I grew up in England, and when World War II (WWII) ended, I was 13. England was awash in war surplus, and much of it was very nicely built American electronic equipment. While still in school, I assembled a wide variety of gear from parts, including a closed-circuit TV (stills only). After university and military service, my first paying job was with an aircraft firm building a stand-off missile. I worked for the people designing the autopilot and navigational gear. It had been decided to use magnetic amplifiers, devices that utilized the properties of so-called “square-loop” magnetic cores. This technology was initially developed in Germany during WWII to operate the control surfaces of the V2 rocket. “Mag-Amps” could control significant amounts of power and were very rugged.
I emigrated to Canada in 1957. At my first job interview, the company hired me on the spot. A salesman had entered a bid to fix a problem on a new airliner built in California; when the wing de-icers were connected to the aircraft alternating current supply, the sudden load caused fluctuations that upset the autopilot. The salesman said his company could build a device that gradually applied power. They were asked to supply a prototype, but no one knew how to do it. I built a prototype using saturable reactors; the dc control winding was powered by a newly available Honeywell power transistor connected to a resistor–capacitor network. Later, I worked on the autopilot for the Avro Arrow, a very advanced jetfighter under development. The control surfaces operated via a carrier-type servo with input from the pilot’s control column. The response had to be modified depending on just where in the flight envelope the plane was flying. This required a carrier demodulator, a filter circuit specified by the aerodynamicists and a modulator, in the pitch, roll, and yaw axes and a spare channel. The whole thing was an afterthought, and I had only 130 in3 for the device.
Eventually, I went back to graduate school, and then I was hired by Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island, New York. I discovered it had just succeeded in getting a new particle accelerator to work, the most advanced in the country—the Alternating Gradient Synchrotron (AGS). Although it accelerated particles, the physics experiments were very limited until methods could be found to bring the beam outside of the vacuum chamber in which the particles were contained during acceleration. I spent several years just implementing that aspect of the machine. Initially, the electronics used vacuum tubes, but these rapidly gave way to transistors, integrated circuits, and even small computers. The timing was tricky; the particles were traveling in bunches at almost the speed of light. I built a magnetic pulser to switch the beam into an external vacuum pipe using a delay line discharged by a large hydrogen thyratron; the rise-time of the field was 200 ns. I built an experimental device to focus the external beam using a capacitor bank to excite a plasma with a peak current of 250,000 A. Later in my career at Brookhaven, I became involved with the application of superconductors to accelerators and conventional electrical equipment.