Contact Us   |    Join   |    Donate
THIS WEBSITE IS SPONSORED BY PROGENY, A CORPORATE MEMBER OF THE NSL

WALDO LYON: A LEGACY OF DEDICATION

The Navy lost a giant when Dr. Waldo K. Lyon died suddenly of a heart attack on 5 May 1998. He was in his 84 1 b. year. His 55 years of dedicated service to our Submarine Force is a testimonial in itself, but his genius, objectivity, humility, indefatigability, and resourcefulness shine through the mists of more than half a century of technological progress.

It is impossible to do justice to his innumerable contributions to readiness in this short tribute, but we must never forget that his stock in trade was support to his customer-<>perators in the fleet.

Dramatic advances (particularly in sonar and inertial navigation) were made between 1958 and 1960. Guided by Waldo’s expertise and experience with diesel boats (1946-1953), NAUTILUS paved the way with her trans-polar crossing in 1958. SKATE first broke through winter ice in 1959. In early 1960, SARGO pioneered shallow winter transits and bro~e through three feet of ice in 170 feet total water depth in the Bering Sea. That summer, SEADRA-GON conducted a high-speed transit among icebergs and became the first ship in history to transit the Northwest Passage via Parry Channel.

Dr. Lyon initiated and pursued at least 65 major undertakings between 1946 and 1996. His ingenuity was tempered by an approach that echoed that of John P. Holland, father of the American submarine: “Keep it simple.” The spirit of fleet support has been best described by the advice he gave to a new staff scientist: “Go see the submarines, find out their problem, and fix it. Remember, they may not know they have a problem.”

Between 1955 and 1997, Waldo received 24 major awards in recognition of his accomplishments, including The Presidential Award for Distinguished Federal Service (1962), two Presidential Unit Citations (NAUTILUS 1958 and WHALE 1969), and nine Navy Unit Commendations. His quiet demeanor reflected genuine humility on all occasions involving recognition. Satisfaction came from making the fleet better rather than personal fame.

His stamina is legendary. A normal workday at the lab was 12 hours (0600-1800). He participated as a Senior Scientist in 23 major submarine deployments between 1946 and 1981. At sea, he never 115slept more than four hours at a time, and was always available for consultation and advice. He could restore energy with short catnaps.

Fleet support involved designing equipment in the lab, taking it to sea on workup, and on deployment to ensure that the operators were given in situ guidance. If there were problems, riders helped to correct them at sea. If redesign was required, performance at sea was re-evaluated as soon as possible after modification. Interpretation of high-resolution ahead-looking sonar and top sounder displays under the ice is an esoteric business, and riders provided guidance to operators around the clock if necessary.

Dr. Lyon’s Senior Scientist’s Reports, appended to each patrol report, were insightful, perspicacious, and gave the chain of command in the Submarine Force a realistic appreciation of problems, progress, and requirements for the future.

Waldo was an expert scavenger. Early most mornings at the Arctic Submarine Laboratory (ARCSUBLAB) in San Diego, he would scan Government surplus lists, looking for hardware that he could use in support of various projects. Millions of dollars worth of piping, valves, bar stock, etc. came to the lab for the cost of shipment from the source. Grad A clean stainless steel valves and piping, for example, were ideal for seawater systems he designed for the pools at the laboratory complex.

Dr. Lyon knows the critical importance of the environment on submarine and sonar performance; he pioneered bathymetrically and water column surveys throughout the arctic and subarctic seas. Special sensors, e.g., expandable sound velocity profile devices, were developed and used for seawall surveys in important Marginal Ice Zone (MIZ) areas.

Waldo felt that he wasn’t doing his job if he spent more than 10 percent of his time on management. He also shielded his engineers and scientists from any administrative responsibilities so that they could concentrate on supporting the fleet. We learned from ┬Ěhis
example. If the fleet called for help, we did not feel that we were doing our jobs properly unless we responded with a solution to their problem within 24 hours.

The odyssey of Dr. Lyon’s stewardship of ARCSUBLAB is an account of periodic fortune under management procedures gone mad. Some managers seem to put semantics of function, pedantry, neatness of organization charts, and outright covetousness above 116 serving the fleet. There were peaks of dramatic accomplishment over the years that were interspersed with valleys of poverty and discontent. Through it all, Waldo held steadfastly to his objective analysis techniques, and, when funds were short, made do with what he could dig out of the dustbin.

In March 1991, ARCSUBLAB was placed in jeopardy by a massive laboratory reorganization plan. Arctic Warfare was transferred to the newly created Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Newport. Essentially, this was the final death knell for arctic R&D.

Between March 1991 and July 1997, seven Memoranda of Concern were put forth pointing out the consequences of the forthcoming demise of R&D at ARCSUBLAB. Sadly, the hierarchy largely ignored them. Dr. Lyon was devastated.

He continually reminded superiors that we were adapting open sea submarines to operate in ice-covered seas. We came close to designing a truly arctic operational submarine in 1981, but although R&D funding was provided and used to improve facilities at ARCSUBLAB, a small highly maneuverable boat that could operate in ice was not to be.

Dr. Lyon was co-author of an article, Arctic .ASW: Have We Lost?, which appeared in the June 1998 issue of the Nayal Institute Proceed.din&ls. Recognizing that it would not be possible to gain support for a unique arctic-capable design, a recommendation was made to start the development of a highly maneuverable, relatively small prototype capable of operating submerged in freshwater. This would mean reconstitution of arctic R&D, and hopefully re-opening ARCSUBLAB to guide development on an interim design that could regain our capability in the shallow MIZ, which will be Jost when the last 637 class is decommissioned (about 2001). Although Waldo never realized his dream of producing a submarine that could support effective ASW in the MIZ, he never gave up trying to be heard.

It is unfortunate that no one listened to Dr. Lyon during the last several years of his life. We hope fervently that the hierarchy will listen to him in death.

A first step should be to support archiving the fruits of Waldo’s labors

Naval Submarine League

© 2022 Naval Submarine League