The History of InfoAge Science & History Museums

Oral Histories - Oral History of THEODORE C. VIARS

Interviewee: THEODORE C. VIARS 

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

TAPE 11

THEODORE C. VIARS

He worked in the Radar Division from 1951 thru 1967. He was a Navy Radio Operator for 3 1/2 yr. after civilian experience in Ham Radio. He had studied code, radio theory before he entered the Navy. He received anti-sub training at Key West, FLA. And Sonar School Training. In April 1942, he handled shipboard radio when he left Sonar to become a radio operator. After leaving the Navy, he attended Antioch College. Upon completion, his first job was with Eastman Kodak Company where he maintained production lines using applicable instrumentation. Then he worked in Mines Safety Appliance Co. in Pittsburgh, PA, where he explored detectors with the use of an electrical device measuring a resistance change to monitor explosions. Another job was with the instrumentation for Torpedo Guidance in Submarines.

After college graduation, thru a friend, he learned of and joined the labs here in April 1951. His first job here involved Electronic Display Equipment in use for Air Defense System at the Highlands. There was a Surveillance Radar in a dome there for aircraft contact. When attacks would occur from high altitude bombers, a “Missile Master” coped with that threat. The contractor for Missile Master was Glenn L. Martin. Ted did testing of Electronic Display Equipment at the time when tubes were about to be replaced by transistors. Missile Master provided a means for providing for the air defense commander, the distance, travel direction, and status of incoming aircraft. Ted referred to Gene Sheftelman, who described target information that would be displayed on a CRT with 14 pieces of information to include height, level, priority, direction from velocity vector, etc. This capability was demonstrated to military and private people concerned with Air Defense. Ted presented a paper in 1955 at the National Electronics Conference in Chicago on this subject. The Contractor for this system was AMF, Boston for 10 of the Missile Master System AN/FSG-2. GFP was furnished to the Martin Co. Army managed the contracts; Air Force managed the site locations. Ted traveled to the 10 locations to ascertain that site was compatible with Radar coverage (no obstruction). Among these sites were Highlands, Fort Lee, Md. (to protect the Washington DC area), Buffalo, Detroit, and Boston.

For threat expansion to low altitude defense, the Molar System was developed by General Dynamics in 1955. Ted coordinated the technology of Missile Master, then the Molar System. The system was micromanaged by Missile Command in Huntsville, ALA. Ted assisted with the transistor GFP to Missile Command. Then difficulty with Electronics compatibility of the devices on the Molar Command Unit was identified when transmitted radar was wiped out due to a mobile carrier. The demise of the Molar System led to the development of the Long Range Ballistic System. A need arose for Operation Hardtech, a nuclear test on Johnson Island, 150 miles SW of Perl Harbor, where measurements of the effect of Nuclear tests were required. The assigned engineer became ill and Ted was assigned to the job. He helped set up the necessary equipment on two destroyers anchored of Johnson Island to include Radars and Photo Equipment for measurements. A detailed report was prepared on this work, coordinated with the Project Engineer.

Ted’s experience with the McCarthy era was questioned. He indicated that a college friend, Marty Orr, had an uncle, Aaron Coleman, who was Chief of the Radar Systems Lab. Marry worked for the Bureau of Standards. They would meet in NYC where Ted was told about the uncle whom Ted contacted for joining a class in Systems Engineering which Aaron was giving. After the second meeting, he disappeared, a victim of the McCarthy team, who found him to be a subscriber to the magazine, Consumers Union. Apparently the magazine was on McCarthy’s Subversive List. Others from Ted’s Group, including Harold Dekor, Carl Greengrom were also targeted. It appeared that CCNY graduates were mainly targeted. FBI people in plain clothes haunted the Evans Area to include the Cafeteria. Ted felt vulnerable and the morale among the engineers dropped significantly. McCarthy was eventually deposed by a Congressman.  Almost all accused returned to their jobs. Coleman now works at RCA.

After the high altitude Johnson Island tests, studies to find a means for detecting nuclear bursts ensued. Help from Dr. Merrill, Applied Physics Div. Contributed data. Radar Systems Division was assigned to study, leading to this objective. Sigmund Berl and Ted spent one year determining the burst location yield of nuclear weapons. They visited the Bureau of Standards for technical information, did a literature search, and arrived at a list of systems to do the job, none of which were successful. A Top Secret 250-page report was prepared to summarize the study results. Hughes A/C came up with the Charactron Tube which demonstrated size problems. With the advent of transistors & digital techniques, simplification resulted. Ted recalls working many nights on a flat-faced CRT. During testing, there was an implosion with shattered glass all about.

Reverting to the McCarthy situation, Coleman was picked up at this home by the FBI when they found Restricted Operational Manuals of the Panama Radar Project. McCarthy called the manuals Top Secret. Also, Coleman was a classmate with Rosenberg, thereby a Communist, by association. Charles Grossman also disappeared, assigned to the Diana Site for 6 months. After he was cleared, he became Chief of Radar Systems Branch. In spring 1967, Ted went to the Hexagon Bldg to work for Grossman in the Exploratory Research Group where he worked with the Avionics Team until 1979 when he retired.

Ted then referred to Position Communication Locator Equipment used in the ’76-`77 NATO Exercises and Time Altered Technology. McDonald A/C was working on Collision Avoidance. Ted also mentioned USAF’s SAGE (Semi-automatic Ground Environment System) whose purpose was similar to Missile Master but an Intercontinental Defense System. SAGE became A Universal Air Defense System. Ted felt that he contributed much to SAGE. He enjoyed working with high-level Military and contractor personnel. He traveled extensively, 50% of this time away from home. His wife understood and cooperated. He loved flying in various a/c always interested in their performance. He concluded this interview relating a story where he
and Bill Lonnie traveled to Ft.Monroe, thence to Newark Airport in a DC-4. He also described some commercial airline experiences, which turned out to be “close calls”.

69 min.

Page created August 2, 2002

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