Canada 1963 to 1968

On arrival I was summoned by Bob Lapetina, the man who had interviewed me in London and who was the Vice President of Engineering. After a few perfunctory questions about my journey from England and my answers to which he was clearly not listening, he proceeded to inform me that the crystal-growing research project for which I was hired was well behind schedule and the lab was not even half equipped yet, so I would not be starting work there for at least six months; in the meantime “you have to earn your keep here somehow, so I want you to write the proposal for a new hull-mounted sonar transducer that we are bidding on to the Royal Canadian Navy — here are some reports on transducers that have been built in the past for the US Navy that might be helpful to you.”

I learned that The RCN had decided to develop a completely new search sonar system designated as the AN/SQS 505, and rather than looking for one company to design and build it all, elected to have different companies bid on the various major subsystems such as transmitter, receiver, display and transducer and have its own engineering staff responsible for integrating them into the final working system. Edo had bid on the transducer part and Bob Lapetina was supposed to write the proposal but …”he was too busy.” Not knowing what to say, and at a complete loss, I just took the stack of documents, variously stamped “CONFIDENTIAL” or “SECRET” and started wading through them.

My past studies did include acoustics, but nothing about underwater sound or matching for specific acoustic impedances. The deadline for submission of the proposals was rapidly approaching, so for about three weeks I sat up until two or three in the morning studying the engineering and mathematics of piezoelectric ceramics, electro acoustics, underwater sound propagation and acoustic impedance matching while putting together the proposal to meet the new transducer’s specifications.

News arrived that we had been successful in obtaining the development contract for the AN/SQS 505 transducer, with a one year deadline for producing the first prototype. Bob summoned me to his office and in his “I’m a tough guy,” side-of-the-mouth manner greeted me with “I doubted you could do it but it looks like they liked your proposal; now, you designed it on paper, so it’s your goddamned job to design it for real and build it to meet their specifications. You got one year so get started.”

And that’s how it began. To prove out some of my design calculations and assumptions I had key parts of the assembly built either by the in-house machine shop or by outside job shops. At various times this involved visits to potential suppliers of component parts to review whether what they had to offer would meet my specifications and this involved travel to places like Waterloo, ON for special rubber “boots” at B.F. Goodrich, or Goleta, CA for the piezoelectric ceramics, or Cleveland, OH for a unique bolt that I had designed for each element. The double-cylinder steel frame weighing almost one thousand pounds was built for me by Fleet Manufacturing Ltd in Fort Erie.

On November 22, while I was working in the lab doing some measurements on an early prototype, someone told me that President Kennedy had just been shot dead in Dallas. I could hardly believe it; I then met Herb Johnson in the corridor and almost stuttering with shock I shared the news with him — and was then dealt another shock as with a stupid grin on his gaunt face he replied laconically “Oh yeah? I’d be worried if he was a Republican.” The partisan aspect of his comment meant nothing to me; I was just disgusted by its callousness.

As time passed my transducer design was progressing fairly well and my weekly meetings in Ottawa with Lt. Commander Jim Miles became a little less contentious; while various test fixtures and custom assembly tools and circuits that I designed were being manufactured I was seconded into a couple of new smaller-scale transducer designs since by now I had acquired some credibility and grudging respect in that field.

I was still only twenty-five years of age and was absorbing all my new experiences with wonderment; among these was the idea of flying to various cities for technical meetings, something I had not encountered or experienced before.

My first major trip was to California, in the spring of 1964. I was to visit a manufacturer of piezoelectric ceramics in the small community of Goleta, a few miles from the city of Santa Barbara; it was being considered as a potential supplier for the transducer I was designing. The travel arrangements were made for me by my employer and they involved first a flight to Los Angeles where I would spend the night at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and the following morning catch a local flight to Santa Barbara. Taking the bus from the Los Angeles airport the first thing that struck and impressed me was the sight of oil derricks along the route, all pumping away as we drove by.

Next morning’s observations, however, after arriving at the airport by taxi, are what truly gave me a glimpse of a lifestyle completely foreign to all my past experiences: as I settled in my seat of the small, fifteen seat turboprop plane I found myself surrounded by fellow passengers who all seemed to know each other and from their loud greetings and conversations it became obvious to me that this was their daily commute! Wow! I found this difficult to absorb, so this is California!

Subsequently I held meetings with various manufacturers as possible material and component suppliers for my transducer. They involved detailed technical negotiations regarding the products they were offering and my physics background stood me in good stead in being able to switch from acoustics to mechanics to electronics to metallurgy to thermodynamics to fluid mechanics to statistical analysis, while learning a lot from the various technologies that I encountered along the way.

Transducer prototype SQS 505

Transducer prototype SQS 505

Just about the time the SQS 505 design was complete, (the physical prototype being the first one, Canadian or American to have ever met the specified underwater explosion test), and all drawings and parts specifications signed and sealed I was ready to fly the coop from Edo; I mentioned this casually one time to Commander Joe Stachon in his Ottawa office during a routine technical visit meeting. Joe was a big, heavy-set man of about thirty-five, with a smooth rosy-cheeked round face, that together with a large thick lipped mouth that never seemed to scowl, piercing blue eyes and a small plump nose that was only noticeable by its bulbous tip, was a figure that projected a simultaneous air of authority and bonhomie. He arched his eyebrows at my announcement and asked what I was planning to do next — when I replied that I hadn’t thought it through yet he slowly clasped his hands together, equally slowly raised his head to look at the ceiling and then looking me straight in the eyes said “I’m going to need someone in this department soon to review the submissions from companies that will be bidding on the production phase of the SQS505 transducer, would you be interested in taking on that job?” I replied “what about Jim?” at which Joe arched only one eyebrow and thought for a while “Jim has plenty to keep him busy”.

Read another excerpt: The Great Britain Years

Read another excerpt: The USA Years

Or read Andrew Walczak’s entire story — order the book!