Radar as King
The first step in a sequence of events that led to the creation of a field engineering department at Bendix Radio occurred in late summer of 1950. Colonel George Getz U.S. Air Force (USAF) met with a Bendix Radio General Manager, E. K. Foster. The meeting focused on the USAF's inability to provide logistical support, training, and in-service engineering for the newly developed AN/FPS-3 long-range radar set. The USAF wanted Bendix to provide these services. After a lengthy discussion, Foster rejected Col. Getz's proposal. Foster thought that providing the services would dilute the production effort of the sorely needed long-range radar sets. Col. Getz was a persistent man and requested that Bendix re-evaluate its position. Foster agreed and a meeting was set for early fall. At this meeting, representatives from the highest command levels in the USAF came to the Bendix Radio, Towson, MD, plant and again discussed Air Force problems. Bendix relented and reversed its position, agreeing in principle to support the USAF. In another series of meetings, Bill Webb, director of engineering, issued a memo establishing a field engineering department with Les Graffis appointed as chief field engineer.
Part Two - A New Market Area......Space
Time was of the essence, since the first AN/FPS-3 was due off the assembly line on December 1, 1950. This radar set was to be installed at Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands to control aircraft for the atomic bomb tests scheduled in early 1951. In response to the program, Bendix Radio design engineers taught the first class of twelve Air Force technicians and two Bendix Radio field engineers. When training was completed in December 1950, Bendix Radio field engineers Norman Axness and Lee Singer departed for Eniwetok immediately. With Axness and Singer providing the know-how, the radar site was quickly installed and made operational. The skill and knowledge of Bendix field engineers was beneficial insofar as they overcame system-integration problems between the AN/FPS-3, AN/MSQ-1, and the AN/APN-11 beacon receivers.
The training program established at Towson was transferred to the old British Overseas Airways Company (BOAC) seaplane facility at Harbor Field, MD. In January 1951, the training program was the first class in the new Bendix School for Electronics. The demand for training increased to the point where the Harbor Field facility was inadequate and the school was moved to Pimlico, Md. Here, the school ran its second class, which received excellent practical training while installing the AN/FPS-3. With properly equipped classrooms and offices, adequate test equipment, and plenty of room, the department quickly developed into an efficient school for training Bendix field engineers and Air Force personnel. On Armed Forces Day in May 1951, Col. R. W. Griffin dedicated and officially opened the Bendix School for Electronics and assigned Capt. Eugene Shaskey to be liaison for the Air Force students.
The support plan created by Col. Getz called for a Bendix Radio field engineer to be assigned to each long-range radar site after attending a factory training program. Bendix Radio knew that the field engineers had to be carefully selected because they would operate at remote locations and have little contact with the home office. In June 1951, the first group of field engineers departed for various sites in the U.S. to install the radar equipment, dubbed the Primary Network. In July 1951, John Dee and Lee Olzar were enroute to Alaska to begin the difficult job of installing the first radar for the Alaskan Air Command.
The third leg of Col. Getz's plan was contractor logistics support. This program established overhaul depots, logistics support depots, and mobile overhaul teams to ensure that the radar sets received the full range of technical and supply support. Bendix Radio established overhaul depots at Pimlico and Sacramento, CA. They were fully operational in January 1952. The mobile overhaul teams used mobile laboratories, which were 32-foot trailers that had been modified and equipped with power, heating, cooling, workbenches, tools, and test equipment to overhaul the AN/FPS-3 radar set. These specialized six-man teams could overhaul a radar set in two weeks.
Bendix Radio was now in the field engineering business and in January 1952, had seven contracts that not only included the AN/FPS-3, but training contracts for the AN/CPN-18 and AN/ARC-33. Field Engineering continued to grow and, in 1954, had 243 engineers around the world.
In addition, Bendix was now servicing many other Bendix Radio products, including the mobile version of the AN/FPS-3 called the AN/MPS-7; the AN/CPN-18 Airfield Surveillance Radar; AN/ARC-33 UHF Transceiver; AN/SPN-8 Carrier Controlled Approach Radar; ASR-3 Airport Radar; AN/MPN-5 Ground-Controlled Approach Radar; and the guidance system for the Regulus missile. In November 1954, Graffis wrote a letter to all Bendix Radio employees emphasizing the culture of the field engineering department.
"The watchword of the Field Engineering department is 'service', "Graffis said. "Our one objective is to assure the customer top performance from every piece of Bendix equipment in the field." This culture established the Bendix Field Engineering tradition of high quality service that continued throught its history.
Contracts were won to install the Bendix-built airport surveillance radar (ASR-3) and precision approach radar (PAR-2) for the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
In fiscal year 1954, Field Engineering department sales represented over 5% of the Bendix Radio sales.
As the "Cold War" intensified, it was necessary to provide improved technology for the Air Force Defense System. This upgrade was called the Semiautomatic Ground Environment (SAGE) equipment. At the heart of the SAGE system were large-scale digital computers that would process the information from the radar sets and provide intercept control for the USAF. Although the AN/FPS-3 was an excellent radar set for manual operations, it required significant modifications to be compatible with the SAGE system.
This compatibility was achieved by the installation of a Bendix-designed modification kit (AN/GPA-27) which replaced some 90 percent of the components of the original AN/FPS-3 radar to create the new AN/FPS-20 radar set. In 1955, the Field Engineering department began implementation of this new radar and, by 1956, as activities in this area continued and the AN/FPS-14 and AN/FPS-18 radars came off the production line, sales rose to $5.8 million.
At this point, Field Engineering management made a decision that was to have a major impact on future operations. Rather than servicing only Bendix equipment, they proposed to expand the scope of operations to include systems manufactured by other companies. After initial opposition by top management of Bendix Radio, permission to take this step was finally granted and Field Engineering undertook responsibility for support of a General Electric height-finding radar, the AN/FPS-6.
Bendix Field Engineering performed these services in an outstanding manner and sales grew. A snapshot view of Bendix Radio Field Engineering at this time shows a company principally supporting and servicing heavy ground radar equipment for the U.S. Air Force with small contracts with the U.S. Navy.
This History of BFEC has been copied almost verbatim, i.e., some parts changed from the present tense to the past tense, and is from the October 1990 issue of the "Update" publication shown at the top of this page, titled "The History of BFEC" produced by Cramer Bacque vice president of marketing at the time.