The History of InfoAge Science & History Museums

Oral Histories - Oral History of John Schoening

Interviewee: John Schoening

Interviewer: Michael Ruane
Date: 1998?
Place: Camp Evans – 9039
Media: NTSC Video
Summary: Mr. Irv Bauman

Mr. Schoening prepared notes for the interview.  They are below.

After graduation from Penn State Univ., he joined the Laboratories in 1950. His father, a first-generation, started in the lab in 1942. John represented the Schoening 2″a generation, and John’s son, a 3`d generation, is also presently working in the labs.

John started, assigned to the Power Sources Branch, working testing engine generators in atmospheric test chambers to achieve quality control. Then for 3 years, he was a project engineer for Army Drones after which he moved to Evans in 1966. Equipment was needed for Vietnam and so Sec’y of Defense MacNamara required an intrusion detection system as part of a wall across S. Vietnam. The army was assigned the eastern section; USAF & Navy, the western. John’s group developed a line sensor system c/o garden hoses or wire, which when stepped upon or tripped, would send a signal to IR / Radar sensors. With help from the Corps of Eng’rs, a radio data link was designed by Evans and 6 weeks later, the system was sent to Yuma Desert Test Station for qualification. John’s test team worked 7 days weekly for several weeks to run the necessary tests. He remembers some Green Beret soldiers using explosives during test procedures, accidentally burning a building in the process. After testing, one year later, the Eastern wall was placed into use in Vietnam. It helped to cut down North / South traffic significantly. The “garden hose” system contained water and antifreeze fill, and led to a box with a pressure sensor, this, in turn, attached to a transmitter. The Western Wall used a “Button Bomblet” which would explode when stepped on, sending a signal to a microphone, hidden in a tree, and in turn sent a signal to the rear about the enemy intrusion. Because of the explosion damage to legs and toes, a redesign resulted in a noiseless “Button Bomblet”. Any disturbance would be picked up by a buoy. A rock or twig with a protruding antenna would sense Vietcong’s presence. At Aberdeen Proving Ground, a system dispenser was developed, looking like a bomb dropped from aircraft. Involved with this effort were Lt. Gen’1 Lavelle, USAF Project Manager, and a fighter pilot. John would brief him, with the aid of movies. Patrols would install sensors accordingly.

Schoening, in Panama, employed local Indians to walk along with a sensor system, installed along an outdoor area. These sensors were difficult to hide, as rats would find and take them to their nests. Charlie Lascaro (known as the Rat Man) designed a sensor coating to avoid such a dilemma. Another sensor, known as “The Weed”, an electrostatic sensor, 3 ft. high, disguised as a reed, was installed in Mei Cong Delta. This proved to be an effective sensor from which a signal was sent back to a rear area command post. His group built a seismic sensor to protect against intrusion. It was known as Rembass and was used by troops to detect intrusion.

John then became involved with MAGIC -Marine Air/Ground Intelligence Center, an automated photo interpretation system. Formerly photo interpreters would use mechanical devices to interpret photos. The imagery from USAF, Navy & Army would arrive at MAGIC to be analyzed by interpreters to produce printouts of potential targets. Army purchased 10 ea. such systems to receive IR, Photo & Radar imagery from USAF Strategic Forces. Resulting data was sent to a commander for action. John suspects that this system is still in use. John was then assigned to work with Atmospheric Sciences in charge of sensor development. He was active in hardware development; the research was was conducted at White Sands Missile Range. The Lab Director, Dr. Wiseman asked John to wear 2 hats, one in Bldg. 1, Evans, doing Sensor development; and the research at White Sands. Atmospheric Sciences Hq. moved to White Sands and there a balloon and radiosonde were used to measure temperature, humidity and pressure. A ground station had antennas and data collected on strip chart recorders. A crew of 3 soldiers would prepare a report for artillery use. A meteorological data system was then developed to automate this work. A Hewlett Packard Computer in a hardened case with a software program was sent to the field. This was the first commercial system in 1983, to enter the field. In 1985 -1986, the Army used the new system, one tracking with the older system, another from LORAN (Long Range Radio).

How did Evans Signal Lab evolve? In 1937, the Radar people put together a Secret laboratory headed by Col Blair, Dr. Zahl & Vic Fredericks at Sandy Hook. They demonstrated for USAF’s Billy Mitchell how to track an airplane into New York Harbor by Radar. The SCR 584 was the first Radar used by any nation during WWII. Col. Blair couldn’t patent the Radar, and the British stole it. Dr. Zahl & Vic Fredericks designed & built the H building at Evans. SCR 584 was operational in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and manned by Norman Abbott who noticed incoming aircraft, wired back information, but the warning was not heeded.

When asked about his feeling about the job he had done, John indicated that he found great satisfaction at turning developed equipment/systems over to soldiers in the field. They, in turn, found new uses and recommended product improvements with use. John received great satisfaction from his work experience. MAGIC and smaller items give him much to be happy about. Schoening served as Acting Director in Hq., CS/TA Lab for a while, working with dedicated hardworking people in an area spread out like a college campus. He hoped that the spirit of what was accomplished at Evans would accrue to the motivation and enjoyment of the new scientists and engineers to be working at Evans.

John had no recollection about the Senator McCarthy event. He was working at the Hexagon Bldg. but on vacation in Canada, at that time. He recalled a colleague, engineer Marvin Lowenthal & his secretary, both in wheelchairs. Their work building had been designed to handle wheelchairs in the late ’70s to early ’80s for paraplegic uses. He admired Marvin, calling him a fine engineer who, despite his handicap, was extremely productive. When asked about an anecdote relating to his operation, John recalled receiving a visit from a post inspector, who noticed that a 4-drawer file cabinet used by Marvin had its top two drawers empty, with his files in the bottom two. John was served with a fling violation, but this was canceled when the inspector was informed that Marvin couldn’t reach the two top drawers.

41 minutes.

Mr. Schoening’s interview notes:

My career:
I moved to ESL when the Army Drone Project Manager was discontinued in 1966. I was a Division Director in both the CSTA & ASL simultaneously. In 1979 I was acting in the Directors’ office through 1982. I retired in October 1983.

Helped develop the Mac Namara wall concept Thanksgiving 1967.
The line consisted of line sensors( pressure, air, seismic, and tripwire) radioed to a central point behind the line.
Datalink under contract with Motorola 5 days later.
Delivered and installed at the Yuma test site 6 weeks later.
One month’s test was successful. Immediate production was authorized. Installation in Viet Nam completed by Thanksgiving 1998.
Other sensors followed.

NBB was a replacement for the BB. BB, which was a small firecracker that blew up when moved, alerted the enemy he was detected. NBB was passive. BB was dangerous and caused many civilian casualties The NBB, when disturbed, sent out a signal to a nearby RR hanging in a tree. The RR in-turn sent a coded signal to the rear that a detection had been made. The RR was a Navy design and the NBB was an Army design by Delco Radio. It was intended to be air delivered by a fighter aircraft. Testing was at Dugway Proving ground and many interesting flights were filmed. I remember in the evening when we were showing these films to AF Lt. Gen Lavelle who was extremely interested in the program. The briefing ran very late because of his interest when his aid came in and told us that Washing was burning. Marten Luther King was murdered and Washing was aflame. The air deployment was not very practical when used in Viet Nam. Hand emplacement was, however, very effective. We tested this method of employment in Panama to ensure we could hide the sensors and check the rf propagation in the wet jungle. Down there our main problem was rats. They stole them and took them to their nests. That was a tricky task to overcome.

We also developed sensors for use in the delta to detect boat traffic. The sensor when properly implanted, looked like a giant weed so prevalent along the banks of the river. It was a small oscillator designed so that anyone approaching within about 100 yards would cause the frequency to shift. The detection circuit was very complex. It was able to screen out noise from moving vegetation and small animals. It was very accurate on foot and boat traffic. When a valid intrusion was detected, it transmitted the alarm signal to the central display miles away. This, too, was used successfully in Viet Nam.

As part of the sensor program, we developed mortar and artillery delivered seismic detectors. It was a very difficult task to harden the electronics and seismic detector to withstand the very heavy shock of set back and implant forces. These were not ready in time for Viet Nam. They did become part of Rembass. One of the key sensors in Rembass, the seismic detector called PSID, was designed and built in the Lab. It was designed for use by a patrol as perimeter protection. It had a very short range data link from the sensor to the fox hole. This, along with all of the other sensors became REMBASS.

One of the greatest satisfaction and engineer or manager has is to turn over new equipment to the troops. The young troops just eat up the new hi tech equipment. As they use the equipment they find new and unique ways to use the it we never dreamed of. I had the experienced fielding the MAGIC, an automated imagery interpretation system developed jointly by the Air Force and the Army. It provided computer assistance to interpretation of airborne imagery from photo, IR, radar, and infra red sensors flown by strategic air and satellite missions.

There are many more programs and stories I could cover. I am sure you will get others to participate in this history. I don’t want to steel their thunder nor do I want to imply that we did everything for a PM. We supplied technology and support for the PM’s as they requested. It was in fact a good working relationship. We also worked with many fine contractors who provided the development and production knowhow to make our technology and ideas into finished products. My years at Evans were most rewarding, The programs were interesting and valuable to the Army, the facilities were adequate, and the people were wonderful. They were dedicated to their jobs, and they were a very friendly group to know and work with. I still see many of them on the golf course and remember the good times and successes we had at the Evans Lab

 The Evans Lab, over the years has hosted the CS&TA Lab, and elements of ASL and ETDL as well as two Project Manager and several Product Managers


The CS&TA lab was responsible for supplying the soldier with electronic devices to find, identify, and accurately locate the enemy so that appropriate action may be taken.

Data Links
Imagery Interpretation
Gave birth and supported Project Managers

The ASL was responsible for supplying the soldier with electronic devices to measure and quantify the weather so that the commander will be able to move and shoot accurately.


Atmospheric Sounding Systems
Weather Radar
Hydrogen Generator

 Atmospheric Sciences.

For many years the ASL was located in two sites. White Sands and ESL. Headquarters was here at ESL as was all of the hardware development. ASL also supplied all the research work in Atmospheric measurements at the missile proving ground. In 1968, with the retirement of the director, the headquarters was moved to White sands, where the majority of the personnel were and where the bulk of the budget was spent. The hardware development division was given to me. Thus I became two hatted. I reported to the Director to the CSTA Lab for sensors and the ASL for their hardware programs.

The major program was to develop a replacement for the AN/GMD-1 which was fielded at the end of WWII and was quickly approaching the end of life. A large balloon, carrying a radiosonde, was released and tracked. Pressure, temperature, and humidity were telemetered to the ground and recorded on a strip chart. The tracking antenna recorded azimuth and elevation. At the conclusion of the flight, the charts were analyzed and a series of met messages were developed. A sound ranging message using data to 1 KM altitude was sent first. Next was the artillery message, essential in providing accurate artillery fire, and which provided wind speed and direction, temperature, and humidity in 12 increments up to 11 km altitude. Finally and air weather service message was sent giving much the same information, but in a different format up to an altitude of 30 km. Their message took about one hour to complete and in the case of changing, situations were not sufficiently timely.

An interim system was fielded in about 1970 which automated the process of calculating the messages. This used an HP desk calculator. At the time it was one of the first commercial units fielded.

With several generations, a new system, The Met Data System was finally fielded in 1986 or 7. In this system, everything was automated. Once the balloon was launched, the operator was out of the loop and he could prepare for the next launch. Messages were sent automatically as soon as sufficient data was received. FADAC had the data when it needed it. One feature of the system was mobility. The system had a passive tracking antenna similar to the GMD-l. It then had to stay in one place for the entire flight. It also had another mode using Loran or Long Wave Radio as a tracking means. When this mode was used, once release and lock-on of the radiosonde had been achieved, the ground station could move out and the unit could track the radiosonde while in motion. Both modes were necessary because Loran or lfr was no available everywhere. I suspect today, the primary tracking mode now uses GPS and the antenna is reserved for times when GPS is not available.

The ASL group was also involved in the development of a hydrogen generator and a weather radar. Neither of these items went into production.


1937 first demonstrated to Gen. Billy Mitchel, then Chief of the Army Air Force. at the twin lights on the Highlands against aircraft. Col Blair, Dr Zall, and Vic Fredricks were three pioneers in this field. Secrecy prevented Col. Blair from being granted the first basic patent for radar. These gentleman were responsible for building this installation as we know it today.SCR 584 first radar. Used in WWII A lab built prototype was installed in Hawaii and detected the Jap attack. The alarm was sent but no one believed the warning. Several ESL personnel were operating the site at the time.

The Army concentrated on MTI radar to detect moving aircraft, vehicles, and personnel. MTI radar uses the doppler effect from successive returns to determine the speed and direction of the target. It comes out of the unit as an acoustic signal in the audio range.

AN/PPS-5 anti-personnel is a small unit used by forwarding units. Using earphones, the. the operator could determine, by ear, the type of target from the sound of the returns. It is said that a trained operator could tell the difference between a man or a woman just by listening to the signal. From the PPS-5, grew many versions. of this type radar such as the PPS-15.which has a much longer range and automatic target detection. We demonstrated the ability to net a number of radars so as to cover an entire front. The ANIAPS-95 was a side-looking airborne version with long-range. It was the system that was mounted in a pod under the belly of a Mohawk aircraft. The plane flew along the front looking over enemy territory. The successive sweeps of the radar were recorded on a strip of film for later interpretation. The signal was also was transmitted to the ground for quick interpretation. From this, we were able to locate the enemy truck and tank traffic. This system was used in Viet Nam.

One of the key research programs of the labs was to develop a means of automatically analyzing the radar returns to determine specific signatures which would enable us to identify targets quickly and automatically. This target recognition program became a tool for better radars and un-cooperative IFF programs.

Using all of the technology available, we started a new program to replace the APS-94 which was quickly upgraded to PM status and became the Army’s part of the joint service PM J-STARS. The radar of the JSTARS is mounted on a 707 flown by the AF. It collects fixed targets for the AF and it also collects moving targets for the Army. Army data is telemetered to the ground on a digital link developed by the CSTA lab for the PM. At the ground station, the imagery is displayed. Using computer assistance, the operators is able to locate, identify, and track enemy units. The information is sent to the ASAS. At the ground station, the unit commander is able to see the entire battlefield. He has the ability to overlay his forces on those of the enemy and is thus able to effectively control the battle. J-STARS also has the ability to playback the battle for further study. Early versions of J-Stars were deployed in the Gulf for Desert Storm/Strike and is one of the primary reasons our forces were so effective in the battle. We knew accurately where the enemy was at all times. The people who worked in ESL, whether in the CSTA Lab or in the PM’s office can take great pride in their work on this project.

Page created August 2, 2002

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