May 7th, 2012

One of our most successful fighter planes at the Douglas El Segundo plant was the F4D-1 Skyray, a modified delta-wing design. It held speed records, time-to-climb records, etc, but it was a “first-line” fighter at a time when we weren‘t fighting anybody, so it never fired a shot in anger. My contribution was mainly lab-testing of hydraulic subsystems, actuators, control valves, etc, to demonstrate that they met military specifications.

The successor to the F4D-1 Skyray was to be the F4D-2 Skyray. Although the wing planform was the same, the F4D-2 had a thinner wing and was a bit sleeker, addressing all the areas of improvement which had been identified on the F4D-1.  Later it was decided that it was enough different than the F4D-1 that it was re-designated the F5D-1 Skylancer.

Sometime before the scheduled first flight of the Skylancer, engineer Charlie Delevan of the flight controls design group, stopped me in the hall to say “Norm, what are we going to do about this roll-rate problem?” This was the first I’d heard about it, so I got him to explain the problem. The ailerons (actually “elevons” on this flying wing design) weren’t moving as fast as the designers intended, so the desired airplane roll rate would not be achieved.

I asked Charlie to show me the installation in the prototype airplane. This involved removing a panel on the outer wing. When I could see the installation, I soon saw something which I suspected to be the problem.  A hydraulic actuator will move as fast as the combination of fluid pressure and fluid flow will push it. Out on an extremity such as a wing tip, the centrally located hydraulic pump may not be able to keep up. To augment the pump flow, an “accumulator” is installed at or near the point of demand. In this case the accumulator was a cylindrical type, with a sliding piston separating the fluid chamber from the compressed gas chamber. When flow demand lowers the system pressure locally, the gas pressure in the accumulator forces fluid out to briefly augment the flow available from the pump.

I pointed out to Charlie that the accumulator was mounted to the wing spar with a split-block clamp, which had the possibility of forcing the barrel of the accumulator slightly out of round, causing the piston to drag. He doubted me, but had the accumulator disassembled on a nearby workbench. Sure enough there were signs of friction on the piston and barrel. They redesigned the mounting, replaced the accumulators, and the elevons performed as intended.

F5D-1 Skylancer

The Navy was evaluating candidates for its’ next generation of fighter panes, and the Douglas F5D Skylancer was being compared to the Vought F8U Crusader. At that time (1956) up to 80% of the Navy’s carrier-based airplanes were Douglas El Segundo products, and there was political pressure to spread the procurement around. In fact, John F. Kennedy had promised to do that in one of his campaign speeches.
The Navy stacked the deck in favor of the Vought entry. The Vought contender made a speed run with a specially souped up engine (with an expected life before overhaul of one hour.) They cancelled a planned effort to set a speed record with the Skylancer (using a stock engine). Leland Smith, who was our engineering representative at Edwards Air Force Base at the time, says, “That happened 55 years ago, and I’m still pissed at the Navy.”

The next competition for a Navy fighter was more complex. With the advent of new electronic weapons control systems, radar systems and such, they felt that a one-man crew would suffer from “information overload” and favored a two-man crew. The proposed twin-engine F4H Phantom II by MacDonnell Aircraft Company would have a higher thrust/weight ratio, and two engines gave it a survivability edge over Ed Heinemann’s single engine Skylancer. This left the F5D with no future except as research platforms and as chase planes for other new designs.
All the Navy fighters since that time have had twin engines – the F-14, the F-15, and the F-18. The Navy variant of the F-35 will have a single engine, perhaps reflecting the improved reliability of jet engines these days. Then again, maybe it’s the nature of the threat. The enemy doesn’t come after you with machine-gun bullets anymore.
We built 4 Skylancers, which were mostly used for experimental work (Neal Armstrong flew one of them).  MacDonnell built 5195 Phantom IIs, setting the stage for its eventual takeover of Douglas Aircraft Company.


March 11th, 2012


The Douglas Aircraft Company kept fairly current and sometimes “cutting edge” with regard to the use of computers. In fact, it had a computer division for a while. In 1948, it spun off the RAND Corporation, which made major contributions to computer design and artificial intelligence.

At the Douglas El Segundo plant, in the days of the ENIAC and MANIAC, we had an analog computer, which was rather massive, and was programmed by plugging in masses of jumper cables on the front panel. I never had the incentive to learn to use it, but we were told that “digital computers are what engineers design for other people; analog computers are what they design for themselves.”

After we were merged with the Long Beach plant in 1963, I began hearing about IBM 360 and IBM 370 mainframe computers. I marveled at the air-conditioned room which was constructed for one of these. Apparently, these computers handled everything from payroll records to engineering problems. Analog computers were essentially history.
I had used nothing more sophisticated than a mechanical calculator (add / subtract). In the fall of 1971, the first pocket calculator appeared on the market. This Craig calculator could add, subtract, multiply and divide, and at $100, it was considered a marvel for its time.

The Craig Calculator

We got one for my son Keith in high school, but I didn’t get one for myself. Much more sophisticated versions by companies like Hewlett-Packard and Texas Instruments began appearing. I eventually bought a Texas Instruments TI-50 calculator and retired my slide rule. That increased the accuracy of my calculations from two significant figures to eight. I don’t think I ever used eight.
The obsolescence of the slide rule resulted in a broken window in my house. When my son’s high school stopped teaching the use of the slide rule, they auctioned off the six-foot slide rule used for class instruction. Keith wanted it for a wall decoration, and he submitted the winning bid in a sealed-bid auction. When he brought it home, he managed to stick it through the window of my front door.
At Douglas Aircraft we had an electrical engineer named Bill Price who built a computer from a kit, in the mid–to-late 1970s . I had built Heathkit items, such as a 25 inch color television, which required a lot of soldering of components to circuit boards. Bill, a survivor of the Bataan death march, told me “Norm, you ought to get into these computers.” “What are they good for?” I asked. “Well, you can balance your check book, you can file your recipes . . . “ I told him that a pencil and paper would do the job.
When I saw the complexity of, for example, an input/output circuit board he had soldered, I decided that was more than I wanted to tackle. Also, all your input commands had to be coded into computer language, which was another major deterrent.
The big computers were generally programmed in FORTRAN, a computer language which is still in use, and the Douglas Aircraft company offered a quick course in Fortran, one evening a week for six weeks. This was an introductory course, and a second six weeks was recommended but due to our workload at the time I didn’t take it.
My son Keith was in high school, and he had a teacher who was enthusiastic about computers. He organized a “computer club” for enthusiastic students. They also had a series of Fortran lessons.  Then one evening, he took the computer club to nearby TRW, where they attended a “finishing” lecture on Fortran. Keith thereafter announced “I know all about Fortran”.  He learned as much or more about Fortran as I did, and went on in college to learn several other computer languages.

I did successfully carry out some fairly involved Fortran calculations. For these, the input to the computer was on punched cards (IBM Cards) and I quickly learned that no errors on the punched cards were tolerated. Even an omitted period would invalidate the whole thing. I had several “decks” of cards for various programs, which I would modify and reuse until the day when punched-card inputs were no longer accepted.

Desk-top computers began to appear around 1980, and I began to see my cohorts carrying a book entitled “DOS”. They were taking courses to familiarize themselves with the new desktops and their Disk Operating Systems. I reasoned that since I would retire in a short time I shouldn’t take a costly computer course, then promptly leave the company.  I still didn’t see a great deal of usefulness for the desktops. However, a few developments changed my mind. Steve Jobs, shortly followed by Bill Gates, introduced the “GUI” or Graphical User Interface, the computer mouse was introduced, computer languages became more friendly, I decided to work a bit longer before retirement, and the computer spreadsheet was introduced.

This latter event was the answer to “what can you do with it?” Lotus 1-2-3 was the spreadsheet program I learned to use. Each “cell” (intersection of a row and a column) could hold a sophisticated mathematical formula, a logic element or input data. This permitted pretty sophisticated analyses of complex mechanical systems, efforts which would be completely impractical using pencil, paper, and slide rules. Incidentally, at a Cupertino party, I was introduced to Doug Engelbart, the man who is credited with inventing the computer mouse.

It became possible to analyze alternate ways of solving a problem so the best way could be chosen. Time constraints often didn’t allow such luxuries using manual analysis.
One would expect that the design of an airplane would be speeded up using these tools. That doesn’t seem to b e true. When we were given “authority to proceed” with the DC-10 (1968), we were told, “first flight is in two years.” We held pretty close to that schedule. Contrast that with the Boeing 787, which took around 7 years to reach flight status. But I guess you can argue, “how much longer would it have taken without computer-aided design?”

Bill Price’s homemade computer was probably a 4-bit design, meaning its registers and computing operations could handle 4 binary bits (ones and zeros) at a time. There was talk about new “*8-bit” computers”, then 16-bit. The first computer assigned to me at McDonnell-Douglas Aircraft Company was an IBM XT, a 16-bit machine, which accepted floppy disks for external memory.

IBM is said to have limited the capability of personal computers to protect sales of its highly profitable mainframes. If true, this probably opened a window for competing companies to take market share. I won’t try to review subsequent computer developments. I’ll just say that my current home computer, a MacPro, has many times the speed and memory capacity of the desktops I had at work. Actually, with the latest software, I have 64-bit computing, matching the IBM mainframes of a few years ago. That capability is mostly wasted for the kinds of things I do with a home computer, but it is helpful when I’m doing digital photography and movies.

The advent of e-mail and search engines (Google) made the home computer into a truly useful gadget. Regrettably, e-mail is apparently contributing to the demise of the U S Postal Service, or at least a major restructuring of it. And it’s hard to justify owning an encyclopedia now. So far, I have resisted getting an iPhone or iPad. But if the cost/benefit ratio is favorable enough, who knows what might happen?

The Hikers

January 23rd, 2012


During the 1970s to the 1990s, I was a member of an engineering standards committee for aircraft hydraulics (SAE Committee G3). This committee drew its members from all aerospace companies willing to participate, and our committee chairman was Hans van der Velden of Boeing.
In 1982 (?) Hans organized an extra-curricular activity for committee members: a mountain-climbing expedition. Mount Rainier (14417 Ft) was pretty much in Boeing’s backyard, and that was to be our objective.
We checked into the lodge at the base of the mountain a day early, so we could go through their “mountaineering school”. Here, we learned to climb with crampons on our boots, and to use an ice-axe to stop or prevent a slide if we fell.
The SAE committee had met a few weeks earlier in Philadelphia, and we stayed at the hotel which had become infamous in 1976 for the outbreak of “Legionnaire’s disease” But they had put that behind them, and we had a good meeting. One feature of the hotel was a marble staircase extending up the several floors, and we used that to practice climbing. Hans was climbing and descending in every spare moment, and I probably should have practiced more than I did.
At the mountain, we set off with a couple of guides to lead us. The scheme was to climb for 50 minutes, then rest for 10. I tried to follow, but after a few hours, I found that I was arriving at the rest area well into the 10 minutes, so had little rest. At one of the rest periods, it began to rain, and the guide said that “because of the weather, we would have to step up the pace”. My pace was hardly receptive to being stepped up.
A couple of the other climbers elected to turn back, and I reluctantly decided to join them. Very disappointing.
The climbers who continued spent the night in a shelter at about 12000 feet altitude, then finished their climb the next morning, They returned to the lodge the same day. While waiting for them to return, I spent some of the time photographing the wildflowers on the meadows at the base of the mountain..
Almost in my back yard (well, 200 miles north ) stands Mt Whitney. It’s the tallest in the lower 48, at 14,497 feet, just a few feet taller than Ranier.
Sally, my “significant other” organized another mountain climbing expedition. There were to be five of us, including Corky and Nancy Reed, and another fellow who was a member of Corky Reed’s metal sales company. We tried to be more methodical in planning this trip. First, we had a meeting to discuss all the do’s and don’ts I had learned from my Mt. Ranier attempt. No ice axes, though.
Then, we set out a few days early and camped at Tuolumne meadows, in Yosemite National Park, elevation over 8000 feet. Here, we took moderate hikes to become acclimated to the altitude. It’s a great area for hiking, even if you don’t have an ulterior motive.
The day before the climb, we drove to the town of Lone Pine, then up Whitney Portal road through the Alabama Hills. The Alabama Hills are foothills of the Sierras, and have been the location of countless Western movies and TV commercials. We arrived at the campground at the Mt Whitney trailhead in the early evening. We had our wilderness permits, and we tended to our packing for the climb. Corky’s co-worker said he was taking some reading material for the times he would have to wait for the rest of us to catch up.
In the morning we got an early start, leaving the trailhead soon after sunrise. On Whitney, the trail is easily followed – there are even guardrails in dangerous areas. There was no snow to speak of. I was happy that we had no guide setting the pace. I could travel at my own speed, and rest when necessary.
Progress was satisfactory, if nothing to brag about. Surprisingly, our fifth climber, who expected to “wait for us t catch up” fell behind. We didn’t wait for him. The trail was well marked, and he could find us. Perhaps the most challenging stretch was a steep face on which the path made 100 switchbacks. It seemed as if it would never end.
We arrived at a designated camping area at about 12000 feet altitude, and pitched our tents. We ate, then stowed our food where the marmots couldn’t get to it. Our fifth climber trudged in after we had gone to bed. He had come down with a cold, and in the morning, he headed down the mountain rather than try for the summit.
In the morning, the survivors headed out, carrying only what was necessary. The thin air at that altitude limited one’s physical capabilities. We were walking slowly, but we made it to the top. Near the summit was a building erected by the Sierra Cub to provide shelter in case of sudden snowstorms or other weather activity.
A husband and wife team from the Materials and Processes engineering department at Douglas Aircraft were on the mountain. Neither group knew the other was making the climb. There was a moment of astonished recognition. Their group was perhaps a bit more sophisticated than ours: they packed a bottle of champagne and some stemware, anticipating toasts to their success.
The view was fantastic. We were on the highest peak in the lower 48 states, and could see to Death Valley, the lowest spot in North America. After we got our fill of the view, and had taken all the pictures we wanted, we started back down. We picked up our gear at the 12,000 foot level, then made it back to the trailhead by mid afternoon.
On the mountain, we had no sense of being dehydrated, but when we got to the little shop at the trailhead, Sally and I quickly dispatched a quart of orange juice. When we got to Lone Pine, we bought a six-pack of Gatorade, and made short work of that. We were back to “normal” after that.
Having conquered the highest point, and feeling quite invincible, we shortly decided to try the Grand Canyon. We made reservations to stay in the village at the South rim, and for camping and eating at the Phantom Ranch at the bottom. We scheduled our trip for April, which we were assured wouldn’t be too hot in the canyon.
From the South Rim, there are two trails to the bottom: the Kaibab trail and the Bright Angel trail.   We thought it would be good to go down one trail and climb out on the other. In planning the hike, we asked a park ranger her opinion of the Kaibab Trail. “Like a highway,” she said, “Not less than 32 inches wide.” She neglected to tell us that for much of its length, it wasn’t much more than 32 inches wide and with no shade. The average slope of the land was moderate at first. At one point, we crossed a line where the rocks were greenish on one side and pinkish on the other. A sign told us that as we crossed that line, we were stepping back 2 billion years in time. Corky told us that he thought that was the first time he had done 2 billion of anything.
The temperature wasn’t too bad until we got to the Tonto Rim, from which point the slope of the land becomes much steeper approaching the river. Then we were experiencing 102 degrees. When we got to the Colorado River, Sally slipped out of her backpack and plunged into the water.
We pitched our tents and got settled in., then set about getting familiar with our surroundings while waiting for the evening meal. I saw a college student reading a book, and asked “What are you reading?” He replied, “It’s about chaos theory. You wouldn’t know anything about that.” I shot back, “Sensitivity to initial conditions.” His jaw dropped open, and he said, “You do know about Chaos theory!” I said, “Yeah, I know about these things.” and walked away. I didn’t want him to know that was the only thing I knew about chaos theory.
The second day, we explored the area, seeing an ancient Indian structure and going part way up the trail to the north rim. It hit 104 degrees that day. So we didn’t do anything very strenuous. We were told that some hikers go from the North Rim to the South Rim and back again in one day. Amazing.
We heard that it would reach106 degrees the next day. We arranged to have breakfast at the lodge before daybreak, then start the hike out as soon as we could see the trail. That way, we got above the Tonto Rim before the temperature rose too much. We returned on the Bright Angel trail, varying our scenery somewhat. We decided that the canyon was like an upside down mountain. Unlike a mountain, the easiest hike was first: going down. The hardest part was last: climbing out again. But we traveled at our own pace, and before dark, we were at the south rim. Our muscles were so sore we could hardly walk.
We checked into our motel, where a night’s sleep mostly restored our mobility. In the morning, as we looked out the window, we saw that it was snowing!
Hiking to the top of Mt. Whitney, and to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, are two things I never expected to do, and I did both after I was 60.


September 4th, 2011

On Naval aircraft carriers, real estate is at a premium in spite of their huge size. Consequently most naval aircraft have folding wings which reduce the area required to park them, whether on the flight deck, the hangar deck, or the elevator which runs between decks. The tiny Douglas A4D Skyhawk was an exception to this rule.

One of my early assignments was to find out why the eyebolts of the hydraulic wing-fold actuators of the Douglas AD (A-1) Skyraider were sometimes failing in service during the Vietnam war.

An interesting bit of information came to light. There were six bomb-rack stations outboard of the wing-fold hinge line on each side of the airplane. It was planned that the wings would be in their spread position when the aircraft was armed by hanging bombs on those outer station. However, the Marines added their own twist to the procedure. At their leisure, they would hang the bombs with the wings spread, then fold the wings, with bombs attached, so the plane was ready for rapid deployment. Of course, this greatly increased the loads on the folding mechanism.

The eyebolt, or end attachment fitting, would sometimes break at a transitional area between the “eye” and the threaded shank which attached to the piston rod. Lead engineer Bob Cole suggested that the rough as-forged surface finish of the steel might be responsible, causing stress concentrations which could initiate cracks..

I reviewed the original design calculations, and recalculated the stresses with those bombs hanging on the outboard wing panels. Sure enough, the eyebolt was calculated to be strong enough. So I had a test eyebolt polished up in the failure area so there was no stress concentration, I believe the surface roughness was defined as 16  microinch, or possibly 8 microinch finish. Then I installed the test actuator in a fixture which allowed loading the actuator to the new higher loads while cycling it through a life-cycle test (I believe it was 20,000 load cycles.) It passed, and subsequently all those eyebolts were reworked to have the smooth finish.

We got word one day that a navy pilot, probably hung over, had climbed into a Skyraider, and neglecting to spread the wings, took off. He managed to get some altitude but couldn’t control the airplane, which crashed. I was asked to calculate whether in such a situation the wings could be spread while in flight. The answer was no, the wing-fold hydraulic cylinder had nowhere near the power to spread the wings in flight. Sorry fellows, use your checklist (and/or common sense).

The Douglas A3D Skywarrior was a greater challenge. This was the largest carrier-based airplane up to that time. The original designers had come up with a simple wing folding design whish rotated the outer panel about 135 degrees from the spread position. The navy representative said, “You don’t understand- the overall height of the airplane with wings folded must be less than the ceiling height of the hangar deck. There can be no waiver or compromise of that requirement.”

This called for some ingenious design, and one of the engineers proposed a mechanism using a “four-bar linkage” which would allow folding the wings about 160 degrees. He showed us a sketch of how this would work as the outer wing panel rotated. Even with the sketch, we had trouble visualizing how it worked, so he redrew his sketch, holding the outer wing panel still and rotating the airplane through a 160 degree arc. Now it became clear to us how it would work.

When the first few airplanes rolled out the door, something was obviously wrong. The outer wing panels would be folded at different angles. It was hard to believe that the production crew would roll those airplanes out without asking for help or advice on this obvious problem.

When it was reported to us, engineer Gordon Buchan and I went to the station on the production line where the wing rigging was performed. (Engineering had written a detailed procedure for rigging.) We asked to be allowed to witness a rigging procedure. It soon became clear to us that they had misinterpreted the procedure. One pivot bolt of that four-bar linkage wasn’t being installed until after the rigging procedure was performed. We very politely explained the correct procedure to them, and from then on, the folded wings matched each other.

Those first few airplanes were soon undergoing carrier trials. We got an alarming message from Larry McBee, our engineering representative on the aircraft carrier, observing these trials. He said that when the planes were being readied for catapulting, (take-off), the airplane in the number two position, with wings still folded but subject to the jet-blast of the airplane on the catapult, the tips of those outer wing panels were bouncing up and down by four feet. Not good.

It was decided that a hydraulically actuated latch mechanism was needed to secure the wing panel in the folded position,, and engineer Harry Pingel was to be the designer. Harry’s design was a beefed-up version of the latches we used to hold landing-gear doors closed in flight. The latch would engage a strut which protruded from the outer wing panel when in the folded position. I was tasked to create a test fixture which would simulate the loading this mechanism would experience in the airplane.

My test fixture duplicated about a square yard of wing, including the latch mechanism, with a hinged stub of “outer wing” using hydraulic cylinders to produce the weight load. This test installation uncovered an immediate problem.

The wing-fold actuator had a poor mechanical advantage when the wing was fully folded. The latch mechanism had to give the wing panel a boost for the first few degrees of motion, until the main actuation cylinder could take over. But the latch produced a side-load which broke that protruding strut. I proposed a fix, and was told ,“Do it!” This consisted of designing the latch hook with a new contour which would keep the “boost” load parallel to the outer-wing strut, minimizing the sideload. It worked. The life-cycle test was also successful.

We had a “static-test” (non-flying) A3D, and we had the new latch mechanism installed on one wing. Ed Heinemann, our chief engineer, was famous for his hands-on tests, and when the new installation was ready, he was informed. So Ed and his assistant chief engineer Leo Devlin came out and climbed the ladder we had set up for them to get on top of the wing. They put their effort into trying to deflect the outer wing panel, but there was no perceptible motion. In less than 30 seconds, they were climbing down, satisfied that the flapping wing problem was solved.

There were 282 A3D Skywarriors, in several versions (bomber, tanker, electronic countermeasures) delivered to the Navy starting in 1956. The last one was retired from service thirty-five years later, in 1991.


August 19th, 2011

In March 1975 the factory workers at Douglas Long Beach and Torrance plants went on strike. This stopped production of our commercial airplanes, which of course meant no cash flow. So most of the engineering department was put on “temporary layoff” (TLO). Some thought we’d never be called back.
One of my friends was a friend of the chief engineer at the Hydraulic Research facility on Route I-5 near Valencia, CA.   That organization was in the midst of design and qualification of some components for the Space Shuttle program. Several of us were hired by Hydraulic Research (Division of Textron) such that we didn’t miss a day’s work. My forte’ was lab testing of hydraulic components to verify conformity to their design specifications.
I was immediately assigned to designing a test installation and procedure for the rotary fuel valve of the Space Shuttle’s main engine The fuel flow rate and it’s overall size dwarfed anything I had encountered before, but the principles were similar to previous experience. So I set about designing a test installation, with H.R. coworkers, which would put the valve through tests of flow rate and pressure drop vs. control signal input, responsiveness to signal changes, performance throughout the design temperature range, life cycle endurance, proof and burst pressure tests, and anything else in the design specification.
Four of us formed a car pool. Two of my fellow commuters were Jim Walker, Douglas’ hydraulic seal expert, and Ralph Killmeyer, who recently had (unsuccessfully) been a candidate for U S Congress.
The Hydraulic Research facility was a good hour’s drive from the Torrance/Manhattan Beach area where we started. We exited the Interstate 5 freeway at the same off ramp one used to get to Six Flags Magic Mountain amusement park. So of course, Hydraulic Research was tagged “Magic Mountain East”. Our commute was timed to coincide with the maximum traffic on I-5.
The commute was onerous enough that a couple of us talked of renting a room so we could stay near Hydraulic Research during the week, going home only on weekends. As it turned out, this assignment ended before we actually took such action. About six weeks into the project, I got a call from my Douglas Aircraft Company supervisor, Bob Rothi, saying the strike was over and I could come back to work.
I felt that I didn’t want to abandon the valve test project in its current state of progress, and asked if it would be all right if I spent a few more days at H.R. This was agreeable to Bob, and I was able to turn the project over to my H.R. co-workers in a more completely engineered state.
I didn’t get much feedback from H.R after I returned to Douglas, but they had my phone number if they needed some consultation. The valve qualification evidently went as planned. As I write this, the final space shuttle flight has just been completed after 30 years of operation.
That six-week effort to test and certify the main engine fuel valve was the only way I got my fingerprints on the space shuttle.


July 25th, 2011

We’ll be talking about dates and time. Not the exotic time of Einstein or Steve Hawking, discussing quantum physics, but plain ordinary everyday time, such as some retirees have on their hands.

Time comes in all sizes. Seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years. Nature provides us with some of these units and some are man made.
The day is the time for the earth to rotate once on its axis. It is our most obvious unit of time. Some people wanted to divide days into smaller, more manageable pieces .
How did we get the 24 hour day? We know it was the Egyptians, around 1300 BCE. They divided the day into day and night, and assigned 12 hours to each. Why 12? We’re not sure, but a base number of 12 is just as valid as base 10. We think we use ten because we have 10 fingers . The length of the daytime hours and nighttime hours differed, and varied with the season.

How did the ancients measure time? There were several methods – none very accurate.
Sundials, burning candles, water clocks,
The hourglass , or sandglass, wasn’t invented until the 14th century. It could quite accurately measure a time interval, and is still in use today for timing eggs, games, etc..
Sally and I visited the castle in Spain from which Queen Isabella ruled Castile. They showed us that she had a sandglass mounted on a pivot on the wall next to her desk. When a citizen was granted an audience to make a request or lodge a complaint, she would flip the sandglass over to start it, and when the sand ran out, his time was up.
Mechanical clocks began to be used in the 15th century, and it was not until then that the length of the hour became standardized and was the same day and night.

How did we get minutes and seconds? We got them from the Babylonians, around 200 BCE. For some reason, the Babylonians used a number system of base 60 for doing astrological calculations. Don’t ask. But they divided the hour into sixty minutes, and the minute into sixty seconds.. There have been proposals to change to a metric (base ten) system of dividing the hours, but the base 60 divisions are so thoroughly ingrained in our culture that they are unlikely ever to be changed.

These smaller divisions of time are man-made, so the day can be divided exactly. But the larger units of time: days. months, years were determined by nature, and are not convenient multiples of each other. Which poses a problem: how do we construct an accurate calendar?
Why do we care what day, or month, or year it is? We want to keep track of anniversaries, birthdays, weekends etc. For farmers, it was important to know the best dates for planting and harvesting their crops. An error of a few days could sometimes be catastrophic. Particularly in northern latitudes, where the growing season is short.
If you haven’t visited Stonehenge, I ‘m sure you’ve seen pictures of it. It doesn’t look much like a calendar, does it? Yet archaeologists tell us that in addition to its religious significance, it was designed to reveal the solstices. This is simple technology. In spring, the sun rises a bit farther north each day. Keep track of the shadow of a pole each day, and when the trip north reverses, that’s your solstice. Knowing the winter solstice, for example, you can count off so many days, and its time to plant the barley.
Archaeologists have found remains of several monuments similar to Stonehenge, but made of timbers, designed to pinpoint a summer or winter solstice or both. Think of them as “re-set buttons” from which to time future events in absolute synch with nature.

Everyone wants to keep track of certain historical events, business commitments, future plans, etc. Are we old enough to drive, vote, drink, retire, etc. Obviously these are modern concerns. Back in Kentucky, we used to say, ”If they’re big enough, they’re old enough.” Probably wouldn’t stand up in court.
On a personal note, during the 1970s I was sent to England on business a few times, and I would manage to get a free day to take a one-day bus tour from London. One of these included a visit to Stonehenge, when visitors could still walk in among the stone pillars.
Two other destinations were relevant to our subject. One was the Salisbury Cathedral in southern England. This is contemporary with Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris – both were completed about 1350. The building was impressive, and they were proud to show an original copy of the Magna Carta of 1215.
But the relevant item here was a clock, which they believe is the oldest in Europe. The documentation is pretty thin, but it was probably built in 1386. Large gears and mechanism are mounted in an iron frame, powered by weights, like a cuckoo clock. No face or hands – it just struck the hours. It is still workable, and when they tested it, it was accurate to within two minutes a day. So in Salisbury they were pioneers in the use of mechanical clocks. I understand they also did something with ground beef .
Another destination was the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. Here, I stood on the prime meridian – zero longitude, represented by a metal strip embedded in the courtyard paving. The British Navy and their merchant marine were vitally interested in time, because of its importance to navigation. If you knew your local time, and Greenwich Mean Time, you could calculate your longitude. At Greenwich, they have a clock and watch museum, where you can see the evolution of clocks over several centuries. Of course, for navigational purposes, the Global Positioning System supersedes them all.

What year is this? This hasn’t always been considered to be a terribly important question. Most cultures had some way of keeping track of years, at least in the short term. They would count the years of the Olympiad, or some other notable event, or of the reign of the current king. New king, new calendar.
The units of time nature gave us are not nice neat multiples. One day is the time for one rotation of earth on its axis. A lunar month is one orbit of the moon around the earth, about 29 ½ days. One year is the time for earth to make one orbit around the sun, about 365 ¼ days. Problem: How to represent the day, month and year in an orderly fashion. Some calendars have done this better than others.
Let’s look at some of these calendars. For example:
The Hebrew calendar supposedly dates from the creation of the earth, and we’re up to the year 5771. That calendar has 12 lunar months per year, except when it has 13. In seven years over a 19 year span, they insert an extra month, so over 19 years the year averages out to 365 days..
The Roman republic had a calendar (known as AUC, Anno Urbis Conditae ) which started with the year they believed the city of Rome was founded,753 BCE. Modern historians say that they use that calendar more than the ancient Romans ever did.
In the early Roman Republic the years were often identified by the name of the consuls, who were appointed for one year terms.
When emperors took power,of course it was common to number the years of the reign of the current emperor.

The Chinese have a calendar which puts the year as 4707, but they mainly use the animal designation such as the year of the tiger, or year of the rat. The cycle is repeated every 12 years.
I’ll only mention the Mayan calendar to bring up the fact that their calendar ends with the year 2012, at least in the copy we have.. Once again, there are people saying that means the world will end.
The Muslims, of course decided to go with their own system, dating from the Hegira, or flight of Mohammed from Mecca to Medina. This is their year 1432. Actually the Muslim calendar is similar to the Hebrew calendar, having 12 lunar months, except that they don’t have the “leap month” system, so their year is about 11 days short of the solar year. The seasons keep shifting. Every 33 years they are back in synch (for one year). Muslims seem comfortable with both systems. We did notice that auto license plates in Egypt used the Muslim dating system.

Julius Caesar consulted with an astronomer named Sosigenes of Alexandria and came up with changes to the Roman AUC calendar which would synchronize the calendar year with the astronomical year so that, for example, the solstices and equinoxes would occur on the same dates each year. They adjusted the length of the months, so they no longer kept pace with the moon, and gave us the 365 day calendar with the leap year, which added an extra day each fourth year
The Julian calendar was off by 11 minutes per year . Not much, but this was enough to accumulate a 10 day error by the 1500s. Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, on the advice of Aloysius Lilius, introduced a modification, which skipped the leap year on the years which can be exactly divided by 100. except for years which can be exactly divided by 400. This is known as the Gregorian calendar and is 365.2425 days in length on average , which is accurate to within a few seconds. . Some countries initially refused to adopt a “Catholic” calendar. However, it was the most accurate calendar available, and was eventually adopted by nearly every country.  Some call it “the standard Western Calendar.”

Acceptance of the Gregorian calendar wasn’t universal however. In the 1500s, England counted the years “Elizabeth year 1, Elizabeth year 2” etc. However, with increases in international trade, merchants wanted a common international system, and our present system became widely accepted. In England and the American colonies, the new calendar was adopted in 1752, when Wednesday, the 2nd of September was followed by Thursday the 14th of September. In some places, there were riots by people who claimed the government had robbed them of 11 days of their lives. George Washington was born Feb 11th, old style, but they moved his birthday 11 days to Feb 22nd new style.

Today those other calendars are used mainly to calculate the dates of religious holidays and feasts.  A Jewish man asked a friend “When is Chanukkah this year?” The answer was, “Same as always, the 25th of Kislev.” But of course, it’s different every year by the Western calendar.
In what would be our year 525 CE, a monk named Dionysius Exiguus proposed to number the years from the birth of Christ. This didn’t get much support at first, but Europe was largely Christian, and during the next three centuries this system began to be adopted by more and more countries. Dionysius messed up the calculations, though, and now they say Jesus was born in 4 BCE.

As the year 1000 approached, even though it was an arbitrary numbering system, some religious figures predicted that would be the end of the world. As the year 2000 approached (Y2K) some of these prediction re-appeared. But mostly we were concerned that our computers wouldn’t recognize the new century.
I should mention one more calendar, one used by astronomers, the JD calendar.. They don’t count years. They count days starting with January 1, 4713 BCE. These are called Julian Days. An astronomer came up with the idea in 1583. The idea was to avoid the problem of humans constantly re-inventing the calendar.  It’s about Julian Day 2,455,770.

Then there’s Unix Time, used on some computers. It counts seconds from Jan 1st, 1970. Unix time is about 1,309,032,000. A couple of years ago, there were parties given at what Wikkipedia calls “highly technical subcultures”, meaning nerds, to celebrate a certain milestone. They had Unix time displayed on huge screens, and there was a countdown as the time approached 1 234 567 890. Then suddenly, there it was! Everyone cheered and applauded. But it was only up there for a second: Hardly time enough for anyone to enjoy it.


May 22nd, 2011

The summer of 1943 I was 16. We lived in Shively, Kentucky, but my parents were good friends with the Kelly family of New Bedford, Mass, (my mother’s home town) and they arranged for me to spend the summer visiting with them and their son Donald, who was about my age. Travel was by Greyhound bus.
I made myself at home pretty quickly, and Donald and I got along very well. But we were shortly looking for something to do. We learned that the Palmer Scott boatyard was looking for boat builders, and decided to apply. This was in the midst of WW II, and it was ruled that building these wooden fishing boats was an essential contribution to the war effort.
New Bedford and Fairhaven are separated by the Acushnet river, and are connected by the Fairhaven Bridge. This is a drawbridge, in which the span pivots 90 degrees on a central support to allow ships to pass on either side.  My grandfather Louis Baldwin had been the “draw tender” on that bridge for over 37 years. In a newspaper interview after 25 years on the job, he said “if they’d spent another million on the bridge, they could have made it high enough so no moving span would be necessary”. But of course, he would have had to seek other employment. Once, when I was six or eight, he took me up to the control room atop the bridge, where I watched as he opened the bridge for a ship to pass. Quite a thrill.
The Palmer Scott boatyard was located on the Fairhaven side of the river, adjacent to the drawbridge. (I’ve been told that the boatyard is still operating, but moved to a location on Cape Cod.) During the war, all seaports took security measures. Donald Kelly and I had to go to the office of “Captain of the Port” and obtain waterfront passes to go to and from the boatyard. We often carpooled to work with a man who drove a Crosley automobile. It was the smallest thing on the road, ( 26.5 horsepower) but it undoubtedly stretched his “A Coupon” gasoline ration of four gallons per week.
At the boatyard, our products were to be a 65 foot and a 75 foot fishing boat. I worked mainly on the 65 footer. When I arrived, the keel had been laid, and we were erecting temporary bulkheads or formers which defined the cross-section of the hull every few feet. To these, we attached fore-and-aft “ribbands”, and the shape of the boat began to be visible, although it was all temporary construction.
The ribs were 2” by 4” oak. The keel had been notched to receive the lower ends of the ribs, which then had to be formed to the shape of the hull. We had a “steam chest” which was a length of iron pipe, maybe twelve or fifteen feet long and a foot or more in diameter. It was supported about 25 or 30 degrees from horizontal, with the lower end capped. A flap of canvas covered the upper end. A bucket of water was poured in, a fire built under the lower end, and it was ready for business. Once the water was boiling, an oak rib would be placed in the pipe, and in a few minutes it would be withdrawn, hot and flexible.
The rib would be forced into the recess in the keel, then secured to the ribbands with C-clamps, so it assumed the shape of the hull. When the oak cooled, it would retain that shape. When the ribs were all in place, it was time to start planking.
I began with duties such as greasing the threads of the C-clamps (we had a lot of them), supporting the ends of planks as someone else guided them through a bandsaw, and any other assistance the experienced boatbuilders requested. For this I got the government designated minimum wage of 40ç per hour; $16 per week. Our crew was “old” guys, and Don Kelly and myself. No draft age people. One of my fellow workmen had actually made a voyage on the sailing whaleship Charles W, Morgan, which is now in the museum at Mystic, Connecticut.
The “ways” for our boats were just above the sand of the riverbank, and one day one of the workmen was standing in the wet sand using an electric wrench attaching or removing ribbands . There was a short circuit, and he was unable to move, except we could hear him through clenched teeth saying “shut off the f**king current” A couple of guys dived for the master switch mounted on a pole nearby. When they pulled the switch, he abruptly sat down in the sand, But he was all right. The next day an electrician was replacing all the two-wire circuits with grounded three-wire circuits.
Planking the hull proceeded from the keel upward, and from the shear, or deck level, downward, finally closed with a course known as the shutter. Each plank was secured to the ribs with “boat nails” which were countersunk below the surface of the plank. At this stage one of my duties was to glue wooden plugs over each nail head, using Weldwood glue. When the glue was set, the plug was trimmed with a chisel and/or plane to be flush with the plank surface.
Each plank, of 2 inch oak, was individually shaped, by a process known as “spiling” (most dictionaries omit this meaning of the word) in which a thin flexible board called a batten was tacked to the ribs in place of the board being designed, and data necessary to shape the board was transferred by compass and ruler to the batten, from which it was then transferred to the oak plank. I became pretty good at this and mastered a technique I’ve never used again.
Some of the final planking was on the “tumbledown” area near the propeller shaft and rudder. There was a short plank, highly formed after steaming,, on either side of the hull – essentially mirror images of each other. One of them had been nailed in place, and the other was about to go into the steam chest. The planks were beveled on one side to provide a space between adjacent planks for the oakum caulking. I told our boss, Oliver, that I thought that plank was beveled for the wrong side of the hull. He sent me off with “I don’t think you’re right.” But as quitting time that day approached, I saw our chief plank craftsman working furiously on a replacement part. (Overtime work was practically unheard of.) Neither of them ever acknowledged that I was right, but I believe the evidence was with me.
As the planking proceeded, we removed the formers and ribbands as they were no longer needed. Now our handiwork looked like a boat. The prefabricated pilot house was brought in by truck.
Around the end of August, I had to say goodbye to the Kellys and go back to Kentucky for the start of a new high school term. We were two or three days from launch, and I was very disappointed that I didn’t get to see our boat in the water. But I had the sense that it was a well-built boat, and I presume that its owners caught a lot of fish to aid in the war effort..

Up the Organization

April 18th, 2011

As we arrived for work on Monday, Feb 13th, 1989, everyone whose job title included “manager” was alerted to stand by to be transported to a different location. Soon it became apparent that the fleet of 3 or 4 Douglas interplant busses had been augmented by the rental of large number of  school busses.

I was “branch-manager” for hydraulics and flight controls, a position I had recently been appointed to. We were soon loaded onto the busses and transported to newly completed building 58, a paint hangar. It was big enough to several MD-11s, offering protection from the wind, and facilitating better control of air pollution. It hadn’t yet been used for painting, and the floor had been set with about 5000  folding chairs in front of a makeshift stage.

This was our introduction to newly appointed Douglas Aircraft Co. President Bob Hood.  He promptly explained that the company planned to improve the management of the company by assuring that it had the best person in each management position. Then the real zinger. “YOU HAVE ALL LOST YOUR JOBS. But you will be able to re-apply for those jobs, or for new positions we have created.” It turned out that there were to be 4000 manager jobs in the redesigned organization,  So 1000 managers would be out of a job when the music stopped.  Harvard Business School strikes again. Responses to Hood’s cheerleading were subdued.

This was one day before Vaentine’s day, so in some quarters it was referred to as the Valentine’s Eve Massacre.  In Hood’s defense, an organization with 5000 managers can probabliy get along with fewer.

In these blogs, I have expressed some misgivings, maybe even disdain, with regard to some of the procedures foisted on us by the Harvard Business School. Perhaps our management simply didn’t know how to apply those procedures. I was influenced by a book entitled “Up the Organization” by Robert C. Townsend, 1970. Townsend was CEO of Avis Rent-a Car (We’re number two, so we try harder.) He had nothing but criticism of Harvard Business School teachings, detailing point by point where they were wrong. Some people have said that all they needed to know about business management, they learned from Townsend’s book. He followed up with an expanded edition “Further Up the Organization” about 1983, with the admonition “pay attention this time, I’m not going to tell you again.”

During the few weeks following the “paint booth” episode, we were evaluated by a team of consultants from outside the company. Several high-level managers, who probably were “the best person for the job”, chose to retire rather than put up with this foolishness.

The main event was a test of common sense and resourcefulness, and ability to be a “team player.” It was part written and part oral. My challenge was something like “your spacecraft has crash-landed on the moon. Here are the conditions, and your resources. What is your course of action?”

I “passed” the evaluation. However, I was near normal retirement age, and already past the early-retirement age under the company’s “85” plan (age plus years of service.) The best man for the job was someone who would be there for a while. So I wound up one level below my previous position (but at the same pay.) I stayed with the company longer than the man who replaced me.

Shortly after that exercise, the MD-95 airplane project was established, and I became the cognizant designer of the hydro-mechanical systems. Administratively, we were under the larger commercial aircraft hydro-mechanical group.

Boeing bought MacDonnell-Douglas part way through the design phase of the MD-95, and we wondered whether the project would continue. At the time, it seemed that the 106-passenger MD-95 would be a hot seller, complimentary to Boeing’s 126 passenger 737 aircraft, so Boeing decided to continue the project, but renamed it the Boeing 717.

This was the project which carried me through to retirement at age 72. In addition to being the cognizant designer for hydraulics, I was the FAA’s “DER” (Designated Engineering Representative) for hydraulics, coordinating certification procedures for qualifying the airplane to Federal Air Regulations (FAR Part 25).

Boeing’s sales department at Seattle had no interest in selling B-717s. Any airline which expressed an interest in buying 717s was given the bait-and-switch routine, steering them to B-737s. So when the 156 airplanes on our order book were delivered, that was the last of the “Douglas” airliners.


April 8th, 2011

A lot has been written about the decline and fall of the Douglas Aircraft Company. How did the world’s preeminent aircraft manufacturer vanish? I’m not going to try to give a definitive answer, but I’ll touch upon a few examples of poor management that I’m aware of.

I believe that it started in the 1950s, when Boeing committed to building a prototype jet transport plane with its own money (no prior sales commitments).

They were angling for two markets – a jet tanker for the Air Force, and the commercial transport market. Why, I asked, didn’t we compete? After all, at the Douglas El Segundo plant we had already built the twin jet, swept-wing Navy bomber, the A3D Skywarrior. A decade earlier, El Segundo had built a commercial airplane, the DC-5, but with the onset of WW II, the DC-5 was abandoned to allow the El Segundo plant to concentrate on Navy attack airplanes.

We had the technology within the Douglas corporation to pursue the same objectives as Boeing. However, the airlines had recently equipped themselves with DC-6s and DC-7s, and Donald Douglas said he wanted to give them time to recoup their investment before re-equipping with jets. He said “We don’t want to make headlines, just a few lines on the financial page.”

By the time Douglas decided to build the DC-8, we had handed Boeing a large head start. They won the tanker contract (KC-135) and a large share of the commercial market (B-707). Also, since they shared the same basic structure, a part of the design costs were charged to the government. We never sold a
DC-8 version to the government, so had to bear the full development costs. In spite of all this,, the DC-8 program was reasonably successful , with 465 airplanes in all versions delivered to the airlines. But Boeing had surpassed Douglas in market share of commercial airplanes. Douglas never caught up.

The DC-9 program followed, and it too was pretty successful. It went through several versions over the next 35 years, with a total of 650 airplanes delivered, including a few to the military as hospital planes and VIP transports.

In the mid 1960s Douglas was in a financial bind. Due to the Viet Nam war, there was a severe shortage of jet engines, and because of that we had a back yard full of commercial airplanes we couldn’t deliver. When we asked for help the government wasn’t sympathetic, and told us to find a merger partner. We entered into a merger with the MacDonnell Aircraft company. In what was supposed to be a merger of equals, the MacDonnell stockholders, with a company half the size of Douglas, wound up owning two thirds of the combined MacDonnell Douglas corporation.

The DC-10 series was our last all-new design, started after the merger. James S. MacDonnell, with little experience in commercial aircraft,  gave a reluctant go-ahead for the DC-10. It was a winner, beating out the similar Lockheed L-1011 and, at the time, better sized to the airlines needs than the Boeing 747. Boeing nearly went broke on the 747 and the company was reduced in size by two thirds, spawning the famous sign, “Will the last person to leave Seattle please turn out the lights.”. Production of the three-engine Boeing 727 kept the company alive. After 10 years, air travel had increased to where the larger 747 made sense on some routes, and no one had a product which could compete with it.

For the next 20 years, Douglas made “derivative” airplanes, including the MD-11 (derived from the DC-10) and the MD-80 series (derived from the DC-9). These continued to be profitable, however, every airplane design eventually reaches a point where an all-new design is better than improving the old design.. For example, aircraft praised as being fuel-efficient and low noise when first sold, are described a few years later as “gas guzzlers” as engine design evolves. Sometimes an airplane can be fitted with new engines, but sometimes it isn’t practical, either economically or mechanically.

In an area with which I have some firsthand experience, I worked for a while in the group responsible for the designs of ejection seats and of bomb racks. We were developing the BRU-32 bomb rack for the F-18 fighter which was under development at the St. Louis (MacDonnell) location. A key component of this rack was the breech, a complex machined part which held the powder cartridges which powered the rack. We had sufficient time to design and obtain steel forgings from which to make the breeches, saving a great deal of machining which would be required to make breeches from solid bar stock.
Years earlier, we had learned at the El Segundo plant (Weitekamp’s College) to inspect parts in progress, to avoid investing more machining effort in a part which was already doomed to be scrap. At Long Beach, this policy was largely ignored. They took a first machine cut on each of a year’s supply of forgings before inspecting their work. All the forgings were ruined, forcing us into vastly more expensive substitute parts made from solid bar. ‘There goes our profit” said the boss.

One of our products was the BRU-33 bomb rack, an assembly of two bomb ejectors with an aerodynamic fairing at each end. This fairing was designed to be made of deep-drawn aluminum half-shells which would be welded together. Nothing unusual or exotic about it.

Our production planners assigned it to a surprise manufacturing department, not because they had any expertise in this area, but because ”they needed the work.” Engineering apparently had no vote (or veto) in this decision. The parts they made were not acceptable, and they couldn’t seem to resolve the problems.

In an effort to regain control, Engineering decided to redesign the fairing to be made from an epoxy-fiberglass composite, allegedly to reduce weight and cost. In fact, there was no reduction of weight or cost, and other problems were introduced.
For electronic reasons, the interior of the plastic fairing had to be coated with an electrically conductive paint, and the repairability of damaged fairings didn’t meet Navy guidelines.

A company in Great Britain had developed a new aluminum alloy for deep-drawing (drop-hammer forming). Engineering specified that the fairings be made of that proprietary alloy, so the British company was the only permissible source, and they soon provided fairings which were what we wanted in the first place. In the meantime, the waste of resources was considerable, and the Douglas manufacturing departments, both capable and incapable, were without the work..

The actual assembly of the bomb racks was a victim of academia. Management chose to implement guidelines – probably originating with Harvard Business School, for scheduling the work. Working backward from a schedule delivery date, they prescribed just when each task would be done. No advance sub-assembly could be done, even though the assemblers were there and waiting. Both the engineering and the assembly departments called it “dumb”. Management stuck with their “scientific” procedures, resulting in extra costs and missed schedules.

Here again, the solution was outsourcing. Assembly of the bomb racks was transferred to a facility in Florida, where labor was cheaper, and far fewer “paper shufflers” were being paid to slow things down. But what should have been a very profitable product line probably made the company little or nothing.

Harold Adams, our chief engineer at the Long Beach plant for many years, ending with the DC-10 era, wrote a book with his explanation for Douglas’ demise, after his retirement to the Philippines.

Mr. Adams opined that often there had been insufficient design oversight. A design concept was sometimes adopted with too little checking, critique, or prototype testing. A prime example was the DC-8 wing. With the same engines and power settings, a Boeing 707 could outrun the early DC-8s. This was corrected on later DC-8s, but it had provided a big advertising plus for Boeing.

At the El Segundo plant, where we built Navy attack planes, we were accustomed to having our design calculations checked by other engineers, and having group critiques of a design before we cut metal. The commercial division seemed to be less thorough.

Timidity was a factor. At one point, we had designed a lighter version of the DC-10, with two engines instead of three. It was known as the Twin Ten. We had reached the point of cutting metal when top management decided to cancel the project. Sales were not accumulating fast enough to suit them.

My personal impression was that “first-line management”,  that is the lower level of management, was pretty good.  However, the middle and upper levels of management often seemed less competent.  They seemed to illustrate the “Peter Principle”, which says that in a hierarchy, each person rises to his level of incompetence.”  Douglas’ management often seemed to be outsmarted by its’ competitors,

After the face-off between the DC-10 and the Lockheed L-1011, “Mr. Mac” had proclaimed that we wouldn’t engage in more head-to-head contests with similar designs. Hearing that, Boeing rubbed its hands with glee and proceeded to design the 757, 767 and 777 airplanes, covering every size and range the airlines were likely to want, , leaving no “niche” for Douglas to inhabit.

This situation was worsened by the competition from the new European Airbus Industries, which was heavily subsidized by European governments. Our market share shrank. And of course, those governments saw to it that their state-owned airlines purchased the Airbus products.

When The MacDonnell family took over Douglas Aircraft Company,, they showed little interest in perpetuating the Douglas Commercial heritage. The MacDonnell family, having grown enormously rich, chose to avoid the rough-and-tumble of the commercial aircraft market, which was growing increasingly competitive.

Actually, there was a final effort to revive the commercial aircraft line. We had in preliminary design the MD-12, which would have been in the same size range as the Airbus A-380, and meant to reach the market a couple of years sooner than the A-380. We had built a two-story cabin mockup, through which we showed potential customers, and the project was progressing smoothly. Then one day it was suddenly cancelled. “That makes no sense” said some of the top designers.

The next day, the Boeing buy-out of MacDonnell-Douglas was announced. “Now, it makes sense,” they said. When Boeing bought MacDonnell-Douglas, it had even less interest than MacDonnell in preserving the “DC” tradition.

So at the completion of the production run of the Boeing 717 (nee MD-95) airplane, the Douglas Commercial airplane era was ended.


March 6th, 2011

Being the son of an engineer can result in a slightly different childhood than that of, for example, the child of a grocer or English teacher.

I had Erector Sets as soon as I had the coordination to assemble small nuts and bolts. I made literally hundreds of projects. I expect the eventual demise of the 1930s erector set was due to the possibility that someone could swallow the small parts, resulting in lawsuits.. Today’s construction toys mostly snap together, eliminating the small parts. Safer and faster, but unrealistic.

Visiting my father’s construction sites, I was fascinated by steam shovels and dragline buckets. Dad then built me a dragline bucket, complete with a mast and boom for maneuvering it, and crank and cable arrangement for scooping up sand and dumping it. He fashioned a creditable steel bucket for this rig, and I spent hours moving sand around.

Another of his projects was a toy steam engine, but I suspect it was as much for him as for me. It had perhaps a ½ inch bore and one inch stroke. He put a lot of effort into getting the valving just right. We were both disappointed when it wouldn’t run – the candle-powered tin can boiler was evidently not powerful enough.

When I was about age 7 or 8, we moved back to Chilmark, on Martha’s Vineyard. My brother, myself and several neighbor kids were pretty much on our own for activities. We did have some sloping ground good for sledding, but we didn’t often have snow. On one occasion when about 6 or 8 inches of fluffy stuff fell, our sleds wouldn’t slide well on it, but we trampled the snow to compact it in a two or three foot wide path, to make a sledding run, and that worked very well.
After the others had gone home, I stayed and trampled snow to widen the path. I thought the others would be pleased, but instead they scolded me. Their idea was to maintain the sled path by pushing new snow onto it as needed, and the wider path was harder to maintain. I guess I didn’t get the memo.

During the summer, we tried another tactic. Mr. Flanders’ back yard was the final resting place of several pre-1930 autos, which would now be called antiques. From this private junkyard we obtained a couple of tires. Taking these to the top of our sled run, we would coil ourselves up inside the tire, and roll down the hill. We did take the precaution to have someone to help stop the tire or prevent it from going badly off course.
In recent years I was looking at a tire and marveling that I was ever small enough to curl up inside that opening. Then it hit me: the tires we curled into were for about 30 inch diameter rims, while today’s auto tires are for 15 to 17 inch rims. Our sport was the victim of advancing technology.

In the summer of 1936, several of us were playing out in a field, doing what I don’t remember, but we saw this great silvery shape flying over.  It was the Hindenburg on its way to Lakehurst, NJ.  Most people don’t remember that the Hindenburg made several successful trips in 1936, before  the fatal flight in the spring of 1937. I was only nine, but I felt very sad when I learned that it had burned.

In the summer we would spend a couple of weeks at my grandparents’ cottage in the (former) fishing village of Lobsterville, a part of the town now called Aquinnah. This is where my parents had met. It was now reduced to four or five buildings., and those would be destroyed by the hurricane of 1938.
Among our activities was sailing in Menemsha Bight in a skiff rigged as a two-masted schooner. This gave me a sense of identity with my seafaring ancestors, who spent years at sea on whaling vessels..

We had a neighbor for a few days, a Dr. Savage, who had rented one of the other houses. Dr. Savage taught my brother Albert and I to make a figure-four trap. The trap, an inverted box, was held up at one end by an arrangement of three sticks notched together in the form of a 4, with the tail of the horizontal member baited and protruding into the area under the box.
We didn’t catch anything immediately, but later I used my figure 4 to support a slab of concrete. The result was a large rat smashed flat. Dad was impressed, but didn’t want me to repeat the effort. He was afraid I, or some part of me, or a neighbor’s pet would be smashed flat. I don’t believe the term “collateral damage” had been invented yet.