Apollo Guidance Computer History Project
November 30, 2001
Herb Briss' Introduction
HERB BRISS: In the history of flight, I spent my time in the navy, during World War II, in the Navy air force, as an air crewman and as a mechanic. Coming out of there, I decided to go to school, off and on, like many of us who knew what we wanted to do. But I got a job with a company called American Machine and Foundry, in Burbury (?). I did most of it, the design work, a lot of the building work on the flight simulator that turned out to be the flight simulator for the B-52.
DAVID MINDELL: What was the company?
HERB BRISS: American Machine and Foundry. I think it's now a Boeing company.
ELDON HALL: Were you here in Boston?
HERB BRISS: Yeah, right on Comm. Ave., the Clark & White building.
ELDON HALL: I worked for them, until 1952. I worked on their radar simulator.
HERB BRISS: O.K. I wasn't on that. I was on the flight simulator.
ELDON HALL: From '48 to '52.
HERB BRISS: I was there in probably around '50 to '54, and bummed around a little bit, again looking for things to do. I continued schooling a little bit. And from American Machine and Foundry my next job, real job, was Raytheon. A couple of people left American Machine and Foundry and suggested I interview in Sudbury. I had a little experience in magnesium machining and welding and also in new metal and new beryllium and stuff like that, which I never saw at Raytheon, by the way, either one of them, and so I got hired by using some buzzwords that evidently impressed my interviewer. As most of you know, certain things happen during an interview. And one of them was potting, and those two metals. And by potting, it turns out, they meant encapsulation.
Well, the encapsulation they did on this program was using an electric frypan and a little mold. You poured the stuff in the frying pan and heated it and sealed it up. After a few months of building bread boards there--that was in 1963, I believe--multi-layer boards were not in the cards at that time, for us. We built prototypes still using diodes and resistors, phased in to what we called a TL 47 can that came out of Draper, and I worked a little bit with Fairchild, going back and forth across the country. I got involved in the famous purple plague. I still don't know what the hell that is. And my major assignment was the Tray A, which looked pretty simple, but now I understand why I used to curse these developers. Listening to you guys, how you got involved in this thing, how did you think this stuff up?
My job as a manufacturing engineer was to try to put it together and make it work. And by the way, I was one of those engineers who were helping these old ladies, and my acceptance rate was 23%. Those cooling leads? were tough to weld. Putting the Tray A together with the diodes, and these were miniatures, by the way, was a lot of fun. Again, we'd use a frying pan and eventually an oven and we didn't know what temperatures to use and would screw up the resistors and would screw up the diodes or capacitors, whatever. Anything that could get screwed up, we screwed up.
But sooner or later we got the hang of it and we understood how serious this thing was and how complicated it was and what it was going to do. It was just amazing, absolutely amazing. And I think that's what motivated a lot of people working a lot of hours. I know the ladies worked hard, but even before the ladies--grunt engineers, junior engineers, we spent a lot of hours in there. To make a long story short, we got the TL 47 cans and the purple plague straightened out, and we started to build--
DAVID MINDELL: What was the purple plague?
HERB BRISS: The purple plague was something that happened--
ELDON HALL: Gold aluminum.
HERB BRISS: Well, it was--what actually happened, I'm a mechanical guy, I don't know anything about it.
DAVE HANLEY: It ...(inaudible) to a different alloy which gets very brittle and then --
HERB BRISS: That was our major problem, one of our major problems. Anyway, it got very brittle and it would crack. It didn't last long, when you put it on the shake table, even when it was encapsulated. At any rate we got rid of the diodes and we started to use these TL-47 cans, I think that's what they called them, small--what was it?
ELDON HALL: That's TL-47.
HERB BRISS: And things went pretty well, until we--engineers and the supervisors--started to weld them, and we learned a lot that way. We tried soldering them, gold to gold; silver soldering, in a very miniature way, with shaky hands. Sooner or later, we got this Tray A portion of it, which was my job, my particular project was all of these cans, and the other guys had Tray Bs but were still using the diodes and other type of electronic components.
Let's see. We reduced the size, I think, at that time, '63 to '64, I'm not going to say 50%, but a lot smaller than what it was. I believe the modules in the diodes were about a foot long, maybe 10 and a half inches to a foot, and about an inch and a quarter wide. You got one?
DAVE BATES: Just so happens.
HERB BRISS: You got it, there she is, right there.
BARD TURNER: Both versions.
JACK POUNDSTONE: We left the cans and went to flatpacks.
__: What's this, one generation and then the other?
BARD TURNER: Yeah, the bottom one is a block ...(inaudible)
HERB BRISS: That's the one we're working on.
ELDON HALL: The bottom one has a TL-47.
HERB BRISS: Looks like one of my welds in there, too. That's why he's got the module.
__: Some of these small diodes. You've got some other there, too.
__: Is that what we called a mule? No, those are mules.
HERB BRISS: At any rate, somehow we got it out of Sudbury, which means that we were on the road to accepting the guidance computer as it was. And at the same time, I worked on the LEM--that was a Grumman associate project, but we took the Apollo project over to the G Building, in Waltham, and my job was to help set up the manufacturing lines and processes here. I've got pictures of a bunch of ladies in here, in the assembly floor that most of those people made me look good, and they were all hard-working people, too.
I did enough damage on that program that they were going to assign me to the Poseidon, as you know, with Raytheon. The particular group I was in, we were hired with different government numbers, contracts, I guess, programs -- And my part of that program was running out and I was going to be assigned to the Poseidon. But around that time, in 1966, the Vietnam war was on and I became a peacenik and I got out of the industrial military complex and went to work for Polaroid, and I retired from Polaroid about ten years ago.
Home: Conference 3