Bill Mead's Contrbution to Nike
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By William (Bill) M. Mead

     I was strictly Bell Labs, but the route there was a wandering one. I was drafted the middle of January, 1951, much against my wishes, and shipped to Camp Chaffee, AR for basic training with the 542nd Field Artillery Battalion. After 8 weeks of some of the coldest weather on record for that part of Arkansas, I was notified that I was being sent to Fort Myer, VA. The CO had no idea why.

     There were five of us, and the logical surmise was that we were the only ones with a college degree. A mixed group--one biology major, one chemistry major, one math major, one civil engineer, and on journalism (!) major. We were loaded on a train for the trip to D.C,, under the watchful eye of our sergeant escort (I don't know why he was along; probably so we wouldn't escape or get lost, being dumb privates). We got there late a night and the night duty sergeant assigned us a bed, and answered our question as to why we were there, and I can still quote him: "so you can be shipped somewhere else." He also told us to be at the morning formation in our Class A uniforms, and we would learn more.

     Being reasonably bright, we learned quickly from the old-timers--those who had been there 3 or 4 days. We would be set up for an interview in 2 or 3 days, and until then we were to wear our Class A uniforms. Once the interview was completed, we were to wear fatigues until we got our assignment and shipping orders. The advice from the old-timers: never wear your fatigues. Anyone in fatigues will be assigned whatever chores they can think of. There was such a daily turnover, the risk was small. I followed that advice, and got away with it.

     We were also issued a Class A pass, and I took full advantage of it. I, and one of my Camp Chaffee companions, spent every day in D.C., sightseeing. Neither of us had ever been close to the National Capitol. We also checked out the night-life, and going back to attend the evening formation to see if anyone was looking for us.

     The interview was interesting: I was told I could make a first and second choice amount four options, and I would be certain to get one of them. The choices were Aberdeen, White Sands, Red River Arsenal, and Redstone. I ordered them as Red River Arsenal (only 150 miles from my home town), White Sands, Aberdeen, and Redstone. Guess what I got? Right. I got lucky, though--turned out Redstone didn't have anything for me to do for a year, and I immediately asked to be transferred. (A personally interesting occurrence while I was being interviewed by Dr. Debus, one of the German rocket scientists. His office door flew open, and in came Von Braun, talking excitedly in German. I had no idea what they were talking about, but I was certain I was present at a great breakthrough! Then I picked out the words "Plymouth" and 'Studebaker". What a let-down).

     In only a couple of days I was on my way to White Sands. I was one of the later arrivals--about the middle of April, 1951. No one seemed to know quite what to do with me there, either. I was sent to radar school for two weeks, and then assigned to a group of leftovers, with the task of updating the manual on Magnetrons. I think the rationale was that since the electron path in a Magnetron is cycloidal, and a cycloid is something mathematical, it should be right down my alley.

     In a few days, the sergeant to whose care we were intrusted came into the room and asked if anyone there knew anything about Statistics. My hand went up immediately. I didn't know anything about statistics, but I knew a Statistician--one James R. Duffett. I was told to report to the Bell Labs office, where I was given a pile of data relative to the Nike guidance system, with the request to see if I could find any reason why the missiles weren't going exactly where they were to go. I took this mass of data directly to Jim's office, regurgitated what George Head had told me, and said now what?

     Turned out it required a relatively basic statistical procedure, so Jim gave me a textbook, pointed to an example, and told me to do it like that. Slow work on an old Marchant calculator, but the overall result was very worthwhile, and I was hooked on Statistics. I won't bore you with all the details, but the simple answer that came out of this was that the commands were being installed starting at the opposite end of the spectrum from the major period of flight, and the elecctronic drift from end to end was significant. Easy fix, but I was a hero! and immediately assigned full time to Bell Labs.

     I really didn't do that much more for them, but I did serve a purpose. The had some office space in the EMLD building that they weren't using, but didn't want to lose. So, I was assigned to use it and not let any interlopers try to take it over. It became a haven for Broomsticks who needed a hideaway. It also got me acquainted with Col. Pohlman, and in his good graces. One morning about eight o'clock he stuck his head in the door and wondered who I was and what I was doing there. I explained that I was assigned to Bell Labs, and this was their office, which he seemed to accept. Also, I had the coffee pot on, and the morning paper, and an extra cup! It became almost a daily occurrence; He's show up a little after eight, get his cup of coffee, and read the paper. Now and then it was helpful to know people in high places!

     Webmasters Note: Bill also wrote that "Bell offered me a job when I got discharged, but I was so fascinated with statistical analysis, my mind was set on going to graduate school to learn more. After finishing up there, I went to work for a small, but growing, manufacturing facility in Lynchburg, VA. They really needed a statistician, and I had found my home! Before long, it became obvious we needed a computer, and since I was the only one in the place who had ever seen one, I was elected to select, get installed, and staff the thing. Those things grow , and in just a few years I was spending almost all my time managing the computer installation (and not having much fun). Then I took my seven person Statistical Analysis group and moved to another part of the building. That was about 1982. I stayed that way, playing with numbers, until I retired in 1992. Simply sticking up my hand and volunteering for something I didn't know anything about really changed my life for the better. It would be a real understatement to say I've never regretted it."