Apollo Guidance Computer Activities

AGC Conference 3 - Ed Blondin's Introduction

Apollo Guidance Computer History Project

Third conference

November 30, 2001

Ed Blondin

Ed Blondin's Introduction

ED BLONDIN: My name is Ed Blondin. I got involved with Apollo in the early sixties. I was superintendent of manufacturing at A.C. Spark Plug in Milwaukee, which was the defense electronics division at General Motors. It was odd because when we'd go down to Cape Canaveral, they'd say, "where are you from," and we'd say "A.C. Spark Plug," and they said "what are you contributing? Spark plugs?" I was working on all the manufacturing tests for the Titan program. The Apollo program at A.C. Electronics, where we built the IMU and integrated the IMU with the optics and the computer, was behind schedule. It was behind schedule mostly because we were not producing welded, encapsulated modules fast enough. So I got transferred over to that.

And about a year after that, we were back on schedule and we had tested our first guidance system. We also made the ground control equipment. Tested that, tested our first production system, and we were shut down because we didn't have computers.

So Hugh Brady was our program manager at A.C. Electronics--we had changed the name by then; later on, we changed it again, to Delco Electronics. I wasn't there at that time. Hugh asked me to come here, to be in residence at the manufacturing arm of Raytheon, in Waltham. I was delighted to do that because I had grown up in the area, went to Boston College, so I came out here and it was a real culture shock for me. I was used to the General Motors production ethic, which was that things moved from manufacturing. And the worst curse that could happen, anywhere, was to shut a line down.

And I got out here and I found out this was like getting something through Congress. We had NASA, and we had MIT, and we had Raytheon, and we had my bosses back in Milwaukee. But I got to know some people in a hurry, and I found that was the key. Eldon Hall was one of them, and he goes down in my book as one of the finest gentlemen I've met. Cline Frasier was outstanding. If you had to buck something to Cline Frasier, he would make a decision. That was not something that was easily done. There were an awful lot of people who seemed to feel that it was their job to say what all the reasons were why you shouldn't do something. Lots of them.

But finally, you had to dig out what your options were and you had to move. And Cline Frasier was excellent. My boss, Hugh Brady, was good. And, at the time I got involved with Apollo at Raytheon, Jack Poundstone had just got transferred off, so I didn't get a chance to meet him much at that time. The program manager was a guy named Bill Kurtz--I don't know whatever happened to him.

DAVE BATES: He's down in Arizona. I saw him. He moved down there from Colorado.

ED BLONDIN: He'd come out of the navy, was a navy captain, and he worked for another guy, named Gus Guidi. Gus was the second person on whom A.C. Electronics pulled the trigger.

JACK POUNDSTONE: I was the first. Gus told me to leave, and then they told him.

ED BLONDIN: Apparently we had a clause in our contract that said that we had the right of approval over Raytheon program managers. And Gus was one of those guys that just loved stirring up trouble, he was brilliant and everything was in a constant state of argument. So it wasn't long before A.C. asked Raytheon to remove him and he got out of there. And they put another guy in as head program manager, Ron Greenslade--another real gentleman. From this point on, dealing with Ron Greenslade, Hugh Brady, Cline Frasier, Eldon Hall, it didn't matter how many different hats they were wearing, things moved.

I also found out how critical it was that the hands-on manufacturing people were properly used. I got here early '66, and it wasn't long after I got here when Raytheon went on strike. They hadn't had a strike in years, and it was a total shock. I remember driving into the plant, past picketers with picket sign -- we had a sign in our window that said Apollo, and the lines would part. People said, "Oh, the Feds," and let us in.

They tried building the Apollo components at Waltham with supervisors, industrial engineers, foremen--people that allegedly had experience on it, especially on these memories, these ropes. I mean, everything they made was scrap. I also found out that welding these modules which, on the surface, seemed easy--you took the jig, put it between two electrodes, came down with a foot pedal and the machine was programmed to apply the right amount of pressure and the right amount of current, and you got a weld. More scrap.

There was a technique about how you positioned it, and when your hand shook and these female operators were good at it, and those that stood around telling them what to do were terrible at it.

I remember we had to suddenly rebuild all these memories--there was apparently a vibration problem. I didn't know what it was, but I knew that MIT was writing a new program and we had to get it developed within three weeks I think it was. We had to get them to NASA in three weeks or we were going to scrub a flight. And, then, you'd think this was automated--we had XY tables that positioned these cores exactly, between a couple of cores where you pass a needle through. It was like a spinning wheel with wire on it. You'd think you could just do it but you couldn't, you needed those girls, ladies, who wound those ropes.

Anyway, we got everybody out of the way, no cheerleaders, nothing, put a rope around the area, told them what we needed to do, and we shipped the ropes on time and schedule went forward. That's the first time I felt like I was back in General Motors with a production--we're going to get this done, get out of the way.

DAVE BATES: Those little old ladies mostly came from the Waltham Watch company.

DAVID MINDELL: Waltham had closed by then.

DAVE BATES: That's right.

DAVID MINDELL: When did they close, do you remember? We can find that out.

DAVE BATES: I don't know, but they were the only ones I ever saw with that much patience.

HERB BRISS: Well, they came out of the tool division, mostly, the ones that worked with me.

DAVE BATES: Right. But they came from Waltham to the tool division and then from the tool division--

ELDON HALL: There was a bit of tender loving care in that, too.

DAVE BATES: There was.

ELDON HALL: Those little old ladies were essential.

ED BLONDIN: It was. Apollo then became a relatively small part of what was going on in Waltham and Waltham grew, ultimately, to over half a million square feet. We ended up with 3700 people and I ended up being a vice-president of Raytheon and retired in 1989. Maybe it would have been better if I'd retired in 1959. I wouldn't have had a bypass, in 1990.

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