A New Market Area...Space
By 1957, however, this picture began to change. Charles G. McMullen, chief scientist of the Bendix Radio Division, attended a briefing at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) for an upcoming procurement to package and install the NRL-designed MINITRACK system in trailers. This was part of the International Geophysical Year (IGY-58), where the United States would launch and orbit a grapefruit-sized satellite. The Martin Company had been chosen to build the Vanguard launch vehicle, RCA was building the satellite, and Bendix Radio would package and install MINITRACK. A significant amount of the work was to be performed by Field Engineering and was to be completed between July 1957 and June 1958. With the ground stations installed and the program on schedule, the Soviet Union startled the world by launching Sputnik. With the image of U.S. Technology damaged, the "space race" was on. The Vanguard was readied for launch, but the results were disastrous. The missile exploded on the launch pad.
At Huntsville, Ala., General Medaris and Dr. Werner Von Braun pleaded with the Navy to permit a Redstone Missile to launch the satellite. After pressure from all angles, permission was granted and the Redstone launched the satellite. However, neither Congress nor President Eisenhower was pleased with the Navy's performance and a new "civilian" agency was created to put the United States ahead of the Soviets in space.
On October 1, 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was born and with it came new opportunities for Bendix Field Engineering. Under the IGY-58, the U.S. Army Map Service had been designated to operate and maintain the MINITRACK system. However, since NASA's charter was "scientific, non-military," the Army Map Service could not be permitted to operate the stations. NASA, therefore, turned to Bendix to undertake this responsibility. Since the majority of the work was to be performed overseas, the call went to Murray Weingarten, who was then responsible for all overseas field engineering projects. Asked when Bendix could start work, Weingarten said, "How about 50 percent manning in 30 days and 100 percent manning in 60 days?" NASA agreed and Bendix was awarded its first NASA contract. The sites were fully manned in 45 days.
The Department of Defense (DOD) realized that the Soviets could orbit a satellite over the U.S. and soon would be able to spy from space. The Navy proposed a bistatic radar system using the MINITRACK system with the receivers placed on a great circle line across the U.S.. This program was known as the Navy Space Surveillance (NAVSPASUR) System.
Bendix Field Engineering mobilized a team under the leadership of C.Y. Thomas and, working with the NRL, had the system on-line with adequate capability to track Sputnik in 180 days. Bendix was then selected to operate and maintain the NAVSPASUR sites. In 1958, Bendix Field Engineering sales jumped to $9 million and represented 8.1 percent of the Bendix Radio sales.
In January 1959, Field Engineering departed the Pimlico hangers and moved to Owings Mills, MD. Within a short period of time, the new facility was full and Field Engineering leased other facilities in the Owings Mills area.
Bendix Field Engineering had entered the space age through the MINITRACK program. When the Soviets announced that they planned to put a man in space and the U.S. responded with the Mercury program, that involvement became even greater. Von Braun had now joined NASA and brought with him his team that had been so successful at the Army Ballistic Missile Agency. Although Von Braun was opposed to putting a man in orbit, NASA directed him to proceed with Project Mercury. NASA selected Western Electric Company (WECO) as the prime contractor for this project, with Bendix supplying the ground station equipment. Bendix Field Engineering was to install the Bendix/WECO-supplied equipment at 18 stations around the world. In 1960, sales jumped to $14.8 million, 14.1 percent of Bendix Radio sales.
Field Engineering's main purpose still centered around heavy ground radar, although a depot had been established to repair and overhaul Army communications equipment. NASA and Navy business had increased and the last CAA Precision Approach Radar (PAR-2) was installed.
John F. Kennedy was elected president in 1960 and his new Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, declared that the manned bomber was not a threat and thus de-emphasized the radar warning network. The repercussions of this were not felt until late 1961, when the Air Force began to shut down a large number of radar stations.
Bendix Field Engineering support reduced sharply, although the services provided in Europe and Alaska remained. The Mobile Laboratories were taken over by the USAF Mobile Depot Activity (MDA). Bendix provided services to the MDA and to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), who was claiming the USAF sites for their own operation.
At NASA, the scientific satellite community was pushing for new systems while the manned flight community wanted manned interplanetary travel. Both were to get their desires. President Kennedy announced that within 10 years, the U.S. would send a man to the moon and return him to earth. The program would be a sequenced program using the Mercury network, and updating it for the final steps, which would be projects Gemini and Apollo.
On the Road to Growth.......
In the late 1950's and early 1960's, Bendix Field Engineering won some new and very exciting programs. The Navy Pacific Missile Range (PMR) was one of these projects and Bendix began an important range of operations that included tracking stations, ships operations, range safety, and missile impact locator systems.
The new X-15 high-range operations and maintenance contract was won in 1961. This range provided tracking and data acquisition support for the NASA Flight Research Center (FRC) for the X-15 research aircraft.
These programs, coupled with the Deep Space Instrumentation Facility, the Mercury Program, NAVSPASUR and the Satellite Tracking Network, placed Bendix Field Engineering as the premier space and missile operations support contractor. These dynamic and exciting programs involved spacecraft for deep space exploration such as Ranger, Pioneer, Mariner, and Voyager; manned spacecraft such as the X-15 and Mercury; and every missile shot down range in the Pacific.
Field Engineering was changing in terms of both its personnel composition and its work environment. It slowly changed from a "tech rep," installation, overhaul and technical assistance company to one that had responsibility for operations and maintenance of complete tracking and data acquisition facilities.
In addition, assignments at many locations were for long periods of time and were more conducive to family living. The first of these was a three-year operations and maintenance contract for MINITRACK.
In 1958, Les Graffis wrote a series of letters to the management of Bendix Radio concerning "Group Status for Field Engineering." At this time, Bendix Radio had three primary groups; automotive, avionics, and government products. Discussions centered around making a fourth group - Bendix Field Engineering. As the discussions intensified, it was suggested that a separate corporation be established. Action was taken and on December 30, 1960, the Bendix Radio Commercial Service Corporation and the Bendix Radio Overseas Service Corporation certificates were submitted for incorporation. On January 4, 1961, the state of Delaware issued the certificates. Field Engineering however, remained a department of Bendix Radio. On July 31, 1961, the name Bendix Radio Commercial Services Corporation was changed to the Bendix Field Engineering Corporation (BFEC). On January 1, 1962, Bendix Field Engineering Corporation started operations as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Bendix Corporation.
While the space and missile support business was growing at Bendix, so was support to the DoD. The new modifications to the FPS-20 were coming off the production line and Field Engineering was providing the installation and tech rep services. A new type of program awarded to Bendix Radio involved the worldwide installation of message processing equipment designated CRITICOM. This unique program also required that Bendix Field Engineering personnel obtain a special clearance granted by the Army Security Agency.
Continued on PART THREE.........
BACK ONE PAGE