleman, a very competent person, who'd had experience in the Radiation Lab. But Doc wanted to have direct communication himself with all of the project leaders. He believed in spreading it out laterally, and he worked with each one. Now, as time went on, after I left there, he did start to pull them together in, call them clusters of Navy projects and clusters of Air Force projects and so on. But I would say that he was not interested in having anybody come in there who could really help him with the fundamentals.
COLLINS: I wonder in terms of dealing with his sponsors, and perhaps with the higher level administration, say for example that maybe Nat Sage would serve as a--
SEAMANS: Nat Sage was one of the best friends that Doc ever had. Nat really understood him. I think I mentioned before that he'd say, "You can always tell when Drape's going to come up with a new profound idea, because he becomes so difficult to work with. He becomes almost impossible--then you know he's about to really hatch a good one." But Nat Sage, you see, wasn't looked on by the real hierarchy at MIT as right up there with the provost and the vice president and the president. He was in charge of the DIC, the Division of Industrial Cooperation, a little bit down the ladder.
COLLINS: Yes. I was just wondering whether he helped on--I don't know if social graces is the right term, but in the sense of external issues.
SEAMANS: Well, he helped tremendously. But Doc was himself very good at working with the sponsors. And I think I mentioned this one too, which was another thing I learned from him. It's not enough to just have a good rapport with the project people. You know, the people with the day to day responsibility. Nor is it just enough to work with the admirals and the generals or whoever they are, who make the overall policy, because the people at the top really can't tell the people down the line what to do specifically. They're creating the ground rules, but they can be completely stymied because for some reason things go amuck in the bureaucracy. So you've got to work from here to here, up and down, and Doc did it amazingly well. When these people would come up, whoever they were, whatever rank, whether they were lieutenants or admirals, Doc and Nat Sage would take them around, take them over to the Fox and Hounds and give them martinis, and these people would walk away from MIT starry-eyed. You know, they'd been with the big men, they'd seen how the hardware worked. Doc would make it look perhaps sometimes a little better than it was, by the way he'd explain it. He was always intellectually honest, I don't mean to say that he wasn't that, but they'd have fun together, too.
COLLINS: He had a sensitivity for how other bureaucracies worked.
SEAMANS: He had a great sensitivity for the people that he was working for, or working with directly, but he wasn't always completely sympathetic about the people who might be thought of as competitors.
COLLINS: You mentioned this one episode in development of the Meteor project, when you were hoping for a little more discipline within the university context. Was some notion of discipline essential to the Draper idea of how the Instrumentation Laboratory worked? That's a sort of vague term, so I wonder if you might sketch that out.
SEAMANS: I never thought of it that way, but you know, in the Draper Lab, there wasn't any question about anybody's role there. I never knew a time when anybody could possibly have any uncertainty. You're either working for one of these projects, or you could have been in a support role in the mathematics group or something like that, but there was nothing ambiguous about it, and anybody who's in charge of a program, they knew exactly what resources they had available to get the job done. I had 35 people working for me, and in turn I could make use of certain computer people and so on, who could in those days run things off with Marchand calculators and all of that.
COLLINS: So what you were really calling for in this appeal for discipline was a clarification of priorities.
SEAMANS: Yes, that's right. It wasn't that people weren't disciplined.
COLLINS: Following then the influence of Doc Draper a little further,it appeared interesting to me, as you began to move out of the Meteor project and considered the development of this Flight Controls Lab, that the idea you had in mind was essentially a kind of parallel setup or model comparable to the Instrumentation Lab.
SEAMANS: Much smaller, of course, and that was not unique. Ray Bisplinghoff had his Aero Elastic Laboratory which was a group taking government contracts and doing work on weapons effect with Jim Mar. But they were also doing work on planes like the B-47 and the B-52 with flexible wings, and how you make them stable. Each department at MIT, you know, even today, has a variety of laboratories that are part of that academic department. So there was no concern on Doc Draper's part that I wanted to compete with his laboratory.
COLLINS: What I was getting at, it seemed interesting that the model that seemed to be evolving for the Flight Control Laboratory as well as some of the other laboratories within the aeronautics department followed fairly closely the model that was developed in the Instrumentation Lab.
SEAMANS: That's true. I've mentioned the fact that I got a call when I was on the coast of Maine that we had to fold our tent, but Doc and Nat Sage I'd say fought the good fight to keep that lab going. But it was felt that things were getting out of hand, that there was just too much development, and the tail was wagging the dog. Before the Flight Control Lab really got going, you might say it folded up or folded into other existing laboratories.
COLLINS: I guess what I was unclear on from your exposition last time was whether the Flight Control Laboratory was ever officially established.
SEAMANS: Yes, it was. It had a name. It had that title. It had me as the director. Actually I think if you hunted through, if you hit just the right year, you'd find it in here as part of the aero department.
COLLINS: What did you have to go through to get this thing established? Did you have to go through some kind of formal procedure?
SEAMANS: No, we had our technical people. We had a small machine shop. We had a purchasing agent. You know, as well as the staff, and as soon as the project was cancelled, we just scurried around and got ourselves some government contracts.
COLLINS: When you say project, you mean Meteor project.
COLLINS: But did you need some imprimature from the university administration?
SEAMANS: I never had any. They felt they'd never given it, and so they just said, permission is not given. I guess on reflection it's a moot point whether you could say the lab ever really existed or not.
COLLINS: Well, in terms of attempting to gain this recognition from the university, what things did you have to do, even though it ultimately failed?
SEAMANS: I guess you'd have to say, you had to get President Killian to agree it was a good idea to keep it going, basically.
COLLINS: So you never had any direct contact on it.
SEAMANS: No, I didn't. No. It was at a higher level, by Draper and Nat Sage.
COLLINS: Did you sort of articulate your vision of this laboratory to them, and then they would convey it to Killian?
SEAMANS: Yes. I hope I did. I think it was pretty obvious to them what I had in mind. It was rather a continuation--the tracking control project was in effect using a platform to carry out certain military maneuvers. You have missiles doing the same kind of thing, with a platform you're trying to maneuver in a certain way. The contracts that we ended up with, I got one from Gibbs and Cox, a company of naval architects. They're the ones who designed the UNITED STATES. And I heard they were having trouble with a hyrdofoil boat, which at that time was highly speculative, and they couldn't stabilize the thing. It tended to broach--come out of the water, and so we got a contract to put some gyros on it, and control the underwater flippers to keep the boat "flying" and making banked turns. We did it. It's a project called Sealegs. That was well underway in the Flight Control Lab, before the Flight Control Lab was cut off. I actually got that contract picked up by the group I ended up with at RCA, and we finished it as part of RCA. We actually had, I think, three or four different projects in addition to that, that were of that nature. Another one had to do with the problem of ground radar being able to track airplanes and, you know, detect them and then control either aircraft or missiles. The thought was, if they were radiating, why can't you get a missile that will home on them automatically--or they'll have to turn their radar off.
COLLINS: Did you organize the Flight Control Laboratory in a similar manner to the Instrumentation Lab?
SEAMANS: Yes, and I could name I think the people that I had in charge of each one of those projects, and they all reported to me, and it was exactly the same as the Instrumentation Lab, in the way it was configured organizationally.
COLLINS: The Flight Control Laboratory had not been approved by the university administration. What were your feelings at that point about your work at MIT?
SEAMANS: Well, I wasn't quite sure what I ought to do. I could still stay at MIT; I had tenure, I could teach. I'm sure that there would have been other things I could have done, within the Instrumentation Laboratory. But I guess I was a little bit restless, and when I was told we had to fold up the Flight Control Lab--we didn't have to do it overnight. That was in the summer, and it was understood that we'd keep going for another whole academic year. So we really had I think something like ten months to do a proper job of cleaning up most of the things we were responsible for.
COLLINS: Let me focus on dates for a second. You then got the word that the laboratory would not be approved in summer of '54?
SEAMANS: What was the year I went to RCA? If I went to RCA in '55, it was'54.
COLLINS: Right, you went to RCA in '55.
SEAMANS: And I'm trying to think of the dates. I did not myself actively go and talk to anybody outside of MIT, and say "I thinkmaybe I want to leave here," or something like that. I did, however, start to get some inquiries. I think these kinds of things sort of seep around, you know. And I can't remember the exact timing of it, but it must have been some time in October that I was contacted by RCA and asked if I would have a chat with one of their senior people, which I did, in Boston, and they told me about some contracts they had with the Air Force. They wanted to build up a group within one of the divisions of RCA, located in Camden, New Jersey, and invited me to go down and talk to the head of this division, a guy named Ted Smith.
COLLINS: Do you recall the name of the division?
SEAMANS: It had the word military in it. It will probably come to me. Defense Products or a name like that. And the headquarters were right there in Camden, New Jersey. I remember going down, meeting Ted Smith, and I was offered a salary that--well, it was more than I was making at MIT, but it wasn't an awful lot more. I took a look at the surroundings there in Camden, and I just couldn't see myself moving down there and hacking away at what was clearly a pretty large organization, and trying to mold something within that environment. I was also contacted by others. Lockheed wanted me to go and join, go to work for them, and other places. So I told them, even when I was there in Camden, I really wasn't interested in moving to Camden, and I had a pretty good excuse, if you want to call it that, in that our oldest son, who was very hard of hearing, was taking special speech lessons and I felt it would be very difficult to move the family. Lo and behold, about ten days later, I got a call from John Woodward, who was the person I guess who had first called me, whom I chatted with extensively when I was down there in Camden, who worked directly for Ted Smith. He said, "We've got an idea we want to try on you for size, and I'd like to come up and discuss it with you immediately." And so I said, "Fine," and it turned out the idea was to start a laboratory for RCA in the Boston area. Of course, that was a very attractive idea, because I wouldn't have to move. And I also did feel some responsibility for these people who worked for me. Although you couldn't move a whole block of people en masse, at least from what I knew of what RCA wanted, a lot of them would fit into this laboratory that RCA wanted started. And so prior to the first of '55, I'd agreed that I would be the director of the RCA laboratory and we would start this laboratory up the first of '55, and there was quite a bit of hoopla connected with it. RCA decided to pull out the stops, and they had NBC, they could play on that side of things. They had all kinds of ways of releasing news. There was a big, Chamber of Commerce session or some kind of a big convention going on in Boston, and they used that to announce that they were going to open this new laboratory in the Boston area. Elmer Engstrom, who was the senior vice president for engineering at the corporate level, working directly with David Sarnoff, who was still alive then, incidentally, came up for this, and I met him. And we opened our doors--I don't think we did open in January, but there was an overlap there of about four months, between the end of the Flight Control Lab and my retirement. I retired as of the end of the academic year. We opened the door of this laboratory in the old Waltham Watch building, to get going in a hurry. I'd worked extensively with a man by the name of Joe Aronson when I was at MIT and he was in the Air Force. He was one of the first people I hired. He really was my alter ego at RCA, and this permitted me to spend time at RCA and hire people and get that going, as we closed down the operation at MIT. The two things happened simultaneously.
COLLINS: I know that the laboratory was called the Airborne Systems Laboratory. What was motivating RCA to get into this area and establish itself?
SEAMANS: They had become a second source to the Hughes Aircraft Company on fire control for the Air Force. I can't remember the contract numbers now, but it was a fire control system with radar, computers, a lot of things I'd worked on. I have to admit I looked at it a little bit as a step backwards because by then I'd been working on missiles and it was really more the tracking control period that I was drawing on when I went to RCA. But anyway, in their contract they had a provision that they could do advanced development work as part of the contract, part of a direct charge to the production contract. What they wanted to do was to carry that advanced development to the point where it wasn't just improving what they were already building, but would be in the next round of things, competitive with Hughes, and hopefully take away their business. And the Air Force was encouraging them to do it. The Air Force at that time was having a lot of trouble with Hughes, who had no real competition.
COLLINS: Fire control would be a new area for RCA.
SEAMANS: Yes, it was. They were producing it, but they had no development capability for airborne equipment. So that's what this laboratory was supposed to do for them. And that started another whole adventure.
COLLINS: What was your experience? You had the experience of establishing and working in a laboratory in a university setting. Now you were moving over into a corporate setting. What was your experience in making this transition, and what possible comparisons could you draw?
SEAMANS: Well, of course, there were a lot of different angles to it. I would say that the favorable part was that there wasn't any question about discipline. Everybody in that laboratory knew that they had one job and that was to work for RCA, and that I was the manager of it. Not that I needed to have the big stick or anything, but there was nobody coming around saying, "Well, I'm sorry, I can't help you on this thing today because I'm teaching a course or I'm going to give a lecture down at RPI" or something like that. I mean, everybody there was working on the same thing. And I never had that experience before, of that sort of uniqueness. Everybody's working together and there's no question about it. Then I guess the other side of it was that it was a big company, compared to anything I was experienced with, and there were many layers of people you had to deal with. Corporate headquarters were in New York, which I didn't see very much of, but Elmer Engstrom and a few people. Then there was the Camden hierarchy, and then a subdivision of that hierarchy. I guess that Ted Smith was in charge of all Defense Products. There were a number of divisions within that group, for example, a division for communications, a division for fire control and a division for BMEWS [Ballistic Missile Early Warning]. These divisions all had engineering, production etc. I didn't have to be there very long to realize that there were a lot of constraints. For example, hiring people. I don't remember exactly what guys with bachelor's degrees were getting in those days, but I remember I was trying to hire somebody, and I had an agreement, a sort of hand shake, that they'd come for let's say $620 a month. RCA sent up three administrative people who'd worked at RCA for quite a while, that I had to deal with immediately, even though they worked for me, and I talked with Bob Patterson, in charge of personnel, and he said, "Oh gee, I don't see how we can pay him that much. I don't see how we can possibly pay him more than $590." I'd offered him $620. I said, "He's just the perfect guy for this job, you're going to quibble over $30 a month? He'd say, "I'm sorry, for somebody in that category, the bandwidth goes, from $570 to $590." And I said, "That's baloney," so then I had to call John Woodward, and explain this, and he'd sort of hem and haw and say, "Well, you really shouldn't have made the offer," and I'd say, "But we've got to get these people if we're going to do the job," and I'd usually win out. I can give you many examples of the bureaucracy that I suddenly ran into. I'll give you just one real classic. This had to do with a new building. After a couple of years, RCA realized that--first I didn't think they were going to be able to hire enough people. They said, "You'll never be able to hire, you can't possibly hire seventy-five good technical people in the first three months of operation." But we did that easily, because we had the people who had been working for me to draw on. But anyway, finally we were up to, I guess we had a total strength of around seven or eight hundred people, something like that.
COLLINS: This is in the laboratory?
SEAMANS: Yes. And we got some other contracts besides just that one Air Force contract. We were growing out of the Waltham Watch building which wasn't an ideal place anyway, and so RCA finally agreed that they'd put a building in Boston, and we had to figure out where to put it. I started dealing with people really at the New York level on buying land, and how do you buy it, and they still had a requirement that any land that they bought had to have a railroad siding that would be adjacent to the property or go through it. I think it was the first piece of property RCA ever bought, other than maybe a TV station, that didn't have a railroad siding. I said, "You don't need railroad sidings for the business we're in." And we finally bought 35 acres of land, and then we had to, it was in Burlington, get it zoned, re-zoned, because it was not an industrial area. RCA was very good, very helpful with that. Then we had to design the building. Well, I had very definite ideas on the kind of building I wanted. I wanted three or four stories, sort of compact, so you can get from one end to the other quickly. Clearly if you're going to hire people it ought to have nice windows so you could look out and take advantage of where we were going to be, nice, out in the country and everything. So we figured the right shape was an H-shaped building, like four stories, and the first time the design came around, it was one story. I said, "Why is it one story?" And I was told, "Well, we're still not sure you're going to succeed, and if you don't succeed we want to be able to convert it to a warehouse." Then I looked at it and it was square, and they said, "It's really an H, because you see, you take these two middle pieces and move them around, it's really an H." Nor did it have any windows! So we finally got an H-shaped building with windows, but it was only one story. By then Ted Smith had left and a guy named Art Malcarney who had come up through manufacturing, was head of Defense Electronics Products. I learned probably the most from Doc but I learned an awful lot from Art Malcarney, a tough guy. I could spin many yarns about him. Anyway, he came up about a month and a half before we were going to open, just to see how the building had finally come out, and I argued about the corridors. I said, "You know, it's ridiculous to have this--it's come out quite well, it's quite a nice building, but you've got raw cinder block in all the corridors." I said,"It looks like a damned jail. People walking around will say they're walking into jail." I was told, no, it was much more efficient, and you didn't have to put paint on, and paint cost money and all that. I'll never forget Malcarney coming in the lobby--it looked very attractive and nice--he started walking down a corridor and he said, "What damned fool around RCA leaves a wall looking like this?" I said, "Well, what color would you liketo see it?" He said, "Yellow." So I said, "okay," and I got in touch with these building type people and I said, "Mr. Malcarney said that we're going to have yellow gloss paint on it and it's to go on immediately." Anyway, those are the kinds of things you run into.
COLLINS: Right. I know you have to get ready for the meeting so let's stop here.
Rev. 08/19/96, JAB