An Interview By William Reynolds
Yup, you heard right....why would Avsim interview Tom Allensworth? well....why not?
When I joined the virtual aviation community many years ago I had heard of sites like Avsim, Flightsim and a few others that came and went...and the name Tom Allensworth seemed to be mentioned quite regularly.
If you have been looking around, you would also see adjectives like "Pravda", "KGB", "Tom's Bullies", and many others when referring to his person, his site or the way he or the staff have allegedly dealt with something or someone. Whether you agree with the way things are done or not, you would have to agree that the work done by Tom and the Moderators is a fairly thankless task. Every forum will have differing points of view, and when you mix passion/maturity/immaturity/ego/ignorance/stubbornness/humor/sarcasm/willingness to help/thanklessness and a few others things in a melting pot that is a public forum, you can end up with a product that is not pleasant to digest. Enter "The Janitor".....
So is Tom right in his approach? Who knows, does he care? Would Avsim be better or worse without it? Who knows....but who is Tom Allensworth? I for one had no idea....apart from the few vague things I found on the internet, I knew very little of the person who has provided myself and many thousands of people around the world, with a reliable outlet for information and additions for the hobby I enjoy, and how does he do it? who pays for it, what is behind Avsim?
And will say, getting to know the Man behind the names, the sweeping brooms, the sarcastic and cutting humor, the resilience to not let go of his hobby when everything seemed lost was a very enjoyable experience.
So please, meet Tom Allensworth:
1 – Tell us about you and your family, where are you from? Where did you grow up?
I am your typical Navy brat. My father was U.S. Navy and no there is no surprise here; I was born in San Diego, California. We lived in many places during my years prior to graduating from high school. Oahu, Hawaii; Yokosuka, Japan; Spokane, Washington; San Diego, one more time, and finally at PAX River Naval Air Station in southern Maryland. During those various duty station changes, we drove across the U.S. or took a train across, more times than I can remember.
I am married and my much better half is Denise. We have no children.
2 – What about the young Tom, College, tertiary Studies?
I graduated from High School in June of 1968. That was a really, really, bad time to be loitering between high school and a decision to go to college. If you took your time in committing to a college, you could have found yourself in a jungle somewhere in SEAsia. I really didn’t know what I wanted in continuing my education; but I did know that I DID NOT want an education in viper, mosquito and leech biology, taught close-up and personal. Funny how that changed.
I was accepted at and attended St. Mary’s College of Southern Maryland in the fall of 1968 as a History Major. I didn’t last long. My heart and soul were not into advancing my education at the time and I felt I was wasting money and time.
3 – What was the dream at this point; did you know what you wanted to do?
I don’t think many 19 year olds have a clue about what they want to do in life and any dreams that they do have are probably more tied to their hormones than their future. Life at that point for most 19 year olds are a day-to-day experience – future goals are kind of amorphous and ill-defined. Or at least mine were.
4 – Your life in the US Navy…can you take us through that period?
I enlisted in the U.S. Navy in August of 1969 after working the summer for the Potomac Electric Power Company (PEPCO) at the Patuxent River generating station. I learned a lot in that short job and it was a great experience. I am not sure that I will ever be able to climb on a “rubber band” (the thing is called a "man lift" as the image depicts) elevator again, but that is another story.
The Navy, in its wisdom, thought I would make an excellent Aviation Electronics Technician (AT) and I didn’t know enough about the subject to argue with them.
Just an aside; in those days Naval Aviation types were known as “brown shoes” and the Surface Navy was known as “black shoes”, because of the uniforms that officers wore at the time. My dad, a “black shoe”, found out I was destined to become a “brown shoe” and threatened to disown me. He didn’t, but it always made for interesting family get-togethers… Don’t ask me what submariners were known as – “bubble heads” – they all dressed in funky jumpsuits…
The Navy (and the U.S. taxpayer) spent a tremendous amount of national treasure on my education in electronics, particularly radar. I graduated from “A” school in May of 1970 and was promptly ordered to (guess where???) San Diego, my home town. That was after I had put in a dream sheet request for Viet Nam as a “Patrol Boat River (PBR)” crewman. Yeah, I wasn’t all that bright. The life expectancy of a PBR crewman was measured in days or weeks at best, once in-country.
The Master Chief of the school agreed; not too bright, and let me know it in characteristic Master Chief style. I still have mental scars from that brief meeting. The dress down started with “you’re stupid” and ended with “you’re stupid” and in-between was “we just spent a bazillion dollars on your education! You think we are going to send you out to be a target???” The image to the left is of a typical PBR during the Vietnam war. They definitely were not healthy places to hang out on for long.
So, the Navy spent all this money in turning me into a radar specialist and then sent me to a helicopter squadron. Guess what… Helicopters in the U.S. Navy in the early 70’s did not have radars. Nada, zip, none.
Okay, so now I think some jokes are being played on me. Send me home, where I definitely will not see the world, and train me on equipment that my squadron and all other helicopter squadrons there do not have; radars. Well, there was another surprise coming… My 19 year old brain was getting truly confused.
The Navy, again in its wisdom, sent me to additional schools - Airborne Dipping Sonar and multiple radio and discrete technologies classes. I arrived at my squadron in May of 1970 and I didn’t see my squadron again for nearly a year while attending all these other schools. This image is of a Sikorsky SH-3 Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW) helicopter with an AN/AQS-13 Dipping Sonar being deployed. The AQS-13 was the principle piece of equipment that I worked with and maintained. I also flew in the thing more than my comfort level would like to admit. There is a reason that helicopters are defined as "A million mismatched parts flying in close formation". I can attest to that. Talk about cantankerous beasts.
Admiral Elmo Zumwalt became CNO at about the same time as I joined the squadron in April, 1970. Beyond being totally confused about my squadron, education etc., I was further flummoxed by the new CNO. During his tenure as CNO, with all the changes he made in pay, policies and the like, I never received a pay check that held any similarity to the previous one. I never knew what to expect on pay day. Navy! The only way to fly!
5 – Most interesting anecdotes/memories of this time?
Joining the U.S. Navy, with all the benefit of hindsight, was the smartest life direction decision in that l ever made. From that decision a life-time of personal and professional growth took place that would not have happened otherwise. I have always maintained that a young person (at least in the U.S.) should join the armed forces or an organization like the Peace Corps before or immediately after graduating from college. The experience gives you the time to consider your future, to mature, and fundamentally have a more rounded view of the real world and some grounding of your expectations of life.
The U.S. Taxpayer gave me an education in electronics that in those days was valued at over $200,000 (including all the “C” schools). I shudder to think what an equivalent education would cost today. It was a tremendous education and one which was to significantly contribute to my future. And I didn’t have college loans to pay off for the next 20 years…
One of the most important events in my life, and in terms of AVSIM, occurred while I was in the Navy, stationed in San Diego; I took up flying lessons at Brown Field, just south of Chula Vista. My trainer a/c was a Mooney 210, otherwise known as the Mooney Cadet. I put a lot hours clunking around SoCal in that airplane before throwing in the towel due to leaving the Navy and going back to school as a very poor student.
When my four year commitment to Uncle Sam was fulfilled, I chose not to re-enlist. Instead, I wanted to finish my college education and I elected to attend college in Northern California. I had had my fill of electronics and sonars in particular and decided to declare as a Geology major. That wasn’t exactly a bright move either (at the time, but it had serious positive consequences for my future).
Early on, one of my professors, George Wheeldon pictured to the left, suggested that he and I have a beer sometime and talk about my future direction. We got together at a local watering hole one day, and he was pretty direct. “With your background in electronics, why are you a Geology major? Don’t you realize that you will have to at least obtain a master’s degree and spend X more years as an apprentice before you will ever be able to work as a licensed Geologist in the state of California?” Though I loved being back in school THAT got my attention and ultimately changed my path (again). In the meantime I took a part time job as a staff photographer at a local weekly newspaper. And that lead to another of life’s forks in the road.
Ironically, later on in the 1980's I called George and asked if he would like to accompany me on a survey of the southern end of San Francisco Bay. My company had been hired to assist the US Army Corps of Engineers to map out something or other. I think George enjoyed every moment of it. He recently reminded me that the boat's name that we did our survey from was named David Gaines, for one of the USGS geologists that died on Mt. St. Helen's in May of 1980. Another irony; the scientific crew of the SEAMARK departed for Alaska two weeks after St. Helen's blew up and we passed just to the west of her. We had an unobstructed view of the mountain still spewing ash and clouds.
I took a part time job as the “staff photographer” for a local weekly newspaper (read; the ONLY photographer on staff). I was called out to all manner of “shoots” including traffic accidents, fatalities, fires, etc. Each time I showed up at one of these, another photographer from the Sacramento Bee would also be on scene. After a few of these “meetings”, we got to be pretty good friends and started socializing. Over a beer or two and a BBQ at his family’s house, we decided that we would form a partnership and open a Camera Store, Studio and Laboratory, and do contract photography as well. We did weddings, studio and outdoor portraiture, and very quickly were asked to do evidentiary photography for the California Highway Patrol responsible for that sector of northern California. The CHP used essentially Brownie Box Cameras at the time (that’s an exaggeration, but not far from the truth). In all, we did lab work, specialty developing and printing, and so on. Because of my interest in Stock Car racing, I became the track photographer at the local race track on top of all that.
In the two years that I co-owned the business I think I photographed 60 some highway fatalities, a couple of murders, and god only knows how many “nasties” that the CHP needed photos of.
One of the most heartbreaking was the murder of a CHP officer who had made a normal road side stop for speeding. He was gunned down as he approached the car. I counted him as a friend. It was a formative experience for me and definitely altered my view of the human animal.
On the more mundane side I was once contracted by a law firm to photograph EVERY major pot hole in South Lake Tahoe on the California side of town. The photos were to be used as evidence in a law suit against the paving company that had paved the roads just three months earlier... From then on I have never seen a pothole that I liked.
In August of 1976 I married and it became another fork in the road. Within two months or so, my new bride insisted that I get out of the photo, store, lab business, as I was working sometimes 18 hour days, including Sundays. On Sundays I developed proof copies from the Saturday night races for the drivers and families to choose from on Monday.
I really wasn’t one to be in the retail trade, and truth be told, I was rather tired of dealing with demanding mothers of the bride. So, my wife’s urging of me to put my cameras aside was not all that hard for me to accept. I sold my half of the business to my partner. We decided that my wife needed a break from college where she was working on an accounting degree and that we should do something different for a while – a mental vacation if you like. One Sunday we were perusing the Sacramento Bee and came across an ad for the Peace Corps. Another fork in the road…
6 – The Peace Corps Volunteering, how did that come about? Where did it take you?
We answered the ad, and soon found ourselves in a meeting with a Peace Corps recruiter. He probed our backgrounds a bit, and homed in on my electronics degree and my “enough to be dangerous” smattering of geology. He totally dismissed her accounting major, making me the “primary volunteer”. She was left to find a job once we were in-country. It would be up to her to find a “job” once we were in-country.
In those days, and I assume this is still the case, a host country puts out a “requisition” to the local Peace Corps staff where they vet it and they, in turn, pass that back to PC HQ which, if approved, provides it on a list issued to all recruiters around the country.
In our case, the recruiter had two positions that met my background (or more accurately stated) ones that I actually had a chance of meeting the requirements for). Back in those days, the Peace Corps had two types of volunteers; technical volunteers and the better known teaching volunteers.
He said to us that he had two requests that might be met with my background; a position in Belize and one in Fiji (where???). The job in Belize was to teach radio and electronics repair to the Belizean Army. In January of 1977 Belize was at war with Guatemala, their neighbour to the west, and we would be located closer to the front line than the beautiful beaches. Okay…
It didn’t take a lot of grey matter or time to form the question; “So, what do my friends in Fiji need?”
Fiji had a request in for someone that could set up and maintain an electronics department for the Mineral Resources Division (MRD) of the Government of Fiji. Beyond that, there were two major projects that I would need to participate in (with more to come, as I was to find out). The first of these would be the co-designer of Fiji’s first indigenously built research vessel, responsible for the electronic survey equipment and the ship’s electronics and electrical systems. The second was to work with Cornell University in setting up an FM based remote sensing earthquake monitoring system islands wide. “Islands wide”… I had no idea what that meant, but it sounded exciting. Oh boy, was it. There are some 200 islands or so in the Fiji group. Not all of them are populated, and not all of them were candidates for installations.
Side note: the histories of the U.S. and Britain’s involvement in Fiji are interesting, especially the involvement of John Brown Williams and the events that followed the events surrounding him. Click on the link above to read all about it.
The closest I had ever come to a ship (other than sail boats), even in the Navy, was to go aboard a U.S. Navy Aircraft Carrier tied up at North Island Naval Station in San Diego in 1972 to calibrate one of their pieces of ASW sonar test equipment. That was the extent of my “sea duty” and I had to have someone show me around to keep from getting lost or falling overboard. I was going to help design a research vessel? In for a penny, in for a pound; youth, confidence and hutzpah – a powerful combination that knew no bounds.
I have to admit that we had to go to the local library where we lived to look up where Fiji was! We found two books that mentioned Fiji. One was the story of the mutiny on the Bounty. Oh great; an island of cannibals. In late January 1977 my wife and I found ourselves in San Francisco with a group of other volunteers bound for Fiji.
We were part of Fiji Peace Corps Group #28 – the 28th group to go into Fiji since the inception of the Peace Corps in 1961 with John F. Kennedy’s executive order 10924. Group 28 was purely a technical group; no school teachers, which consisted of accountants, fishery management experts, IT folks, mechanical engineers, architects and a sole out-board motor repairman.
7 – Thinking back on this period, any life changing or thought provoking experiences?
The Peace Corps IS a life changing event and thought provoking experience by definition, as I think any returned volunteer would attest to. Group 28 consisted of 14 volunteers, 4 of which were married. All but one was under the age of 30. That one stand out was a 60 something volunteer by the name of Dale. Dale was a retired Marine Corps Colonel.
Dale’s story is not unique (or at least not at that time – remember Jimmy Carter’s mother?). Dale’s wife had died shortly after he retired from the Marine Corps and Dale didn’t want to sit idly by and let his life be spent forever on the golf course. He wanted to do something more with his time left. So, he went and interviewed with the Peace Corps. The interview went something like this:
PC Recruiter: So, Dale, you retired from the Marine Corps. What skills do you have?
Dale: I am pretty good with a rifle and a grenade.
PCR: We don’t have much of a need for those skills. What else can you do?
Dale: Repair outboard motors.
PCR: Do you have any credentials to show your training in that?
PCR: Well, we have needs for an outboard motor repairman and instructor in Fiji, but you have to have credentials showing your training in that area.
Dale: I will be back...
Dale put himself through every major outboard motor repair school that he could find, paid his own way, and finally returned to the Peace Corps Recruiter months later. Upon showing the recruiter his graduation certificates, the recruiter sent off a message to PC HQ and within a couple of weeks, he was invited to join Group 28 and come to Fiji. Dale spent time on almost every island that had a population, teaching outboard motor repair to hundreds. Dale has passed on now, but he taught all of us an invaluable lesson. If there is something you want hard enough, you don’t question yourself, loose self-confidence or back off from the goal. You just do it.
We departed KSFO on a Pan Am 747-200 or -300 and with a stop in PHNL and we arrived in Nandi, Fiji at about 11:00 in the morning the next day. My first thought as we crawled off the airplane was; “Where the hell is my scuba gear?” The humidity was somewhere near 99% in over 90 degrees heat and it was oppressive. I don’t know what the combined heat index was, but I had never been exposed to anything like that. We overnighted in a community on the way to Suva and there we were told that Viti Levu, the main island, was in a drought. We were told this as the rain was coming down in torrential buckets – and I mean buckets!
This is a drought? Really? Our local staff member went on to explain that the island gets an average of 200 inches or so of rain a year, and in that year they had only had 180 inches. 180 inches a drought? The explanation was quite simple, though not so obvious to us young Americans; with that much water normally coming down, there is not a tremendous need for storage reservoirs. With 20 inches less, that becomes a problem. It took a while to digest that little bit of insight.
We had 11 weeks of language and cultural training in Suva and had to pass those before being released on the Fijians. During that 11 week period we spent some time at our final assignment location; in my case the MRD. In the 9th week, while at the MRD, I came down with dengue fever. If you know anything about this disease, you will know that it is a killer (even today) and is very debilitating. It causes almost instant dehydration and tremendous fever. Sitting on a toilet and holding a bucket to your face, I discovered, was an art form. From what I have been told, it is like Malaria on steroids. I haven’t had Malaria, so couldn’t say, but I don’t want to ever find out. I do know that as I travelled SEAsia later in life, I was much attuned to the outbreaks of Dengue fever in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta and scheduled out or around them when I could.
I ended up designing the electronics and electrical systems on the Research Vessel “BULIKULA” (The “Golden Cowry” in Fijian – the rarest shell of all), the first and only Research Vessel that the Fijian government ever owned that I am aware of. The BULIKULA was taken out of service in the early 90’s as a research vessel and was pressed into service as a hospital ship after the severe and devastating typhoons that came through the islands during that time. I am told that the BULIKULA later ran aground on a reef and sank. But, while she was a research vessel, she was used to explore for maritime resources such as precious corals, hydrocarbons, manganese nodules and SAT NAV mapping of reefs, and the like.
Side note: most of the Fijian waters were mapped in the late 1800’s by the Royal Navy. When we did surveys in the Bligh Waters, as just one example, we found reefs that were as much as a ½ mile out of position based on the paper charts created earlier. Scary! This is an image of a ORE Sub Bottom Profiler (SBP) on the RV SEAMARK. The SBP is used to profile the ocean bottom and returns a high resolution image and depending upon bottom type, some penetration of the layers below the ocean floor. This image is of a shift of two, reviewing the incoming SBP data that is being recorded on an EPC Flat Bed Recorder.
Within a week of starting my job at MRD, I received a call from Commodore Stan Brown, commander of the Royal Fijian Navy. When World War II concluded, Stan Brown was Royal Navy officer who served in the naval flotilla that stayed in Fiji. When Fiji gained its independence, Commodore Brown was promoted to Chief of the Navy. The commodore had a problem; he had a number of NATO class mine hunters which were given to Fiji by the U.S. after independence in 1970, and their radars were all broke. Could I help? Yes, if Peace Corps HQ allowed it. Next thing I knew, I was on a hot, noisy, and very confused Mine Hunter cruising around with a U.S. Navy destroyer that was on its way home for decommissioning.
Decom? Ah, lots of parts and spares to be had - who worries about accounting for them, when they are all going to be thrown away. Sure enough, we anchored in the bay of a nearby island and while the Americans and the Fijians were partying ashore, we unloaded boxes of radar spares from the destroyer to the mine hunter. Side mission accomplished. Stan Brown is a very famous character and if you have a chance, read up on him via Google and Wikipedia. He wrote a very famous book regarding the history of Fiji and its creation which you can read excerpts of here.
Because of its position within the Fiji plateau, Fiji is a unique geophysics laboratory. If you want to read more about that, there are a number of sources, and one of them can be found here. There were a number of individuals in the “early days” of Plate Tectonics that developed the theories that eventually took shape and formed the basis of today’s modern understanding of geophysics and plate tectonics. Three names are famously attached to the adoption of Plate Tectonics as a fact in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. Isack, Oliver and Sykes.
Dr. Bryan Isacks (photo to the left - in the center) of Cornell University along with an engineer by the name of George Hade had done a lot of work in Fiji before my arrival. Bryan had written his doctoral thesis on the subject of subduction zones and tectonics that resulted from his extensive studies of the micro-seismics that Fiji experiences dozens of times a day. Bryan was a grad student studying under the tutelage of Dr. Jack Oliver, both of Cornell, was one of the other famous names. Finally, Dr. Lynn Sykes of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, was the third.
When I showed up in Suva, Bryan and George were well along on a path to establishing an earthquake management system established on key islands in the Fijian Group. That network was conceived to be networked back to the Suva headquarters’ building of the MRD using FM based VHF radio systems. Prior to my arrival, one remote seismometer was set up on government property five miles away or so, linked by telephone modem, and one seismometer was on MRD grounds. The remote stations on selected islands would expand the network, allow source point detection, and most importantly provide earlier warnings on possible tsunamis. I also would eventually install a Strong Motion Accelerometer (SMA) to provide an alarm for larger earthquakes.
A little footnote for historical purposes; my wife and I rented a house in Lami, not too far outside of Suva proper. On one of his visits we invited Bryan to dinner at our home. Our home had a front porch that had metal columns to hold up the tin roof over it. When Bryan left that evening he walked right into one of those columns. I thought we had killed him! He was okay and was able to get back to his hotel okay.
Another fork in the road… Fiji needed a technical representative to work on surveys with the United Nation’s Committee on Offshore Prospecting for the South Pacific (UN CCOP SOPAC) which coincidentally had its HQ on the same property as MRD. John Halunen, PHD., who was the Director of the CCOP at the time, somehow convinced the Director of MRD, that it would be a really, really, good idea to have me provide technical support to the CCOP. I called it being shanghaied.
I found myself on a number of cruises with CCOP SOPAC around the Fiji plateau looking for deep nodules and Tonga for precious corals, among others. My first cruise with CCOP was aboard a vessel from Dunedin, New Zealand, owned by Alex Black. Alex didn’t have a ticket to be the captain of a ship under contract, so he was aboard as the “cook”. I learned the first morning at sea all about breakfast goodies like black pudding, white pudding and other delectable fare. The Captain, Alex, John and I were the only ones that showed up for breakfast that first morning; everyone else was suffering from seasickness or fear of Alex’s cooking. And that is where I learned that John would eat anything that didn’t move fast enough.
Someday I will tell the story of that cruise. On that first survey, I discovered the worlds of free fall corers that take six hours to go to the bottom and return and flying fish omelettes. I also was confronted with the degree to which geologists would argue for hours over the colour of seafloor mud. Someday, if someone is interested.
We installed the first of the remote seismic sites on the island of Gau (pronounced Now and shone on Google Earth as “GNAU”). Upon arrival in a Norman Islander, our first task was to have the traditional Kava ceremony with the Chief of the village and its men. I happened to ask the chief how far the mountain was that we would have to climb (with the villagers being paid to carry all the equipment, batteries and the like up). Major cultural lesson follows; the answer was “ah, short distance, maybe two cigarettes long”. The way I smoked at the time (now quit), that translated in to maybe a 15 minute walk. WRONG…
What I did not know was that because of their remoteness and lack of cash incomes, island Fijians at the time would smoke half a cigarette, put the remaining half back in its pack and then smoke the second half some 20 or 30 minutes later. What I thought would be a short slog turned out to be a 90 minute trudge. So much for measuring time… Do a search on Google Earth and you will see what I mean.
At the end of our Peace Corp service, as the end date approached, John tried to talk me into joining CCOP as an engineer. My wife wanted to return home. Another fork in the road… I turned the offer down and have on many occasions looked back and wondered “what if”. It turns out the decision to depart Fiji was the right one, despite what was to follow.
In late May of 1980, in the bed of a pickup truck with 4 or 5 of my fellow crew members from the RV Seamark, going from the fuel pier in Dutch Harbor to the Unisea Inn, we encountered another pickup truck going back to the fuel pier. The two “shore men” driving the trucks stopped to trade notes, and in the back of the other truck was John. John was the chief scientist aboard another research vessel tied up at the same fuel pier. John was a pilot and owned his own plane based out of Port Hueneme. John joined a company in that area later on, and we ended up doing business together for quite a while after.
Side note: if you have never flown into UNALASKA’s Dutch Harbor’s airport, give it a try. I will never forget our real life arrival and departure there aboard Reeves Aleutian Airlines.
8 – Considering the world we live in now, would you do this again?
If I were I 27 again, I would without a second thought. At 63, not so much. Like the Navy, college, experiencing ownership of a business and my exposure to the world as the son of a sailor, my Peace Corps time was a life experience that is irreplaceable. It led to other forks in the road that were keys to my future and professional growth. Being an RCPV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer) is one of the greatest privileges that I can imagine.
I would encourage everyone to consider the Peace Corps, or similar organizations in their respective countries. It is a tremendous experience which matures one’s view of the world. The cultural exposure that comes with it is something that is valuable beyond measure. Every RPCV that I have ever known firmly believe that they learned more and gained more than they would ever be able to give. I know that applies to me for sure.
9 – Let’s talk about your career at Northrop Grumman, how did that come about? Where did you start?
There was not a direct path between Fiji and Northrop, so let me bore you with the story in between first.
We returned from Fiji in the middle of 1979 after just shy of 2 ½ years there. I took a job as a consultant for a while and then went to work for Exploration Logging in Sacramento, while both my wife and I returned to school. By the end of 1979 she and I had separated and I took a job with NEKTON out of Sorrento Valley (San Diego – back home – again) as an electronics type – the next-to-best decision I ever made!
NEKTON was known for its three two man subs; the ALPHA, BETA and GAMMA, of which one was used to explore the bottom of Lake Tahoe as well as other explorations that received a lot of public attention at the time. An image of the Research Vessel SEAMARK at the Dutch Harbor fuel pier.
My job was to support sea going surveys with the responsibility for operating and maintaining side scan sonars (as shown in the image to the right - an EG&G side scan used on the RV Seamark), various vertical high resolution seismic systems, magnetic detection systems, sub bottom profilers, high power acoustic sound sources and so on. I arrived at NEKTON and immediately went on shakedown cruises in preparation for the surveys in the waters north of Dutch Harbor and Cold Bay in the Aleutians and eventually that summer, the waters off of Nome, Alaska. NEKTON owned the research vessels SEAMARK and BEARING EXPLORER. Over my short career at NEKTON, I did surveys off the coast of California, Alaska and the Georges Banks (scene of the well-known movie, THE PERFECT STORM – and yes, it can be a real nasty place) off the east coast of the U.S. Prior to leaving NEKTON, I was put in the position of “Party Chief”. That is, project manager of the sea-going operations. I ended up managing cruises on both SEMARK and BEARING EXPLORER before my departure to the east coast. I can attest to the fact that being a “Party Chief” is no party. Someday, I will write a story about that too.
In mid-1981 I left NEKTON to take a job on the east coast and eventually ended up at Ocean Research Equipment in Falmouth, Mass. I ended up winning a lawsuit against Raytheon as a result of that move, but that’s another story as well.
Another fork in the road… I was made a Marketing Manager for ORE, with interesting positions prior to that. I didn’t know squat about marketing and sales (other than selling Nikons, Olympus’ and Mamiya and other cameras in the store years before), but that didn’t appear to be a problem with ORE management. My design work and knowledge of the products helped convince them that I had something to offer in that area, I guess – or maybe they were just desperate.
I spent a lot of time on the water with ORE too. Time at sea included stints off of Yakutat, Alaska, the Straights of Labrador north of Saint John’s New Foundland, Norton Sound, and the Beauford Sea, off the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand, Green Turtle Key in the Bahamas, and many others. But most importantly, as a Marketing and Business Development type, I found myself traveling the world, working with ORE’s offices in Europe and agents, countries and their governments around the world. To the left is a photo of Ralph Hollis, Chief Pilot of the Deep Submergence Vehicle "ALVIN". See the story at the gallery by clicking on the image.
One business trip I took with ORE was to have later ramifications for my career. I went to China in 1983 or 1984 to negotiate a joint venture with the Qingdao Institute of Oceanography for co-production of our vertical acoustic profiling systems. The trip included a long stint on a Chinese “research vessel” demonstrating that equipment to our future partners.
The research vessel had more antennas and domes on it than any of the U.S. Navy’s intelligence ships at the time, so I was under no allusions that this ship was only on short term loan as a “Research Vessel”. When I boarded her and met the Captain, I was left in no doubt. I was put in the XO’s stateroom and told that if I went up one deck or down more than one deck (where the lab was) I would most likely be shot. Hmmm… Okay, I didn’t argue. Needless to say, when I returned to the ORE offices in Falmouth, I immediately received a call from one of those Alphabet Soup U.S. Government organizations wanting to know everything about the cruise, the ship, ad nauseam.
The politics within ORE finally got to me and I decided to make a short detour to another oceanographic company; BENTHOS, located in North Falmouth, Mass. I had the great privilege to work for Sam Raymond, BENTHOS’ founder and Doc Edgerton, the “E” in EG&G fame, who was on our Board of Directors.
EG&G made the precision timing devices for nuclear weapons during the war, and into modern era. They also made side scan sonars and other marine technology at the time. The technology of these timing devices also formed the basis for precision control of underwater strobes and cameras, all of which BENTHOS made. Doc and Sam were exceedingly important in the fields of marine systems. However, despite the luminaries, after a while I realized that BENTHOS was too cerebral for me and my field history didn’t really translate to the rarefied atmosphere of the company. About the time I had had it, I received a phone call.
During the period I spent with ORE and BENTHOS, a number of things took place that were addressed by both companies and I was able to participate to one degree or another; the KAL007 shoot down, both Air India downing’s, the Challenger tragedy, Titanic, and numerous other debris field mapping and recovery operations. Between the two companies, strobes, cameras, towed bodies, acoustic navigation systems, side scan sonar and sub bottom profiling systems, advanced timing and mapping system and remotely operated vehicles, were provided for those operations.
It was one of my greatest pleasures during this time to meet Emory Kristof. Emory, as you can read from the link, was an innovative and prolific contributor of photo journalism to the National Geographic. Emory was the brains behind the stunning vertical mosaic of the Titanic that appeared in the National Geographic Magazine after the Titanic’s initial debris field mapping. The technology to obtain those images is still a wonder to me. That’s another story too… However, the photo shown to the left is an image of ARGO, the towed sled that was used to capture some very famous photos in the vertical of the Titanic. I consider ARGO to be Emory's greatest contribution to that project. If you click on the image you will be presented a larger one on which you will clearly see the pressure containers for strobes, cameras, acoustic transponders and receivers, timing systems and other electronics. BENTHOS and ORE were contributors of systems aboard and associated with functioning of ARGO.
In early 1987, I received a call from a “head hunter” on behalf of a company yet un-named, interested in recruiting me. Why? I was eventually to find out that it was because of the Chinese Joint Venture efforts and my experience globally in the marine environment. After some dickering, I found myself on an airplane out of Boston on my way to the big metropolis of Charlottesville, Virginia, where I was to interview with a team of folks at Sperry Marine. I signed on and came to work for Sperry in July of 1987.
It was the best of times and in one sense, the worst of times. Sperry Corps was the target of a hostile takeover by Burroughs Corp and was acquired at the end of 1986. The resulting company was instantly was marketed as the “Power of Two” – forming UNISYS. When I joined Sperry, it had been moved under the auspices of Sperry Aviation. Because we were non-core assets to UNISYS, both the Aviation and Marine divisions were going to be sold. And in early 1989, they were. Aviation was bought by Honeywell and Marine was acquired by Tenneco (a mining and oil pipeline company – say what???). Tenneco owned Newport News shipbuilding; the only shipyard in the U.S. that built aircraft carriers and roughly half of all the U.S.N.’s nuclear submarines. I guess Tenneco management thought we would be a good fit with Newport News and so we ended up under Newport News’ management.
To make a long story somewhat shorter, in my career at Sperry, we were owned by Tenneco, sold to the J. F. Lehman and Company, an investment group, which sold Sperry to Litton Corps, and in January of 2001, Litton in its entirety was purchased by Northrop Grumman. So, through no devious designs on my part, I ended up as an employee of an aircraft company – and a historical pair of them to boot.
During my near 25 years with Sperry / Northrop I was privileged to work with some real luminaries in the world of inertial navigation, and in particular, ring laser gyro based inertial navigation. Some of those were Dick Brady, Dr. Manny Levison, Bob Hibbard, Henry Stacy, and many others. I was part of the team that won the NATO SINS program against Litton, Rockwell, Sagem and Anschutz. I was the co-author, along with Bob Hibbard, of the requirements document that eventually lead to the development of the ring laser gyro based attitude and heading reference system. You’re tired of hearing it, I am sure, but that is another story…
10 – You retired as Director of Division, was there anything else you wanted to achieve there or was it truly time?
A correction is in order. I retired at 61 as the Director of Business Development, International Defence, of Sperry Marine. Sperry Marine was a world famous company founded in 1911 by Elmer Sperry. Our first international office and production facility was in the UK, where in 1912 – 13, we started production of the first gyrocompasses and gun fire control systems to be delivered to the allies for World War 1. Ironically, our first agent was contracted in Japan in 1918 by Elmer himself. It is a great story and one that I will hopefully tell someday.
I remember my first trip to Indonesia shortly after I joined Sperry. Though my father, as a retired Navy Chief was very aware of Sperry and was excited that I had been recruited by them, in truth I had no idea of the importance of Sperry in the naval world until that trip.
We arrived and were scheduled to have a meeting with a Captain who was responsible for navigation systems and spares. The equivalent of the Indonesian Chief of Naval Operations (the U.S. Navy’s CNO) apparently found out that we were visiting and requested that we meet with him. He simply wanted to talk about his experiences with Sperry equipment as a younger naval officer at sea and his appreciation for our support and history together. The meeting lasted an hour. That is a lifetime! I was left with a bit of a jaw drop, but I found in the early days that this welcoming of the Sperry Marine Company was a rule rather than an exception. I experienced early on the same in Egypt, Kuwait, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan and many others to my great appreciation.
In its wisdom, Northrop Grumman decided to shut down Sperry Marine in the U.S in 2011 with the closing date of January 31st, 2012. It moved all of its management functions to our offices in the UK, and that was where Sperry is based today, with no U.S. presence. Over 60 people at our HQ either found themselves without a job, or in my case, retired. Had I had my choice, I probably would have held out to 65 somewhere else in the NG organization, but I decided to pack it in and adopt “retirement”. With all the benefit of hindsight, Northrop did me a tremendous favour by shutting down Sperry Marine, U.S.
Why did NG shut down Sperry U.S? Another story to be told (and not a pretty one)…
There are only two things that really upset me about this devastation of a world class and historic company (other than the senseless loss of jobs among my colleagues and friends); I was cheated out of my 25th anniversary party that would have happened in July, and it kept me from reaching a million miles flown on United. That’s just United, but I was so looking forward to that milestone. I have lost track of the miles flown on other airlines, but I know that when I joined Sperry in 1987, I brought with me roughly 500,000 miles flown on TWA. I never worried about Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). I was more concerned about DAT… Deep butt Thrombosis.
11 – Let’s look at AVSIM, in its infancy it was CAPENET, a Bulletin Board, was it just a pastime? Did you think it would turn into anything else?
Capenet was an early BBS that I ran out of my home, as a hobby, when I was living on Cape Cod, prior to coming to Virginia in 1987. It was a social networking system with no aviation or simulation focus at all and whose sole purpose was to teach me online communication systems and technologies. When I moved to Charlottesville, I transformed Capenet into The VINE – The Virginia Information Exchange – another socially focused BBS that grew to 8 lines and a couple of hundred members, which in terms of BBS’ at the time, was a pretty large system.
As the Internet grew and global connectivity became a day to day norm, the BBS became the dinosaurs of our time. I shut down the VINE in early to mid-1996 and floundered around looking for something else to do as a hobby. I dusted off my old BAO Flight Simulator disks, fired up my Apple ][c and relived the moment of discovery of flight simulation on a computer. I was “re-hooked” after having abandoned flight simulation when I moved to Charlottesville in 1987.
12 – AVSIM morphed in 1997, what were you trying to achieve at the time, what was the roadmap?
Late in 1996 I was “inspired” for lack of a better word, to publish an HTML based magazine that would be zipped up and uploaded to various sites around the net with an interest in flight simulation. It was my intention to do a monthly magazine reporting on the events and happenings in flight simulation. I think I published three or four issues in that manner before bringing our web site online on March 24th, 1997, which I consider our “birthday”.
There really was no roadmap. I had a rediscovered a hobby, I wanted to teach myself HTML, Java and other web skills and I wanted to share my efforts with what was then a young and growing community of members with similar interests.
The 12 years leading up to 2009 were periods of growth, expansion in terms of hardware, services, FANCON’s and a very rewarding, though sometimes bumpy, period for me personally with all my international travel and other commitments. I like to think for those that volunteered their time to AVSIM and the community that developed within, it was a memorable time in our hobby.
13 – We reach the hacking case in 2009. On a personal basis, did you think it was the end of AVSIM? How heavy a toll did it take on you?
Yes, I did think that it was the end, initially. As numerous world-wide news sources reported, my first reaction was to state that we had been totally destroyed. We did not know the entire story until we were able to get people on the secure server site to do a total inventory of what we had left. That was almost a week after the event. Thanks to one lonely little bad sector on one of our disks, the complete destruction of AVSIM was prevented. In the meantime, for those of us on AVSIM Staff, it was the lowest of the low. Within the first 24 hours following the sabotage of our system, we were pretty well convinced that AVSIM would never be recovered. Notice the use of the word “sabotage”. It was not a “hack”. It was a wilful act of a single individual from the inside to destroy AVSIM. You can read all about it here.
The second guessing that immediately occurred after the fact regarding our backup strategies and our lack of professionalism really sapped my enthusiasm for even trying to recover and to bring AVSIM back. There were some pretty nasty comments made at that time by folks who had no clue as to the truth of the matter. That soured me for months after.
But, the collective effort of the community to see that we were able to recover and set the stage for the future was awe inspiring. The myth was that we set out to raise money from the community to fund purchases of equipment to replace the older systems we had – and that myth is still perpetrated today by those that have a not so friendly agenda when it comes to AVSIM.
Initially we heard the accusation; we had sabotaged our own systems just to raise money off the backs of the community. I have multiple witnesses to the contrary and for a long time, I kept the disks that were wiped in my desk to prove otherwise.
The truth is that we never ever asked for any money or donations and initially I was reluctant to take any donations at all. What occurred was a community initiated effort to raise funds so that we could purchase new hardware and start over from there.
As I have said on my blog about that period, it was the single most motivating event for AVSIM in its short history. I was awe struck then and remain so today. It was truly an outpouring of support by our members and the act of donating by hundreds declared without equivocation the unselfish support of our members, and told us without any question that we must march on and bring AVSIM back to life.
14 – AVSIM staff around that time, what was the effect on them? I can only imagine a depressing situation all around.
As I said, and as I sure you can imagine, it was a very depressing time for all. When the total willingness of the community to support our rebirth became evident, that changed everything for us. Everyone on staff at the time was rejuvenated by the outpouring of support and we were daily amazed at the contributions flowing in. A community based initiative that gave us life again.
15 – When AVSIM returned, did you notice any changes in the community? What was the AVSIM public like compared to before the Hack?
Not really. We had the normal collection of conspiracy nut jobs making up stories and adding to the AVSIM myths, but for the vast majority, it was “Thank god you are back! I missed my dose of AVSIM everyday”. We quickly got back to business as usual and the community has grown amazingly since. My big disappointment then, and it carries over to today, is that a number of web sites in our hobby allowed those conspiracy theories and myths to exist on their forums, even to this day.
16 – We know when you give voice to an entire community; you may be giving powers to some folk who may misuse it. A forum, even a free one, has responsibilities. Can you take us through some of the issues you focus on every day to ensure the integrity and legality of the content in AVSIM?
We have had some who have abused their position as volunteers, if that is what you are referring to. But I can count them on one hand, basically, over the last 18 years and we dealt with them pretty quickly.
The dozens of volunteers that have put in their time, blood, sweat and tears into AVSIM over the last 18 years with integrity have been and are the norm. There have been and are many volunteers over the years that have contributed endlessly to our hobby and the entity known as AVSIM.
Have we made mistakes? Sure we have. We’re human after all and nowhere near being perfect. I like to think that we are fair however, and will reverse decisions that are clearly a mistake.
With all the benefit of hindsight, I wished I had created a “Volunteer’s Wall of Pride” to give view to those that have given tirelessly to our community over the years – a small place in history as it were. I think that is a project that I will work on in the coming months.
17 – You call yourself “The Janitor”…and let’s face it, some people have an opinion of your methods. Does it tire you having to chase some of the issues you see? Do you question if it is going to change or end? And if not, what keeps you going?
I try to be somewhat philosophical about the minority that have a view of me that is less than flattering. No doubt, I do not “suffer fools gladly” as the saying goes. I once had a VP in Sperry stand up in a manager’s meeting explaining just that about me. I wasn’t flattered at the time, but the truth is the truth. I come from a world where fools could and did get you killed.
And why should I or any AVSIM volunteer suffer fools gladly? We provide a free service and all we ask in return is that you abide by our Terms of Service. If you can’t abide by them, you will eventually be shown the door.
I have zero tolerance for those that come to AVSIM and think that they are entitled to anything, let alone free reign to disparage, abuse, and denigrate or otherwise do as they please on our system despite agreeing to our terms of service.
I have even less tolerance for those that do that to our volunteers. I deliberately signed my signature with “Janitor” to send a message. I will clean the halls of AVSIM, if necessary, of those that have less than honourable intentions in being in our community and those that disparage our volunteers. And let me say that we have used that broom to ban unethical (and well known) commercial vendors, high profile members and others that were there to act as shills for others. I should write a book about that someday.
As for it ending, I doubt it. We have grown by some 25,000 members since the first of the year. I have no doubt that that number includes those that will use AVSIM for less than honorable purposes and will pretend to be something or someone that they are not. It is a sad indictment on some of the people that use the Internet, to say the least. But, that is not news.
18 – What is a “normal” day for you, do you actively monitor the site?
I am not retired when it comes to answering that question. Upon my retirement from Northrop, I set my goal to “redesign” AVSIM to what you see today. With the help of numerous of our volunteer staff, we have significantly changed the look of AVSIM and its offerings. We caught a lot of flak for making those changes early on, but I think in the main that most are happy with the result.
So, to answer your question, I spend at least 3 or 4 hours every day, 7 days a week, working on AVSIM. There is always something to tweak, change, improve or amend. It is an endless labour of love for all of us that I hope never ends.
19 – We have had some recent problems with hardware, which are being fixed. They are expensive. How long can AVSIM go? Obviously there is always a point at which any business stops. Is the roadmap for the future affordable?
Yes, we had some unusual events with a RAID array that many of the “experts” in the community declared without any hesitation, could not happen. Well, with the help of HP and numerous others, we found that they could indeed happen. So much for self-described experts. We spent a tremendous amount of money fixing those problems and setting the stage for future hardware upgrades. Do we have a roadmap? Yes. I published an abbreviated version in the forums not too long ago. I think it was well received. It points to our dedication to the future of our community and the hobby in general.
We survive by donations from the community members and income from advertising and almost nothing from our “Market Place”.
How long can we go? Well, simply said, until members stop supporting us via donations and advertisers stop advertising. When that day comes, then it will be simple. We’ll shut down AVSIM and know that it has been a great experience and a great community that once shone brightly in our hobby and our lives. Hopefully, if that day comes, we’ll be remembered favorably by those that shared in the AVSIM experience.
Continued in Part 2