Roger Clapp Eulogy—Tony Iorillo

Like all of you, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Roger in the last several weeks. I’ve been troubled since I talked to Dottie, and later read his obituary. His 39-year professional career is covered in just a couple of sentences. The reason is that Dottie and the family really don’t know more because Roger couldn’t tell them. He had spent his most productive years working on government programs which are classified to this day. So, I’ve elected to use my allotted time to tell them, and you, as much as I can using information which I just discovered has been released.

I first met Roger in 1962 when I returned to Hughes from school. By this time, Roger was already a distinguished microwave technologist with numerous patents to his credit. He had spent the previous 16 years, through the Korean War and the early Cold War, developing equipment for Hughes products found on most military aircraft, ships, tanks and land installations.

After Sputnik and the start of the “Space Race”, He changed course and was now involved in satellite programs. It was my good fortune to be assigned to his programs, and I had a front row view of his accomplishments. You’ll recall that 1962 was the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and, arguably, the height of the Cold War. Those old enough, remember those grim days, and being urged to build home bomb shelters. You can imagine how anxious the government was to develop intelligence gathering and communications satellites as quickly as possible. We were commissioned to study the possibilities, and Roger spent a few years leading teams of our best engineers developing ideas.

Some ideas matured, and by 1966, we were under contract to build the largest communications satellite our Air Force would have in that decade. It was called TACSAT, and Roger managed the development of its communications payload. The program, whosedescription can be found on the Internet, was successful in every respect.

Another idea matured, and, in 1968, we were under contract for a new series of satellites which are still classified. All I can say is that they were successful in every respect, and Roger was a key member of the management team. We called it our ” Green” program because that was the color of the security badges we wore.

By 1970, Roger was at the peak of his powers. He was 44 years old and he spent most of this decade as manager of our newest and largest satellite program, the “Yellow” program. I know Roger would agree that this was his most rewarding professional performance. To put his work in context. I have to review some history. After Gary Powers’ U-2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960, Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson relied on a series of photographic satellites for the intelligence they needed to navigate the Cold War and the various non-proliferation agreements which reduced tensions dramatically through the 1960’s.

In 1967, President Johnson said, “We’ve spent 35 or 40 billion dollars on the space program (including Apollo). If nothing else had come of it except the knowledge we’ve gained from space photography, it would be worth ten times the program cost. Because tonight we know how many missiles the enemy has and, it turned out, our guesses were way off. We were doing things we didn’t need to do. We were building things we didn’t need to build. We were harboring fears we didn’t need to harbor.”

You can read about these satellites and the wonderful people involved on the Internet. As valuable as they were, these satellite were fairly primitive by today’s standards. They used old-fashioned film. Flying at 150 miles or so, rolls would be exposed over targets, put into buckets which, when full, were ejected over water with parachutes. Ships and aircraft were waiting to fish them out of the sea. Weather permitting, airplanes could catch them and reel them in.

There had long been a desire to use electronic cameras as you have in your iPhone and to acquire the images as soon as they were taken. A major stumbling block was the lack of adequate communications technology. By 1970, more ideas matured, and we figured out how to do it.

I’ll read again. “The National Reconnaissance Organization (NRO) declassified limited information about its first electro-optical system, that President Ford declared operational in 1977. The system’s camera used charge-coupled device technology, the same basic technology used in today’s digital photography.”

“In association with this declassification the NRO declassified the fact that it operates a relay satellite program, which the Hughes Aircraft Company developed in the 1970’s. The satellite relays data, at the rate of 100 digital television channels, directly to a ground station in the United States.”

The relay satellite was our “Yellow” program. The combined development of the imaging satellite, the relay satellite and the elaborate ground data processing system has been called the “Apollo” program of the 1970s.  President Obama and our troops around the world rely on them today.

Roger managed the relay program from start to finish. It involved thousands of Hughes people, and the satellites were launched on the precise days he had committed to 4 years earlier. He was masterful using all the skills he had accumulated from his years as a microwave engineer, on TACSAT, and on the “Green’ program.

In the process, he mentored me and many others who would relieve him at the end of the decade. Roger, always a consummate gentleman, was admired, respected and liked by all who knew him at Hughes, in the government and throughout the aerospace industry. I am pleased to note the men and women here today from each of these segments. I know I speak for all of them.

I am profoundly grateful that my life’s trajectory merged with his for so long. May he rest in peace.


Roger William Clapp February 15, 1926 – March 1, 2014

This was extracted from the obituary in the LA Times.

Roger William Clapp, the son of Edson and Jean Clapp, was born on February 15, 1926 in Los Angeles, California and passed away on Saturday, March 1, 2014, surrounded by his loving family. Roger, a 55 year resident of Rolling Hills Estate, is survived by Dorothy, the love of his live and wife of 67 years; his four devoted children, Marilyn (David) Kunstler, Marcia (Steven) Block, Norma (Alan) Ankerstar, and Stephen (Man) Clapp; his brother Edson Bruce Clapp: and nine beautiful grandchildren.

Roger was raised in San Diego, California, where he developed a love of the ocean, sky and natural world. He attended Caltech as part of the Navy V-12 program. He was president of his senior class and graduated in 1946 with a B.S. in electrical engineering. After completing his military service, he began his long and distinguished career at Hughes Aircraft Company with a position in engineering development, working on antennas and later microwave technology. He advanced into aerospace, where he became a project manager developing earth-orbiting satellites and accompanying ground processing and support systems. He retired in 1985 as Group Vice President & Manager of the NASA Systems Division, Space & Communications Group of Hughes Aircraft Company.

During retirement, Roger focused on his lifelong interests in traveling, birding, astronomy, photography and woodworking. He loved the ocean and mountains and volunteered for 20 years as a docent at the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, educating school children in the wonders of sea life. He carried with him everywhere his awe of the natural world and of God’s presence in natural beauty. He was committed to his church and enjoyed his involvement in many aspects of church life. He was devoted to his grandchildren and took the time to encourage each of them in all their endeavors. We we truly blessed with his unwavering love, kindness, compassion, integrity and wonderful sensor of humor which he shared with all.



Greg Jarvis-Slipping the Surly Bonds of Earth—Andy Ott

Greg Jarvis began working on Leasat in 1978 when the Navy held a competition for the next generation UHF Communications Satellite Constellation to provide worldwide communications capability for their entire fleet. Although Greg was reassigned to work on classified programs during several stops and restarts of the Leasat program caused by shuttle development delays (1980 to 1982), he returned to Leasat once the program was fully restarted. Greg was the Leasat Bus Systems Engineer from early design development to time of his selection to become a Payload Specialist (June of 1984) when both F1 and F2 were undergoing System Integration and Test in the Hughes Hi-bay facilities. Please see other sections of this blog about the Payload Specialist selection process (600 Hughes applicants) and the training that Greg and the other three Hughes Payload Specialists (Bill Butterworth, John Konrad and Steve Cunningham) went through in preparation for their scheduled missions.

NASA originally assigned the Hughes Payload Specialists to fly on Discovery in March 1985 (STS 51-D) and August 1985 (STS 51-I) to launch the third and fourth Leasat Spacecraft. Greg was prime for STS 51-D, Bill was his backup and also went through the required NASA training. In addition to monitoring Leasat F3 deployment from the shuttle, Greg was to conduct experiments in fluid dynamics to illustrate fluid motion in sealed containers and their interaction with spacecraft (in this case Shuttle) maneuvers – the well known but poorly understood fuel slosh phenomena that all spacecraft propulsion systems have to operate within.

BUT, politics trumped technology and Greg was re-assigned to Columbia (STS 61-C), the flight scheduled immediately prior to Challenger. Senator Jake Garn of Utah flew on the Discovery 51-D flight that Greg was originally assigned to in April of 1985 and was witness to all the activities when Leasat F3 failed to activate after shuttle deployment. This included constructing a “flyswatter” from on-board materials and rendezvous with the stranded on-orbit F3 Leasat. The flyswatter was mounted to the shuttle Remote Manipulator Arm and used to “swat” (actually more like a nudge) a lever protruding from the satellite, which was hypothesized to possibly be “hung-up” (very low probability but the only thing that could be done at that time). Unfortunately, as many expected, this did not work.

EVA Installing FlySwatters to Shuttle Remote Manipulator Arm

EVA Installing FlySwatters to Shuttle Remote Manipulator Arm

FlySwatter Ready to Swat Slowly Spinning LEASAT

FlySwatter Ready to Swat Slowly Spinning LEASAT

Congressman Bill Nelson of Florida was assigned to the Challenger flight scheduled for January1986. He had originally requested to be on the Columbia flight that Greg was assigned to (STS 61-C, 12/18/1985) that was scheduled to launch an RCA built spacecraft. NASA felt the Congressman needed more training so they re-assigned him to Challenger to get additional training.

There was a problem discovered in orbit with two Hughes spacecraft that was at the time considered a generic problem that could potentially affect Leasat as well. (Are there any Hughesites that remember what this problem was???). Hughes requested a short delay in the launch of Columbia so they could better analyze the in-orbit problems. Columbia was rescheduled to January 12, 1986 even though it was shortly determined by Hughes that the in-orbit problem was not a constraint to launch Leasat F3. The Columbia delay allowed Congressman Bill Nelson additional training time so Greg was bumped from Columbia onto Challenger. Challenger’s payload consisted of a Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRSS B) built by TRW and the crew included Christa McAuliffe – Teacher In Space.

Challenger was originally scheduled for launch January 22, 1986 but delays in the previous mission (Columbia) caused a delay to January 23. Due to bad weather at Kennedy Space Center and then the Abort Landing Site in Senegal, launch was again scrubbed on January 24 and 25. Then two days before liftoff, due to problems with the shuttle exterior hatch, Greg had to wait another two days. Although forecasts for January 28 predicted an unusually cold morning with temperature of 28 to 30 deg F (31 deg F was the minimum NASA permitted temperature for launch) and the coldest previous shuttle launch was 53 deg F, NASA allowed actual liftoff to occur at 11:38 EST on January 28, 1986. Seventy three seconds after liftoff Challenger disintegrated and the rest is history. One can only wonder; what was going through Greg’s mind as he was going through the emotional turmoil with all of the mission re-assignments and then the delays and scrubs? The Hughes Leasat team also had a very special interest in the “ping-ponging” of Payload Specialists and multiple scrubs due to one of its own being one of them.

Art Jones, who was the Kennedy Space Center launch interface engineer for Leasat burst into the building S1 conference room where the Leasat F4 and F5 Integration and Test Team was conducting their daily system integration coordination meeting with the news that Challenger had blown up. After the initial shock, the meeting dispersed and participants went to different conference rooms to see what happened on television. Emotions ran extremely high; many broke down in tears, including several executives. The conference rooms were filled again when NASA broadcast the memorial from Johnson Space Center 3 days after the disaster; once again many tears, especially when President Reagan said “We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them…and… they slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God” and he hugged Greg’s wife Marcia. The Hughes internal Memorial service performed in the patio area between buildings R1 and 366 a few days later was also very much appreciated and emotional.

Greg had finished the course work required for a Masters Degree in Business Management at West Coast University. Greg mailed a handwritten copy of his thesis to the University the day before the launch. The University had planned to award the degree while Challenger was in orbit, making Greg the first person to have his degree conferred while in space. His thesis was titled “In Search of Excellence” and described Hughes Space and Communications Group character, culture and management style. The manuscript was postdated January 29, 1986 and Greg was posthumously awarded the Masters Degree at the spring 1986 commencement Ceremony of West Coast University.

The Challenger Astronauts:  back row left to right El Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, Judy Resnik; front row left to right Mike Smith, Dick Scobee, and Ron McNair.

The Challenger Astronauts: back row left to right El Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, Judy Resnik; front row left to right Mike Smith, Dick Scobee, and Ron McNair.

The following comment was submitted by Steve Dorfman.

Andy, your input is very accurate and well written. It recalls some painful times for me since I was instrumental in arranging for Hughes employees to fly on the Shuttle. It was a good idea but had a terrible outcome. I do believe Greg died doing what he loved doing.

I draw a blank on what Hughes in orbit problems might have led to Shuttle delay. I just don’t recall any such problem. You might consider excluding that part since it isn’t important to the story. The major incident is NASA bumping Greg twice for congressmen. I was the person who had to swallow that pill though I wasn’t given any choice.

The selection process was based on strong system engineering background, not necessarily Leasat though Greg had a Leasat background. It turned out that NASA didn’t really want the Hughes payload specialist to have anything to do with Leasat and hence bumping him to a non-Leasat launch made logic from their standpoint. They viewed the Hughes payload specialist as more Shuttle marketing than Shuttle engineering. I was bitterly disappointed when that became clear.

Your effort to record history is appreciated. I wish we had more SCG people step up and make the effort to contribute.


Space Industry Goes Into ‘State of Shock’ |Los Angeles Times January 29, 1986 Ralph Vartabedian and Michael A. Hiltzik Reprinted With Permission

The aerospace industry went into a “state of shock” Tuesday in the aftermath of the shuttle accident, which was widely seen as a major psychological and technical blow to the ambitious and fast-growing space program, with broad ramifications that were quickly felt in Southern California.

Moreover, a prolonged grounding of the space shuttle program could result in sizable economic losses throughout the military and commercial space industry, which was projected to have combined revenues of $20 billion in 1986, up sharply from $17.9 billion in 1985.

More than two-thirds of the nation’s space-oriented industrial base is concentrated on the West Coast, and the reaction at plants and offices throughout Southern California was particularly painful. Because radios are banned at most aerospace industrial sites, news of the tragedy was spread by word of mouth.

‘Deep Emptiness’ Felt

“I found out about it from two secretaries who were crying,” said Howard Laitin, a chief scientist at a division of Hughes Aircraft. “The feeling was a deep emptiness in the pit of your stomach.”

Two of the seven astronauts killed in the crash Tuesday had close ties to Hughes. Gregory Jarvis was an engineer at Hughes Aircraft’s space and communications division. Ronald McNair was a former scientist at Hughes Aircraft’s Malibu research labs.

George Smith, director of Hughes’ Malibu labs, described McNair as a well trained scientist and a space enthusiast. Albert Wheelon, president of Hughes Space and Communications Group, said of Jarvis: “We lost an outstanding person, a fine American and a good friend.”

Most aerospace executives said it was premature to evaluate the effects of the crash on the space program, but the enormity of the setback left them grasping for words.

Huge Potential Costs

“The industry is in a state of shock,” said Wolfgang Demisch, an aerospace analyst at First Boston Corp. “We won’t know until the pain dulls a little bit how badly we were hurt. But the potential costs are very great.”

Indeed, Wall Street reacted to the accident with a sharp sell-off of shares of aerospace contractors with major roles in the shuttle program.

Morton-Thiokol, the Chicago company that manufactures the shuttle’s solid-fuel rocket boosters, fell the most in heaviest trading. Morton fell $3.875, to $33. The stock was briefly suspended from trading because of an imbalance of orders. Early speculation suggested that a malfunction in the boosters may have set off the explosion.

Also losing ground during the day were shares of Rockwell International, prime contractor for the shuttle orbiter, which fell $1 to close at $34.25; Lockheed, which refurbishes the orbiters after missions, lost $.875 to close at $45.875; and Martin Marietta, which builds the shuttle’s large liquid-fuel tanks, fell $1.125 to close at $33.50.

Experts Disagree on Impact

Financial analysts and space experts disagreed over how great an effect the disaster will have on the U.S. space industry.

“Psychologically, it is particularly significant that they had that teacher on there,” said Sam Pike, director of space policy at the Federation of American Scientists. “The point this mission was supposed to make was that space is a normal place, and it turned around and bit us.”

Pike said the loss of the shuttle fleet for six months will not deal a serious blow to the industry, but a one-year grounding could seriously delay many of the expensive military, commercial and scientific payloads destined for space.

There is currently a glut of communications satellites in orbit, so any delays in launching new satellites will not cause major problems. But the military had planned to launch late this year a KH12 observation satellite, which can be carried only on the shuttle.

Wall Street analysts argued that any fears that the companies faced financial liabilities from the accident are groundless, for NASA specifically indemnifies all manufacturers against liability in the case of in-flight accidents.

But investment specialists said the explosion throws the course of the entire U.S. space program into uncertainty. Among other questions will be whether too much of America’s space program relies on manned vehicles.

“People are going to look at the missions the shuttle is performing and question whether they might not be more efficiently performed by unmanned rockets,” said Howard A. Rubel, aerospace analyst for Cyrus J. Lawrence Inc.

Fifth Shuttle Possible

Because a full schedule of launchings cannot be maintained with only three working spacecraft, “that means we’ll have to build a fourth and maybe a fifth new shuttle,” Alan Benasuli, an aerospace analyst at Drexel Burnham Lambert, suggested.

Under a half-billion-dollar program, Rockwell and its subcontractors already have built a complete set of structural spare parts for the shuttle, including a fuselage, wings and tail assembly. These could be quickly pressed into production.

Hughes Workers Mourn Astronaut They Knew as One of Their Own Los Angeles Times February 06, 1986 Michele Norris Reprinted With Permission

Gregory B. Jarvis, one of the seven crew members killed when the space shuttle Challenger exploded Jan. 28, was more than a national celebrity to Hughes Aircraft Co. employees in El Segundo.

He was one of them.

At noon Monday, the day Jarvis was scheduled to return home, about 800 Hughes employees crowded into a tiny courtyard between two high-rise buildings to pay homage to their fallen co-worker.

Most stood with hands clasped behind their backs or arms folded as they listened to five speakers–including fellow engineers and Jarvis’ alternate for the shuttle mission.

“Here at Hughes we are especially pained by this tragedy because we have lost a friend and a comrade,” said David Braverman, the Hughes Aircraft manager who hired Jarvis in 1972. “He understood and respected the shuttle assignment . . . and despite this tragedy, I think he would have wanted us to get on with the job of conquering the future of space.”

Shared His Joy

Said Hughes engineer Stephen Cunningham, “All of us shared in Greg’s joy as he was selected as the first Hughes payload specialist. Many wanted to be in his position.”

Jarvis and fellow engineer John H. Konrad were selected from a pool of 600 Hughes employees who applied to conduct experiments for the aircraft company during space shuttle missions. Cunningham is designated as Konrad’s alternate on a future shuttle flight.

As Cunningham continued, soft sobs rose from the audience. “I applied for the shuttle program,” said one employee. “It could have been me.”

Cunningham praised Jarvis’ strength and humility. He recalled that Jarvis, at his own expense, created personalized plaques for the employees who prepared the fluid dynamics experiments he carried with him on board the shuttle.

“Those employees will cherish those plaques for many years to come,” Cunningham said.

Not Afraid

Cunningham said Jarvis was not afraid of death. “We talked about the risks and the possibility that we could die,” he said. “We didn’t dwell on it. It was just one of those necessary details that had to be addressed and then put aside.”

Other speakers told stories that drew both smiles and tears from the audience, as employees were reminded of Jarvis’ habits and quirks.

“We all remember your passion for bike riding,” said Dr. Jim Wada, Jarvis’ first supervisor at the Hughes Space and Communications group 13 years ago. “It was not enough for you to ride your bicycle every day between your home and work; I also remember some early morning bike treks to Hughes in Fullerton and that the riding clothes you kept in your office nearly caused a health hazard on those hot summer days.”

Wada’s remembrance sparked a wave of laughter from the audience.

Memorial Planned

Through scores of national memorial services, no one had quite captured what Jarvis meant to Hughes and its employees, said company spokesman Richard Dore. The aircraft company plans to build a memorial for Jarvis at the El Segundo complex.

Jarvis also was being remembered elsewhere in the South Bay this week. In Hermosa Beach, where the 41-year-old engineer lived with his wife, Marsha, the message on the signboard at the Hermosa Beach Community Center is dedicated to the Challenger astronauts, and the City Council plans to discuss a scholarship fund in Jarvis’ honor at a council meeting next week.

Jarvis’ colleagues said the engineer would have been embarrassed by such attention. Though his transition from space science engineer to astronaut brought him relative stardom, his colleagues said he remained unchanged.

“This honor could have easily gone to one’s head,” said William Butterworth, the Hughes alternate for the Jan. 28 flight, at Monday’s memorial gathering. “Greg didn’t let that happen to him.”

Butterworth advised the audience not to dwell on Jarvis’ death but rather to honor him by continuing with the space program.

“What could be more fitting for a man of action than to die doing what he loved to do?” Butterworth asked. “If we take Greg’s qualities and share them with others then Greg will be with us forever.”

Allen E. Puckett dies at 94; top defense executive and engineer

by Ralph Vartabedian Los Angeles Times April 12, 2014 reprinted with permission

Puckett, who became chief executive of Hughes Aircraft Co. in 1978, was ‘the father of our nation’s guided missiles.’

Allan E. Puckett, engineer and one of the nation's top defense executives during the Cold War, has died.  He was 94.

Allan E. Puckett, engineer and one of the nation’s top defense executives during the Cold War, has died. He was 94.

Allen E. Puckett, one of the engineers who after World War II built Los Angeles-based Hughes Aircraft Co. into the nation’s leading defense electronics firm — dominant in the markets for air defense, radar systems, tactical missiles and satellites — has died. He was 94.

One of the nation’s top technologists and defense executives during the Cold War, Puckett died March 31 at his home in Pacific Palisades after suffering a stroke. His wife, Marilyn, confirmed his death.

“Allen Puckett was one of the guiding spirits of Hughes Aircraft,” said Malcolm Currie, a former deputy defense secretary who later followed in Puckett’s footsteps as another president of the company. “He was brilliant. He was the father of our nation’s guided missiles.”

Although he never gave up his technical role, Puckett took over as chief executive of the firm in 1978 and navigated the enterprise through its sale to General Motors in June 1985. His management style encouraged technical excellence, according to former Hughes scientists.

“Puckett allowed things to exist by not squelching creativity,” recalled Howard Laitin, a chief scientist at the company. “He understood that you couldn’t suppress people who were motivated and he created a bottoms-up organization. Everybody had a title and nobody admitted to working for anybody.”

Puckett’s ascendancy in the company came early in his career, when he played a key role in developing the founding technology that gave Hughes Aircraft a big chunk of its business. By the early 1950s, the U.S. was growing increasingly concerned about the ability of Soviet Union bombers to penetrate U.S. airspace.

The U.S. needed a better air defense system and turned to Hughes, which was establishing an expertise in the still-new field of radar. Hughes came up with a long range radar-guided missile, the Falcon, putting Soviet bombers at risk before they could approach their U.S. targets.

Puckett, who studied aerospace engineering at Harvard University and then earned a doctorate at Caltech, pioneered an aerodynamic control system that relied on rear fins, according to Kenneth Richardson, a former Hughes president who also followed in Puckett’s footsteps.

“Allen created the wing form and the rear control system,” Richardson said. “It had low aerodynamic drag and it was highly maneuverable.”

Under Puckett’s stewardship, Hughes later captured the lion’s share of the military’s ground and air radar businesses, supplying the airborne radars used in the F-14, F-15, F-18 and B-2 aircraft and selling air defense systems around the world.

By the time of the first Gulf War, the Defense Department deployed 88 different weapons systems built by Hughes. At its peak, Hughes was the largest industrial employer in California with a workforce of 85,000, including 4,000 people with doctorates on its technical staff.

Puckett won a long list of awards, including the French Legion of Honor and the National Technology Medal. He also was a member of the National Academy of Engineering. He was born in Springfield, Ohio, on July 25, 1919, and he completed his undergraduate studies in 1939. His doctoral thesis laid down the design principles for swept-wing supersonic jets.

The late Albert Wheelon, a former deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency, once said he joined Hughes largely because of Puckett.

“I was a great admirer of Allen,” said Wheelon, who helped build Hughes into the world’s dominant communications satellite manufacturer. It was Puckett, Wheelon said, who held the company together in the early 1950s during the exodus of some of its top talent, including Simon Ramo, Dean Wooldridge, Roy Ash and Charles B. “Tex” Thornton. They later formed major competitors to Hughes.

Laitin recalled Puckett as a jovial executive, though to outsiders he seemed cautious and reserved. Puckett focused on technology, leaving marketing and management of the secretive company to other senior executives. Until the early 1980s, Hughes operated in such a vacuum that its corporate spokesman Lee Pitt once boasted, “We don’t give anybody the time of day.”

As the end of Puckett’s career approached in the mid-1980s, the defense industry shifted and the era when technological supremacy mattered above all else was ending. The company ran into a series of problems with quality control and cost overruns, much like other defense contractors.

And the company’s unusual legal structure was about to crumble and Puckett could do little to stop it. Eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes had originally owned the company and then put it into a nonprofit medical institute controlled by his cronies.

A series of court and tax rulings, however, forced the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to sell the company after Howard Hughes died and GM won the auction. Puckett retired from Hughes in 1987, as the automaker was learning about some of the problems embedded in its new defense subsidiary and was demanding a partial refund on its $5.2-billion acquisition.

GM ultimately sold off Hughes piecemeal for big profits, dissolving one of the nation’s leading technological firms.

“They dismembered the company,” said Richardson, who has written a history of Hughes Aircraft.

Puckett funded a research chair in engineering at Harvard University and a laboratory at Caltech and served on the board of trustees at USC. And in his retirement, he engaged his passion for sailing. He kept a yacht in Marina del Rey and entered races along the Pacific coast.

Besides his wife of 50 years, Puckett is survived by five children, Allen W. Puckett, Nancy Grant, Susan Prislin, Margaret Harris and James R. Puckett; six grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.

Death Ends Work Of Satellite Star Donald Williams—Hughes News February 25, 1966

Donald D. “Don” Williams, 34 one of the nation’s outstanding young men of 1965, took his own life shortly before noon last Monday.

Mr. Williams, co-inventor of the Syncom communications satellite, was a chief scientist in Space System Division. A month ago he was honored by the Junior Chamber of Commerce of the United States with the “outstanding young man” title. It was for developing the orbit control and attitude determination of the Syncom 2, Syncom 3, and Early Bird communications satellites.

Vice President and General Manager L. A. Hyland, in paying tribute to Mr. Williams said: “The important contributions of Don Williams to the synchronous communication satellite are already of historical record. Millions of people in the far corners of the world have and will continue to benefit from his scientific genius that helped give birth to practical space communications.

“Let us remember in our shock at his loss he pioneered the way and that his brilliant work contributed in major degree to the nation’s leadership in space.”

Mr. Williams had been with Hughes Aircraft Company continuously since March 2, 1959 with prior service between 1952 and 1958.


ALBERT WHEELON 1929-2013 Key figure in the development of satellite industry–Ralph Vartabedian Los Angeles Times October 1, 2013 reprinted with permisssion

Albert “Bud” Wheelon, one of the nation’s central figures in the development of the first spy satellite and later the commercial communications satellite industry, has died. He was 84.

INNOVATOR Albert Wheelon helped build Hughes into the largest satellite firm

INNOVATOR Albert Wheelon helped build Hughes into the largest satellite firm

Wheelon, who became one of California’s most important technological innovators in aerospace, leaving behind a multbillion-dollar enterprise and making key contributions to national security, died Friday at his home in Montecito, Calif.

Under Wheelon’s guidance as the first science and technology director of the Central Intelligence Agency, the U.S. invented the photo reconnaissance satellite during the early 1960s.

The spacecraft, bearing the code name Corona, gave U.S. military planners their first concrete assessment of the capabilities of the Soviet Union during the tensest days of the nuclear arms race, when some feared that the communists had opened a wide superiority over the U.S. in nuclear warheads.

The grainy black-and-white images sent by Corona, dropped into the atmosphere in film canisters that were captured in midflight by aircraft, helped to contain the arms race from ever greater extremes, Wheelon said decades later when the program was declassified.

“Bud was one of the giants of aerospace,” said Steven Dorfman, a business associate at Hughes and later a friend of Wheelon’s. “He was an exceptional scientist and an extraordinary judge of people, a great organizer.”

After serving at the CIA for four years, Wheelon moved back to Los Angeles, where he grew up, and in 1967 took over the nascent satellite business of Hughes Aircraft. Over the next two decades, Hughes would become the dominant manufacturer of communications satellites and one of the major private employers in California. At its peak, more than half of the satellites in orbit were built by Hughes at its sprawling factory in El Segundo, which today is owned by Boeing and employs about 5,000 people.

Wheelon could be a tough boss and was known to not tolerate fools.

“He turned off a lot of timid people, who would leave his office trembling,” said Robert Roney, who served as Wheelon’s deputy at the satellite business for 15 years. “My job was to calm down nerves. It was a full-time job. But Bud was a great leader and eventually became greatly admired.”

It was Wheelon who built Hughes’ business in spy satellites, which eventually accounted for half of its sales. And Wheelon became convinced that building commercial satellites alone would be a low-profit business, as other companies attempted to compete. Hughes became a major provider of satellite communications services, which became the biggest profit center of the company. All the major television networks relied on Hughes to transmit their signals across the nation.

But for all of his success in business and technology, Wheelon was ousted from Hughes Aircraft in 1988 after it was purchased by General Motors.

By then, Wheelon had become chairman of the entire company. He began butting heads with GM when he launched an internal investigation into possible foreign bribes on an air defense contact for Egypt. GM officials contended that there was no evidence of wrongdoing and wanted Wheelon to drop the matter because it could damage the automaker’s other business in Egypt.

Wheelon refused to give up the internal probe. The matter grew more tangled when the Justice Department began investigating allegations that Wheelon himself was involved in making bribes in South America.

But after a five-year investigation, the Justice Department dropped the matter without bringing any charges.

Wheelon felt he had been wronged by GM, he told The Times in a series of interviews. As the years went by, he regained his reputation and received awards from the CIA, NASA and professional organizations.

Wheelon was born Jan. 18, 1929, in Moline, Ill. His father, Albert, was an aerospace engineer who brought the family to Los Angeles in a Model T in 1936 so that he could work at Douglas Aircraft Co. Eventually, Wheelon’s father helped to pioneer heat shields for early U.S. spacecraft at a time when his son was beginning to make his mark in space, said Marcia Wheelon, a younger sister.

Wheelon earned a doctorate in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and never abandoned his love of physics. His field of specialty was electromagnetic scintillation, which involves the transmission of electromagnetic waves through the atmosphere.

After leaving Hughes, he published two major research books on physics, making him among the very few business executives who would return to their technical roots after retirement.

“We would be on the corporate jet flying to a meeting, and he would be working out integral equations for sport,” Dorfman recalled.

Wheelon is survived by his second wife, Cicely; a daughter, Cynthia Wheelon; a grandson, Erik Wheelon; and a sister, Marcia. His first wife, Nancy, died in 1980 and another daughter, Elizabeth, died in 2006.


Remembering Mal Meredith—Jack Fisher

Earlier this year we lost Mal Meredith, a friend, co-worker, mentor, and former Hughes executive. Those of us who attended his memorial had the opportunity to relate some of our adventures at Hughes with Mal and I heard many interesting episodes that were new to me. With this post I would like to provide everyone a chance to tell their stories about “Working With Mal.” Please use the comments feature of our blog for your inputs.

Mal earned his undergraduate degree in engineering at UCLA in 1956 and worked at Rocketdyne before he joined Hughes in 1960. He was a member of the Surveyor proposal team in 1960 that captured the Surveyor lunar lander program for Hughes. Mal earned a Masters Degree in engineering at UCLA. His thesis, dated May 1962, was entitled “Launch and Midcourse Guidance Requirements for a Lunar Return Vehicle.” The purpose of the unmanned mission was to return a lunar surface sample to the Earth. His thesis examined the Earth atmospheric entry errors resulting from launch and midcourse guidance dispersions. Upon completion of the requirements for his degree he returned to Hughes.

I met Mal at this time due to our mutual interest in lunar trajectories. He convinced me to join the Surveyor project and we worked together in Bill Grayer’s Guidance and Trajectory Department in the Systems Engineering and Analysis Lab under Jim Cloud. Mal was cognizant of all aspects of the Surveyor flight path including midcourse guidance and the terminal descent. Thus he was the ideal choice for heading the Flight Path and Analysis and Command group for the Surveyor flight operations at JPL. There he played a key role in flight operations including the rescue of the Surveyor V mission.

After the Surveyor program ended in 1968 we worked together on a number of proposals. Specifically I remember a proposal for the Viking Mars lander in early 1969. Hughes was to be a subcontractor to Boeing providing the terminal guidance, propulsion and landing gear. However, this proposal was not successful and the contract was awarded to Martin Marietta. I also recall working with Mal on a proposal to the Air Force for a geosynchronous satellite. I’m not sure what organization we were in at this time.

Mal next managed systems engineering for NASA’s OSO-8 program that was launched in July of 1975 and later became the Associate Program Manager. Shortly after the OSO launch Mal joined the Pioneer Venus program as an Associate Program Manager under Steve Dorfman. There he played a key role in the design of both the large and small probes. My systems engineering responsibility on this program was greatly enhanced by Mal’s mentorship. The iconic Pioneer Venus picture was that of Mal peering through the 13-karat diamond window required for the Large Probe infrared radiometer. Mal was awarded the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal for his contributions to the Pioneer Venus program.

The Pioneer Venus Large Probe Infrared Radiometer Diamond Window

The Pioneer Venus Large Probe Infrared Radiometer Diamond Window

Hughes captured the Galileo Probe program, managed by NASA Ames, that was to be carried to Jupiter by the JPL Galileo Orbiter. Many problems arose with the launch plans and NASA decided to separate the Probe and Orbiter missions. NASA Ames was assigned the responsibility for a probe carrier spacecraft that would carry the probe to Jupiter. NASA ARC developed an RFP for this spacecraft and the Hughes proposal team, headed by Mal submitted the winning proposal. Hughes entered into negotiations with ARC for a contract, but shortly thereafter NASA changed their launch plans again and canceled the Probe Carrier program. Following this he spent two years as the Program Manager for the Ku-band radar system.

With the award of the Intelsat VI program to Hughes in 1982 Mal became the Associate Program Manager reporting to Dave Braverman. He later became the Intelsat VI Program Manager and Assistant Division Manager of the Commercial Systems Division. With GM’s purchase of Hughes in 1985 GM expressed an interest in applying aerospace systems engineering techniques to the development of automobiles. Accordingly, with the guidance of Mal Currie, Hughes SCG personnel prepared a presentation for the GM board of directors describing our approach to systems engineering. Mal was part of that team and spoke to the GM Board of Directors on systems engineering management in November 1986.

In the Anechoic Chamber With Intelsat VI Model

In the Anechoic Chamber With Intelsat VI Model

In 1987 SCG under Tony Iorillo reorganized and Mal became the manager of Systems Engineering and Operations Division. Division 4M combined the System Laboratories, Integration, Test, and Launch Operations, Engineering Mechanics, Reliability, System Safety and Mass Properties. In 1991 he became a Member of the Office of the President reporting to Steve Dorfman. Mal continued in this role until his retirement in October 1992.

Manager of Division 4M

Manager of Division 4M