Interviewee: Dr. Robert Seamans

Interviewers: Mr. Martin Collins and Dr. Michael Dennis

Place: Dr. Seamans' office, MIT

Date: February 25, 1987


MR. COLLINS: Picking up from our last session, you were starting to talk about some of your course work for your Master's degree, and you mentioned that you took an instrumentation course from Dr. Draper, and that you also took a series of physics courses. What other course work was required for the MS, do you recall?

DR. SEAMANS: Let me think now just one second. I think I explained to you that I came here just by sheer chance, with a friend. We were both doing graduate work at Harvard, had just enrolled there, and we came to MIT. Then after a series of discussions with the various MIT departmental people, I ended up with a person named R.H. Smith, who was the acting head of what was then called aeronautical engineering and is now aeronautics and astronautics, and he felt that I was qualified to come in as a graduate student. When I asked him how long it would take to get a Master's degree, he said, "Well, you have a fair number of deficiencies in aeronautics. It might take you as long as three years." And I said, "You know, that's quite a long time," and he said, "Well, it might be less if you go into instrumentation." I said, "Well, what is that?" He said, "I'm not exactly sure. You ought to go and see Dr. Draper." And the timing was very fortuitous. This was the end of one week, and I think it was a Thursday or a Friday, and I think classes started here on a Tuesday. But anyway, I didn't get a chance to see Dr. Draper before the class, but I did attend his introductory course in instrumentation, which had a number 16.41, everything going by the numbers at MIT. This was a graduate course, and it was in the largest classroom in the building, and there was standing room only. I mean, it was just very crowded. And Doc came in, and he's fairly short of stature, I wouldn't call him rotund, but he's pretty full-bodied for his height. As I remember, he had on a green eye shade, and that's the way he always came into class, not necessarily with the eye shade, but you always had the sense of his coming right from his research work right into the classroom. His introductory remarks were along the lines that, "Okay, you guys," since there were no women there, "I guarantee if you stay in this field, you'll never make a lot of money. You might make up to $5000 a year, but you'll have a lot of fun. You won't have an opportunity for buying fur coats for babes and buying race horses, but you'll find it very interesting." Sort of that idea. I found I was immediately intrigued intellectually by the material. I found it was a very lively kind of discussion, that there were quite a few of the graduate students who knew quite a bit about the field, a lot of give and take in the classroom, and so I decided I would concentrate in the field of instrumentation. I took the lab course that went with his introductory course, and then did the same thing in the spring. I took Doc Draper's instrumentation courses and the labs that went with them, and towards the end it got into gyroscopic theory and examined how various flight instruments worked. At the same time, I had a deficiency in physics, coming from Harvard, and I had to take the fairly elementary course in physics, and had not given up on possibly getting a Master's degree in aeronautical engineering. So I had to take a course in aeronautical engineering, and I forget whether there was one other course I took or not. In the spring, since I was able with all the work I'd done at Harvard and elsewhere, really the physics was pretty elementary, and since I got 100 on every exam they gave and all that sort of thing, I requested that I not have to take any more physics in the spring, and that was approved. In its place, I got into a course that was given in electrical engineering by Gardner and Barnes, and it had to do with Laplace transformes and dynamic analysis. It was mostly in electrical terms, but it was just a wonderful course, and it complemented the work I was doing with Draper very well.

COLLINS: You were taking more than one course from Draper?

SEAMANS: I took two in the fall and two in the spring. I took the lecture course both fall and spring, as well as the lab course that went with the lecture course fall and spring, each one of which he gave. It turned out that by the time I got to the end of spring, I'd taken all the course work that I needed to get my Master's degree, and all that was required to get the Master's degree was to write a thesis.

COLLINS: Now, this would have been a Master's degree in instrumentation?

SEAMANS: No, I actually was able to get it in aeronautics, as it turned out.

COLLINS: Because you took sufficient aeronautics-type courses?

SEAMANS: Yes. I had to satisfy the aeronautical requirements, and of course I took aeronautics in the fall and the spring, a course in aeronautical engineering, with a professor named Freddy Rauscher, who was from Zurich, Switzerland. I can't quite remember what else I took. There was the Rauscher course and the two Draper courses and the electrical engineering course in the spring, and there must have been one other. I forget what it was.

COLLINS: I guess I'm kind of curious. The initial assessment when you came to MIT was that it would take you three years for the course work for a Master's.

SEAMANS: Right--it didn't. I think I took a little more intense program than maybe the average, and I think it also turned out that what I'd done at Harvard stood me in better stead than the MIT people recognized at the start. In other words, the engineering science program at Harvard had more depth and breadth than the people here quite realized.

COLLINS: During this first year, did you select an advisor for your Master's program?

SEAMANS: Let's see, as I remember it, we didn't actually have to go and select one, but there's no question in my mind that Draper was the person that I was going to go to for my thesis supervisor. That was about all the supervision I had from any faculty member. You ask on here, what kinds of people took the course? That's a hard one to answer. The people taking the course work, particularly those under Draper, cut a pretty broad swathe. There were a lot of people there who were not just in aeronautical engineering. The person I got to know the best was Courtland Perkins, who now lives in Washington. He's the one who wrote the mini-biog of a few of us. He's also the one who became the president of the National Academy of Engineering after I left the Academy. For quite a number of years he taught at Princeton, where he was the associate dean of the engineering school. After he left here, he went to Wright Field and had a great deal to do with aeronautical research during the war, wrote the pre-eminent book on stability and control of aircraft, with a person named Haig. There were several others that I got to know quite well, who came here, like myself, from other universities. There were also others, of course, who'd gone right through MIT. I don't think you could categorize the group. It was not completely homogeneous. We got along well, but we didn't come from one place. Draper brought people together from a wide variety of backgrounds. They met here, then they went off on their separate ways afterwards.

COLLINS: You indicated there was a tremendous appeal to the course. The course was very full. What attracted the students? Was it Draper's personality?

SEAMANS: Yes, it was. It was the dynamic character of the teacher, namely Doc Draper. Whenever he was lecturing, and he gave most of the lectures, he was sparkling with all kinds of things that he was doing. Of course he didn't talk about classified work, but it was obvious that instead of just taking courses with people who were "professors" who were teaching all their life, that we were taking a course, after all these years, with an individual who was right at the forefront of engineering. If I do say so, that's one of the tremendous advantages of being at MIT. So many of the faculty here are on what Jim Webb would call "the cutting edge" of whatever their field is. That makes a difference in the classroom, because you feel it. If you're taking a course with Edgerton, for example, you aren't just learning about the subject, you're learning from a person who is pioneering in the field, and can give you a lot of insight that you can't get from somebody who provides the same material year after year after year.

COLLINS: And that feeling was very tangible.

SEAMANS: Very tangible. It was the first time in my life that I could begin to visualize what it would be like to go into the field as a professional, after I left here, rather than taking courses to get a degree that might then open a door some place, but I knew not where.

COLLINS: When you say "in the field," are you thinking of aeronautics or instrumentation?

SEAMANS: Well, I think at that time I was really intrigued with airplanes and what made them fly, what permitted them to fly, what you had to do to power them, how to control them. I know at that time I was not thinking as specifically of what part of aeronautics I'd go into. I'd been told way back that when you take courses at a college, don't go for the subject, go for the faculty, and I was certainly doing that. There were others. Rauscher was a great professor. Gardner over in electrical engineering was a great professor, and we had other very competent faculty here in the department--Koppen and Ober, you could go on and on. Hunsaker had assembled, undoubtedly for that time, the best group of faculty you'd find anywhere in the world in aeronautical engineering. So the interaction, you could feel-- you know, you couldn't take all the courses. You'd pick it up from other students as you'd meet them at lunch, and so on.

COLLINS: But in terms of sheer popular appeal and numbers, Draper seemed to have--

SEAMANS: He had something special, no question about it. He was a little bit feisty, you know. He'd actually done some boxing in his day back at Stanford. He had his nose a little bit squished to one side as a result. I don't know, he's a man's man, I guess you'd say--not to denigrate the others. So I found myself absolutely caught up in the work. I think I mentioned earlier that I had to take a year off because of rheumatic fever, and so I was actually living at home, I wasn't living in a dorm. And that gave me a wonderful opportunity to fully concentrate on this graduate program. I did almost nothing else, for almost a full year.

COLLINS: Let's move on after that spring time. You completed the course with what was necessary for the Master's degree. We've talked a little bit in the previous interview about your taking a research assistant's position with Barney Oldfield. Was this a kind of common thing? Were other Draper students drawn in to work on either department or laboratory activities?

SEAMANS: Yes. And it wasn't just Dr. Draper, either. I can't give you numbers, but a large percentage of the graduate students at MIT are either research assistants or teaching assistants. The teaching assistants obviously get paid out of the academic funds of the university, whereas the research assistants are paid out of the project work that's going on, that's really directly under the control of the faculty member in question. So a faculty member who was running some kind of a research or development program knows how much money they have and they know how many research students they can bring in, and it's a wonderful way for them to get the research done, because I can assure you that the research assistants don't get paid on an hourly basis. They get paid, you know, so much per month, and they're motivated because they're interested. They're motivated because they want to get their degree. They're not motivated by the dollars that they're paid. And when I started with Doc Draper, I guess my annual salary was $1200 a year, as a research assistant. That's for a nine month year.

COLLINS: Did you have a choice about where you might do this type of work, or did Draper want to direct you in a particular way?

SEAMANS: It was very specific. What happened was, after the spring term was over, I spent some time sailing. I've done a great deal of sailing in my life, so I went and did some sailing at Marblehead. Who knows for exactly what reason, I was going by MIT one day, perhaps it was in July, I've forgotten exactly the date, and decided I'd just drop in and see Doc Draper. He was a very accessible person, and I told him I had to work on a thesis in order to get my Master's degree and did he have any suggestions? He said, well, he had a program under way to develop some vibration measuring equipment, where the funding was coming from the Sperry Gyroscope Company, and if I would care to work on it, he'd take me on as a research assistant and pay me. You know, wow, you're going to get paid to study! Something I'd never encountered before. So that seemed like a great idea, and I said, "When do I have to start?" and he said, "Well, it would be nice if you could start right away," so I actually did. I started working that summer, here, and I was assigned to somebody by the name of Homer Oldfield, but everybody of course called him Barney. Today nobody remembers who the racetrack driver was named Barney Oldfield, not many people do, but then it wasn't so far back in time. Then to my amazement, Barney Oldfield wasn't around very much. I mean, he seemed to be sort of in and out,and I was left with a lot of equipment down in the basement of the aero building, I liked to say, where they took the trash out to put it in the truck, sort of a dusty place. But I had to be down there because we had to have a rock solid steel base on which to clamp all that stuff, which would be the reference point to measure vibrations and so on. I guess Barney probably knew he was about to be called up into the Army Signal Corps, so he was straightening out his affairs, and sure enough, I hadn't been here very long when he left to go into the Army. This was just before Pearl Harbor, but things are getting pretty active, and Doc Draper came to me at that point, and said, Barney Oldfield was an instructor and he'd left, and would I be willing to not only do the research, write my thesis, but would I also be interested in teaching. That was a really new thought, but I said I would, so when the fall rolled around, I was an instructor at MIT.

COLLINS: For the work you did in the laboratory downstairs, was this a setup that was brought together specifically to handle this contractual thing with Sperry, or was it an ongoing research interest that happened to fit in with Sperry interests?

SEAMANS: No, I'd say it tied in with some of Doc's instrumentation work. Doc Draper was reported to have taken more courses at MIT than any other individual. He came here after he already had a bachelor's degree from Stanford, and he went through three different departments, and I'm not sure I can get them in the right order. I think there was mathematics, there was chemical engineering, and there was physics, in which I think he got his doctor's degree, but he became very intrigued with the whole process of combustion. He was in the Army Air Corps, he was a pilot, and nobody really knew very much about what went on inside of a cylinder. People said, "You know, you really can't find out. You can get the average temperature and so on." But he felt that you could learn a lot if you could actually measure dynamically the pressure inside that cylinder, and he proceeded to develop an instrument for doing it. And that work was done in connection with the Sperry Gyroscope Company. That's how Doc really got started in instrumentation, doing what some people said couldn't be done, and I won't get into details of that instrument. From there, he became interested in the inaccuracy of other instruments, including the instruments you use to test an airplane, such as measurements, when you have an experimental craft, measuring the acceleration, the vibration, and all those things, and that's how ultimately he came to have a contract with the Sperry Gyroscope Company to develop a new line of more accurate vibration measuring instruments, and this was just prior to the time that I came here. That was not classified work, and so as a consequence, a lot of the work he was doing and the students were doing at that time was brought into the classroom, so I had a pretty good exposure to it, even before I started my thesis.

COLLINS: Was this work associated with the Instrumentation Laboratory? I guess at that time it was called the Instruments Laboratory.

SEAMANS: Yes. Now, he was walking down both sides of the street, if you will. On the one hand, there was the laboratory for classroom activities--the kind of experimental work that I did in connection with my coursework, and that would have included the work going on the vibration measuring equipment down in the basement. In addition to that, by then he was just starting or had just started the military work, the Defense work, on anti-aircraft fire control, and that was the genesis of what became ultimately the Instrumentation Laboratory and then became the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory. The history of all that you'll want to get from others who have more detail. But basically what happened--because he was a pilot--he felt the pilot needed some better way of estimating how much lead to put in when shooting down another airplane. But he could not get the Air Force interested. (It was the Army Air Corps then.) They said, "Look, we train our pilots to do this, we don't need any help, we do it by training." So then he thought, well, maybe the Navy would be interested, and he finally got the British Navy interested. The work that he was doing at the very time that I was describing was actually being financed by the British Navy, and it was only after Pearl Harbor, when everything going on in the country suddenly reverted to our own Department of the Navy and our own Department of the Army, that that work was all of a sudden thrown into the laps of the US Navy. But that work was classified. It was really based on an extension of the rate and turn indicator, to measure how fast an airplane is turning, and if you also know the distance to the target and you're following the target, then clearly from that, from the measurements you can make of range and rate of turn, you can figure out the velocity of the target, and from that you can determine how much lead angle you ought to put in. But there were quite a few inventions that were required before you could really put that into practice, i.e. how to suspend the gyroscopes so that they would have minimal friction, and how to make the whole thing stable, which was one of the real tricks of the new technologies that had to be developed.

COLLINS: Before we go further into fire control issues, let's back up and talk about your starting work as an instructor. What were your responsibilities as instructor?

SEAMANS: Well, the fall term was not very heavy. In the fall term I was the person who graded all the exams and all the papers for that course I'd taken the previous year. That's of course 16.41. I sat in on all the lectures, and then I suppose there was an assignment a week or something that was turned in by the students, and with 40 to 50 students, I had quite a few papers to go over, to correct, and there were two exams given. One time, I put on one paper, I said, "You didn't do a very good job on this. It's lucky I don't have to give you a grade." I remember Draper tearing into my office, "What do you mean, you don't have to give this person a grade?" I said, "Because he was a listener. Doc obviously followed what was going on quite carefully. And so my job was relatively easy. I'd taken the course. We changed the problems to some extent and changed the exams to some extent, so that the fraternity brothers a year apart couldn't hand back what had been done the previous year. But then, in the spring, it became a little more difficult. I found for the first time I was actually giving some of the lectures, and I also found that there was a group of Navy students who, until Pearl Harbor, they'd been here before, up until Pearl Harbor they'd never worn their uniforms, but as soon as Pearl Harbor took place, then all the students who were in the military all of a sudden had to wear their uniforms. So suddenly, there was a lot of gold braid in the classroom. One even had the rank of commander. Obviously they were older than the instructor standing up in front of the class by about five or six years. Then, I can't remember the exact timing but at about that time, the V-7 program was started at MIT, where you know, these are the "90 day wonders" coming through--they were split up into two groups, so you have 50 at a crack coming through, five days a week, taking various subjects. One of the subjects that they all had to take was flight instrumentation, and I taught that course, I think 13 successive times, six weeks each. I'd stop on a Friday, and start the next group on a Monday, and just keep going all through the war.

COLLINS: And you taught that course for the duration.

SEAMANS: For the duration of the war.

COLLINS: In terms of content, how did it compare to Draper's own?

SEAMANS: Oh no, it was much much more elementary. It did not get into any detail. It didn't require, say, any high-powered mathematics or anything like that to take it.

COLLINS: During this period, starting in the fall, you continued working in the vibration measurements laboratory, I assume.

SEAMANS: Yes. I actually finished my thesis in December, handed it in, and that completed one phase of that work, but I kept working on the project throughout the winter, as part of my job, even though I'd done the thesis. Then the following summer I was invited to go out to work in a company in Pasadena that had bought the rights to these instruments, these vibration pickups, from the Sperry Company. It was a company that was owned by Herbert Hoover, Jr., called United Geophysical. They were in the business of going out and finding where the oil was by setting off dynamite and measuring the seismic returns, which is vibration measurement, and they decided they wanted to get into flight instrumentation, so they started another company. They spun it off the first one and called it Consolidated Engineering. It had the same president, same chief engineer, same treasurer. And I went out for the summer to help that company get into that business, based on the work we'd done here at MIT.

COLLINS: What was your thesis topic for your Master's Degree?

SEAMANS: It had to do with a method for floating the seismic element, which normally stays put. The instrument moves up and down with respect to the seismic element, which is suspended on springs, which are strong enough that it carries the seismic element in general with the case, but flexible enough that above a certain frequency, it stays put. But that limits the amount you can measure to the throw inside of the seismic element before it hits the top or the bottom of the case, and they wanted to measure bigger vibrations than that, so by putting in liquid and having the whole thing contained, as it turns out, you can measure (with an instrument this long) vibrations that are this big. Actually you're forcing the seismic element to move, to partly move, and you do it by--think of it perhaps as the average center of gravity of the liquid and the metal part. Anyway, this is a Draper title, he gave me the title: "A Vibration Pickup with Improved Performance by Hydrodynamic Effects." If you ever want to take the trouble, you'll find it over in the library. I have not looked at it for 40 years, but it's still there, I'm told.

COLLINS: When you mentioned the modification and you said "they," you were referring to Consolidated Engineering, the following summer?

SEAMANS: No, the aeronautical industry.

COLLINS: How closely did you work with Draper, as you developed your thesis project? How did he work with you to bring this to culmination?

SEAMANS: Well, that's a good question, because he had a lot of irons in the fire. You can tell, he was that kind of a person. So it wasn't, actually, a beautifully ordered universe I was in, where I had to go and see him every Monday morning at 9 o'clock, that kind of thing. But I kept him generally apprised of what I was doing, and when I had some interesting looking results, I'd plot them up and show them to him and that kind of thing. If I had any problems of getting equipment or there were any really knotty , theoretical problems, I went to see him. It was a fairly straightforward advanced engineering project. But as I say, Doc was the kind of guy who was available to anybody who took the trouble to go and see him. He was also a person who did not just sit at a desk. He used to love to run his laboratory by, in part, working night and day himself. I've never seen such a prodigious worker as Doc Draper. He'd take people out to dinner, Navy people would come up here, he'd take them out to dinner at a place called the Fox and Hounds, have a reasonable number of martinis and a dinner. He'd come back to the office and continue working till 2 and 3 in the morning. And he'd be in the next morning at the start when everybody else came in to work. I don't know how he had the energy to do it. He worked Saturdays. He worked Sundays. And this is throughout his whole career. So as I say, when he came to work in the lab, the lab got to be quite good sized, he used to love to come in in the morning, take care of the minutiae, he was not strong on details, details of administration, and then as soon as he could, get out in the lab, you know, find out what kind of problem a machinist was having on a lathe, and he knew where the sensitive points were in the lab, the things that were going to make the difference between success and failure. Or go down to somebody who had been testing a gyro all night long, to see how it worked over a 24 hour period. So he was well aware of what I was doing. I can remember, in the fall, the visiting committee came through, and I was working down on the test bed in the basement. Here are all these people coming through who to me were very old and very senior, and just about the time they approached the test bed, for reasons I don't know to this day, all the electronics went off, so what I was going to show them on the oscilloscope wasn't there any more, and I quickly explained to Doc Draper that we had a slight problem with a short circuit or a grounding. Didn't phase him. He knew all about what I was doing. He explained it to everybody. I sort of stood there and smiled and the group moved on never being the wiser.

COLLINS: Well, certainly I would assume that the advent of the war, the US coming into the war, created some substantial changes in the lab.

SEAMANS: It certainly did. Well, I think I've given you a picture of how the academic load dramatically changed and increased with the larger numbers of special students coming through, and the research work that Doc was doing on fire control, obviously intensified dramatically. I was working on the vibration equipment for about the first year of the war, and then when I came back from the West Coast, I'd been married in the spring, I went out there to Pasadena for three months in the summer, worked for Consolidated Engineering. Then I came back here. I guess for about a year I worked with somebody named Walter McKay who was a professor in instrumentation who worked academically for Doc Draper. The project that we had, that we worked on, had to do with determining why our aircraft were falling apart, when they either went into high speed dives or torpedo bombers would go in towards a battleship, let's say, Jap battleship, drop a torpedo, and then as they whipped over this way to miss the ship or get away from the anti-aircraft firecontrol, their wings would come off. Or going into high speed dives, an F-6-F would build up speed and all of a sudden it would reach a point where you could not control it, and oftentimes it would break apart. You couldn't ask a test pilot to go up there and say, "Okay, just keep her going till she falls apart." And so they, (this is now the Navy) instrumented in considerable depth an airplane. In those days, you didn't have telemetry so you could send the data back down by microwave. They put in what they called "The Theater" which was a box about so big, and you'd have a high speed movie camera in there. When you'd turn it on the lights would go on, and you'd have essentially regular flight instruments in the box, and you obviously hoped to recover the Theater and the film so you could determine what was going on. But if you didn't, at least you didn't kill anybody. This plane was flown remote control, which was a very novel thing in those days, and you could fly it either from another airplane, or you could fly it from the ground. We carefully calibrated with more precision than had ever been done before, the air speed meter and the altimeter, and we developed a couple of new instruments that measured angular acceleration. When you did this kind of thing the wings came off, and some other special instruments, and that's what I worked on for about 12 months with Walter McKay, until all this stuff was built and was put aboard an F-6-F at Cherry Point, North Carolina. They put the airplane in a dive, and I hate to tell you that after all this effort, as this plane staggered up to an altitude of 30,000 feet, started its dive, all the electronics went haywire and all the data we got out of that whole effort was that when the plane hit the water it was observed to be going very fast.

COLLINS: Who manufactured the F-6-F?

SEAMANS: Grumman.


SEAMANS: I'm not sure I've got the exact timing in here, but it was about that time that I did go to work within the Instrumentation Laboratory. I stopped working for Walter McKay, who was not really working in the lab, and went over and worked directly with Doc Draper.

COLLINS: Was this work with McKay sponsored by Grumman?

SEAMANS: No, the Navy. The Bureau of Aeronautics of the Navy. After the work I described was done, I went to work in the Instrumentation Laboratory, and Walter McKay also moved over into the Instrumentation Lab, and we both worked on what came to be known as the A-1 Bomb Gunsight. This was done for the Armament Laboratory at Wright Field.

COLLINS: This would have been starting in late 1943?

SEAMANS: '43. The purpose was to provide optical information to a fighter pilot, as to how to fly the plane so that he could fire a variety of guns, rockets, or even drop bombs. It was for air-to-air combat using 50 caliber machine guns. It was air-to-ground for strafing. The project officer was a person named Lee Davis, and if you're really looking into the Instrumentation Lab and Doc Draper, Lee Davis is somebody who will pop up quite a bit. He worked with Doc Draper, I forget whether it was in '39 or'40, on the pressure devices to measure the pressure inside of engine cylinders. But while he was here, he and Doc together spent a lot of time brainstorming, speculating on what pilots might be able to use to improve their gunnery. That was sort of the genesis for the A-1 sight, which Lee Davis was in charge of after tours of duty, I can't quite remember where, either in Europe or in the Pacific. He came back to Wright Field to head up the gunsight project. Lee Davis was a man who wanted to move his program very fast, so in a matter of literally four or five months, we put together the instrumentation--these were gyroscopes with dampers and springs and so on. But instead of using mechanical constraints, for the first time we started using electromagnetic devices, and then instead of having a direct connection between the gyros and the mirrors that moved the reticule around, there were servo-drives so you didn't have to have the computer right up in front of the pilot. It could be down somewhere else in the airplane, so only the optical equipment needed to clutter up the cockpit, if you will. Then we had another whole box of electronics, and we put together these packages in rather rapid order, and I was selected, once they started installing the equipment in a P-38, to work directly with Lee Davis, and I'd go with him to a bombing range up near Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I remember going up there with him to try the bombing feature early on, and then I flew with him. Of course, I couldn't fly in a P-38 but I flew with him in another Air Corps plane to Eglin Field, and spent quite a bit of time down there on the bombing ranges. Lee Davis would fly the P-38, drop the bombs and return to the base to check the results, and work with me on the maintenance. It was a pretty exciting time. We also put some of this equipment in an A-26, where I could fly along with the pilot, and I remember going down to Dover, Delaware, and flying with pilots who were just back from the Pacific. They loved to fly at an altitude of about 25 feet, and I wondered whether the tips of the propeller were going to hit the ground or not, and going up and making a dive, passes, and firing 5 inch rockets, which is also a feature this sight was supposed to have. So for quite a period, I was very closely associated with the design and test of this gunsight. I actually personally designed some of it, I mean on a drawing board, and I had a lot to do with the testing of it, and I had a lot to do with the first flying of it.

COLLINS: Was this your first concentrated work on gyro mechanisms? It seems a radical departure from your vibration measurement work.

SEAMANS: Yes, it was. I had had quite a bit of theory in the courses I'd taken, but it was the first time I'd really had to work on the design, on the packaging, and the installation, working with the technicians to put it together right in the laboratory. Then when it was put together, to actually put it on a turn table and have it run and measure by some means, the amount that the gyro precessed as it was turning on the table. That precession was the information that was needed to drive the reticule of the sight.

COLLINS: Were you the person primarily responsible for the design aspects of this?

SEAMANS: Well, no, I think you have to say that Doc Draper was responsible, although there were other projects going on in the lab. We'll come to that in just a minute. He still had a very heavy load for the Navy, carrying a heavy development load for them, and Walter McKay was the project officer of the A-1 sight. But as time went on, I'd say Walt really became less interested and a lot more of it fell in my lap. Walter McKay tended to pull out of that effort and spent much more of his time on the academic side, the educational side.

COLLINS: So how did you work then with Dr. Draper to refine this equipment? How did that process work?

SEAMANS: I know what you mean, I'm just trying to see if I can give you a feel for it. There were two approaches to fire control, and Doc was a proponent of one. In most things that Doc did, he was always doing the thing that was least popular. The popular way to solve these problems was to try to measure explicitly what the target was doing and what the aircraft (the attacker) was doing, and actually work out all the kinematic equations, which in three dimensions, is a very complicated calculation. The competing systems were very elaborate in their computation and so on. Doc was always looking for a simple way to come up with at least a good estimate of what the lead angle should be, say, to hit the target, and then would see if corrections couldn't be made to get precision without going to the complexity of trying to solve the complete set of differential equations. That was his mode of operation throughout, to try to understand the problem so thoroughly that you could come up with a relatively simple solution, that because it was simple could be mechanized better, and so you come out with a better overall answer than those who tried to come in and completely solve all the equations and make all the measurements.

COLLINS: This is a bit of a digression, but I wonder whether in this context of evaluating performance, the fledgling notion of operations research came in at all? In the sense that some of the variables that were involved in evaluating performance were kind of operational ones--the kind of shell that was used, the sort of characteristics of how enemy aircraft approached, something like that, played into how you might be able to simplify your evaluation of the system. Do you recall any kind of approach like that?

SEAMANS: Well, possibly you could compare the two. When I think of operational analysis and so on, I really think of logistical problems. How to get as many people as possible through a tollgate for example. It isn't quite the same, but it's true that if you take this one step further, we'll come to this in connection with a Navy program, there's one whole school of thought that felt you needed to have a very large scale computer and fancy equipment somewhere in the bowels of a carrier or a battleship, and then you'd feed the information out to all of the gun mounts and tell them which way to aim. That was not the Draper method. The Draper method was to decentralize, to use the central, the CIC, Central Information Center, to designate which set of targets each one of the fire control systems around the ship would take, so you wouldn't get everybody firing at one airplane and the other airplanes come in free. But then to have each one of these elements independent, and not require a lot of data coming from the central station. It was sort of a state of mind, if you will, of Doc's. Even today, I think in a lot of things you can see, it's better to decentralize. For example, in designing a whole stack of stages of Saturn and everything, you can have one computer that would do everything for all the stages. But it's really better to try to have the stages decentralized, so that you can test each one separately and ring them together--that's somewhat of an analogy. But anyway, coming back to what Doc did, how did I work with him--to carry out the simplification, an awful lot had to be pre-digested. In those days we didn't have fancy computers. An awful lot of it was done with Marchand calculators and so on. We had a whole bunch of gals who were doing this work, and that's the way you get started, and you try to find, by looking at a whole bunch of different interceptor fighter passes at a target, what the average condition was for setting the sensitivity of the gyro, if you want to call it that, and then what the spread would be, to have an exact solution for each case, and how you could have some simple device in there to give a little better coincidence between the average and the particular case. And that's where you started, with a lot of these graphs that we'd be looking at, that came out of the calculators, and--because that was what you had to mechanize, and Doc spent a lot of time on that. I spent quite a bit of time with him, looking at this information, saying, "Well, this looks pretty good, all the lines seem to fall pretty close, one on top of another. So if we build the system to fit this curve, we're going to come pretty close to a good answer, and it's probably good enough, because the people flying these airplanes aren't going to be able to follow the pipper much closer than that anyway. So there's no point in building it more precise, because it won't be useful information." You start there, and then of course you design the equipment. I remember, one design I'd worked out, I was pretty proud of it, and I remember Lee Davis and Doc coming in and looking at it and saying, "That's fine on paper but it's too complicated, it won't stand the rigors of airplane flight. We've got to build something that's more rugged than that if it's going to do the job." So you literally go back to the drawing board and come up with another design, and when you got on a test stand, you'd have the whole gyro device sitting on a turntable, about like this only you could turn it at nine speeds, and the stuff's here, and then you've got the optics, instead of the pilot looking through and seeing it move, you could project the beam over on the wall, and you'd see how much it moved left and right, as this turned at different speeds, and Doc would come in and see how it was going. You know, there would be some times, like the case I mentioned earlier, where unfortunately there wasn't any beam over there, there was nothing coming out of it, and Doc would want to know why I thought it wasn't working, and then the next day he'd want to know what we found when we dug into mechanism, and whether we really knew what was wrong, or whether it was one of these chancy things that sometimes worked and sometimes it didn't. And then of course, when it reached the point where we were flying, every time I'd either talk to him on the phone, and say, you know, "We had some good results today" or "We missed the target today," or I'd come back and I'd explain to him what the results were. We'd take pictures through the sight so we'd have a record of what actually happened in the tracking, and we'd put that on a reel and project it on a wall, and Doc would take a look at it. There were a lot of steps along the way, where Doc would have a chance to see how well things were going.

COLLINS: So regularly during the design, construction and the test phase he--

SEAMANS: Yes, all the way. Doc was a cradle to grave person when it came to this kind of work. He loved every aspect of it, and whenever he could, he would be there for the first set of tests. If it was a single passenger airplane, of course he couldn't, but when he developed stuff for submarines, the first time they tried it he'd be in the submarine, or if it was firing guns down at Dam Neck, Virginia, he'd be there firing the guns. You asked me how I happened to get, what was it called, the Naval Ordnance Development Award. If you want, it's sort of along the same line, I'll tell you how I got it.


SEAMANS: Again, working out the history of the instrumentation, at some point you'll want to get into a lot more depth on this than I'm going to give you right now, but the first gunsight was what was called the Shoebox, and that was a very crude device, where you actually moved a wire, and as you turned the whole sight, the wire would turn, and you would sort of see this sort of blurred thing here, the target out at X hundred yards, and that would be the indication, and that was set up in the Armory, over at the Watertown Arsenal.

COLLINS: This was the anti-aircraft.

SEAMANS: This was anti-aircraft, yes. And this is work that had been done, as I understand it, for the British, and it was a question of whether this is going to be picked up by the United States right after Pearl Harbor, and the technicians did the kind of thing that often happens. Things were working pretty well, but they wanted to make it work better. So the night before this test was to be, they were going to demonstrate the sight, they put some new damping fluid in. It turned out to be something called Varsol, which had the unfortunate tendency to turn to turpentine. So instead of being a liquid that would permit the gyro to precess, it actually kept it from moving, so of course the reticule didn't move. But the person who was going to fire, I think it was on a 20 caliber machine gun, at the target that was across the building and was going to be pulled at a speed like 60 miles an hour along a track realized the sight wasn't working. He'd done this enough that he just eyeballed the lead angle and the demonstration went on. He hit the target pretty close, and so the Navy decided to continue the work.

COLLINS: This would have been close to our entry into the war, then?

SEAMANS: Yes, and as a result, the contract work was expanded, and the work that came out of it was called the Mark 14 Sight. This is the first sight that Doc developed, and they made literally hundreds of thousands of them. They would clamp them right on a machine gun. But instead of moving a wire, you actually moved the mirrors so you'd see the reticule move, and you'd keep the pipper on the target and the machine guns presumably would hit the target. It was pretty crude. And obviously if you're sitting right on a gun mount with this whole thing vibrating, if you're firing, you can imagine it's pretty difficult to control, and so the next step was to put the sight on what was called pedestal, which turned it into a director. The first director which had the 14 gunsight on it was called the Mark 51, if I'm not mistaken, so now you had something with a handle, like this, going up and down. You'd turn the whole thing to the left and right, and you'd keep the pipper on the target, and then the gun was servoed so it would stay right with this director. So instead of the motion being the gun motion, the motion that started this was what you were doing with your hand control. Then the next step was to put radar on for continuous range information, and then, it was pretty hard to see these targets very far away, so the next step was to put optics in, into the sight, a 6 power telescope in effect, and that then led to what was called the Mark 52 director. But the principle of the thing was exactly the same. At this point, things are moving on pretty rapidly in the Pacific, and the Japanese were starting to use Kamikazes. They would always come in with the sun behind them, so to optically track with a telescope, looking right at the sun. You can see what the problem would be--so they decided to put radar tracking information inside of the sight. A radar antenna was placed on the gun mount, that would be offset from the gunmount by the same amount that the reticule is offset inside the sight. By doing that a signal was generated that you could track, using the radar signal rather than actually seeing the target, and this was called the Mark 63 director. That was all pretty well along when Doc brought me into the program. I'd been working on the A-1 sight. This was at a time when we were losing a lot of ships in the Pacific, and the sight was all ready, they were starting to install it on a number of destroyers and a couple of the new aircraft carriers, but there was one problem, and that was, how to get started tracking the designated target. How did the guy looking through the sight, if he couldn't see optically, how did he find the target in the first place and start tracking it? This was called the target acquisition problem, and I remember going with Doc to a meeting with a bunch of naval brass and some Sperry Gyroscope people who were manufacturing the system. I wasn't too well versed on this whole thing. I hadn't been working on it. Doc had a theory, when you are explaining a theory of something, you'd always explain a lot of it in simple terms so that it was quite understandable, but he would always throw in at least one very complicated chart. So even though people would sort of understand what you're talking about, they would never think they knew everything about it. You were the only one who knew everything. And he did that quite methodically, and so, he described his concepts to the brass, but then he got up, he went over to the blackboard, lines and boxes representing the servos and the computer, and that was when I wasn't even sure he himself knew exactly how to build the system.

COLLINS: Let me get this clear. Your contribution then was working on this target acquisition problem.

SEAMANS: I'm going to end up with that in my lap, yes. And we went down right near Virginia Beach, where we actually stayed. There was an anti-aircraft test facility the Navy used which was at a place called Dam Neck, and that was the first time I was really exposed to the sights and the computers and all the guns there. They had everything up to three inch guns firing, you know, which have quite a wallop to them. And we stayed at a place called the Gay Manor, right on the beach, which we called the Gay Manure, which is what we thought of the place. I lived with Doc for about a month down there as this stuff was being tested. Just a remarkable man. He was always reading science fiction, these paperback things, and he said, "One thing you never want to do is to bring along a very good book, because you'll tend to read it and stay awake too long and then you'll be tired the next day. You want to have a book that's so bad that you'll fall asleep on about the third page," and sure enough, I slept right with him, you know, two beds in a room, and he'd start reading some of this stuff, where there were three murders on the first page, and all of a sudden he'd just conk out and the book would fall on his chest. The next morning we'd be up at 6 o'clock, have a quick breakfast, tear out to the firing range, work there all day, be back at night, and have drinks with all the officers. Doc was finding out how they felt about the equipment and so on, and how it really worked.

COLLINS: With respect to the A-1 and with respect to this program, what were the different ways in which you measured performance? Obviously you could just put the sight up and start shooting and see if you hit the target, but were there other ways you tried to measure?

SEAMANS: Oh, sure. How did the user like it? Did the people who were using the equipment find that its attributes were attractive? Did they have trouble learning how to use it? How did they, say, in talking about Doc's equipment, compare it with some of the other equipment? Doc was, I should say also, he was part salesman with this equipment. I mean, there were a lot of competing companies. The Bell Laboratories and all that group, you know, they had another whole line of gear, and you didn't work on this just for the hell of it, you worked on it because you wanted to have your equipment used. Not that you made any money on it, but you wanted to believe that what you were doing was important to winning the war. So that was all involved in this, and in subtle sort of ways, and Doc knew what the competition was up to, and he knew what he was working on, and he was one of those individuals who knew how to keep a program moving because he worked at all levels. He worked, in Navy terms, with the lieutenants, the lieutenant commanders and so on, who were actually using the equipment. At the same time he was dealing with the captains and the admirals who were responsible overall for the decisions as to what equipment to put on their ships. And that's just the way he did. Obviously a lot of these lieutenants and so on just so happened to have come out of the courses he taught here at MIT, so he was just working the spectrum, from one end to the other.

COLLINS: How important do you think this coterie of his students was to the success of the instrumentation laboratory?

SEAMANS: Very important. The first year I was here, I didn't know this at the time, of course, but there were four naval officers who were taking his special classified program on fire control. If I'm not mistaken, all four ended up as four star admirals. And I got to know one of them quite well when I was Secretary of the Air Force, because he was in charge of all naval operations in the Mediterranean, and I stayed with him over there. He said that Draper absolutely changed his perspective on the Navy and naval equipment and what it took to have equipment that really worked in the field.

COLLINS: Can you elaborate on that a little bit more? That sounds like a pretty strong statement.

SEAMANS: Well, an awful lot of the stuff that's supplied to the military, you know, in theory it's wonderful stuff, but when you try to make it work, under real operating conditions, of course under battle conditions, it can be so complicated it doesn't work, or it's difficult to maintain. You know, it's the same-- we've got the problem today, in spades, with the B-l bomber. It's too complicated, and I wish I could think of the name of the guy. It's right on the tip of my tongue. He became an ambassador after he left the Navy. Maybe I'll think of it later. (Admiral Rivero) In any event, I think that Doc had a profound impact--they were quite different, but just as Rickover had a profound impact, Doc on the instrumentation and fire control had a profound effect on the Navy, going back to World War II. Just as he had a profound impact of course on inertial navigation and then missile guidance. But coming back to this particular aspect that I was involved in, it turned out that to feed the information so that the person--you wanted the person who was operating this tracking system, it's right out there exposed, it's right out in broad daylight, say, on a carrier, in something that's sort of built off the side of the ship on a little platform with a flight deck up in here somewhere, planes landing, you can see the wheels going right by your head, you only have one job, and that's to keep the pipper on the target, and the pipper is going to be optical if you can actually see it, but if you can't see it, you're following what Doc called the "little green dot." The little green dot in the cage, and you've got to keep that right in the middle all the time. So for target acquisition, you wanted the operator to have the same job that he had even when he was getting ready to fire. So you had to put some instrumentation in there that would tell the guy that was operating this thing which way to turn it to get started, and that information came from the assignment from the central control. But it had to take into account things like the roll of the ship, for one thing, because the coordinates would be given with respect to north and the horizontal, see--swing around so much and go up so much, but here's a ship that's maneuvering, so you had to put in, you had to have a differential compass heading. You had to feed that in. You had to put in roll of the ship as well. So after leaving Dam Neck, my job was to design this piece of equipment--these two instruments--and pull together the cabling and get the stuff built, and be down at Bayonne, New Jersey, to go aboard the BON HOMME RICHARD in three weeks, starting from scratch!

COLLINS: Can you identify the year we're talking about here?

SEAMANS: The winter of '44-'45, if I'm not mistaken. There are a lot of machine shops here at MIT. I had to design it--I had to get some castings made, machine the parts, get a wiring diagram, and pack it all up. Getting to Bayonne, New Jersey, was not too easy in those days, with all this equipment, because you couldn't fly anywhere, and the train, take a train to Grand Central and then the subway or something--so I was able to get Hertz to give me a car. Those were hard to get, I might say, full of gasoline, in those days, and I packed them all up and put them in the car and set off for the Navy Yard at Bayonne, New Jersey, with all that equipment, including oscilloscopes and stuff from the laboratory, by myself in a car. And I got down to Bayonne, New Jersey, and they wouldn't let me in the yard, that was the first problem I had! I forget how I got in the yard; it wasn't too difficult to get in the Navy Yard. I found the ship, finally, and went aboard the ship, explaining my mission, and they steered me to the gunnery officer, who was in charge of all this equipment on the BON HOMME RICHARD, and I think that took a day and a half. When I finally got to see him and explain my mission, he said under no circumstances is anybody going to touch anything on that ship. All the green tickets were on everything. That meant that it was approved to go. And there would be no change anywhere. And he was not a bit impressed--you know, somebody from MIT who was quite junior in age to him. So I had to get out to a phone booth and call Doc Draper, and the next day Admiral Martel arrived there. He was from the Bureau of Ordnance and I don't know exactly what happened, but I was told to put the equipment aboard, and believe it or not, I only had one wiring diagram. It was on a big piece of tissue paper, which was all right when we were in port, but before I could get the stuff installed, the ship set sail. So I went out with the ship, and you know, here we were out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean in the middle of winter, and all these mounts were quite exposed. I had to tie in with the ship's compass, which was down in the keel of the ship. I found there was a remote indicator that the Skipper had up on the bridge. Above the bridge there was the Skipper's sea quarters, see, and I found I could tie in there, with my cabling, and the junction box was right over his bunk. And I remember really catching hell--the Skipper wanted to know, who the hell was messing up his bunk? That was one connection that had to be made. Then we had a tie-in with the radar, which was installed by Western Electric, and I opened up the junction boxes and make my connections, and I come back an hour later, and find the Western Electric people had disconnected all my wires. About three days later, we were down in the Caribbean, and Admiral Martel and some other brass came out to see how the equipment operated, and you know, the target planes flew by. These are airplanes piloted with banners behind. They fired all the guns. Everybody seemed to be pretty pleased, and at that point, it was time for me to get back to Cambridge--I can remember that the ship was not going to go into Norfolk, but it came in pretty close. I had to go down the outside of the ship on a rope ladder with my oscilloscopes and stuff, and get in a small boat and get back to Norfolk, call Doc Draper, tell him what had happened, and he said, "God damn it, can you tell me where that Hertz car is? We're paying through the nose for that car." So I told him, and he said, "Okay, I'll send Marie down to get it tomorrow." (his secretary) But anyway, the hardware had been installed. Then it was a question of getting home. What I had to do was to take a train to Richmond and the trains were absolutely loaded with Navy people, so I actually sat on my suitcase and oscilloscopes between the cars going to Richmond. Then another train back to the District, and I went around to the Bureau of Ordnance to explain to them (I still had my drawing) what I'd done to those three mounts on the ship, so they could commit the installation to standard Navy wiring practice. I just got back to MIT when Doc said, "There's a destroyer that's about to set sail from the Charlestown Navy Yard and they're having some trouble with the radar." This was the second installation of this gear. I don't think I've ever been much more tired in my life. I remember going over to the yard. I worked on the equipment for a couple of days, then we went out to sea in an area that I know quite well but never in the middle of winter. It was really very cold, and we had a little trouble because it was so windy that the wind was catching the antennas that are supposed to aim at the target. So the first day we came back, we got a guy with an acetylene torch and made some fins that we welded onto the back end of the antenna, to try to balance it out aerodynamically so the wind wouldn't blow it around. The destroyer was the S.S. PURDY. It went out to the Pacific right from there, and it shot down a lot of kamikazes before it was sunk. And that's what I got the award for--not that it was sunk, but that with the equipment they shot down some kamikazes first.

COLLINS: Was all the gear that you installed constructed right here in the MIT laboratories?


COLLINS: Let me ask you, I'm a little unclear on one of the technical details--how the CIC hooked up with the weapons. Was there some kind of radar mechanism with the CIC?

SEAMANS: Yes, you know, they had a lot of large radar antennas going round and round this way, above the big ship, and they could see all the different targets. They could see which ones are coming towards them and which ones are not. The ones that are apparently coming towards them to attack them, they obviously want to shoot them down before they drop their bombs. They have to figure out which are the most critical and make the decision, depending on which way they're going, which one of the gun mounts ought to take on which target.

COLLINS: How is that information fed?

SEAMANS: Electrically.

COLLINS: With some kind of light?

SEAMANS: No, to the gunner--all he looked at, he was just looking through the sight with one eye, this way, and all he had to do was keep the little pipper right in the middle. Since my little angle conversion stuff had taken the signals that were given, in earth coordinates, convert them over to local coordinates, you know, based on whether the ship was up this way or down this way or turning this way. So truly when he had the pipper properly centered, he was pointed 15 degrees away from north and 45 degrees up from the horizon. One way you could do it would be to tell him over the phones, "15 degrees east of north at 45 degrees," and he'd then have to see how he was heading, how the ship was heading, and where the horizon was, and try to estimate it, and then put his eye up in here, he'd never find it.

COLLINS: Before your target acquisition equipment was installed?

SEAMANS: There was no way to do it, other than what I've described. "Target is coming in from a beam," you know, or "target's coming in at 3 o'clock," you know, that kind of thing.


DR. DENNIS: So far we've talked about the gun sights you've worked on. I'm curious about the manufacturing. From what you've just said, it appears that we're talking prototypes that you or Dr. Draper would go out in the field with to test, and I'd like to know two things. When testing, did you design instruments that you tested? In other words, just as you had with the problem of engine knock and acceleration, where Dr. Draper designed instruments to test the technology, did you also design test technologies for the gunsights? And second, manufacturing--what happened after you had successfully demonstrated a prototype? Did you deal directly with a contractor like Sperry, or did you allow the Navy to do it? You mentioned the Navy standardization of the electricity, which I know was a big thing during the war, because everybody tried to connect in to the ship in a different way and they had a mess. I'd like you to comment on those two.

SEAMANS: Those are both good questions. First, the testing waspretty crude, I'd say, compared to what we try to do today-- with fire control, against a target, the thing you had to work on overall was the number of bullet holes in the sleeve that was pulled by. That's pretty crude, because you just get a small part of the pattern. If you're dropping a bomb, why, if you dropped enough of them, you know where the target is, you've got this plot, and you can figure out what the average error is and what the dispersion is with respect to the center of impact, and get some numbers that way. As far as the checkout goes, there was very little specialized checkout equipment. You tended to work with standard instruments. The old voltmeter/ohmeter was something I used again and again and again, to be sure you had electrical continuity through the wires, and to see what the voltages were at various places. Of course, the oscilloscope was absolutely essential, and the same was pretty true even with manufactured equipment. I can remember with a P-38, which had a range radar in it, APG 5 I guess it was called. The technicians who were operating it, because this was gear supplied to the Army, the Army technicians, they'd be sitting there and they'd be looking at a scope, then wait a while, then make a little turn, then they'd look at it some more and turn a little more and it was very much judgmental, and I would say, on a lot of this stuff, it was so new that you didn't really have an awful lot of specialized test equipment during the development stage, and even when you got into the operational hardware. Now, obviously, there were never more than a handful of systems that were built say on location here at MIT, and even to make some of those parts it was necessary to go outside. Although we had some very good machine shops here and technicians, some of the more specialized things would be done outside. Now, the work was done during the war, I'd say, primarily, working with the Sperry Gyroscope Company, recognizing that if the prototype was approved, it would be up to Sperry then to produce it. After the testing had occurred and the Navy decided to buy let's say the Mark 52, suddenly there would be, right here at MIT, there would be, I don't know, over a hundred draftsmen and engineers from Sperry would suddenly move in. In those days, you could do that. You could clear out a couple of classrooms, and make it a restricted area and set up the drawing boards, and that's where they'd go to design the stuff for production. I would say that perhaps not always, but in general, Doc would be fuming at what happened to his designs when they went into production. They obviously had to make changes in the design, in order to mass produce, and in so doing, Doc--and he was always very vocal about this--felt that they had really jeopardized the design to some extent, or its accuracy. Now, the Mark 14, that was a very interesting case, because the first ones that were hand made, the next step beyond the Shoebox, worked well enough, the Navy wanted to produce them. Sperry said, "You cannot mass produce it. It's impossible." Now, it should also be noted that Sperry also was developing with their own engineers another gunsight, along the lines of what I described earlier, more complicated, supposed to do a better job. So the Navy said to Doc that he had to demonstrate that it was producible, and he tried to get various companies to produce it, and he couldn't get anybody to take it on. So he decided he would go to a local machine shop, and went to Newton where there was a shop that was owned by Fred MacCloud and John Sattlemyer, and he had the job of building 50 of these gyroscopes with their dampers and gyro wheels and so on, and this machine shop didn't have a name. Doc said, "We're going to call it Duolcam," which is MacCloud spelled backwards, as simple as that. And by gosh, this group--John Sattlemyer was, I guess he's of Norwegian or Scandinavian descent, very straight, very thoughtful, a very good machinist. Fred MacCloud was of Italian heritage, very expansive, he was more the entrepreneur, and they made 50. So the Navy said to Sperry, "All right, you're responsible for building the gunsight, the mirrors, the case and all of that but we'll have Duolcam build the gyros that you'll put in it," and that's how Duolcam got started, and that's how John Sattlemyer and Fred MacCloud became multimillionaires, and John Sattlemyer never changed his lifestyle till the day he died. Fred MacCloud divorced his wife, left his seven or eight children for blondes, racing cars, the whole bit. It's interesting.

COLLINS: Was the Instrumentation Laboratory at MIT providing the capital to get this thing going? Or did the Navy?

SEAMANS: The Navy. Now, as time went on and Doc got into more and more devices, the pattern changed a little bit. The funding would be coming more directly from the government. There would not be at the start a definite manufacturer, and about the time the prototypes were are looking pretty attractive, let's say, and the government had a pretty good idea they were probably going ahead, they ran a competition and they'd pick AC Sparkplug or somebody to do the manufacturing, and then we'd go through the same process with some of the--say, AC Sparkplug people here, and picking up the design and so on, draftsmen and layout men here, then the next step would be for some of the MIT people to go to Michigan or wherever it would be to work with AC Sparkplug to see it through preproduction. Always an agonizing process. But unlike a lot of people in the advanced development game, Doc had a very good eye for what could eventually be produced, and so the strain was somewhat minimized, but it was always there.

DENNIS: You mentioned Doc's desire for simplicity, and in particular, you compare it with various designs and solutions to the problem of fire control, as opposed to Doc's solution which was an approximate one. Do you think that in a sense his design system, his whole notion of simplicity, was grounded in the recognition that these devices were going to have to be built?

SEAMANS: Yes, definitely. And operated not by technicians and guys with doctors' degrees, but operated by people who had had relatively limited training, in a lot of cases. No question in my mind about that. But I think you'd usually find, if you looked at all the different things that Doc did, that in almost every one of these systems, there would be one or two very critical elements. He would try, instead of having a whole bunch of things that would be very sensitive, to see, pinpoint the most important thing, and really work on that. The suspension for the gyro in the Mark 14, for example, was a critical element. It was a complicated cantilevered spring arrangement, and he'd work very hard to understand it, and to try to get it to a point where he felt that it could be manufactured.

COLLINS: Did Doc Draper work closely with this influx of manufacturing staff, or did you in some cases make this transition from prototype to production version?

SEAMANS: Well, a lot of people would be involved. I'm not sure I can really give you a good answer to that, because you have the hardware. We'd have test information from the lab. We tried to bring what we called the technical people, as opposed to the designers, into the lab to work some with the hardware in the lab, in the Instrumentation Lab, so they would take part of that responsibility for getting the design on paper, to take it back to manufacturing.

COLLINS: A different type of question. You begin production of these various items. Again, there's this influx of people from the outside, from corporations. Did that create any special kind of management problems in the laboratory? Who took care of organizing the work for these people?

SEAMANS: They would be folded right into the project. I mean, you'd try to avoid having, say, the Sperry people over in a couple of Sperry rooms here, and AC over here. You'd try, there'd be the Mark 14 project and you'd try to have Sperry people working, you know, right in the same rooms and everything with the MIT people.

COLLINS: Were they supervised by MIT staff?

SEAMANS: Well, you could always distinguish between, you know, if it's an MIT experimental prototype, then it will be the MIT project man who will be responsible for what was done to the equipment, and what the people did who came from Sperry. Once you got over into a production prototype, then it would be the other way around, the MIT people would be in a consulting and advisory mode. I'd say it was pretty clear-cut which side of the fence you were on.

COLLINS: Did this dramatic increase in size create any problems?

SEAMANS: It would have been terrible, you couldn't do it today at MIT, because every square foot is argued for, so to take overthree lecture halls or something, you couldn't do it. But MIT then was just a very flexible entity. I mean, there were still a few of the old temporary buildings out here, but there were temporary buildings all over the place. The Radiation Lab had put up a new building here or there, and so, if something was important, MIT would say, "Well, do it, and we'll crowd everybody in the remaining classrooms if necessary. " The regular academic program was sort of at a minimum there for a while, and most--so many of the courses were specialized courses for the military, as we got into '43, '44.

COLLINS: To pick up that instruction note once again, you'd indicated that throughout the war you taught these?

SEAMANS: I taught the V-7.

COLLINS: You taught the V-7 courses. Did you still have a regular instruction load as well? Teaching the basic instrumentation courses?

SEAMANS: My recollection is that we kept it going. I'm a little vague on that. But I think we did. Because I think we still had --I think a lot of the students who took it who were in the military. That would be my recollection.

DENNIS: One last question on manufacturing. Dr. Draper had students who went to work for Sperry. I'm thinking of in particular Walter Wrigley for a little while, and Hugh Willis, I don't know if he was a student--but he certainly knew Dr. Draper very well. And I was wondering about the sort of contacts, did this facilitate working with a company like Sperry?

SEAMANS: Definitely. Oh, absolutely. Oh, very much so, and you know, there was somebody else at Sperry, and his brother worked here, and they they founded a company of their own. Very good engineers. Doc would go down to Brooklyn, let's say, where they had some stuff going, and then they'd go out somewhere and have some drinks at night, or reciprocal here--and Doc stayed very close to these people, to the point where, you know, it was not a standoff between those people, even though they were working for Sperry. There was very good communication, perhaps to the point where some of the Sperry management might be upset by it, you know.

COLLINS: Did you ever participate with Dr. Draper in selling these ideas to Sperry or other corporations?

SEAMANS: Sure. Oh, you're damned right. And we had a lot of fascinating times. At Wright Field, everybody didn't buy the concept of the A-1 sight, and you know, we'd end up at conferences that would be pretty heated, where people would say the sight was no good, or they'd say something else was better. I remember one occasion when, just a little after the war, but when we were working on some of the tracking problems of an airplane flying along and trying to track another one, and we were getting some pretty good test data. We had an A-26 and a B-25 and a B-17 and a P-38, with equipment. We were invited--by this time Lee Davis was the chief of the Armament Laboratory--by the Navy to go out to China Lake, out to Inyokern, for a one-week conference, to discuss what we were doing. And we got out there, and we found that on this one-week program, that Doc Draper was on for 20 minutes and I was on for 10 minutes or something. This was all in quonset huts and everything out there. And Lee Davis was really annoyed, because some of the Navy presentations were about ideas that people had for building equipment ten years from now, and we actually came out with all the hardware. And so we tried to get some more time on the program, and we argued for that, and then Doc presented his stuff, and oftentimes he'd present things in such a way as to arouse discussion, shall I say. So, we had two or three hundred people in a room all arguing about the pros and cons of this equipment. And finally Lee Davis got so upset and so mad by the whole thing that we just hauled out of there. We just picked up our planes and we came back home.

COLLINS: During this time period that the lab is building up with a substantial amount of work, administratively within MIT there was this Office of Industrial Cooperation. Did you have much contact with that?

SEAMANS: I most certainly did.

COLLINS: Could you describe that relationship between the laboratory and this office?

SEAMANS: First let me say, it was very close. Doc and Nat Sage used to love to go out and have dry martinis together, and the old saying was, "What does it take to get either one of them to drink a dry martini? One dyne centimeter." That's a very small torque. Those were the kinds of dimensions that we were working with, with some of these gyros. But it was much more fundamental than that. They both firmly believed that for the educational process at MIT, you had to have advanced engineering going on campus. If you wanted to teach, it shouldn't be from a textbook; you ought to teach by having people actually working on the really out in front design activities of the day. And they both looked at the Instrumentation Lab as providing that kind of environment here at MIT, and there was no question that this was a great concern to the central office at MIT, to the president and what Doc called "the Palace Guards." They were always upset that the Instrumentation Lab was so big and so many people in it, because they thought it was the tail wagging the dog, if you want to call it that.

COLLINS: Even during the war period?

SEAMANS: Oh no. This is, I'm now talking about after the war.

DENNIS: Can I say something? What do you mean by "Palace Guards"? The president's assistants?

SEAMANS: Yes, that's what Doc called them, the provost and the various people, whoever they happened to be. It didn't make any difference who they were. Doc would always feel that he was beleaguered, that he wasn't being given the floor space or--this was after the war. During the war, as I say, MIT had a remarkably flexible attitude. Well, Harvard certainly did too, in the things they did, and many times Nat Sage would agree to start spending money even before there was a letter of intent. Many times, a contract for work during the war would not be signed until it was all done, absolutely complete, work was out the door, we were working on something else, because the paperwork would always fall behind, and if anybody was a purist, if Nat Sage had been a purist, nothing would ever have been done here. You'd have always been in the contract negotiation stage. You'd have never gotten anything done. Nat Sage was a man who looked at things, he looked at, he was able to pull out the sort of essence of things. He did not like complicated contracts. Even when we did negotiate things, he tried to keep the contractual prose as simple as possible. The next project I got on after the war was called the Tracking Control Project, and had a pretty good idea what I wanted to do. I remember going over and we'd already talked to Lee Davis about it, and I remember going with Doc over to talk to Nat Sage, and he said, we just discussed it around the table and I explained what I wanted to do, and Nat Sage said, "Put that into a letter to me, to Nat Sage," and so that night I wrote it. It was a two page letter to Nat Sage, showed it to Doc, took it over to Nat, and that was the basis for the contract that we had, that I worked on, for the next four years.

COLLINS: This is with the Air Force.

SEAMANS: With the Air Force, yes. It was basically to measure the dynamics of aircraft, fighters, or the dynamics of the computer, the dynamics of the servos, the radar, and actually analytically put it all together, as a complete system, in three dimensions, and then test the complete system, to see if you could do it. Nobody had ever done it before. To work out in three dimensions the dynamic performance of an aircraft as it flies through gusty air, moving its elevators and ailerons and rudder, to track a target, and that's what we did. We actually built our own simulator, and ended up with all of the hardware that we'd built and everything out at Wright Field, demonstrating this equipment, including an airplane that could automatically lock on a target and would automatically track a target, and we demonstrated it by flying it overhead.

COLLINS: Before we get into a detailed discussion of the postwar period, there is one other area I want to talk about during the war. On one of the directors, I think the Mark 63, where you incorporated the radar--in developing that, did you or did the Instrumentation Laboratory have pretty strong contact with the Radiation Lab people? And generally during this period, what was the inner connection between the different departments and activities going on at MIT?

SEAMANS: Okay, that's a very good question. I would say, there wasn't a great interchange between the Radiation Lab and the Instrumentation Lab. There wasn't antagonism either. The radars that we were using for the fire control had already really been developed, and, so that the development of the radar never went in parallel with the development of the fire control. That was not true, however, with what was called the Servo-Mechanism Laboratory, which Gordon Brown was the director of, with somebody named Al Hall who was his number 2 person. There was an undue rivalry between those two laboratories. Gordon Brown in electrical engineering, Doc Draper over in this department, some overlap in the work--the kind of thing that Gordon Brown was working on was, how to smooth out the tracking, to try to put some kind of hydraulic systems in there so that you couldn't jerk the thing around, so that it would track smoothly. You know, they were both really very, very good, and I hate to say there was jealousy, but there was certainly a lot of competition between the two--although in some cases they had to collaborate.

COLLINS: Why don't we, unless you have some more question on the war period--

SEAMANS: I may have slipped a cog on a few of those numbers on the sights, so if you find a slight discrepancy with some of the other stuff you have, they're probably right, not me.

COLLINS: You were describing your postwar work on tracking.

SEAMANS: Right. I guess one of the things found during WW II was that the aeronautical people tended to stick with the aeronautical problems, and the servo people stuck with their stuff. It became very difficult to work on some of these complicated systems when one had to consider a lot of different disciplines, and that's really what the tracking control program was all about. You know, it wasn't a very big project. We had about 35 to 40 people, full time, and then a whole lot of students would come through as research assistants or as doctoral candidates. This is something I ran, from within the Instrumentation Laboratory. I was the director of it, and I also started a graduate program in what was called automatic control of aircraft, and built that up, and this is in the day when you didn't have anything like the computer capability we have today, so you had to use, call them arithmetical schemes, for determining stability, i.e., the root locus, Nyquist diagrams, phase-amplitude plots, etc. We did build what's called a simulator, an electronic analogue computer, that we built out of whole cloth. It was a lot of fun.

COLLINS: Was this for studying automatic control?

SEAMANS: Automatic control issues. We built a big beam with large springs to simulate the control surfaces, in order to put on the servos under load and measure their dynamics. The first autopilot we got our hands on was called a C-1 Autopilot. Minneapolis Honeywell got into automatic controls of aircraft during World War II. Sperry had had almost a lock on the business. I guess Bendix had some work going on. But Honeywell made literally thousands of these C-1 Autopilots that were used in bombers. I remember going to Minneapolis Honeywell to see if I could talk them into giving us one of their autopilots. I got an advanced version called a C-1 A and they gave it to me, with the servos and everything in a couple of big boxes, and I left Minneapolis on the Hiawatha, the train that took me to Milwaukee, then to Chicago, then back here by train, lugging all this equipment and everything I could get my hands on. You know, we had to scrounge to get equipment. There was an awful lot of it lying around right after the war. There was one day when Nat Sage said he was surprised to see a whole bunch of great big trucks with diesel engines and motor generator sets on them. I picked that up from War Assets, from Portsmouth, New Hampshire. They all came down here, with a lot of excess radar equipment, and we dumped them over in a warehouse nearby. The hangar that we operated out at Bedford, when we got in the flying business, was a War Assets hangar that we got from New Jersey. There was a lot of stuff lying around. All you had to do was go around and pick it up. And it was wonderful stuff for experiments.

COLLINS: Let's talk a little about the transition from the war to the postwar period. What happened at the laboratory as the war began to wind down, into the postwar period?

SEAMANS: As the war ended, as far as the airborne stuff went, it was felt that we'd probably gone about as far as we could go without really getting into the total dynamics of the system I've already described. But as far as the Navy went, they thought that they could develop better guns and longer range guns, and there were other improvements that could be made. I think the war was over when we got a project called the Gunnar 1, and I worked on it briefly with Doc. I remember carrying out a preliminary design with Doc, working with a couple of layout people. I don't know whether Doc's office still has it, but the instruments we built included very large gyros. Doc had it for a long time in a glass case in his office. He said it was very helpful to look at something that was really a bad design, so that every time he felt that he was really doing something very well, he'd look at that and realize, it might be as bad as the design that he and I came up with.

COLLINS: This is for the Gunnar?

SEAMANS: This is for the Gunnar. And at that point, he realized that you couldn't improve the precision of gyros by making them bigger and bigger. I also came to the same conclusion, I must say. And he had to take a new approach, and that's when he started on the idea of a floated gyro, and if you look at everything that he did since, it's based on floating the sensitive elements. You put the gyro inside of a can, so the gyro can spin, it doesn't spin in a liquid. But the can in turn is in a liquid, and is designed so that it's literally floating, so that the loads on the pivots are essentially zero, except for the gyro precession moments. You will have to really check on this, but I think the first work on floated gyros was done in connection with the Navy program. But at that very moment, I was getting started on this other line of endeavor, namely, the overall system dynamics, and so I really didn't do very much myself personally on floated gyros work, which led directly to inertial navigation. That was a step toward the precision required for inertial navigation.

COLLINS: Were there any discussions at the laboratory among staff about what the lab ought to be doing in the postwar period?

SEAMANS: Yes. Of course, one of the thoughts was, we've won the war, and now we can all go and relax, we don't need to have a laboratory any more. But Doc was not one to let that happen. Doc, after V-E Day and the German defeat, said, "Well, who knows what's going to come out of the Japanese war?" Okay, then the Japs are gone but the Russians are there.

DENNIS: Was this a common conception at the laboratory? I guess it happened at other laboratories as well, first the victory over the Germans, then the victory over the Japanese, then there was going to be a long term struggle with the Russians?

SEAMANS: I'd say, pretty soon after V-J Day. I'd have to think about that to be really sure of the timing, but it didn't take very long to realize that the Russians had quite a bit of capability, and were pushing pretty hard, and were making use of what they picked up in Germany.

DENNIS: But during the war at the laboratory, did Dr. Draper solicit opinions from others about what they thought the future should be? You said he was not one to let the laboratory stop, but were there a sizeable number of people who thought perhaps the laboratory's mission may have been completed with the conclusion of hostilities?

SEAMANS: I guess I can't give you a really good answer to that question. I think Doc tended, though, this would be my guess, to keep his counsel. This is now getting to the time when there was concern by Jim Killian and others about the size of the lab. You see, by then we had moved out of the space right here in the aero building, and we were over across the railroad tracks in the old Whitemore Shoe building--

DENNIS: Albany Street?

SEAMANS: Yes, that's right. It was shoe polish. And then in time--there were a lot of temporary buildings around. You could pick them up for a song. And I would guess it was somewhere around 1948 that enough work had been done on the floated gyro and everything for Doc to feel that the inertial navigation was in the cards. I don't quite remember when Little Phoebe was built, that flew across the country with a B-29 aboard.

COLLINS: I think that was '48.

SEAMANS: That was '48, wasn't it? So then there was maybe the year before that that the Air Force had a conference at MIT to discuss inertial navigation, and I remember a lot of brass came from the services, and Doc was saying, "All we have to do is improve the performance of the gyros by three orders of magnitude." That's a thousand times. "And we can do it, see." And people sort of scoffed at it. They really didn't think it was going to be possible for inertial navigation to be viable. And so that's when Doc, as was his custom, saw where the effort had to go, namely, in absolutely minimizing any adverse torques on this cylinder that held the gyro, in order to come up with the precision for inertial navigation. This meant the lab had to get into how changes in temperature might warp the structure and all that kind of thing. The lab had to get into materials that would be very insensitive to small changes in temperature, and had to worry about the density of the liquid changing with respect to the density of the floating cylinder. At the same time attempts were made to hold the temperature as precisely as possible. It got into really fundamental work on liquids and colloidial suspensions. And at that time, Doc was calling on a lot of the materials people at the Institute to help him in some of these areas.

COLLINS: You've outlined some pretty complicated technical needs that Draper foresaw. Was there a sense in his mind that he had to hold the organization together, if he was ever going to solve this kind of problem?

SEAMANS: Oh, I'm sure that he did. Doc's concept of organization is quite important, and not very well understood, I think. He did not believe in a matrix organization, particularly back in those days. He believed that when you take on an important project, you build up a team of people headed by an individual to run the project. When it's over, you can disband it, but what you've got to do is to keep projects coming in, so that as you disband one project, some of the people move into a new one that's coming along. Others leave the lab. Some certainly would go with the project itself as it goes into manufacture. But he did not like the concept of--call it a level of effort kind of activity--like a national laboratory, for example, where there is continuity in size, where one sponsor provides the funds, such as the Atomic Energy Commission's support of the national labs like Livermore. He felt that he wanted to play a much faster game. He wanted to work with the Air Force, the Army, the Navy, NASA, commercial entities, and play them all. No one of them could have a lock on what he did. He'd be a free agent, to do what he felt was important.


DENNIS: Did he realize he had to keep the organization together to solve these technical problems? I'm wondering, perhaps, if Doc realized, was there any indication that Doc realized that the solution to these technical problems was the future of the laboratory, that without solving them there might not be a mission for the laboratory, things for it to do? The laboratory was so much identified with inertial guidance technology.

SEAMANS: I think the way Doc looked at it, and I'll tell you why I say this in a minute, is that he loved solving what he called "real world problems." Now, by real world, that included national security, and where he got, I think, his satisfaction out of what he did in his life was in coming up with solutions to needs. If you look into some of the papers he wrote, you'll see diagrams where the environment is the real world; and as opposed to the academic world, the only way he could solve these real world problems was to have a team of people working with him. He couldn't do it all by himself. And he was very good at visualizing in his mind the technology that the lab was familiar with, that he had engendered, and what the problems were going to be five and ten years from now, whatever it might be, Navy, Air Force, and how to get from here to there, and he wanted to be absolutely sure that he didn't lose his capability, by letting the lab disperse. I think that was his motivation, to keep everything in motion.

COLLINS: In doing some preparation for this, we read some of Draper's early papers say from the late thirties, early forties, and there's a sense that comes across that he already had these ideas about how you might approach inertial guidance, but he simply didn't have the organizational wherewithal or the interest from either the government or corporations to push this thing forward. But you get a sense that in the post-war period he realizes, "I've got the organization, I've finally got the capability to do these ideas that I've had strong feelings about for a long time."

SEAMANS: I think you're absolutely right. And what gave him that capability was a combination of things. He had some very good people working with him, John Hudsonlaub, Roger Woodbury, Dick Batten, and Hal Lanning. In the laboratory, there were some amazingly good technicians, Paul Schaffer was a watchmaker who could put things together with tolerances you wouldn't believe. He also had the structure, he had the draftsmen, the layout people. He also had some wonderful special equipment, not only things you can buy like jig borers and so on, but a lot of special test stands and so on that had actually been designed by the lab. He had a test bed that was mounted on a concrete slab many feet below street level, so it was a stable reference. You know, he had all of that under his control, if you want to call it control, available to him to do the work he felt ought to be done.

COLLINS: Did Nathaniel Sage enter into these post-war discussions about the laboratory's future?

SEAMANS: Yes. Nat used to say, "I can always tell when Doc is coming up with a new idea, he becomes so ornery. He becomes so difficult." And that would be the time Doc would be agonizing, how to build a gyro suitable for inertial navigation? Are we doing to have a pendulous gyro in there to measure the vertical, or how are we going to do it? And Doc would go through these periods when he really would be very, very difficult to work with. Because you know, in the back of his mind he was working on the problems. At the same, he had to oversee the day by day stuff. But he would become very impatient with the day to day stuff, and Nat Sage would say, "I can always tell when he's going to hatch a new one, he becomes so difficult." And there's no question that Nat Sage encouraged Doc. They were very close, and Mrs. Sage was close to Ivy Draper, Doc's wife. Then of course as time went on, Nat Sage became quite ill, and the Drapers were the ones that were there at the hospital, with Mrs. Sage at critical times. It was a very close relationship.

COLLINS: Did representatives from the Navy, the Air Force come to Killian and say, "The Instrumentation Laboratory is an important resource, we want to see MIT keep it"?

SEAMANS: Between you and me, they would even rig it. They'd say, "We're having a little trouble getting the administration to agree, but there's going to be a new project, Doc Draper's going to take on a new project." Every time a project that was going to involve, let's say, four or five hundred more people, the administration would question the need because by then space was dear. It would always put a bias on the whole MIT operation, to have just one part of it suddenly expanding again. So, Doc and the sponsors would realize that maybe the front office--I don't want to blame Killian because he was a remarkable man, is a remarkable man--were groaning and trying to figure out a way to avoid having the work done here at MIT, by letting industry do it. I should point out that it made it more difficult to do the fund raising, because a lot of the companies in the business felt that Draper was unfair competition, because if they could only develop it themselves, then they would have the production and they wouldn't have to go and compete and all that sort of thing. So it made it more difficult to get support for the industrial liaison program. I was in on a few of these discussions; the sponsor would say, "Well, the thing we've got to do is to give Draper another award." They'd plan something at MIT that would involve Killian and everybody, and the Secretary of the Navy would come up to present the medal. And of course Killian would say, "Terrific, we're very proud of him," and there would be headlines in TECH TALK and TECH NEWS.

Visitors would often be in the laboratory with Doc around, let's say, 4:30 in the afternoon. There was a big clock on the wall, an electric clock, and Doc would say, "You know, we make it a rule here that we've got to keep things moving along so that we never have any drinks or anything until 5:30." You know, he'd kind of toss it out along with some other discussion. People would sort of think, yes, now--and then, people wouldn't really realize it, but Doc had available to him, underneath his desk, a button so he could control the speed of the clock. And so all of a sudden, after maybe 15 or 20 minutes, it would be 5:30 by the clock, and so Doc would yell to his secretary, "Marie, come in and take the drink order." And he loved doing that. One other thing that's much more serious, I'd like to stress, and that is, I never once saw Doc in any way let the work that he was doing in the laboratory in any way stand in opposition to the academic side of the department. There were, I remember, a few occasions when somebody like a Roger Woodbury who was running the inertial navigation program--which was, you know, in dollars a big project --and he couldn't get to see Doc because Doc was working with a thesis student or something. He'd say, "I just don't understand the man. Here we've got this great big project and it's very important, and there he is just piddling around with some little item with a student."

COLLINS: In that respect, the relationship between academics and other outside work, I thought I'd show this to you, a 1952 chart entitled--

DENNIS: "Teaching and Research in the Aeronautical Engineering Department" --

SEAMANS: Yes, that's interesting, because it also shows that Docwith his academic hat on was just as supportive of all these other laboratories as he was of the Instrumentation Lab. He never let the fact that he was director of the Instrumentation Lab in any way subvert his support to the wind tunnel or the aero-elastic or the gas turbine. He was very even-handed in how he dealt with all the research down here, for example.

COLLINS: The date of that is 1952, so at that time he is chairman of the department. For the period '45 to '51, I assume Hunsaker was still chairman of the department.

SEAMANS: Yes. Is that right? Let's see.

COLLINS: Or was someone else in then?

SEAMANS: No, no, it went right from Hunsaker to Draper, and I don't quite remember the transition date, but somewhere around in there. Yes.

DENNIS: Perhaps Draper had been acting department chair for so long, I remember reading where he recollects when he had been chairman, Hunsaker had been away, he was getting old.

SEAMANS: Yes. To understand Doc's academic role, you've got to understand Hunsaker to some extent. Let me give you a copy of the obit I wrote for the American Philosophical Society on Hunsaker. It doesn't directly impinge on Draper taking over, but Hunsaker was a man of great stature. I don't know whether you have any of his papers or not.

COLLINS: We're certainly well aware of his achievements.

DENNIS: And he also set the context for Draper, technically.

SEAMANS: It was a very good relationship between the two. Okay, I'm surprised you don't have one of the trees here. Doc was always big on having a tree with roots, and the roots would be--

DENNIS: I know what you're referring to. I've gotten some of those in the laboratory.

SEAMANS: Yes, it would be things like, I don't know, hydrodynamic theory down here, or aerodynamic theory, and up here would be the Spire project and the Mark 14 or whatever. These would be all the branches of the tree.

DENNIS: I have copies of some of those trees. They're very effective.

COLLINS: What does an earlier chart that I showed you and suggested for a university department, a very complicated set of arrangements and responsibilities. I think certainly if you take your typical engineering department, it's probably somewhat more complicated than many other university engineering departments. I guess I was wondering whether you were aware of that special kind of complexity, and the way all these parts worked in this postwar period, and whether you have any special comment about that?

SEAMANS: Let's go back to that chart just for a second. It's sort of interesting. Yes. Here are the courses, and here you're feeding out to all these entities here, and here are your various kinds of students. This is for my own benefit. The DIC staff, that's Nat Sage, you realize. And then all these people feeding in, and here are the various laboratories, and by '52, I'm working on Meteor. I notice that there's the Instrumentation Lab and there's the Instruments Lab, and I guess the Instrumentation is the big one we've been talking about. And the Instrument is much more academic. Some of the stuff we still have here in this building. The Wind Tunnel laboratories, there's one of them and then there was a supersonic one down the street, which was tied in with Meteor.

DENNIS: Which one of those would have been the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory?

SEAMANS: Okay, this building is called the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory. You can go outside and read the name across the top. Hunsaker got the Guggenheims to give this building to MIT, and it used to sit all by itself with nothing on either side of it, except for the wind tunnel which they also gave, and was put into operation in '39. This part of MIT became a department in '38 or '39. That's all in my paper, by the way. This is quite a big laboratory, Aeroelastics and Structures. A professor named Ray Blisplinghoff ran this effort, and there are still people around here who worked directly with Ray. He was the person I persuaded to leave MIT to become an associate administrator at NASA. The gas turbine laboratory is across the way, where originally Fay and Eddie Taylor held forth.

COLLINS: This proliferation of laboratories seems to reflect part of the Draper philosophy, the hands-on character of the education.

SEAMANS: Absolutely, of course. He encouraged every one of those groups to get in there and expand and--

COLLINS: Get dirty.

SEAMANS: Yes, get dirty, absolutely.

COLLINS: I guess, since we've been talking a good bit about Draper, I wonder if we might talk about his philosophy a little bit more. Some of his sort of more conceptual papers, about the role of technology, he sort of advances a couple of ideas, one, that technology is essentially a neutral kind of thing, that whatever good or bad use it's put to is basically the role of the decision makers to make those value judgments about its use. And the second thing, I wonder if you might comment on that kind of perception of technology.

SEAMANS: There's no question that he felt and feels that way. You know, I tend to agree with him myself, that there's nothing good or bad, per se, about a nuclear device; it's a question of how you're going to use it. Now, I think you do have to (and I'm not sure Doc would agree with this) consider that when you come up with a development of something that's particularly lethal that, although it's still up to the user to decide, that maybe there's a bigger or a lesser temptation, depending on what the device is. You can't ignore the possibility that, say, it might get in the hands of terrorists, you know. But I guess it's true that Doc would say, "I'm not going to worry about that, I'm going to develop it and it's up to others to decide how to use it." And I don't think I could quite go that far myself.

COLLINS: As a kind of corollary to that, he also advances the idea that engineers should develop a sensitivity to decision- making related to technology, that they should have a broader social and political awareness that would allow them to contribute to decision-making. Did he ever try to orient course work to reflect the ideal engineer? Or did he ever have discussions with you about this kind of ideal for the engineer, as an educational goal?

SEAMANS: I think you'll find that a lot of that writing of his occurred somewhat later on. I don't really remember much of that going on, at the time when I was either a student or working with him academically. He definitely was concerned with the use in the design, but that wasn't in social terms, that was in operational terms.

COLLINS: I think most of the papers that put forth these ideas date from the late fifties.

SEAMANS: I think so, and I think that's when he reached the point where he was no longer really in a technology creative mode, but was much more reflecting, I'm sure, on how his work fitted into the scheme of things. And incidentally, I don't remember ever having any discussion of the social implications related to any of the things I did with Doc. Maybe there were, but I can't think of anything.

COLLINS: Part of the reason I bring that up is because I know that Mr. Webb found that aspect of Dr. Draper's thought very intriguing, and clearly recognized that Dr. Draper was an extremely competent engineer. But the fact that Dr. Draper took this broad view of his discipline and his activity I think was attractive to him.

SEAMANS: Well, that would be very attractive to Jim, because that sort of fitted in with his concept of things, too.

COLLINS: I just wondered if he brought these ideas forth at any time that you remember.

SEAMANS: I think I told you, they'd known each other in the early days of the war, when Jim Webb was at Sperry as a vice

president and treasurer, but not really intimately. And then of course, Jim knew of Doc and Doc of Jim when the guidance was being developed for the Apollo. But it was really only when that was quite well along that the two of them actually met and traveled together in Europe. I forget the date of that, but I was still in NASA. And I'll never forget, when the two of them came back, they were like two little boys who had been in the cookie jar. They'd been off together, and they had come up with all kinds of ideas together, about fourth generation gyros and they had concerns about, I don't know exactly where they came from, whether gyros would work in a radioactive field or not, such as controls for say some kind of a craft that might have a reactor aboard, and things of that sort. Doc was looking for an opportunity to build another whole generation of gyros, and Jim Webb was intrigued with a guy that could conceive of these things, and they were just so great when they came back. They'd had such a wonderful time together, feeding on each other's ideas, both very dynamic, an essentially unstable situation.

COLLINS: That's very funny. Well, maybe we can--if examples come up we can perhaps talk a little more about Dr. Draper.

SEAMANS: Yes. I don't want to sell Doc short. That's something I'm sure you'll want to be checking on further.

COLLINS: Let's go back to the post-war development of your interest in tracking control systems, as well as what you were doing in terms of teaching in the university.

SEAMANS: Well, the academic side, the so-called automatic control of aircrafts, fitted in very well with the project that I was running. Just when the project was complete, there was a question I guess in my own mind of what I might do next, when I was approached by, I guess Doc first, and then I ended up in discussion with a number of people, including Jim Killian, to see whether I would be what's called the systems engineer of Project Meteor. Now, I knew about Project Meteor. It was started right after the war by the Bureau of Ordnance. A number of other branches of the services, and even other parts of the Navy, were doing somewhat similar things, but the Bureau of Ordnance wanted it to bootstrap a lot of the German experience. The experience obviously was embodied in the V-2, the rocket experience, and it meant getting into rocket propulsion. It meant getting into higher performance servos, supersonic aerodynamics, and so on, and the Bureau of Ordnance went to two places, the Applied Physics Lab at Johns Hopkins and MIT. The Applied Physics Lab already had the Bumblebee project and later they got into the Terrier and a whole series of surface-to-air missiles. The bureau wanted us to look at air-to-air missiles, which was an anomaly, because you would think that would be under the Bureau of Aeronautics, which also had a program, but not with the academic credentials that the Bureau of Ordnance was trying to generate here. I remember Guy Stever worked on it, and Ed Sneider, the overall boss of Project Meteor. I remember when the two of them came around to see Doc Draper right after the war, and they said, "We've got this opportunity to do fundamental work, and how much money would you like from Project Meteor to work on gyros?" And Doc said, "Money to do what?" and they said, "Just to work on improving gyros." Doc would say, "Well, you must have some objectives." They'd say, "No, we just want to work on the principles of gyros." Doc would say, "I don't need money to do that, I'm doing it anyway." So Doc did not participate to any great extent in Meteor. Now, Johnny Markam and the wind tunnel people latched onto Project Meteor, quite rightly, because of the opportunity to build a really good sized supersonic wind tunnel. That's the reason for the tunnel that in the last five or six years has been completely taken apart. That wind tunnel required a tremendous amount of energy. It couldn't be turned on without calling the electric light company and asking when they might have enough electricity to run the tunnel. To keep it cool, you had to worry about erosion of the Charles River because you were pumping so much water in and out. The dynamic analysis and control lab under Gordon Brown picked up a piece of it, for a large stable platform that would simulate missiles going through the air in various altitudes. Finally there was work to be done in chemical engineering on fuels. Meteor was a program that went all over MIT, in I think seven different departments. As I say, it didn't impact the Instrumentation Laboratory to any great extent. I can't remember the exact dates, but I believe in 1950 the Bureau of Ordnance said, "MIT, you're doing great research, but where's the missile?" About four or five years before that the objective was to conduct research and develop technology in all the areas I've indicated. And all of a sudden, you know, "We don't see any missile." And so, Ed Sneider was the name of the person I'm trying to think of, so Seamans was brought in to try to give them a missile.

COLLINS: Sneider was with MIT?

SEAMANS: Oh yes. Yes, he was the guy that carved up the money between all the different departments, basically. That was his function. He had to deal with the Bureau of Ordnance to keep the total level up. He was a technical person. He'd worked, I think, in the Radiation Lab during the war, and he was a highly competent individual, and I don't think he had a departmental affiliation. But the strength of MIT really, when you come right down to it, comes out of the departments that are quite remarkably autonomous. But anyway, I guess I didn't have too much choice in the matter. I ended up as the so-called systems engineer of Project Meteor. I was brought up in the Draper mold --you've got very concrete objectives and full control--going around to the different laboratories, in a very decentralized effort. There wasn't any place you could find any semblance of a system design. On top of that, there were a whole bunch of contractors. The Bell Aircraft Company was supposed to build the missile, and they had a direct contract, that didn't come through MIT. United Aircraft had a contract to build a ramjet engine, and a ramjet missile, if it came to that. I think the Bendix Corporation was involved in the instrumentation. I think by then Al Hall from MIT had gone to Bendix.

COLLINS: Was North American involved at all?

SEAMANS: No. And there was no central team. You know, Meteor Headquarters was over in one of the old Radiation Lab buildings. Meteor had a library over there, with drab brown walls, and it was aesthetically not a very pleasing place to work. When Johnny Markham, whom I knew of course pretty well from the aero department, said, "Look, you come on over to Building 80," which was the Supersonic Lab, "we'll give you the whole second floor, and from there you can build up what technical needs you have to run the project, and we'll do the housekeeping for you," and so that's the way I started Project Meteor. Now, the supersonic wind tunnel building, a rectangular building, was designed by an architect with ideas about what a building for engineers should be like. It's said that when he went from room to room, he lay on the floor on his back and he dictated to a secretary the feeling he had in each room, and as a consequence, the pastel shades that should be on each wall, which were made out of cinder block. There was absolutely no flexibility to increase the size of any room. They were all rooms that you could put four desks into and a secretary. It was so different from what I was used to, working with Doc over in the Whitmore Building, where if you didn't like something, you could get the carpenters in one day, the next day you'd have a bigger room or a smaller room or a screened room or whatever you needed to get the job done. When you sat in one of the rooms with the cinder block walls, you'd tend to go to sleep after a while. I remember the day Johnny Markham came tearing up to my office, and wanted to know what I was doing. I said I was going to pipe noise around to every room to keep everybody on their toes, you know, get some decibels in there with a little bit of pace to it.

Another problem was that there wasn't enough money to hire a whole new group of people to do the system work, but it was very hard to get enough people who would do what the system engineer wanted from any one of the member departments. It was difficult to pull this whole project together. We had I guess it was a Black Friday, just before Easter. Not a Good Friday, a Black Friday, when I was arguing that a certain number of the people from these different departments should be brought together to provide focus for the work, to decide how to design the missile and to put it together. With all the different disciplines represented it was particularly difficult. You know, I couldn't go around to each department separately for systems work nor could I extract people to come together and work on the project. I remember a meeting with Killian and various other people, and somebody said, Johnny Hrones, who was head of the dynamic analysis and control lab and also head of the department of mechanical engineering, said, "Well, supposing they don't want to come and work for you." I had some definite people in mind and everyone knew who they were. And I said, "Well, don't you think around here at some point there ought to be some discipline, that if you need people to help on things, that there would be some requirement they do it?" And the whole place exploded at that thought because that's not academic freedom. But I guess everyone felt that I was upset enough that if I could get some people to form a nucleus, wherever I could get them, that they had to permit it. So what we finally had to do was move back to one of the temporary buildings, where you could even put stuff up on the roof for radar tracking and so on, and we did extract some people from the departments. We extracted some people, we hired some people. And we put together a group of around 75 people which was a nucleus to try to pull together from each one of the member departments the elements that would be needed to make a missile--a new kind of a radar, new servos, gyros. But while we were doing this, the Eisenhower administration was very concerned that we were getting behind with respect to the Russians in missilry, and there was a guy named K. T. Keller who'd run Chrysler who was made "the missile czar." He came up to see where the Meteor missile was, and of course, when he came here, the people from Bell came here and the people from the Navy were here and everything. And there wasn't any missile. By then we had built some experimental dummies and we'd fired the dummies, but they weren't missiles. They were aerodynamic test vehicles. And so Keller was here at MIT basically not beating on MIT, but he's beating on the Navy, and so the Navy suddenly decides that they're going to start going into production, and Bell Aircraft is going to build the missile that didn't exist. They brought in the Vitro Corporation, who were going to be in charge of all the test equipment and all the training of the Navy people who were going to use the missile. And here we were, a bunch of research entities basically, loosely coupled here at MIT. But we're sort of technically responsible for the outcome. At the same time there's Bell Aircraft which is just eager to mass produce missiles, and the Vitro Company that's looking all over the place to see what it is that they're going to have to train people to do. This thing got whomped up to a tremendous size before we knew what we wanted to build, and we had some real arguments out at Bell Aircraft, I mean with Larry Bell, hell, meetings with Larry Bell and the Navy, and to say I was upset is to put it mildly. I was the l'enfant terrible, I guess, a very unpleasant person to be with, but I just felt the project was out of hand. I hate to say this, but Doc was sort of disinterested in this. I did get him to build what's called a miniature gyro that they were going to put in the bird. But the program didn't have any godfather. It had focus in each department, but there was no central support at MIT that could make the rounds like a Doc Draper and tell all the Navy and the contrators to cease and desist until we had a prototype design. The design people at Bell built what I called an "inside the egg missile." You couldn't get at any part of the missile without moving five other parts. You know, it didn't have decentralization such that you could pick out a servo package or a gyro package all self-contained.

COLLINS: Who was providing the specifications to the Navy?

SEAMANS: Well, supposedly that was coming from MIT, but it wasn't like, you know, you build a Mark 14 sight and here it is, fellows. There wasn't anything like that. We had to do the best we could to argue with the designers at Bell Aircraft, and to get the prototype that we had used for aerodynamic testing returned to us--we had great trouble getting stuff that they'd built at Bell to come back in here for our experimental work.

COLLINS: I mean, on what basis did Bell build?

SEAMANS: On the basis of their own engineers. The radar was what's called an interferometer radar. It didn't have one antenna up in the nose, it had to be canard, because there were four antennas up in front of everything else, to get a clear view of the target. Then you measured the rate of phase change from here to here and here to here, to see how fast the target was going by the nose, and on that basis, to turn the missile so it would collide with the target. We got rooftop tests finally, and we had a big operation out at Point Mugu, for flight testing. We had an F-3D that we got instrumented for the launching, out at the Bedford Airport, at the Instrumentation Lab hangar. I remember the day I got a call from a guy named Bob Briggs, who was in charge of the testing, and he called me from the West Coast, and he said, "It's gone." I said, "What do you mean, it's gone?" And he said, "The missile's gone." They'd been testing out on the range, out over the ocean, on a race track course, with the missile underneath the wing. With the radar that was in the nose of the F-3D, you could track targets and see if you could get missile seeker lock-on. As the plane came around in towards the shore, inadvertently they released the missile, and all of a sudden our engineer, who was sitting in the plane, looked out and the missile was gone.


COLLINS: You were recounting how the missile had fallen off the plane

SEAMANS: Right. So the Navy, needless to say, was quite upset, and they sent a lot of seamen walking over the bean fields, and lo and behold, they stumbled onto a great big hole in the ground. First they classified the area all around it with guards, and then they come out with the heavy equipment and dug down, and sure enough, 15 feet down, there's our missile, not in very good shape, the Meteor Missile. They hauled it up, and of course they had to say something to the press. I mean, everybody knew that something strange was going on. It was a wonderful article which I wish I could get my hands on some time, about the heroic pilot of this F-3D airplane who realized that this missile was in jeopardy but didn't want to drop it on anybody. He was finally, through great skill, able to maneuver his aircraft so that it fell in the beanfield. It was absolutely happenstance, but that's where it went.

COLLINS: Did it literally fall or was it propelled?

SEAMANS: No, it wasn't propelled, no. No. It just fell. It fell free. But things were really tough going, and I forgot, one other key player in this was IT & T. They were to make the electronic seeker. And they had a big research facility and development facility down in Nuttley, New Jersey, where I spent a lot of time, and they were also very difficult to deal with. This was a time when color television was just coming in, and they were in a big fight with RCA, and to get their attention was very difficult. Anyway, it was about this time I got a call from Nat Sage, and he said, "We've been torpedoed in the engine room. The project is cancelled." And they gave us three months to stop all work on Meteor. And the next day Nat and I went down to the Bureau of Ordnance to see what we could negotiate, and about all we were able to negotiate, in addition to closing out the contract, was an extra I think $50,000 to write a final report.

COLLINS: At that point, did you feel that you'd made enough progress, that you could potentially prepare prototypes for production?

SEAMANS: Oh no. It was purely and simply a failure. We had not achieved, we had not provided the Navy with a missile. Now, I think you could say that a lot of benefit came from the program, in all the different fields of endeavor. Let me just quickly finish the story. So all the different laboratories that had been getting money from the Navy had to figure out if they were going to retrench or not, and they had to all go their own ways. And of course, what I had was a group that had come together just to work on the Meteor Project, and they had no departmental affiliation other than mine. But what we did do was to tear around and see what other work we might become engaged in, and we did pick up, I think, three projects. One of them was a hydrofoil boat, strangely enough. And a couple of them were for the Air Force, one for missile work and one for fighters, and we called ourselves the Flight Control Laboratory. We were located as I say over in a temporary building and I became its director. Now, we'd launched the Meteor missile from the airplane a number of times successfully, as far as the power went, as far as the controls went, but we'd never done any homing. We'd never had the radar lock-on and homing. And it finally came to the very last day of the project, and we still hadn't achieved success, and I'd given in effect the orders to Bob Briggs and the people out there at Mugu to shut up shop and close down. The next day, I got a call from Bob and he was absolutely ecstatic, and he said, "It worked! It worked!" And they had not only got the radar to lock on, which you could see from the movies afterwards, but the missile had commenced its turn. Normally in those days when you were testing an air-to-air missile, you'd aim right at the target as best you could, so even if the radar didn't work you'd come pretty close. We came up with the idea that that doesn't really give you a very good test. A good test is to purposely aim 5 degrees off and then see if the missile will maneuver, and that was actually unheard of. So that's what we did, and you could see the missile start to turn towards the target, but it didn't actually hit it, which might have saved the day for Project Meteor, but when it was about a second and a half away, it became unstable, and so it did miss. But at least it provided a lot of psychic kicks for the people who were involved, and it did provide some data that we could put in this final report on Project Meteor, and we were able with the data we had to determine why it became unstable, and it was something that could actually be readily fixed. It had to do with the roll control, and in any event, we all felt I think a little bit better about the close-out, and the report, I would like to think, was of some help to the Applied Physics Lab and the work they were doing at that time. Just to quickly take you to the end of this saga, the administration had still not given full approval for our Flight Control Laboratory on a permanent basis. So we got these contracts, we worked you know, molding each one into something we felt would be useful, and there were tie-ins academically with things going on in the department. We proceeded for about eight months, and it was summer time. I wasn't directly party to these discussions, but I knew that Nat Sage and Draper were working with Killian as to whether the Flight Control Lab would be allowed to exist or not. I was actually cruising in Maine in an absolute pouring rain one night, in a small harbor in Maine, when somebody came alongside and said, "Is Bob Seamans aboard?" and it was friend of my father's. My father had found us down there, and I went back to a farm house, and I called, I don't know whether it was Doc Draper or Nat Sage, and one of them said, "We did the best we could but it's all over. You've got to close it down." And we did.

COLLINS: Derived in part from Killian's concern about establishing another one of these sponsored laboratories?

SEAMANS: Yep. Exactly. And you can understand his point of view, his concern, not wanting to have too many of these laboratories on campus.

COLLINS: Well, I think there are a lot of things we might like to go back and flush out, in this postwar period, but I think this is probably a good time to stop.

SEAMANS: Just a little summary piece on the episode. So this was in the summer time, and we had till the following June to close things down, not to leave various studies that we were involved in, hanging; we wanted to satisfy the various contractors. It was that fall when I got my first call from RCA, to see if I would work for RCA, and I went down to Camden. I really wasn't interested in living in Camden, New Jersey, nor working there, so I said I would not do that. Then about a week later, I got a call and they asked, would I be interested in setting up a laboratory for RCA in the Boston area? And of course I was, so we opened the doors of the lab, in I believe January, and I ran the laboratory for RCA, got it started, at the same time that I was closing out the lab here. I was also teaching here. Not everybody who worked in the laboratory at MIT came and worked for RCA. They were all individuals, and we couldn't pick the whole thing up and move it over to RCA, but at least I had an opportunity for the people here to have a job working on somewhat the same technology, without having to move their homes. By I guess it was June of '55, the lab here was folded up, and I was working for RCA.

COLLINS: Why don't we conclude with that? Thanks very much.

Seamans 1 || Seamans 3

Rev. 09/06/96

© 1996 National Air and Space Musuem