Interviewee: Dr. Simon Ramo

Interviewer: Martin Collins

Location: Dr. Ramo's Office, Los Angeles, California

Date: June 27, 1988


MR. COLLINS: To begin our dicussion, I want to pick up at your career in the immediate postwar, as you were thinking of other opportunities outside of General Electric, as documented in your recent book as well as in the UCLA interview. I think one question we might address initially is this question of systems and systems concepts in executing large projects.

DR. RAMO: To experienced engineers who had been dealing with complex new high technology, heavily involving electronics, the word "systems," the way it is used in that professional field, and the concept of systems, was very old, indeed. After all, the Bell Telephone Systems, was old, indeed. After all, the Bell Telephone System, the General Electric, Westinghouse or RCA or AT&T, you were accustomed to the idea that equipment didn't just fall from heaven and happen to work together well. All the parts that make up the system of generating electric power and distributing it to the nation had to be coordinated. Somewhere there had to be overall systems architecture, overall systems engineering. We knew without thinking about it very much, because one did not in college in those days take a course called systems engineering. If you studied electricial engineering, you would be taught some basic physics, the principles of electricity, and you see how it is applied to making motors and generators and transmission lines or to design a telephone receiver or a central station of telephony, but you know it all had to come together into one combination of human beings and machinery and information flow and power flow and networks that would work together properly.

    But in the aeronautical field, you had aircraft manufacturers who were largely good at creating structures that would be light yet strong, onto which you would fasten an engine and into which you would put navigation equipment and what not. Obviously there were those within aircraft companies who thought in terms of the entire system, but that was way in the background. "Rosie the Riveter" in World War II was in the foreground.

    Aerodynamicists with PhDs from Cal Tech under [Theodore] von Karman were knowledgeable of the physics of the flow of the air, so they could figure out the lift and the drag. Formulas came from the NACA [National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics], the government body that had the mission of advancing aeronautical theory. But the moment guided missiles came on, which was in essence right after World War II, quite obvious to those working in high technology during World War II on what were then the weapons systems. If guided missile were going to become important, there you would have the need for combining electronics and control, measurement techniques, highly electronically based.

    What was needed to handle that assignment was the kind of people who had been working with radar and with communication and with automatic control systems, who may not have applied any of that to vehicles that fly, and a vehicle would be just a part of the whole system. But if, for example, the problem was that of defending this nation against an attempt on the part of the Soviet Union to drop nuclear weapons on us, you'd have to first know that they were coming.

    You'd have long-range radar, early warning systems. You'd have systems for tracking these objects, anticipating where they might show up in the immediate future, at what altitude, at what speed, going what direction, and where would they be found, and knowing the locations and the characteristics of their equipment and ours. You have to let interceptors go at the right time, under all weather conditions, probably flying blind, likely to be a night bombing or some of the time clouded over, and the interceptors have to carry equipment that would eventually shoot down the bombers. A lot of separate pieces of equipment have to designed, but it doesn't make sense to design them in isolation from the fact that they have to work together, of course.

    Now, this field of guided missiles, weapons systems dominated by electronics but including flying pieces of equipment as well as equipment on the ground--systems engineering became a very dominant part of it. Those of us who understood this well could see there was a opening. That's the reason why I built the Hughes operation; there was an opening for a company who would engage in this new kind of technology dominated by electronics and systems, in an enviroment in which the military industry would consist of both government people who were fliers--this was going to be Air Force dominated--who were not well-educated in science and did not understand systems engineering well but understood a lot more about such concepts as flying fast and flying high, and being able to turn with high G's, and having explosive power at their command. The sources of expertise most likely to be able to move along on this were the large Eastern electronically dominated companies such as the Bell Laboratories and General Electric.

COLLINS: GE began to think about what the postwar was going to look like; did they have this kind of vision? A subsidiary question is, when did GE begin to look at what the postwar worldmight look like?

RAMO: First of all, as my book made clear, General Electric was distinguished by Depression-dominated leadership, conservative, pretty mush out-of-date. That was one reason why I began to be interested in the history of how technical corporations develop, and formed the yen to set up a new company based on what I thought would be the most glamorous, the most critical to the nation, because a A-bomb was going to change everything. The Russians would surely develop the A-bomb as well, and I felt I knew that the companies like GE would put first priority on beating out their competitors in industrial and commerical applications. The telephone compamy having to rise to the challege of building up the telephone system for postwar expansion. There had been a terrific acceleration of technology during the war, and so the GEs and the RCAs would have about those things.

    So at GE, insofar as there was planning, it came out of marketing. I remember a planning document on TV. An important thing of course was to have TV ahead of the competitors. A good deal had been done in the kind of technology involving television, and I remember one planning document which I saw, which pointed out how long it would be before TV would amount to anything. Everything was done as a ratio of the problem, either marketing or technical, as compared with radios, TV and radios.

    A factor of 10 to 100 times was seen as a factor. The set would have more and more apparatus, more apparatus by 10 to 100 times, and it would therefore be 10 to 100 times more expensive for that reason alone if you produced the same quantity. But you wouldn't be producing the same quantity, not for years and years and years if ever, because radios you can listen to while you're vacuuming the rug or while you're driving your car, and you can even do other things. You can do homework while listening to the radio. But television, you've got to stop and watch, so it would be a smaller audience by 10 to 100 time and more expensive.

    Something that you watch would be more expensive to produce. The set would be difficult to maintain, and everything would have to be just so. I remember this argument, which was sexist by today's standards, said that women tuned a radio imperfectly. They don't care that it's slightly off and it's hard on the ears. Only skilled musicians may be concerned with that. But you can't look at a television set that much out of adjustment. So forget television was the message, but not quite. Set up some experimental things. And of course that turned out to be wrong, as I felt it. I could, as far as I was concerned, see all kinds of further evidence of what I saw, of conservative, out-of-date people who weren't prepared for the big changes in the world.

COLLINS: As the war was winding down in 1945, there was intense interest in making sure that we acquired some of the German rocket assets. As the Germans were brought over here, some of the V-2s were imported, Project Hermes developed, which GE was involved with. Was that activity coming to the force when you were still at GE, or had you already departed.

RAMO: Oh, I had a short period when I was charging my time in to Project Hermes, and was sent out to Cal Tech. The real intensity of the exercise, on my part, was between VE and VJ day. General Electric was getting set for the next period ahead in part by lining up the people who would come into positions of high influence in the company. I was one of those. I was to be trained for a higher position involving research and development at General Electric. I had spent my nine or ten years at General Electric in electronics. There were two special assignments I was to have. They wanted the young people to get away, you might say, and then come back in after they retired the old ones and take over.

    I was assigned to Cal Tech, because I had come from Cal Tech, so I was the best one to use for that, to become acquainted with rocketry and the kinds of things going on that was really a major pioneering effort in the United States. This was the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and this was started by von Karman, and it had the major longer term R&D contracts.

    Clark Millikan, who was nominally the operating head of the unit that von Karman was about to retire from, was still the prestigious emeritus influential person involved in such efforts at Cal Tech. It was all Army-sponsored, and Clark Millikan was very heavily involved in the whole operation of bringing the German rocket experts, to the United States and establishing the activity that was first at White Sands, I believe, then went to Alabama.

    Then I was to go up to Hanford, Washington, where as you know certain operations involving the nuclear program were taking place, and then back to Schenectady to go into a higher job. I never made it back, because when I came out here the "California" factor zoomed with my wife and me, and it was clear I was going to start a company in California, or I was going to go work for one of the existing companies, or go to one of the universities that had extended offers to me. All of this is in the book so I won't go into that further.

    But the thing that was clear was the aircraft companies were not up to the job at that time. Things have changed, but they weren't up to the job. They didn't have the electronics, and they certainly didn't have the systems, and they didnt' have the feel for dealing with new science and applying it quickly. The conventional people that could have done it, that should have been the ones to do it, as I said, put first priority on getting back to the civilian things that they had done so little on for 11 years of the Depression and half a dozen years of war. So they were 15, 16 years behind, and with the war having made it very clear that there was a new level of technology to be applied.

COLLINS: So there was a sense in your mind that an activity like Project Hermes simply wouldn't receive emphasis or be exploited to the full?

RAMO: Well, General Electric did a miserable job, and it is not a factor in rocket engine performance yet. Look at the situation. At the time jet engines were pioneered, of course, it was the biggest in the world in steam turbines for generating electricity. The idea of going directly, not by way of heating water and making it into steam and using that to drive generators, but going directly from the fuel to the motion of the generator, meant General Electric was employing heat transfer, heat power aerothermal fluid flow. Chemical engineer types who were also working on the frontiers of new materials to create the structures that would handle the enormous stresses that the high temperatures would create.

    At that time, the automative companies and the airplane engine companies were the other sources of strength in the nation. I bring this up later in the book. Pratt and Whitney was the maker of piston engines. These were simply bigger automobile engines, bigger and more powerful, it is to be hoped lighter. Occasionally those airplane engines, some of them, would find their way into an automobile, as in the high-powered Dusenberg, for example, or the Stutz. Racing cars had the airplane engines. These were the people that understood how to go from the burning of fuel, the creating of chemical reactions, to get propulsive force.

    The basis for jet engines and rocketry was General Electric, and Westinghouse to a lesser extent. United Aircraft, which took up Pratt-Whitney moved from the piston engine business into jet engine business all these years than has General Electric. General Electric has persisted in jet engines, but not in rocketry. United Technology isn't much in rocketry either. In rocketry you have Rocketdyne, which started from scratch, associated with Rockwell, based on guided missile work. I'm suggesting in answer to your question that the big established industry, in effect, failed to handle properly. They had the best beginning contracts, but they lost out to more aggressive new operations.

    Of course Aerojet, stemmed from the Jet Propulsion laboratory, from von Karman. Then in solid propellant rockets, as you know, in recent years we've had Thiokol, and goodness, what's the other one? The name doesn't come to mind for themoment. Hercules. There are four largest makers of rocket engines, none of whom were either in business at all, or if they were in business--as is true of Hercules Power Company, for example, and Thiokol--they were doing some other things entirely. The established industry that should have had the strength to do it, didn't do it, and this is because of their preoccupation with the civilian things, which they gave first priority to. I think that some of the leaders of that business, they didn't even appreciate adequatley the A-bomb.

    The same thing that caused General Electric to not understand that the computers in the second half of this century would be the biggest electrical achievement, the biggest electrical business of this entire century, and the GEs and the RCAs and the Westinghouses missed the boat on computers. They got in too late. They didn't do it well enough and had to go back out of it, powerful and big as they were. They didn't realize the semiconductor was the greater invention since the wheel, maybe even more important than the wheel, and they let that go, too, even though Bell Laboratories where it originated was still in that era, that has come to pass now, where they had the government-approved monopoly and that had with it the requirement that they license at the relatively low fee, modest fee, their transistor semiconductor beginnings, so a whole industry started up but at the most powerful companies for making it. In the book I mention that the ten largest makers of vacuum tubes, which was replaced by the semiconductors, not a single one of them is big in semiconductors. Not one.

COLLINS: Well, why don't we move on to some of your Hughes experience. You laid out the inadequacies of the GE in moving into an area of new technology, and your wanting to go in and do it yourself and use Hughes as a vehicle for getting this done. These missile projects as you've already described were large, very technical, complex devices. Was there anything comparable that had been made before that you were intimately familiar with, that you could use as a model in orgainizing your work on the Falcon missile? How did you proceed to build up this project?

RAMO: Well, as you'll find I think adequately discussed in the book in the chapter entitled "Howard Hughes and National Security: the odd Coupling," the dominant thing in my mind was that here were difficult technical things that needed to be done, that deserved very high priority in the nation, that were not going to be attacked by others. There was a need for a new company, and the thing that was dominant in my mind was not how to orgainize it well. Because of previous experience, it was rather that you get high-grade technical people, and you've got an interesting important problem, and the organization will come to mind. I didn't think at that time in terms of its being critical to be sure I had an unusual incention about; organization is a big thing.

    I instead thought--I'm sure if you pinned me down at that time and said, "What's the dominant thing in your mind about how to be successful in what you're attempting here," it was: we've got complex technical problems; they cover a large bunch of disciplines; the disciplines have to be pulled together, so we've got to have people in addition to the specialists in each of these fields--aerodynamics and control and heat generation and the like.

    We've got to have a peculiar form of generalist that I thought of as systems engineers, the proper name for it I felt, who have the faculty of understanding enough of each of the pieces and are good at communications. So that when they get together with the rocket engineer for example, and the guidance engineer, and they say, "Now, look. We've got to have the rockets on a swivel and we've got to be able to move them around." "And you still want this in three months?" says the rocket engineer. "I'll have all I can do to do that in six months with the thing fixed. Why should I have to move it? Why can't you do it with wings or something like that out there the way airplanes do?" Okay, Mr. Aerodynamicist, why can't you do it with this?" "We can to some entent." "Well, let's get the curves of what you can do. Tell me how much longer it will take, how much more weight you need for a rocket engine, if I ask you to be able to swivel 5, 10, 15, 25 degrees. Give me an idea of cost, weight, complexity, reliability forced on you if we tell you you have to swivel it, and you tell me what you can do by way of geting the missile to turn with just the aerodynamic forces alone. If the rocket that's producing the accelerating force is totally fixed, what problems do you get into, what are the conditions?' In other words you become the integrating negotiator, and you've got to understand the idea of trade-offs, and you've got to see that there's always something that has to give or has to be added, if you're going to make the thing compatible, harmonious.

    Some things you can't do at all. There may be fundamental reasons why you simply can't do a particular kind of thing. There's no use asking for it and asking how long it will take, you'll never have it within today's technology. In which case a good systems engineer, a good director, putting this together, says, "Well, wait a minute now. The reason why you say it can't be done is because you're assuming particular ways of doing it, and you know they have limitations. What is it that keeps you from inventing an entirely new way to do it? Why can't you do that?"

    Now a rocket leaving from the ground, full of fuel, very heavy, just barely rising, doesn't have any aerodynamic forces to speak of. It's not going fast enough to have any strength of them at all. The control system that you're dealing with, for a sensible balance and distribution of all the parts of the missile from the warhead to the engines to all the controls to the fuel tanks, may cause it to be enormously unstable, in that it would be a little bit like balancing a pail full of water at the center with your finger.

    In principle you can do it but it's easy to imagine the thing just getting away from you, because if you have enough force to redirect it when it starts to fall or to turn more than you'd like, you may easily overshoot, and you get into an oscillation so severe that it will just break it up. That applies particularly when you talk about the information for transfer for the purpose of getting accuracy and control. In the end you want that missile to reach a certain range of velocities, certain regions of space, pointed with accuracy in certain directions. You have to carry through all of the factors that contribute to inaccuracies and add them up in the proper way when they're all working together.

    In this room here, for example, where we have an air-conditioning system, and where air is brought into the room, cold or hot, in an attempt to keep--let's say I have it set for 72 degrees. You can hold 72 degrees by having a source of cold air and a source of hot air, and you let one or the other in by turning something, opening and closing some doors, as you measure the temperature. Or you can get 72 degrees averaging it: say it could be that half the time we find ourselves with 52 degrees, which is 29 degrees too low, and we're shivering in the room, and 92 degrees, 20 degrees above 72, the other half of the time, and the average temperature is just what we want, 72. But it's swinging between the two, because the moment it seems to be getting cold and the temperature reading shows that it's cold--it's now below 72; it's gone to 71 and 1/2--on comes the hot air, and it puts in such a batch of hot air, it takes it two hours to cool down again to where we want it because it's just shot the temperature way up by putting in tremendously hot air.

    So when you ask a missile to be properly controlled, to go in a certain direction, towards Moscow, for example, or towards a Russian bomber coming in, it may go generally in that direction by tremendous oscillations one side or the other, and when it passes the Soviet bomber it's very likely to miss it tremendously, because it will be a miracle if it happens to coincide with just when it's passing through zero.

    There are lots of technical problems, so some of it to me was just commom sense and organization, smart people, specialists and generalists, analysts, and inventor types. I knew this before I ever started a company. I knew this from my experience in research and development at General Electric. As the book indicates, as a result of pure accidents of timing and Depression and General Electric's pattern, I found myself put in a position where I was being trained to be a director of research at a veryearly age.

    Some people are awfully good at analyzing, and they'll find what's wrong with something. They'll find a way to be quantitative about a complex situation, and they'll tell you in effect as a result of the analysis what it is that you must do to correct something that would be unsatisfactory.

    Other people are particularly good at synthesis rather than analysis. They think up new ideas. Here's a way you ought to guide the missile: why not have a signal like so that goes out and does this and back comes this from the missile? Why not cause the missile to turn by the following techniques? They'll dream up the idea, for example, instead of turning more or less, depending upon how far away you seem to be from where you want to be, you have just two settings, on or off. If you want to correct, you're going too much to the left, you want some right turns, you give it a series of shots to go right, zip-zip-zip-zip. Each one gives it a little kick towards the right, meaning you've got to have a lot of little kicks and be able to do them quickly in both directions. Just digital, inother words, off and on. But that's the easy way to do it. You don't have to have a range of settings. You have only an off and an on. What could be simpler?

    Well, maybe that's a good idea, maybe it's not. Maybe it turns out it's a lot more complicated to make it work that way. Much better to have a series of settings and you're less likely to overshoot, less likely to have crazy high G's here. Stresses on all of the parts are going to be such that you don't have to have them so big and strong.

    So you know that you need a combination. You divide the task up in such a way that even though the specialists go off and do their thing, you're constantly forcing a trade-off type of negotiation and consideration. You have some people engaged in analysis of the trade-offs.

COLLINS: You're describing a situation where the development of the technology is a little bit uncertain, where there are new challenges. In that kind of situation, did you have such things as what we call now interface documents, or was it more something where you had what you're suggesting, kind of collegial interchanges about working out problems and fitting things together?

RAMO: Clearly, when you get to a big project, you're going to have to have an emphasis on documentation. The formality is unavoidable. It's part of what makes it difficult to handle a big project, because you get bogged down in the formalization and the effort to be neat. There's a constant contest that goes on. If you really want to be successful--you want to achieve your objective with time and funding and perfromance of whatever it is you want design, reliability, suitability for the task, all considered--then you have to mix formality with informality. You have to mix porcedures of exchange of information, of documentation, with means for insuring bypasses, end runs around the system.

COLLINS: Around the documentation system.

RAMO: Around the documentation system. I can see from your facial expression you caught it. You caught that other meaning of the word system, which is what people think you're talking about, how to be systematic about things, as distinct from the design of the whole, as compared to the design of the parts. So, all of these things to me came naturally. I wasn't aware at first in the Hughes operation that we were doing a substantial amount of pioneering. We were moving along the discipline that you could call systems engineering.

    I refer earlier to a little book I wrote that came out with the strange title of Cure For Chaos, because the publisher thought the book would be interesting to people who were not engineers or the equivalent. I didn't think that was true. Maybe the publisher was half right. I did force myself to take the main elements of the discipline of systems engineering and try to elucidate what some of those principles were. It's like principles of management, in a sense. Sometimes people try to be clear about what constitutes being innovative. How do you foster invention? How do you organize for creativity? And some of those things, you get farther and farther away from being clear, knowing what it is that you're talking about, and coming out with something that's helpful to others.

    But there is the other end of the spectrum where you know what you're doing and you know what elements you need. I mentioned the thermostatic control of the temperature of a room, and you've got to be aware of the fact that you can't just deal with an average. You've got to be interested in averages and in instantaneous situations in order to have a satisfactory design. You have to be more specific than say that you'd like the room to be kept at an average of 72 degrees. How accurately do you want it kept to 72? How much of a range will you permit? How much oscillation? In general when you connect things together, you have unwanted moded. I discuss in that little book the unwanted mode problem.

    Now in truth, I'd never seen things like that discussed, because you see, as I said, in my time, in that era you didn't have courses entitled "System Engineering." Yet when I came to General Electric, I observed that there were people that were engaged in the overall systems design of a power system. There was a transformer division, motor division generator division,and a transmission division. They were producing the equipment, but there was also a group of people who were in the business of design of the whole; certainly that was true of the telephone system. There were people who designed a piece of equipment but there were others who designed the whole system.

    I became aware of the fact that you had to recognize that experienced people in this game knew a lot of the tricks of the business. What were they? They were the things that repeated themselves, that came again and again. So I gave them names like the unwanted mode.

    You design a telephone system: it doesn't occur to you that people will leave the phone off the hook, forget to put it back on. You don't want a system that will go out because someone has done that. In general, you have feedback. You connect things around. You're measuring things and you're trying to make things adjust to what it is they're supposed to be doing in the whole system, and complex systems involve people as well as machinery, and they involve a communication channel amongst all of them, and of course as I indicated earlier, a flow of energy to keep the whole thing going.

    So you have information and energy and the connections as well as things like arms being connected to other arms and rotating devices being connected to other rotating devices. You can have oscillations. You can have instability that will throw the whole system out, and you can have unwanted modes that will cause it to do things you never planned on at all.

COLLINS: A couple more questions about this Hughes period. You mentioned the importance of getting good people to work on these difficult problems. You had a resource close by; you had Cal Tech in this area. Did you actively seek out people who had been working at the MIT Radiation Lab to come and work on some of the problems associated with the missile?

RAMO: Well, of course we did the obvious things. If you're going to design complex equipment, you know you need a team of people that are capable of doing that. There are about a dozen things that you do in parallel all at once. One of them is, you play certain hunches. One hunch I had was that there were other people like me who thought this work was glamorous and fun and important to nation, and would have offshoots in commercial, industrial, computers, automatic control systems, automation manufacturing, and so on. So I saw to it that that idea of what we were up to was known in the business, was known in the fraternity of scientists and engineers. I even had in mind that there were other people suffering from the disease "Californiaitis", where as I say in the book, you're in great pain unless you're living in Southern California, for which the definitive cure, smog, had not yet been invented. There were others who simply wanted to be associated with other good people.

    But the first, the most important thing, was to get experience people first for the nucleus, and it turned out that I didn't have to do the job of getting on the phone or writing letters to people that I knew were experts located in the East, largely. They were to be found in these established Eastern electrically based companies. I didn't have to write to all these people and say, "I'm taking a big risk here. I've gone to Los Angeles and I am building up an operation based on military contracts, and here's the reason why I'm doing it, and would you like to consider coming to work?"

    It turns out that there were enough people who felt as I did that got the word through word of mouth, and I was swamped with calls and letters from people who wanted to go to work on this new glamorous stuff in Los Angeles but didn't know where and who and what. Among other things, the aircraft companies, who saw this as the business of the future, knew that they were going to have to deal more with electronics and high technology and systems but didn't quite understand what they were talking about.

    In the book I point out that the same kind of leadership that would allow lavatories without doors on the WC compartment and had a time clock system good for the Rosie the Riveter big expansion of the factories, were out interviewing someone like an assistant director of research at Bell Laboratories, and they would say all the wrong things when they talked to them. None of those people were about to quit and go to work for that peculiar group of fairly ignorant people, as they saw it, who didn't know what they were talking about.

    It's a little bit like the problem I ran into later, when I would help the administration, the White House Office of Personnel, and even the Chief of Staff of the President, to get one of the 10, 12, 15 big names I gave them for people that could really do the job of advisor to the President on science and technology matters. They would come in for an interview, and when they talked to the other people in the White House about what is this job of Office of Science and Technology Policy, they realized these were illiterate people in science and technology trying to recruit.


COLLINS: You were talking about recruitment of personnel.

RAMO: You were asking me, did we do certain things to get the people that we needed, and I said, the anwser of course, we did all of those obvious things to do. You let people know what you're doing. You try to be sure they understand that it's important, interesting and fascinating, and offers all kinds of opportunities for the future. You hope that a certain fraction of them will want to join you.

    But it turns out that that same feeling I had that caused me to take the risk was a feeling shared by many others. Most other scientists and engineers would not think in terms of starting a company. They're not basically entrepreneurs. If you had somebody who was one of the experts in the world on feedback phenomena, and in particular had come to understand what conditions cause oscillations which you don't want and instability which you don't want, and how you get what you want done in a complex system when you interconnect everything without running into those problems, how you guard against it, how you make sure that you know whether there's going to be an oscillation.

    There's a big difference between a person who has that kind of talent and has developed it in some large company somewhere sitting in a cubicle producing the information that others need around the world and the country--the idea, why don't I quit where I am and go to work in a company that's different in certain respects in Los Angeles, a new company. There's a bit of a step required there. So when they hear that someone else is doing that, they wonder whether there's a spot for them. They don't even know whether there's a spot for them. They don't even know, haven't even thought about the fact that here's the United States govenment with a big budget, because of concern by the leadership, naturally, about the Soviet Union having an A-bomb. It's got money to put up but the aircraft industry isn't going to provide the answers very well. Here is a new hot outfit out there that's going to specialize. Gee, maybe there's a place for me. I wonder if there is? Well, of course there is. They had only to let me know they're available.

    I didn't know that for sure, of course. I was taking a gamble. There was not gamble about the Russians getting the A-bomb, just a question of when, but it would be fairly soon, a few years. There was no questions that the military, the new Department of Defense [DOD], the Air Force if nothing else--they knew they were going to have a job to do to create an air defense system. It was going to have very high priority. There was no question in my mind that there was going to be money available adequate for the job. I had no doubt that the various things could and should be done. There were smart people who had been working in something related like radars. You asked about the Radiation Lab could do this kind of thing. Most of them went back to the universities. Here and there some of them went to one of the aircraft companies where they were nicely unmatched to the environment around them, and wondered how they'd gotten themselves into that situation.

COLLINS: You were describing the set of problems that your specialists encounted as they tackled this job of building an air-to-air missile. I guess one might take this as a first case look at the level of government support and the type of government support--in the case a cost-plus contract--how that affected the technical choices you were able to pursue.

RAMO: I quess the simple answer to that is that the environment of the first few year was still the cost-plus contract, and the cost-plus contract during the war was one where the idea was to get the job done. You got the money you needed. Your bill were paid. The set of rules, the regulation that were set up were not based around the idea of being sure that there was no waste or mismanagement or improper charging of contracts or less than perfection in choosing the cheapest source for any complement you buy of materials from the outside. During the war those things were trivial. The big thing during the war was to get the job done and get it done fast, have it work. There was still enough of that in the beginning there, after VJ Day, and for a few years that was naturally a big help.

    I suppose it is true, if you took the situation today, in terms of the way things are regulated--and obviously not with perfection, if one reads the paper. I wouldn't know what would be expected to be par for 100 billion dollars or so of government expenditures in weapons systems, and the fraction of waste, incompetence, criminality that you would expect. I don't know whether what we observe is about what you'd have to expect, people being people, and perfection being out. But if we had the system even that we have today, imperfect as it is, for watching over the system, the idea that for a simple little nut and bolt there's a stack of specifications and controls and competitive bid analysis that takes a huge number of people in the government and industry, so no wonder the nut and bolt comes out costing several thousand dollars. If we'd had that, we couldn't have begun to move as quickly as we did, either to build up the remarkable organization we built up at Hughes, and later Ramo-Woolridge on the ICBM program--couldn't have done it. It would have been much slower and much more expensive, and maybe I would not have been right for the job of creating and running such entities.

    When I say I wouldn't have been right for it, I don't mean that intellectually I couldn't have done it. I would have appreciated, this is the system, this is what you must work with. But I mean that the thing that was a match, obviously, I point out in the book, an accidental match between the particular insights or abilities or talents that I had and the need of the times. The timing was all just right, and even this relatively crazy hunch that instead of going to work for one of the--granted, "Californiaitis," and granted I was going to leave General Electric instead of rising to a higher job, I was going to come out here--I would have gone to work either for one of the aircraft companies or universities.

    I wouldn't have been involved in starting a new company if it was essentially impossible to start it, and I knew nothing about the business of fundraising. I could have if I'd just had the accident of being associated with someone who knew Wall Street, for example, or if I knew wealthy people who had the hunch that they ought to invest in new high technology companies. I simply noted that I was going to need millions of dollars. This is not going to be a Hewlett-Packard or a Beckmann Instruments, putting out little instruments. So, the Hughes thing was just made to order.

    Here was an operation that had the frame work for being acceptable, that minimum acceptability you need to put in a proposal to the government; that the proposal is good and you've got good people, you'll get some contracts. I just all by myself could get a contract if I had a company, and didn't know it, but Hughes existed, and I also was told no one will bother you. You can create a company any way you want. Come on, let's go see the accountant that's stationed there by Hughes Tool Company that signs the checks, and I'm sure he just said to himself, I'm in no trouble with the Board of Director of Hughes Tool Company by putting on another person on the payroll here. Hughes has got a bunch of guys on the payroll, and they probably figure they don't know what they're doing. Howard Hughes doesn't know what he's doing. This is a hobby shop. So put this guy on the payroll.     

    These guys were enthusiastic: this fellow is one of the most brilliant; look at all the books he's already written; he's a big name in the field and yet he's very young--and he can get contracts in here. If you don't believe it, call Wright Field where he's just visited and they say they'll give him a contract if he has something going. Hell, he can always lay me off. He can always fire me if no contracts came in, and he didn't worry too much about it. He was just there as an accountant to take care of Hughes hobby. Nobody would care. These fellows all wanted it, Okay.

    So it was just a remarkable thing, but imagine if you had the system of today. Here's what would have happened. Suppose I put in a proposal that say: look, you've can't get up there and shoot them down with guns or fixed rockets or something like that. You'll never find them in broad daylight when there's thousands of miles to be covered. You can't get around; you don't know what position to be in; they're going fast; you're going fast. They say: well, gee, that sounds right, so I quess we ought to thing about that for a year or so and study it internally and talk to the industry about it and have a competition. Where would I get the building funds and the start-up funds to put together an organization to compete? I'd be out-politicked by the aircraft companies. Even my old almamater General Electric Company, with a third team. The Congressman and the DOD would want to put the contract in their districts, and they would compete with each other, and if one of them were putting out particularly good proposals, there was no way you could use that as a way of judging. So it would be almost impossible.

    Entirely different considerations enter the picture now. I mean they enter it in a dominant way. They are political. They are financial in the sense that they have to tie in with the government's difficult budgeting problem now. So that not everything is going to get funded that sounds good. By comparison, there's a dearth of really good ideas for how can we fix it so air is controlled by the United States over the United States? How do you really do that? Obviously you've got to use high technology to do it.

COLLINS: I'd like to pursue some parts of that, but let's wait till we get to the TRW experience. I quess right here I wonder, during this period when you were at Hughes, what your contacts were with say people in university laboratories like JPL or APL [Applied Physics Laboratory]?

RAMO: Well, of course they were very strong, the strongest in the business. Lockheed, Douglas, General Electric, none of them had contacts comparable with mine, and with the people that I brought in. See, first of all, something that made me especially suited to this was, there was no one in my age group who had written even one book, let alone a book that was used in a hundred universities as a textbook. I was only in my early thirties. So I was a bit of a phenomenon by comparison with the average person who was let's say superior to me, ten years further along in his career especially.

    These were high-grade people but they were not people known to the universities, because the way you get known to the universities is you publish papers, you give talks. You're not known because you're an assistant director of some laboratory in Schenactady who never gives a paper anywhere, but produces stuff that they sell to the industry. The top engineers at General Electric who are the lecturers in their internal advanced course, not a single one of them that I can recall has ever written a book. They didn't give a lecture at a university. They were lost in more and more intricate details of the design of a transmitter or generator or something, and they had their approaches to working the problem, and most of them didn't have a PhD. It was very rare in those days. The physicists came in World War II because they had to be brought in, because engineers with their bachelor's degrees didn't know enough about science to do the things that needed doing.

COLLINS: Did you have direct contact with Stark Draper during this period? Was he one of the people that you turned to for assistance?

RAMO: Well, he was a member of the small fraternity of people that recognized each other as the prime movers in the field. After the Radiation Laboratory ceased to exist, there was the Electronics Laboratory at MIT, and there was the Instrumentation Laboratory that Stark Draper headed. There were people at NRL [Naval Research Laboratory]. There were the people associated with the nuclear bomb, either Los Alamos people or the subsidiary company that was run by AT&T that did the engineering work related to the bomb, and of course there was beginning to be soon, as a result of the H-bomb controversy, the [Edward] Teller-[Robert] Oppenheimer situation, that was Livermore. But Cal Tech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory was of course the number one in things having to do with basic rocketry, more the propulsion than the guidance.

    There were various people in the universities, let's say the 20 major universities. On the west coast, Berkeley, Stanford, Cal Tech. UCLA was just beginning to move up into those channels so I won't put it down for the era. Then in the East, Cornell and Columbia and of course MIT, a little bit Harvard, Princeton, Johns Hopkins, Illinois, the University of Chicago. People went back to their academic position when the war was over. Some of them remained consultants, and they were members of let's say the Air Force's Science Advisory Board. It was the premiere Science Advisory Board, as compared with the Army and the Navy that also had them. That was before there was a Defense Science Board, which is now the premiere one.

    But the SAB, the Science Advisory Board of the Air Force, von Karman was the number one. Von Karman and I were like this. I was kind of a favorite of his, within the Cal Tech family, and although I'd never been involved at all closely with him while I was a student at Cal Tech, he knew who I was. For one thing he admired my violin playing. I was constantly at the homes of professors, those that liked music tended to gather for an evening here and there, chamber music or something like that. I was involved with that.

    So there was nothing comparable in industry with the Hughes operation, and the same thing is true, of course, when Ramo-Woolridge started. The ICBM program was one of the reasons why we were able to move quickly. I knew on a first-name basis all of the heads of the pertinent departments, whether it be physics, electrical engineering, chemical engineering, aeronautics, at all the leading universities. Their PhD graduates preferred Hughes, if they were going to go into military work, as distinct from those who wanted an academic job in pure science. We weren't attractive to someone like Pief Panosky who went to Stanford from Cal Tech as a PhD. He was after pure Physics. A few of those people would go to Bell Laboratories in industry. I would say that would be the premiere industry. Secondly at that time, General Electric Research Labs. The General Electric Research Labs was not dwarfed by everything else as I had thought it would; the war was over but Bell Labs was not dwarfed. It increased substantially to rise to the challenge in its area of endeavor.

COLLINS: Did Hughes maintain a body of formal consultants during this period?

RAMO: You use the word formal. I don't know what makes you say formal.

COLLINS: It sounds like you had an informal network.

RAMO: Yes, we had a lot of university people part-time, a little time here, a little time there. Let's put it this way. At Hughes and then at Ramo-Wooldridge, more particularly at Ramo-Wolldridge because the ICBM program was a bigger thing, and because, as I mention in the book, from the standpoint of the timing, more university people by that time--with the Soviet Union jumping ahead of the ICBM, there was going to be a race. These people now in the universities, the first priority in their minds was "I've had it with war work and I'm going to get back now and get back to my pure research, get back to teaching and PhD theses and so on." But by the time seven or eight years had elapsed after the war, and now with this new thing of the Soviet Union jumping ahead on the ICBM, they were willing to get back into consulting, the best of them, to do at least a little for us. Some of them leaves of absence.

COLLINS: Yes. How did academics in your mind balance the open character of academic research with classified work? Was there a trade-off in their minds?

RAMO: There was not a problem at that time. That kind of problem has originated in recent decade. First of all, the immediate postwar thing, the top scientists who had been involved in war work, in military work, were anxious to get back to give more of their time to their academic work, which was first love. They didn't have the concern about how to mix classified work that had to be classified with their own business. Their main thing in life was the open research, but yes, a fraction of their time could go into classified secret things. They went to meetings; they would retain safes with some classified documents. They'd make some analyses. They'd put the thing back in the safe. It was not a big thing.

    Then came the era exemplified by the ICBM program, in which there was a race, on everthing from the A-bomb, from the yield, from the advances, to get bombs that were powerful and yet lightin weight and reliable, and then to be able to deliver them. There was a serious race with the Soviet Union. So in those days, if you weren't with a clearance, if you were a university person with a disdain for military work or with an inability to engage in military work because you couldn't get cleared, then you were looked down on rather than the other way around.

    The Vietnam War made the big change. Maybe other things would have caused it to happen. Maybe disgust with this business of a race between the United States and the Soviet Union, a constant arms race. It was becoming more and more clear it would be insane to launch an all-out attack, one of them against the other, because it would be suicide. You would never destroy the other nation's ability to retaliate. You shouldn't expect to. So you had to be crazy. So disgust with the whole thing might have been sufficient even without the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War made clear to the intellectuals and to the academics, including the scientists, that we were capable to getting ourselves into crazy situations that made no sense for us, when you netted everything out. All we could do was get in there and kill a lot of Americans and accomplish nothing from the standpoint of whatever were the ideals that sent us there.

COLLINS: From the point of view of the fifties, though, when you say "look down on", this was sense that scientists who didn't engage in some classified work were not contributing to an imperative national...

RAMO: Or there was a problem that, they were a bit leper-ish; they couldn't get cleared. What was the problem with them? How come they couldn't get cleared? So they did not want to be without a clearance. It would be one thing on your own to decide you were not interested in military work. It would be another thing to be confused with those that couldn't get clearance because they had bad connections or that had made mistakes in the past or something. That was the era, you know, of Senator [Joseph] McCarthy, and that was the era when, my goodness, if you could take Robert Oppenheimer and deny him a clearance--this is a serious situation.

    I know that I personally, with regard to a number of people, took personal risks in going to higher and higher levels on behalf of various people where I felt that there was something screwy about their being denied clearance. I remember one case, of course without mentioning his name, where he was denied clearance when it was discovered that he had been psychoanalyzed by a professional psychoanalyst at some point. He had gone to a psychoanalyst and been psychoanalyzed. There was no nervous breakdown evidenced; there was nothing else. He had been psychoanalyzed. I thought I had a hunch as to why that had appeared in his case, and I wasn't entitled to information without making an extra effort. I mean I had to make a point of it. I had to go to high levels and say, "Hey, look into this, and I suspect the following is the problem here, and if so that's wrong." It turned out--I knew that he was married to a psychoanalyst, and that may be it.

    There was another case where someone had gone to a metting in Rumania or Hungary or some place, and as was customary in those days, before you went you got a briefing from the CIA and when you came back you briefed them on various things. They interviewed you. One person had approached this guy at a meeting, asking a few questions, and the fact that that person, an unknown, had approached this man at some kind of a meeting they were at and asked some questions, caused this man's name to be put into the report he gave to CIA after he got back. You know, "Who did you talk to," and that was so and so. "Did you meet with anybody else who interested you?" "Well, there was one fellow; it wasn't part of the proceedings. He was there at the ambassador's party or something like that, and I wondered about him, and he came up, and he engaged me in conversation, and he seemed to be awfully anxious to talk with me, and he threw in questions." "I see. Tell us more about him, describe him" and so on.

    Well, it turned out they perfectly well knew who that man was from the name. He was a man that they regarded as a spy or whatever. So the system put in my innocent guy's name with this other guy, associated, without saying anything about the association. When they looked him up, they had him associated with this guy, because he himself had put in a report of having met the fellow. It was a very touchy business. There were a lot of people denied clearance, at least for some of the time denied clearance, till that wave passed. During that period there was a natural tendency on the part of university people to want to have a clearance, and to be engaged, to have evidence that they were not suspected of being Communists or something bad, maybe homosexuals or else alcoholics, drinking. There are scientists who drink too much, and known to other scientists. They didn't want to labeled that way.

    There's another thing. There was a lot of fascinating stuff going on. That was sort of a peak, in the thing you see that I had this hunch about, in going to Hughes, that scientists and engineers, many of them, preferred to work on frontier problems that are fascinating and important, even if they're classified, as distinct form working at something that maybe has passed its peak. Now you might be an expert in certain kinds of phenomena. You're at 45-year-old physicist, and you're one of the world's authorities, but that's no longer a big problem. Other things have happened, and now you hate to go back and move from this field of endeavor. If you're working on superconducting, it was getting nowhere, which was true for decades, and if you move over and work on military stuff, you get whole new insights. You can be working in frontier problems again. So there were alots of reasons why individuals would want to work on it.

COLLINS: Let me throw in a value question. I don't know what kind of answer you can give to it, but do you see any difficulties when the military is providing the incentive to examine many of the leading edge questions, as opposed to the universities, that comes out of independent academic interest?

RAMO: There's an enormous difference between the two, as seen by the academic world. But then what I'm suggesting is, there was not that much difference. Being engaged in military work had very little in the way of bad images connected with it, and if it's frontier work, it's frontier work. Interesting, fascinating problems that come up for a scientist, no mater who had the original need for getting you to apply yourself to that problem. Surely fission and fusion, for example, were hot items in nuclear physics at that time. Maybe now, getting down into what really are the forces and reactions and the constituents that are the main actors in certain kinds of phenomena that occur within the nucleus, whether at the inception of the universe after the Big Bang or that can be done now in the laboratory, is or more interest than fusion--but fusion was both of interest to the military and the hottest frontier area for nuclear physicists. So what difference did it make if the money was coming from the military or, as long as you were going after the hot problem?

    Now the situation is totally different. But look, there's a good way of discussing this thing that you're asking about, right on the question of space. To move out far from the earth, to pick up moon rocks, to land on Mars and make at least a beginning effort, which we did, with apparatus on Mars, to see if there's life there. Whether it originated out of a contest, a world contest for superiority and for technological and scientific preeminence against a rival on a psychological sphere, the Soviet Union, the fact that we were engaged in doing that space effort, when we were doing it in the late Fifties and the early Sixties, right into the end of the Sixities when we landed out first astronauts on the moon, and the fact that that resulted from a race with the Soviet Union, that we wouldn't even be doing it if they hadn't put us in the position so we had to respond, was not important to the scientist.

    What was important to the scientists was what we were spending our space money on. They didn't want to spend the money on man in space, seeing that as of lower interest to them scientifically, and even today that's true. But now that's changed because that space funding, a permanent manned space station--for example the shuttle program, where we made the decision to put up all of our spacecraft, unmanned, important spacecraft, whether for command, control, intelligence, reconaissance for the military, or commercial communications satellites or spacecraft for the scientists, all of it depending on a booster that has to have human beings aboard in order to get the stuff up, where you can't countenance a lack of safety. We obviously made a horrible mistake there. The scientists, the academic scientists, the research scientists, viewed space with a priority on the thing of interest to them, and it didn't need human beings with the enormous expense. The Shuttle program robbed us of funds for research, just as the supersonic supercollider and the mapping, the sequencing of the genome, and the crash program on superconductivity, and the big Defense programs, compete now for funds.

    So now it's a whole different ball game, and space expenditures, whether it be for research or commercial or military purposes, have to be defended and planned based upon recognizing the contest for funds. Now, if you're a space scientist, if you regard yourself as such, if you're one whose career and past accomplishments, your stature, hinges on funding for further space research, then you have to find yourself with an interest in supporting sources of funds wherever they are, and that's going to be government. So you're going to be for government supports. You're going to be for NASA, if that's going to give you funding. If it turned out that NASA was abolished and just put into the Air Force and DOD was given the job, the space scientists would be for DOD getting a lot of funds. It's the source of the funds and that's just a bigger consideration than any other aspect of it.

COLLINS: Okay. I quess that's a value question that's difficult to sort out. One of my initial questions that kind of led up along this path was your connections outside of Hughes. Did you have any awaremess during the period of the Fifties of the activities of the RAND Corporation?

RAMO: Oh, of course.

COLLINS: What was the nature of your contact with them, do you recall?

RAMO: First of all, the RAND Corporation was given money to study various and sundry things, and since I involved in those thing, like should there be an ICBM program; what is the need of the nation for a response to the concern that the Soviet Union might try to knock us out with H-bombs. RAND Corporation was simply one of maybe 50 sources of intelligence on such subjects. Many sources of intelligence were the separate activities of these various scientific advisory groups; industry had pockets of strenght. It had individuals that were similar to those working at RAND. There were people within the government engaged in such things. There were university groups with contracts. I also saw RAND as an example of an organization that can only do certain things well, but where I was interested in whatever their answers were, to consider those in the light of other possible answers. They could do those things well that could be done by people who were not associated with any weapons systems design, that were isolated, that deal with theory.

    In general, let's say the economics department at RAND; if you regard yourself as a superior PhD in economics, what would you choose, a position at Harvard or Princeton, or would you go to RAND Corporation? The answer is of course you'd go to those university groups first. If you're interested in money, you might want to be the chief economist at one of the big banks or the Wall Street firms. You might want to be on the staff--we soon called it chief economist--at TRW, on the corporate staff, where your analyses had more to do with the things of immediate, direct, narrow interests of TRW. But if you're interested in being regarded as a great economist, you would want to go to one of those top university, so they would be bound to have a second team, a second team isolated from considerations of really getting things done, dealing only with theory. It's not theoretical science. They weren't theorizing about what's in the nucleus. Theory about the practice, the applying of technology and military strength to the security of the United States. That's still true today. I mean RAND, as far as I'm concerned, is one of the sources. But I naturally included them as part of the sources for our information, and my people were in contact with them.

COLLINS: Yes. I'm sure as you well know, one of the things that RAND was doing starting in the postwar period, was to do a fairly thorough study of what it would take to place a satellite above the earth, and part of this was conducted under the auspices of a study called Project Feedback, which looked also fairly thoroughly at the launch vehicle questions. As I understand it, they were involved to a degree in the decision to proceed with an ICBM, so I know that this was also an intimate part of your history.

RAMO: They were involved very superficially, remotely, and not influentially. It's not a fair rating of them for me to say this. It turned out that because their rating wasn't as high as it would need to be, they had people on the staff there, you know, like a half a dozen people. My impression is they were good, competent, and they were privy to intelligence coming with regard to what the Russians were up to, generally ahead of the industry, I mean because they were more of an inside group on things that were very carefuly limited, like intelligence. So for example, I feel quite confident that they knew about the fact that the Soviet Union seemed to be determined to come out with an ICBM ahead of us and were working very hard, moving along on an ICBM program. In that period of a few months, of my leaving Hughes and starting Ramo-Woolridge, and before I was privy to the intelligence information, I believe they had it. They had the beginnings of it at least, and in addition they asked themselves such questions as, can you reenter, and they had two or three people making some initial calculations. Then the major leaguers, the top aerothermal chemists, aerodynamicists, of the nation got onto the problem. Within a matter of a very short time, they had gone to a hundred times greater depth than those little superficial analyses at RAND.

COLLINS: You're talking about the group that you formed with Bob Bacher?

RAMO: Well, as an example, yes, and we wouldn't have anybody from RAND on that group because they weren't regarded as of the major league class of the other people. It's like, if you were asking, hey, we here that Hitler is working on an A-bomb, that's when you get the Oppenheimers and the [I.I.] Rabis and so on. You don't have someone who's been working at NRL within the government on a civil service job looking at new weapons. But he may have the right idea. What I'm saying is, the RAND people, they said, "Hey, we ought to be doing an ICBM." I remember they were part of the group we had come and talk to us, the [John] von Neuman Committee. They came in and made presentations and they sounded sensible to me, but they were regarded as minor players. Yes, we hear you, that' interesting. They didn't have the influence and they didn't have the depth. It's one thing to talk about a rocket to the moon or putting a satellite up, if the person talking has never put anything up, is not an engineer really, reads what other engineers have written and maybe them some questions, gets some analyses, and says, "You know, in principle, if you can put a number of stages on here." They were regarded as minor, compared, say, with the people around von Karman at JPL. They were the real pros.


COLLINS: We were just talking about RAND's role in the early to mid-fifties. One of the reasons I asked was because von Neumann at this time was a very revered consultant at RAND. So he seemed to be playing kind of a cross-fertilization role, in a sense, because I'm sure he was very much aware of the activities that were going on a RAND and obviously as well with the von Neumann Committee.

RAMO: I don't know how much more von Neumann was aware of the activities at RAND, but he was a very aware individual. He visited lots of places, so he was to be found at one place or another whereever something was going on that interested him. Von Neumann obviously was in a position to, if he had chosed, if he had thought it meritorious to do so, to cause RAND to play a very important part in the planning of the ICBM program and the directing of it and so on, but he didn't. He didn't bring RAND people in. He was always suggesting to me, sometimes at my request, sometimes without my request to him, various names of people that could be helpful on numerous problems that came up. We would have an agenda at the meetings of the Von Neumann Committee that came out with the recommendation that we could do ICBM. We had presentations, say, from what was then North American on the Navajo missile, which was really a Cruise high-speed missile, and there was this little enbryonic essentially just paper project at Convair on the ICBM.

    But there were a lot of other ideas playing around about how you can best deliver nuclear bombs to the Soviet Union. There were ideas about where would we be in a year or two if we choose the right things to do, and you know, fund them properly, tie them in. Where could we be on guidance? What about reentry? How severe a problem was that? What would happen on rocket engines if we kept going? What about structures? And so on. The RAND people came in as a result of me, not as a result of von Neumann, to give us presentations. What I'm saying is that I don't get enough credit. I'm saying that I noted later when the results were in, that their views about what you could do with an ICBM, while it was important, whether the technical problems were soluble or were insoluble, that the RAND people came in and told us about, were sound and generally on ICBM superior to the kind of stuff we were getting from the industry, some of whom were rivals.

    Well, they started out with the ICBM. Of course it was ridiculous, and that was true of the Air Force people who paid RAND and were supposed to listen to them. But the Air Force people, who were their crack people, they could countenance leacing the man out maybe and have essentially a faster airplane without a man. If you could get the guidance problem solved, they thought it would take you ten or twenty years to get it solved, so you needed the man with the bombsight, but the ICBM was not even worth talking about. So what I'm suggesting is, the RAND people didn't have much influence, and they didn't seem to have much influence with von Neumann, who was certainly in a position. He came in to head what became known as the von Newmann Committee afterwards, but it was this fellow Trevor Gardner's committee really. But I had suggested von Nuemann as the man to chair that committee, because I wanted a really smart fellow who was highly regarded and who would be objective and a quick learner. Even though he had never designed a rocket, I knew he could sit there at a meeting and cause the people that feel differently one from another to argue in a way that would be beneficial to getting the right answer. But did he say, "Si, get the RAND people in. They're on top of this. They're ahead of these other fellows."

    Today, there are all kinds of big issues coming up, but do you hear... I don't. I get to an awful lot of meetings, and I've got all kinds of clearances, and I know Don Rice is not abashful fellow. But when you pick up the paper, when you pick up Science Magazine, when you pick up classified documents, what should happen on the SDI [Space Defence Initiative] program. A lot of people have spoken on it, and some groups have become finally influential. I associate myself with some groups that have been trying to get that program straightened out, as I think of it in my immodesty, and away from what I've felt to be totally wrong employment ideas. Where, as with all the big projects of recent decades, they're off by ten times the amount of money it will take to do what they're talking about doing, and the length of time it will take, and the performance they'll get when they do it, and they're not going to get the money for it anyway. I've never heard of a RAND input.

    What about the space program? They've had one or two commissions or equivalent. We've had new papers coming out about what the program is to be. We've certainly had advocacy groups. We've had people arguing about whether we should or shouldn't get together with the Russians to do a manned Mars mission some time in the future. Should we do the permanent manned space station? What about this program that the President also announced; we're going to get to Tokyo in 20 minutes; we need that very badly. The aerospace airplane. It's going to go so fast in the atmosphere that the engine is the vehicle. There's every surface as part of guiding the oxidizer known as air in there along with the fuel. The Genome project, the Supercollider, these all us government money.

    How about the question that Frank Press addressed recently, that the scientists are somehow going to have to organize themselves to put priorities in there. There are Unions of Concerned Scientists. There are official Defense Science Board reports. There is the Congressional Office of Science and Technology that puts out there's a GAO [Government Accounting Office] that puts out reports on these big projects and helps in that way to decide what the nation is going to do on these things. There's this whole business of the treaties, the ABM Treaty and its interpretation. There is the question of verification of nuclear testing. Should we stop nuclear testing? Is that the way to help move along towards a nuclear-free world? The role of mobility of land-based missiles and so on. Are you aware of a RAND position on any of these things?

COLLINS: I'm not up-to-date on that. What I was trying to get at is, for the historian it's difficult to sort out how important these things--

RAMO: That's why I was giving you a little detail on it. I'm saying, a high-grade organization, I have felt, and a useful one; if I was a benevolent dictator I surley would go on with RAND, and it's got some good people. There are certain things you can do with a group like that that is isolated from either direct decision-making, as is true of people in the White House or the DOD or the Secretary of Air Force's operation or Chief of Staff's, or the industry. There are certain things you can't expect to do with it. But I think there's a permanent role for groups like that.

COLLINS: Well, let's discuss your TRW experience a little bit. Clearly, as evidenced by the so-called von Neumann Committee, you developed a pretty close relationship with the Air Force as a result of your good work at Hughes. What was the nature of the relationship over the next several years as the ICBM program built up?

RAMO: Well, of course it had to be very close, because I personally was the chief scientist. That's what the Air Force wanted me to be known as in connection with the program. The word scientist was more popular, more prestigious that the word engineer, for example. Ramo-Wooldridge, then TRW, had a contract for technical direction and systems engineering for the ICBM program, and there was a sole source. We were drafted for the job. It was not a competitive program. You couldn't do that today. You'd have to outline in the book what the alternatives were. So naturally there was a very close association.

    In fact I guess it's worth mentioning, this is not in my book but that was really not my interest or I didn't feel was my mission in life, but as it applies to space. It comes closer to being a one-word description of your mission, the history of the space program in the United States. The Air Force wanted me personally and Ramo-Wooldridge or TRW to go on with this special relationship, which was not suitable once we had an ICBM capability because then the program is going to be different generations of ICBMs. It's going to go on into space, that was quite clear even before Sputnik, and there were going to be different generations of ICBMs. There was going to be the question of anti-ICBM, and lots of military satellites in the sky, and the relationship to the commercial world and to the civilian unclassified space world. You had to have the competitive industry involved, and there had to be competition, and here was a competitive company. We were not a utility like Bell Telephone Laboratories associated with AT&T that was regulated as to its rates and hence return on investment and could afford to put work into research. Although they didn't enter competitions because of the nature of their organization, they were called upon by the government to do various things that they were especially suited to do, and regarded as in a separate class.

    Well, we could not be put into that kind of a permanent formula. We had shareholders. We were on the market. It was a big issue, what to do. There were all kinds of proposals in the government. The government could commandeer, could take over Ramo and draft him as an individual, put such presure on him, have Eisenhower call him in and say, "You've got to do this," and create a nonprofit Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation, and tell the shareholders that had put money into it, notably Thompson Products, that" sorry but the government should they have a group of people called in to figure out how much the government should pay for it, like taking over. They did take over our building at one point. We went to another location because it was easier for the government to take over an existing facility than to build a new one, so what had been a Ramo-Wooldridge complex, part of our buildings became a division of the Air Force building, and the Air Force officers sat there with their staffs, and the Ramo-Wooldridge people got out. We went down the street and bought some more property and built another one. But finally it was decided, hey, they can't do that. I mean they can't realy take over private industry; the government doesn't want to do that. It was still a Republican administration, anyway.

COLLINS: But this was an option that was addressed.

RAMO: Well, that was looked over. There were obviously some Air Force officers who felt that would be a good idea, say nothing wrong with it. They were not sophisticated about how the government in America related to the private sector, and they would do things like call in attorneys within the Defense Department who had never dealt with a thing of this kind, procurement attorneys, and ask them whether it was constitutional and so on. Finally it was I who suggested, "Look, there's nothing wrong with your going on to have systems engineering and technical direction. Contracts are given out all the time on those projects." This happened to be a bigger project so that one company did nothing but systems engineering and technical direction. But a project like the Snark program or something, you had a company doing it, and they were prime contractor, and they got their work by competition, or if they had it to do over again they would get it by competition." What you really want is that your internal planning--you're relying on us to plan the next phase. Let's move the planners over."

    That's when we created Aerospace Corporation. I even suggested Ivan Getting to be the director of it, because I knew of his stature and I thought quite likely his availability. He had gone to Raytheon where he had been a successful vice president for engineering after having been a professor at MIT, after having been chief scientist or the equivalent. I don't think they used that title, of the Air Force, having been one of the section heads of the Radiation Laboratory, having been a Rhodes Scholar, Fellow of the Faculty at Harvard, and so on. He was a very distinguished man who would be able if he chose to, to take on the Aerospace job, be the first head of Aerospace, and he was, for some 25 years.

    We would say to certain of our people, "Look, we don't have a job for you at TRW because the kind of thing you're doing any more. Our contracts are going to stop on that. When it comes to advanced planning and feeling out the next steps and what should the Air Force do in space and so on, we're going to be competing for whatever we do, and they've got to have internal nonprofit." And some of them that I put down on the list that would be good for that decided to go to Aerospace, and some of them decided they did not want to go to Aerospace and do that. If we didn't find another job for them at TRW, they would go somewhere else. Maybe one or two of them did. Some of them found other jobs in TRW. But we gave them their initial contingent. I spent time recruiting from within TRW for Aerospace Corporation, and we got that started. So our relationships were close, but they shifted to being conventional along about 1958.

    And we did another thing. We separated the part of TRW that was engaged in this and made it a separate corporation, Space Technology Laboratories (STL), with Jimmy Doolittle as the chairman, as a transition activity to continue to do the systems engineering and technical direction. That's when I left the arduous task, and [Benjamin] Schriever then moved up also, so it was a little easier. If Schriever had gone on it would have been more difficult for me to escape from continuing to have that job. I was called in by the Secretary of Defense and at that time Deputy Secretary of Defense, Don Quarles, who was Deputy Secretary of Defense. He was originally Assistant Secretary of Defense, then Secretary of the Air Force, but Ros Gilpatric was, you might say the project head of that whole group.

    I was brought in and put under very severe presure one day to be the head of the Aerospace Corporation, as duty to the nation, because that would guarantee that there would be no problem with recruiting and the strength of the organization and so on. I explained to them that they had done everthing wonderfully well at DOD with regard to the ICBM program except that the leadership--the same ones I was talking to--didn't understand the building conflict of interest problem. I said in no way could I leave a company known as Thompson-Ramo-Wooldridge, where my friends and my protegees would be running it after I leave, and become, in effect, and insider. Every time TRW won a contract the competitors would say, "Hey, how in the hell can you have Ramo as head of an in-house group that's so powerful in setting the DOD's space program, and they have competitions, and TRW competing, when it's still Si Ramo's company?" They said, "Well, you sell all your shares." That won't do it. That won't do it. That won't do it, and I convinced them of it. I had the same problem--I was asked to be Deputy Secretary of Defense when Don Quarles died suddenly in his sleep one night. But that time the successor to C.E. Wilson was the Proctor and Gamble, the big soap manufacturers man.

COLLINS: [ ] McElroy.

RAMO: McElroy, yes, McElroy, and he wanted me to come in and be Deputy Secretary of Defense. He'd been Secretary of Defense for a while. He wanted to leave before the end of the term, and so part of his pitch was. "If you come in now you'll end up being Secretary of Defense." Of course that would be for the duration, a few months. It was not something I aspired to anyway, and I told him again, "You may even have trouble, with Senate confirmation." They'd always say, "Well, you sell your shares." Then I'd convince them that that won't do it, not when you have your name on a company, when you've been a founder, when you're got your close associations. No one is going to assume they can't come in and get some information. Why, they just read my facial expression when they make some statements, and get some guidance from it.

    Then [Richard M.] Nixon came in--and as usual, as I pointed out in the book, whenever there's a technical job to be filled it gets filled late. They had an acting NASA head for quite a little while, for months, and they gave Dave Packard, who was Deputy Secretary of Defense under Nixon, the job of finding a new head of NASA, and he called me about my taking that job. I'm not saying that I would have ended up being the head of NASA. I mean they undoubtedly were talking to other people, just as I imagine was true in the case of McElroy and so on. But I was able to convince Dave Packard with ease--it took about ten minutes--with TRW possible at that moment the leading company identified with the beginnings of industry space activities, the rest of the industry not yet having a facility while we did, that we had the first contract for a spacecraft from a private company, and about all you would need would be for the person identified as the most conspicuous name in that as head of NASA. I mean, you want trouble?

COLLINS: Are you talking about in 1961 or '69?

RAMO: That's '68, January--by that time it was April or May '69. It was the first Nixon Administration. The Deputy Secretary of Defense situation with Don Quarles' death was in 1959.

COLLINS: I still have a number of questions, but let's pursue the conflict of interest one for a few minutes. Were there voices within the industry, during the period of the Fifties and towards 1960, about a conflict of interest role for Ramo-Wooldridge? I know some of that was coming from Congress, but did it come from industry as well?

RAMO: Actually essentially nothing came from either industry or Congress. I say essentially nothing, it was so slight. There was one time when a «MDUL»Washington Post«MDNM» man wrote an article about it, and he came to one session, only one session where the Hollyfield Committee, working not on any mistake in the past but working on what should be in the situation for the future. Hollyfield was aware, as the DOD was, that they had to make a decision, for which I was recommending that they set up Aerospace Corporation. But they had to do something different in the future as compared to the past. But they weren't worrying so much about the past, about there having been a conflict, because you see, we had a hardware exclusion clause. Thirty seconds ahead of everyone else I said, "We will not do hardware. We will just help the government to get the job done."

    Now the thing that caused us to have essentially no complaining was that because the industry was all into the program and because they were getting so doggone much help from us, they never had it so good. There's nothing better for the engineering departments, who have some considerable influence on the company--for a Lockheed or a Martin-Marietta or a Rockwell, as it became (North American initially, of course), General Dynamics, Convair originally. If they were in trouble, not getting their work done well, they had us coming in, drafting the best brains of the country, some of whom might be from their competitors, to come in and do a special session of "how do we handle this problem?" We were determined they were going to be successful. They had cost-plus contracts. They were cost be successful on the best program.

    Now the only people that would have a basis for a complaint would be those that didn't win a contract. I had an example of one in my book, that Talbott tried to work into a propulsion contract. In no way could they make a case--if they considered it, they knew they would never get anywhere with it, either to the government executive branch, running to Schriever or to the higher levels of DOD, to Wilson--that they had been made losers in the competition where they should have won because of some sort of skullduggery. Everybody knew that there was no program comparable with ours in the way we left the Congress out of; that is, in no way would I or General Schriever allow ourselves to be in conversation with Congressmen trying to sell Company X because it's in their district to us. They knew that this program was regarded as very special, from Eisenhower down. It had a status that we'd never had before in peacetime, the kind of a status that Manhattan Project had in Wartime.

    First of all, a lot of Congressmen didn't know anything about the program. They couldn't connive readily with someone in their area, suppose a company--suppose Westinghouse said, "We're not getting much on this program, and we've got to do a better job of selling." It comes natural to Congressmen and their staffs to find out what's wrong with the competitors. If you've done something bad to get this program, we've got to scare them, we're going to call up to the Department of Defense and say, "Hey, we have information that somebody got an edge on the competition, some colonel went to work for them when he shouldn't have," and so on. They would have had a hell of time getting any of that done. Now it's easy in almost every contract. So at first there was, I can't remember his name, there was one very energetic assistant to the president of Convair, whose president at that time was a retired general. He was also "Mc" something or other, very close to--McNartey?

COLLINS: There was a [ ] McNarney.

RAMO: McNarney. That's right. He was a high-powered general, and I'm sure he was a competent man, and he was head of General Dynamics, and there was somebody in General Dynamics who was an assistant to him who came out of the media. He was sort of a PR type. He was supposed to actively work the Washington scene on general Dynamics be given the job of technical direction and a prime contract. After all, they had this little study. But you had the Von Neumann Committee and you had this little study. But you had the Von Neumann Committee and you had Schriever, with a special responsibility, and in no way could they see giving a job to someone who could not possible be considered capable of doing it. They just didn't have that kind of person on their payroll; they didn't begin to have. They were seen as not at all suitable for that. This big program would have to use them. They'd have all they could do to handle the Atlas structure. Then they complained about the fact that we created a parallel program with the Titan, and there was a competition, and Martin-Marietta won that. General Dynamics did get the Atlas without a competition, on account of their background, and that was right.

    They saw very quickly, just as we explained to them, when they started to bemoan that something was being mismanaged because we were not giving them the whole damned job to do with everybody coming in through them. I remember, I was involved actively in a presentation--when the general saw the size of the program, the nature of it as we envisaged it, creating the instrumentation on the islands, setting up the Cape and so on--he saw it was a job that they couldn't do, that you'd need a whole group of associate contractors.

    Obviously Schriever couldn't do it without a staff, but a staff that understood industry as well as the science. He saw right away that they would get a big project out of this, and they were going to look silly to persist in arguing that a mistake was being made by not giving them the job. They had nobody supporting them. I mean the whole fraternity, everybody else, naturally the rest of the industry didn't want it all going through them, so they had no industry support. Certainly they had tremendous respect for Wooldridge and me from the Hughes operation, because you see General Dynamics' biggest project was the supersonic interceptor. They won that job, and it depended heavily, and they'd worked closely with us at Hughes.

    We won the job for all the electronics, so here were computers and blind landing and take-off and lock on radars and the supersonic Falcon missiles embedded in their structure, opening up when you get there a letting go and all the stuff for the pilot. We were partners in that job, and they knew that we had the toughest part of the job, and they wanted to buy Hughes Aircraft Co. That was before the general had arrived. It was a previous president who was working on it, and there was still--I have to go through a chain of things. The part of the brain that remembers names was missing at birth in my case, and I always remember names--Jackie Cochran was married to a big name industrialist who put together companies, and he put together General Dynamics, now what was his name? The husband of Jackie Cochran.

COLLINS: That's a detail, I can go back and find a reference.

RAMO: He was the man who had assembled the General Dynamics group, and he wanted to buy Hughes Aircraft Co. when he thought it might conceivably be for sale, because he knew that the government preferred that Hughes Aircraft Co. not be owned by Howard Hughes. So they were not about to say that Ramo-Wooldridge couldn't do this job. They had nobody they could put forth as having anything like the record of building up what in today's dollars would be a couple of billion dollar operation so quickly that was regarded as the number one electronic systems missile organization in the country.

    Now, if we were going to be drafted to run this thing, with no hardware, so they don't have to worry about competing with us, we wouldn't make the program successful. In fact, we were perhaps as important as anybody in recognizing the fact and originating the idea that in the future, now that we had the first operation capability and now that we were moving to expanded program, TRW has to be a conventional company. We have to form the transition, and as I say, we actually led the inventing of how it should be done, and it was done, and only one time was I asked, in the most courteous respectful way, to come and talk about how, various ways that this could be done. That was the only Congessional investigation. So there couldn't have been much.

COLLINS: Did you play a role when the ICBM program was building up in making the prime contractor selections along with General Schriever?

RAMO: No. There again, I was very insistent that we separate two things. We played the prime role in describing what it is that had to be done. For instance, two reentry contractors: was is the job of the reentry contractor? What exactly does he do? Part of our job was to define that job. Of course, the Air Force, Schriever, always had the final decision, and he had some very good coloney level people helping. He had, of course, a deputy or two in the general officer class. But we were the leaders in defining the task to be accomplished.

    Then, when a separate group, consisting only of the military people, would make up a list of contractors eligible for competing and invite them to come in and bid, we would make the detailed presentation as to what the job was and answer questions. I was personally very heavily involved in it. Then they made their proposals, we would listen to their presentations and we would read carefully their proposals. We would offer our comments on the substance of their proposals, and if part of the proposal was to show where they would get, or who did they already have who were capable of doing the task technically, what had they done before, we could write to various contractors. We could say, "Well, on this, they've got this better slate, this guy." These are obviously very busy people that they're going to get an hour a week from at most, not to be taken too seriously, but here's someone who has these shining lights here; they're taking a leave of absence; they're going to come and work on this program. We would analyze and rate the things.

    Then we left the process, and the military would make the decision. They had other things that they were the leaders on, that were pertinent. For example, the record of that company in previous, particularly recent procurements. How were they on adherence to the niceties of contract control? How were they viewed by the Air Force auditors? Then presumably everything else being equal, they should give the work to those that needed it most and were hungriest and had people that they could put on it who were terminating a job.

    I'm sure there was also--I forgot the details on this--there was also a quite proper geographical spread requirement. You don't want to have 90 percent of the program all in Los Angeles, if there is another aircraft company, as there was. There was a Bell and there was a Grumman and there was an LTV and there was McDonell-Douglas, St. Louis. Not all aircraft companies, for example, were in the Los Angeles area. Well, You wouldn't want all ICBM contracts suitable for aircraft companies all to be the Los Angeles Area companies, unless you had to really say that they were markedly superior for that. So there were a lot of considerations that were not technical systems dominated, and the Air Force would be leaders on those.

COLLINS: I've taken you beyond the time you said you'd go. Thank you very much.

RAMO: All right.

Ramo 2 || Table of Contents

Rev. 09/06/96

© 1996 National Air and Space Musuem