COMPUTER MEMORIES, Chapter 16
TRAINING CONTINUES WITH AN IBM 701 COMPUTER
When the IBM 701 Defense Computer became available, programs were written that would calculate airplane flight patterns, display them on a special CRT where they were filmed by a 70 MM camera. In a real Air Defense RADAR Installation, the film was then fed into a device that would display the flight patterns on the RADAR screens. Then, using the first real Video Game, another machine (whose number I have forgotten), would place a blip on the screen, and by verbal commands from the man concentrating on the screen, an operator could direct the blip, representing a fighter plane, here and there across the RADAR screen, until the “unknown” was either identified or “shot down.”
At first, the 701 had 4096 36 binary-bit words of electrostatic tube memory. You could go in back of the memory boxes, and in the dark you could see the bits that were lit (binary ones) and those that weren’t (binary zeros), in a 36 bit memory word.
It might be nice to consider that our country was being protected by men reading a RADAR screen, giving directions to other men standing behind a two story transparent plastic screen etched with a map, who were using wax crayons to write numbers and codes backwards, so they could be read by officers at the front of the screen, who made decisions concerning “friend or foe.” But we survived!
Since we were trying to create a training system for people who would operate the Air Defense System in all parts of the country, it wouldn’t make sense to train people at a RADAR station in a rural area, using a traffic pattern found over Los Angeles, and visa versa. We needed to know what airplanes would be seen if someone looked up at the sky, at any place in the country, at any time of the day, at any time of the year.
My function was to gather and format information about every airline flight (we could identify) over the US, so it could be fed into the computer. We received a year’s worth of flight plans from the Military. Once or twice a year, every airport in the country was supposed to keep track of the time, and the origin and destination of every airplane that used that airport, that day. Lockheed Aircraft Company had keypunched the Airline Guide, so had a lot of data about where and when airplanes flew, so I worked with them to make their data available for our project.
After months of work, all that information was formatted and punched on cards, then read into the IBM 701 computer. Using spherical trigonometry and a computerized map of the US divided into boxes, two degrees of latitude and two degrees of longitude on a side, we determined the “box” the plane would be in at every time interval, as it flew from origin to destination. The best I remember, many hours later the IBM 701 produced something that seemed to satisfy the need, except we had to run and rerun it a couple of times before the problem was considered solved.
Now training exercises could be tailored to be more or less representative of what the people at any RADAR site could expect to see in their normal day’s work. During the training exercise we would of course add “unknown” flights. When they were “recognized” as such, the RADAR crew would electronically launch “make believe” fighters (as discussed earlier) and direct them to the neighborhood of the “unknown,” then either identify it, or “shoot” it down. An early, very expensive, version of a video game.
An interesting sidelight to this project: The man I worked with at Lockheed was Tony Fokker, the son of the man who designed the Fokker-Wolfe airplanes used by the German Luftwaffe in World War I, and WW II. He had worked for US Aircraft manufacturing firms (Douglas and Lockheed), during WW II.
Similar tidbits in: Memories of Early Computer Days
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