EMC War Stories: A Collection of Tales


EMC Society Founders are shown at the 2007 IEEE International Symposium on EMC 50th Anniversary Celebration. The Founders, including (from left) Tony Zimbalatti, Milton Kant, Ralph Showers, Sam Burruano, and Vincent Mancino were honored with “Hall of Fame” Awards for their efforts in founding the EMC Society.

We did have one EMC incident during World War II. When I was on Saipan (an island which is part of the Northern Mariana Islands in the Western Pacific), we were running anti-submarine warfare flights. I had a group of officers and men and we took care of the maintenance of the airplanes for these flights. It was a very tough job; sometimes we didn’t have any parts. We took planes into the “bone yard” and stole parts out of them. One time I needed a 50 ohm/50 watt resistor; I had to write to Allied Signal back in the United States to send us one and here we were in the middle of a war! At any rate, we were running flights out towards Okinawa (an island south of mainland Japan) and at that time we had Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) equipment on them. In one incident, one of the planes alerted the entire fleet due to lousy connectors that were leaking badly because they were inadequately designed for their use in military aircraft. An Admiral came back to the base from Saipan and demanded an immediate fix to the problem. We took the EMC job and solved the problem for the Admiral.
     The technical stuff is great, but there are a lot of stories to show you that EMC can be a fun job. My first experience with the Air Force One (the US President’s plane) was in 1959. Eisenhower was President and Nixon was on his way to the Soviet Union for discussions (the famous July 1959 “Kitchen Debate” between Nixon and Khrushchev took place at this meeting). As the plane was flying over Poland, their navigation system, which used triangulation, was being jammed by some interference sources. They couldn’t hear any of the transmissions from the radio stations and so they needed navigational help to get into Russia. When Air Force One came back from the Soviet Union, I was working at a division at Filtron and they called. Sam Skolnick showed up at Filtron in New York and said, “We want to borrow Sam Burruano for three nights.” They apparently thought it was going to take that long to find out what the problem was. My management agreed and I went over to look at the problem. They must have had about 15 or 20 guys out there making microscopic measurements on the body of the airplane. So I went up to the Colonel who was running the thing and said, “Look, send these guys home, I’ll solve the problem for you.” (You pray a lot when you do this, because it’s gutsy. But I’m a Sicilian and that makes a difference.) He took my advice and sent the other guys home; then, I sat down and started to ask the logical questions. What could be causing this? (It was evident that it had to be on the airplane.) What could it be? Could it be a broadband source or a continuous wave source… or could it be the electronic system or the electrical system? The Colonel said, “What do we do?” I suggested we list all the electric systems. He agreed, so, I made the list of all the electrical systems and the electronics systems. In order to eliminate the electronics systems, I turned all of those on at once and it didn’t do a thing to the navigational system. So, then I started to go through the electrical systems one by one. All of a sudden, BZZZZ!! Boy I found it! I looked down to see what it was and it was the fluorescent lights. So, it was a very simple solution. I got some special lamps and applied one filter and the interference was gone. They thought I was a hero. (I know, a hero is really an Italian sandwich!)  Thereafter, the Air Force One people took me on as their guru.
     It turns out, there were other problems. Dean Rusk was in an Air Force One coming back from one of the European countries. They were trying to land at an airport in Paris and they couldn’t land. There was a broadband “noise” on the aircraft that was jamming everything up through the UHF band. They couldn’t communicate; they couldn’t land the plane and they flew around for about three hours until the thing “cleaned up” by itself. When they landed in the USA, they obviously wanted it fixed! They called me up from the White House and asked, “Could you come down here because Johnson and Kennedy want to go to an Air Force base for some sort of thing they have to attend. I drove from Boston to Andrews Air Force Base from four o’clock in the afternoon to twelve o’clock noon the next day (through a thick fog) to get there. So, I get there and the contact person said, “Well, what do you want to do?” I said, “I need a couple of pieces of equipment.” I got them and then I said, “Take me up to forty-thousand feet.” We get up to forty-thousand feet and, sure enough, the systems “jammed” after just a little while at the outside ambient temperature of – 50 degrees Fahrenheit. So, we came down and we couldn’t land the airplane. So, what the pilot thought he would do while the plane wasn’t responding was that he would do touch-and-go (the plane lands briefly and then takes off again immediately). Unfortunately, that maneuver made me air sick! Anyway, we eventually landed and started to look for the problem. We began by taking everything apart since we really didn’t know what to do. I was taking connectors apart and we actually took a wing apart because we thought maybe it was the grounding system affecting something that we needed to know about. (They had lousy grounding systems in the Boeing 707’s in those days.). If you can imagine it, they had everything going to a single-point ground somewhere down “the lower 41” as I used to call it. That was the worst thing they could have done.  We struggled for three days trying to solve the problem. Finally, on the third day, I said, “Look, what did you put on this plane that was new in the last three years?” One guy said, “Gee whiz, the only thing we did was put a blanket on the antenna cover for the HF system!” So, we looked at that. We turned everything on and we went up and looked at this cover, and sure enough, there was a thermostat on the cover going [up and down]. The transients from that thing – the broadband energy (the Fourier products) – were extended even beyond the UHF band. We put a new thermostat on the cover and the interference was gone!
     There’s one more story that I should tell. I was a radar designer, and I was in between jobs and I had just finished working on a spherical-radar. I had done the synchronizers, the video stuff, the indicators, the display system, and the power supplies. (I did a lot of work for a twenty-five-year-old guy just back from the service.) RCA had bought out an outfit in California which made a very-small, but actually a beautiful radar, called the X-42. General Lemay tried to land his plane at Wright-Patterson Air Base and he couldn’t, because, with the radar on, it jammed everything on the aircraft. So, he turned it off in order to land and when he came down, he said to “to get that out of there.” He then shut down the plant that made it. I was in between jobs at RCA so they said, “You go fix it.” I went to the Navy Development Center to work on it and it was a mess. If you initialized the radar, it had a little DC motor that generated so much noise that it just wiped out the display completely; it was just one big white thing. There were more problems with that than you can imagine. But, over a period of time, I fixed it. I finished that job and they sent me down to Houston to set up a kind of a production line to fix up radars and get them on the airplanes and send them off because they were going into Thule, Greenland. I had a contract with Thule, Greenland; a million-dollar contract to do all the shielding designs for all the buildings against those 10 megawatt radars they had sitting out there. That was a fascinating job because I thought the only “gurus” in the United States who knew anything about shielding were Bill Jarvis and Ross Vasatka.
     All of a sudden, I got a call from General Cooters’ people up in Massachusetts at the air base there. He asked if I would come up and fix his plane; he had a problem with a radar which was causing a thirty-degree deflection of his compass. Of course, that was a simple problem. The indicator was sitting within approximately three-feet of it and the yoke was generating enough magnetic field to cause that error. I changed the position of it and that solved the problem.
     This is the rest of the story, after the fix was implemented; I was going to go home. I was going to take the train, but, General Cooters said, “Look, let me fly you down to Andrews Air Base and you can fly home from there.” I said, “Okay, thank you. I will show you how to use this radar to get to Washington if you have no other means of navigation. You can do it with this radar.” I took him over the railroad tracks all the way back to Washington; that was all he had to follow. It was just a “plain as day” on the radar. When I got into Washington, I said, “I’m going to show you how to make a landing with this thing. Get your co-pilot to take care of bringing us in. Just look at the radar and take a look at all those “rebars” you’re picking up on that landing strip. They looked and they were there – it was an easy way for them to get in when they thought about it. We got down to the ground and he said, “Thank you again!”     EMC

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