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Fall 1997 | Volume 13 |  Issue 2

Flash Man

I KNEW HAROLD EDGERTON (“THE MAN Who Stopped Time,” by Joyce E. Bedi, Summer 1997) very well, beginning in my days as a graduate student at MIT in the late 1930s. While his fascination with high-speed photography led him to many unusual endeavors, such as a fruitful collaboration with Jacques Cousteau in undersea exploration, the most extraordinary was that of setting off all the atomic and hydrogen bombs the United States tested. His partnership, Edgerton Germeshausen & Grier, supplied all the timing signals for the experiments that surrounded the tests, including the one that detonated the bomb, and their photography constituted a very large part of the data collected.

Stuart T. Martin
President, WCAX-TV
Burlington, Vt.

Flash Man

YOUR ARTICLE ABOUT HAROLD EDGER ton’s strobe photography brought back some old memories of work during World War II.

Someone had the idea of specially equipping some F-7 aircraft (B-24 Liberator bombers modified for aerial photography) with two huge parabolic reflectors, hung in the bomb bays, each with a flash tube about eighteen or twenty-four inches long. In flight, a gasoline-fueled generator mounted in the aircraft would roar away, charging stacks of electrical capacitors that filled most of the plane, and when an electric switch was closed, the huge flash tubes would fire, producing two cones of brilliant blue light to illuminate the terrain below.

In the spring of 1945 one of these aircraft arrived at the 24th Combat Mapping Squadron, in Guskhara, India, where I was stationed as an aerial photographic officer. Of course I had never seen anything like it before. We tested the equipment and found that we got the best results at about seven thousand feet. Just think of the light intensity that could travel more than a mile and illuminate the earth brightly enough for a snapshot at night! After several test runs the aircraft was given its first combat mission, to photograph a particular highway in Burma to determine the type of traffic the Japanese were moving at night. The plane barely got back from that mission. The regular, predictable light flashes made it a sitting duck for antiaircraft fire.

The strobe equipment was removed from the aircraft, freeing the plane for other uses, and I personally directed the burial of the flash tubes. I subsequently heard that a similar aircraft was tried in Holland. How many others there were I don’t know. The project was a technical triumph but a military fiasco. Certainly it was not the fault of Professor Edgerton!

Melvin S. Kaye
Short Hills, N.J.

Flash Man

PIERRE VERMER, A FRENCH MATHEMATI cian, invented the vernier scale around 1630—centuries before the strobe. In 1990 I got U.S. Patent 4,928,401 for an inexpensive system using a strobe light to read or photograph during operation some special vernier scales attached to the flexible couplings of rotating machines. These measurements make possible more accurate alignment, increasing machine life and reliability, and a number of companies have bought my system and report good results. I took two old inventions and found a new use for a combination of them.

Malcolm Murray
Murray & Garig Tool Works
Baytown, Tex.

Flash Man

SHAME ON YOU. IT’S NOT THE HART ford Courier ; it’s the Hartford Courant , the oldest continuously published newspaper in the United States—since 1764. When I saw that first sentence in Joyce Bedi’s article, I wondered how many other mistakes I would find in the article.

None. And none in any of the other articles. Great magazine. Keep up the good work.

John F. Kulzer
Bloomfield, Conn.

The Thresher Tragedy

I READ “WHAT SANK THE THRESHER?” (by Dean J. Golembeski, Summer 1997) with great interest, and found it, like all I&T articles, well written and very informative. I have a special interest in Thresher because three former shipmates of mine were members of her crew, and two of them were embarked in her on her fatal cruise.

I served in USS Nautilus from April 1957 to August 1960 and was privileged to have as my shipmates at the time Lt. Cmdr. (then Lt.) John W. Harvey, Lt. (then ET2) John Smarz, and Lt. (then ICC) Ray J. McCoole. All would go on to serve in Thresher . Only Ray McCoole would survive her sinking, by remaining ashore during her fatal trip.

Over the years I have read many accounts concerning Thresher ’s loss. The article in I&T , which afforded me new insight into the tragedy, sent my memory reeling back to April 23, 1959, when Nautilus herself was almost lost in a similar incident. On that day- my twenty-first birthday— Nautilus suffered a flooding casualty in the engine room while near the test depth. A four-inch sea suction flex coupling ruptured, quickly flooding the engine room. The collision alarm sounded, the boat was rigged, and an emergency blow was ordered. The reactor scrammed (shut down), we shifted over to the battery, and our ascent to the surface began. Once we were safely on the surface the coupling was replaced, the reactor was restarted, and the boat continued on with her duties. But for the heroic efforts of all who were on watch, Nautilus might have met the same fate as Thresher .

It wasn’t until long after the loss of Thresher , and subsequently Scorpion, that I began to think back to those events in Nautilus on that day in April and realized just how fortunate we were. I now mark my calendar every year with the loss dates of all U.S. submarines, and when those days arrive, I pause to reflect on those souls still “on patrol” and how much different things could have been for me.

John C. Yuill
Cumberland, R.I.

The Tresher Tragedy

I NOTICED THAT IN TWO ARTICLES IN the Summer 1997 issue, neither mentioned the fact that Edgerton apparatus was instrumental in locating the wreck of the Thresher .

Gerald Taylor
Penn Hills, Pa.

A Matter Of Life And Death

IN T. A. HEPPENHEIMER’S ARTICLE “THE Antique Machines Your Life Depends On” (Summer 1997), the reference to the 1960 air crash over Brooklyn is in error; the crash actually occurred over Staten Island, though one of the two aircraft involved crashed in Brooklyn, close to the intersection of Flatbush Avenue and Sterling Place.

In that crash the man who was to have become the director of surgery at the Jewish Hospital of Brooklyn was killed. Had he not been aboard, I would likely not have been hired by his replacement. Who knows what would have become of my life in surgery, as well as countless other lives intertwined with those of the victims?

Robert M. Richter, M. D.
New York, N.Y.

Keeping Pace

WE READ THE ARTICLE ON IMPLANT able pacemakers ("Many Paths to the Pacemaker,” by Kirk Jeffrey, Spring 1997) with special interest because we happened to have some connection with two of the pioneers of the implanted pacemakers, and the younger of us (we are father and son) is a cardiologist. We were surprised to read that “Frank Henefelt, back in 1960, became the first recipient of a successful implanted pacemaker.” Actually the first patient was Arne Larsson, and the year was 1958, as suggested later in the article: “Surgeons at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm had implanted a somewhat similar device in October 1958, but it failed after a few days, and they did not try again.”

What actually happened was that on October 8, 1958, Dr. Âke Senning implanted a pacemaker designed by Dr. Rune Elmqvist. That night the pacemaker stopped (so far your story is correct), but luckily enough a second device could be implanted the following morning. This in all probability saved Arne Larsson’s life, and a couple of dozen pacemakers and thirty-eight years later he is still living. Also, the same Siemens Company in Sweden still manufactures advanced pacemakers. We would not call that a failure.

It is regrettable that in this age of advanced communications even medical news can take so long to cross the Atlantic.

Sven G. Eriksson, M.D., D.D.S.
Djursholm, Sweden
Sven V. Eriksson, M.D., Ph.D.
Danderyd, Sweden

Keeping Pace

THE STATEMENT THAT EARL BAKKEN GOT his idea for his pulse generator from a Popular Electronics design for a metronome struck a memory. I was a subscriber to Popular Electronics in the 1950s and always looked forward to a regular feature titled “Carl and Jerry.” “Carl and Jerry” was a kind of American tall tale of the electronics frontier whose main characters were two high-school-age electronics hobbyists whose homespun abilities could have been exceeded only by a team of Nobel laureates at Bell Labs. They faced typical teenager problems- wanting to excel in school, get a date, help the school team win. Their solutions always incorporated the ingenious application of electronics skills.

When I read that Earl Bakken got that central idea from Popular Electronics, I immediately thought: Carl and Jerry would have been proud!

Dennis Bowman
Tecumseh, Mich.

Mchistory Of Technology

WHEN I READ “NEW YORK’S SECRET Subway” (by Oliver E. Allen, Winter 1997) and looked at the picture on page 48, a strange feeling struck me. Where have I seen this picture before?, I asked. The answer is that I and millions of others have seen it as well as another picture of the Beach subway’s waiting room and tunnel in many Subway restaurants. The sandwich chain uses wallpaper featuring Victorianera line drawings of New York City’s subway systems. I assume most of them were taken from newspapers.

This leads me to conclude that fast food can sometimes have a positive effect in inspiring or cultivating an interest in history. After all, don’t forget the tabletops featuring Victorian newspaper ads at Wendy’s or the 1950s motifs at the Rocket diner chain.

Who says that history is all hardtack and can’t taste good? Nat Pendleton

Curator of History and Technology
South Carolina State Museum
Columbia, S.C.

We hope you enjoyed this essay.

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