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[Editor’s Note: Captain Brock was in the Office of Naval Research (ONR) from 1956 to 1959. He made five submarine war patrols in the Pacific during WWII, and served aboard six different submarines and under two Medal of Honor winners. He was Plans Officer for COMSUBLANT (1961-63). His commands included the submarine BECUNA (1954-56), SUBDIV 62 (1963-64), USS CHILTON (APA 38) (1964-65) and SUBRON EIGHT (1968-69). He retired July 1, 1972 after a two year tour as CNO Budget Officer, followed by one year as OPNAV’s first Director, Fiscal Management Division, responsible for all Navy appropriations except RDT&E.]

In 1957 the USSR achieved a huge psychological warfare victory when they were the first to place a satellite, SPUT-NIK, into orbit. In 1958 the United States achieved a similar victory when NAUTILUS and SKATE were the first ships to reach the North Pole. In 1959 USS GEORGE WASHINGTON (SSBN 598) was underway to inaugurate the era of the submarine ballistic missile. This article will describe some of the previously unrecorded history of smaller events which supported these larger achievements.

The corporate history of Autonetics (formerly North American, now Rockwell International) contained in the recent publication of Steel Boats-Iron Men (1994) made me fully aware for the first time of their super critical contributions to the success of the U.S. submarine service over the past 36 years. From NAUTILUS to the present day they have been the sole supplier, with a few minor exceptions, of all inertial navigation equipment installed in our submarines at a cost estimated to exceed $2 billion. It seems worthwhile to provide my own experience during the early research and development of inertial navigation in submarines and the key roles played by several individuals in that history.

This chronology began 40 years ago in 1954 when ONR, considering Autonetics to be the world’s leader in its field, contracted with Autonetics to conduct research in gas bearing gyros, then thought to hold great promise over the ball bearing variety because of their lower drift characteristics. My Naval Academy classmate Dominic Paoluccit then a PhD. candidate in mathematicst was the Scientific Officer for the contract. That Autonetics has maintained that leadership over the years is both highly noteworthy and exceptionally commendable.

There were numerous other projects under Dominic’s guidance at the time, but most of them in the navigation field were closely coordinated with and jointly funded by ONR and the USAF Research and Development Command, represented in an inestimable way by Major Len Sugerman. To my knowledge, this gentleman was never adequately recognized by the Navy for the invaluable and unselfish assistance which he gave to us. Perhaps this article will shed some light upon the significance of that assistance.

I relieved Dominic as Senior Submarine Project Officer, Undersea Warfare Branch, ONR in June 1956 after a CO tour in BECUNA. The Branch was involved during the summer with conducting Project NOBSKA at Woods Hole, an ASW meeting of the Committee on Undersea Warfare {funded by ONR) of the National Academy of Sciences, and to which a number of leading scientific people in the country had been invited. Fortunately, Dr. Ed Teller, who needs no introduction, was there; and, in answer to a question totally unrelated to ASW, stated that it was feasible to build a one megaton warhead of about 600 pounds within five years. The impact of this statement was understood immediately and translated within hours into an estimated missile envelope of about 25,000 pounds and a 1200-1500 mile range, using liquid propellant. A future solid version would prove to be somewhat heavier.

The earth shaking tremors of the future Polaris program had begun. Less than four months later, on about December lOth, it was approved by the White House and SecDef. Less than four years later, Dr. Teller had beaten his own estimate but with a warhead having a somewhat lesser yield, and GEORGE WASHINGTON was already on her first deterrent patrol. That timetable still boggles the mind.

Also, in the summer of 1956 Commander Bill (Andy) Anderson came to town as PCO of NAUTILUS. We had served together on SARDA and in the spring of 1957 he made me aware of his desire to explore the Arctic under the ice pack. In discussing the problem with Dr. Don Pickrell, who had led the gas bearing research work at Autoneticst Don disclosed that the USAF Navaho cruise missile program was being terminated, and several of their N6A pure inertial platforms were surplus with no known future use.

Unlike other systems at the time, these platforms could remain locally level with respect to the earth and were largely insensitive to the effects of latitude in their performance.

This information from Don, also a neighbor, was followed shortly by dinner at our home in Bethesda with the Andersons and the Pickrells. That evening after dinner, Andy, Don, and I were in agreement to use the N6A if USAF could make it available to us. I was thankful for Dan’s power of persuasion and Andy’s good judgement in adopting a course which promised to greatly enhance the navigation and safety of NAUTILUS during their anticipated trip or trips to the Arctic.

Within a few days Len Sugerman was able to give me the assurance that USAF would release two, perhaps three, N6A systems to the Navy for submarine use. Pat Hannifin, at the Navigation Desk in BuShips at the time, followed through promptly with the necessary contractual agreement. At this point Tom Curtis of Autonetics was named Program Manager. for the NAUTILUS project with responsibility for its success or failure, and was the major contributor to its successful deployment.

It was then up to Autonetics to reprogram the missile computer from the Navaho’s Mach 3 plus environment to the more benign one of the submarine. At this time the Navy equipment was designated as the N6A-l in order to avoid confusion with the continuing USAF programs.

A few months later, in the summer ofl957, NAUTILUS made her first Arctic exploration. Andy states that this experience emphasized his need for an inertial navigator before making a second trip. At one point he had been reduced to a magnetic compass and fathometer for his navigation aids and had to abort the trip after reaching within 180 miles of the Pole.

Meanwhile, testing of the N6A-l had begun at Autonetics, followed by further testing at MA TLAB, final successful testing at sea on COMPASS ISLAND under the guidance of Virgil Perkins and Tony Schwab of Autonetics and installation on NAUTILUS in April of 1958. From dinner to dockside delivery of the N6A-l at Electric Boat, all of these actions had been completed in less than a year’s time.

NAUTILUS’ second Arctic deployment soon followed and resulted in their historic 1,830 mile Pacific to the Atlantic crossing via the Pole. Concurrently, a second N6A-l had been installed on SKATE for their voyage from the Atlantic and subsequent surfacing at the North Pole.

Andy still remembers the thrill of seeing the N6A-l chalk up the instantaneous event when they pierced the Pole, and the celebration of the entire crew. Under the pack they had only a manual DR and the position information from the N6A-1.

When they emerged from the pack and obtained a sun fix for the first time in several days, Andy estimated that their inertial generated position was only a few miles out. As he said at the time, to Navigator Shep Jenks, “Fandamtastic”. Also to be remembered are those two Autonetics pioneers, Program Manager Tom Curtis and George Bristow, the only manufacturer·s reps that Andy took along for the trip to run and evaluate the equipment.

Shortly after the public announcement of NAUTILUS’ arrival at the Pole in August of 1958, I received a telegram from Au tone-tics stating “CONGRATULATIONS, THE WORLD WILL NEVER KNOW”. My failure to file the telegram for posterity is due, most likely, to my total absorption in the selfless world of researchers who merely sought results.

I was privileged to know many great minds during that period who were somewhat possessed of an exciting idea, the nuclear submarine. The best of them were marked by their humility, modesty and kindness. It was especially rewarding for me to meet them more than half way, and Don Pickrell was among the very best.

Also, in the spring of 1957 Autonetics research and testing of the gas bearing gyro for ONR was coming to an end and the System Design Study for its application in an inertial navigator was due for distribution by late spring. Extensive testing of the gyro itself bad demonstrated superlative performance over a considerable period of time, and its low drift characteristics made it the only gyro capable of meeting the SINS performance specification for the Polaris weapon system.

During this same period ONR implored the Special Projects Office to put Autonetics in business, at least as a backup to Sperry, then the prime contractor. This was the very heart of the weapons system, and submariners have always known the importance of backups to critical systems. We were ignored for over six months.

Finally, in November of 1957 I received an inquiry from Captain Lew Schock, then the sterling and forthright head of the Navigation section at Special Projects Office, and #1 man in the USNA Class of 1935, who asked how long it would take to put North American (Autonetics) in business. My cryptic reply was, “A telephone call”. To whom? Don Pickrell, then on assignment in Washington. Time consumed: perhaps five minutes.

Special Projects added money very quickly to the ONR contract to get the work underway, and then cut over to a production contract a few months later.

Eighteen months after this initial approval by SP, the first two Mark 2 SINS were delivered dockside at Electric Boat for GEORGE WASHINGTON’s first scheduled sea trials, with Jim Osborn as CO and Pat Hannifin as his Exec. The substitution of velocity meters in lieu of distance meters was essentially the only production change made to the research system design study. For me, this was the unmatched performance in all of my Navy experience by such skillful, knowledgeable, and dedicated people at Autonetics.

There are two footnotes to this early history.

Beginning in the 1950s and continuing for several years, ONR funded, together with the USAF and Leo Sugerman, a basic research program in the electromagnetic suspension gyro (EMG). This research was conducted under the direction of Dr. Bob Kuhlthau of the University of Virginia Physics Department. Because the theoretical accuracy of such a gyro was limited only by Brownian noise, the prevalent view at the time, great hope was held for its development as the ultimate gyro. By 1959 the gyro being researched by Dr. Kuhlthau envisioned a solid ferrite sphere spinning at about 18,000 rpm.

According to Dr. Kuhlthau they never reached the point of building a model or prototype of such a gyro. Rather, they were compelled to terminate their research in the early 1960s because they were unable to develop a ferrite material having the prerequisite zero hysteresis loss. Perhaps some day some other research will discover the material needed to build a perfect gyro using an electromagnetic suspension.

Concurrently with the research at the University of Virginia, and with my memory refreshed by Len Sugerman, I recall that ONR, quite probably with USAF support, sponsored the basic research and feasibility work of Professor Arnold Nordsieck at the University of Illinois in the electrostatic suspension gyro (ESG). This research exhibited great promise when it was completed about 1959.

USAF sponsored the development of such a gyro in the 1960s with Professor Frank Bell at University of California. Santa Barbara and then to AC-Delco at nearly Goleta, but the aviation application was never applied. most likely because of a high cost to benefit ratio.

Whereas Nordsieck was the father of the ESG. the Navy’s godfather seems to have been Lew Schock at SP who funded Honeywell. with some USAF support, for its development in the early 1960s. This gyro would have used a hollow beryllium sphere. also spinning in a vacuum at a very high RPM, in which development Autonetics declined to participate because they believed that the hollow sphere would lack the requisite dimensional stability for its performance. Rather. they felt compelled to develop their own gyro, using their own funds. having a much smaller solid sphere spinning at 216,000 RPM, and which eventually achieved a ten fold reduction in drift rate. Autonetics own studies had begun in 1959 and in 1970 had demonstrated the feasibility of their own design and its accuracy for long term navigation.

Despite its promise in the early 1960s, the technology of the ESG laid dormant for the next decade. Honeywell’s early ESG seemed to offer only a marginal improvement in drift rate; and the stellar performance of Autonetics’ gas bearing gyros continued to meet SP’s requirements for both Polaris and Poseidon. The impact of Trident. however. with its more rigorous specifications, served to bring the ESG technology out of the closet.

Soon to follow in 1974 was the final shootout. not at OK Corral. but testing on land and sea, between the two competitors using an ESG of different design. Honeywell and Autonetics. The latter emerged the clear victor and, to their everlasting credit and that of Program Manager Buzz Sawyer. have built their ESG for the Navy for the past 20 years as an integral part of submarine SINS equipment.

The second footnote provided by Don Pickrell responded to my query about the subsequent history of the gas bearing gyro, sponsored initially by ONR. His reply was that they (Autonetics) had won the Minuteman contract largely because of their proposal to use the gas bearing gyros in the guidance package. Having little or no friction. the gyros could run all the time and always be ready to fire without warmup. Thus. the Navy made a real contribution to the highly successful Minuteman program. repaying USAF. in part, for their crucial loan of the N-6As.

In recent conversations with Don he has emphasized that his own memory is not flawless. He remembered that there were many superlative professional contributors to their gyroscope designs which made their submarine programs so successful. He has singled out such people as John Slater, Walt Ebert, Joe Boltinghouse and Stan Cogan as typical heroes, while hoping not to slight any one of many others also typical heroes.1

I share Don’s views completely and would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge the very fine guidance and support received at ONR from my submariner superiors: Captains Charles B. Bishop and Charles B. Momsen, Jr.

My own limited knowledge and experience in this highly technical field were acquired largely from my assistant at ONR during my service there from 1956-1959. An exceptionally bright young man, he was Lieutenant Ray Haugner, USNR, a University of Iltinois graduate who had many gifted and cultural attributes, and was greatly admired by the Brocks. I deeply regret that we lost track of him after he left ONR in 1958 to work for Bill McLain and Howie Wilcox at NOTS, China Lake, for whom Ray and I shared deep respect.

Had he lived, I am certain that Dom Paolucci, the progenitor of this history, would have joined me enthusiastically and proudly in this accolade to the many fine people at Autonetics under the leadership of President John Moore, Vice President Fred Eye-stone, Chief Program Managers AI Grant and George Leisz (later Vice President), and their successors, without whom the recent 40 year history of the U.S. Navy submarines might not have been recorded quite so successfully.

It may be fairly concluded that the early cooperation of the Navy, Air Force and Autonetics led to results of substantial benefit to the United States.

The author wishes to aclawwledge the extensive contributions made by four individuals in the preparation of this article. 1he first is Dr. Don H. Pickrell, Jr. of Yorba Linda, California who was a key leader for many years at Autonetics in their inenial navigation and guidance field. 1he second is Captain William R.

1The Godfather of all the history related in the preceding article was Dr. Charles S. Draper of MIT who conceived the idea of a ship’s inertial navigation system for submarines, who began work on it about 1951 and demonstrated its feasibility about 1954.

Anderson, USN(Ret.) of Great Falls, Virginia who was Commanding Officer of NAU11LUS for their historic transpolar trip in the summer of 1958. The third is Colonel Leonard Sugennan, USAF(Ret.) of Las Cruces, New Mexico. The fourth is Don MacKenzie, whose book Inventing Accuracy, MIT Press 1990, reviewed by the author at the insistence of Colonel Sugennan, was found to be an invaluable source for any serious historian. Also contributing were Dr. A.R. Kuhlthau of Charlottesville, Virginia, Rear Admiral James B. Osborn, USN(Ret.) of Summerville, South Carolina, Captain William E. (Pappy) Sims, USN(Ret.) of Annapolis, Maryland, and Joseph A. Cestone of Sumner, Maryland. The serious technician is referred to the Journal of the Institute of Navigation, Vol. 25, No.3, 1978, pp. 310-322 entitled ‘”The Evolution of SINS in the FBM Program” by McKelvie and Galt of Autonetics.

Carmelina “Nickey” Atkins
(NNS Launching Coordinator)

RADM Roy S. Benson, USN(Ret.)
EMCM(SS) Victor Church, USN(Ret.)
LT Arthur C. Hickey, MC, USN(Ret.)
Chester L. Long
RADM Harvey E. Lyon, USN(Ret.)
RADM Henry S. Persons, USN(Ret.)
Howard R. Talkington

CAPT Louis T. Urbanczyk, USN(Ret.)
Founder, League Counsel

Naval Submarine League

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