Tuesday, November 25, 2014

ARMA Division, American Bosch ARMA Corporation, ATLAS Base Activation 1960-1965

This blog is being written to record the author's recollections from the ATLAS Missile base activation program conducted by the ARMA Division from 1960 to 1965.  The program was conducted by ARMA's Product Support Operations division, but with significant technical assistance from other departments within the Company.  An attempt will be made to note and to give credit to some the individuals who played a significant role in the success of this program.

ARMA Division

The ARMA Division of the American Bosch ARMA Corporation was located at Carle Place, on Old Country Road, in Garden City, NY.  At the start of 1960, it employed approximately 6,000 employees, including engineers, technicians, assemblers, draftsmen, manufacturing, test and quality control personnel plus all of the administrative and support personnel required to support its operations.

ARMA had been founded in Brooklyn NY in 1918.  It began by manufacturing high-intensity searchlights for military use but soon expanded into the design and manufacture of analog electro-mechanical gunfire control systems for use on US naval vessels.  

During WWII, almost all of the US military's gunfire control systems were manufactured on Long Island, New York.  Companies such as ARMA Division, Ford Instrument Company and Sperry Gyroscope Company represented the state of the art in such systems and proved their capability to meet the government's needs.

After WWII ended, ARMA and the others suffered cutbacks on their military contracts, but ARMA was awarded a contract by the US Air force to design and manufacture the tail gun turret gunfire control system for the B-52 bombers. This allowed the Company to retain much of its experienced and proven work force.

Later, during the mid-1950's, ARMA was awarded a contract to design and manufacture an inertial guidance system and its associated ground support equipment. This system was initially intended for use on the Titan intercontinental ballistic missile. ARMA accomplished the design phase well ahead of schedule, so its guidance system was reassigned for deployment onto the ATLAS intercontinental missile whose development was progressing faster than that of the Titan missile.  By 1960, the design had been completed and successfully demonstrated in sled tests and in ATLAS missile launchings from Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg Air Force Base.  By 1960, ARMA was in the process of manufacturing these guidance systems and their associated ground support equipment in sufficient quantity to equip a fleet of eighty-seven missiles scheduled to be installed around eight Air Force bases spread out throughout the United States.

It was estimated that the base activation program would require approximately fifty engineers and technicians at each of the eight Air Force bases.  There was little interest on the part of ARMA's in-plant personnel to take part in this program, so the Division began an enthusiastic hiring program, seeking qualified field engineers and technicians to fill these openings.  These new hires, mostly tech-reps with field experience on other military projects, were brought to Garden City and given a short training course before being sent to the remote bases.  The complexity of the guidance system and its associated ground support equipment was such that a short course could not hope to adequately prepare these technicians and engineers for the task expected of them.

To compensate for this, the Division formed an in-plant Systems Support Section to advise the field engineers and to assist them in resolving any technical problems they might encounter.   It was expected that members of this section would liaise with ARMA's technical staff to find solutions for problems experienced at the out of plant locations, and that they would, of necessity,be available to travel to these locations as needed.

This new System Support Section was integrated into the company's existing Product Support Operations division which had the responsibility for supporting all of the company's operational products. It was to work in conjunction with other newly formed sections which were responsible for providing the spare parts, logistical support and technical manuals required for the base activation program and for on-going support after turnover to the military. When job openings for positions in the Systems Support Section posted within the ARMA Division went unfilled because of the travel requirement, the Division was again forced to recruit new personnel to fill these openings. The author was hired into this section as a Systems Engineer in June 1960.

At this point, it should be pointed out that all of the engineers and technicians at ARMA were required to be members of a union, the Local 418 chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The relations between the union, its members and the management of the ARMA Division were most often vitriolic. The union had negotiated a strong contract, which made ARMA one of the highest paid companies on Long Island, but which also had strong workplace provisions that allowed union members to refuse transfers and/or out-of-plant assignments.  This was the primary reason that ARMA had to resort to new hires to meet the needs of the base activation program.

The Company

The ARMA Division was, in many ways, a strange company.  From a  technical standpoint, it had impressive credentials.  Its senior level scientists included Wen Tsing Chow, who had invented the computer read-only memory, Dr. Bernard Litman, Dr. Robert Boch and mathematician Paul Savet. These individuals not only designed the inertial guidance system for the Atlas missile, but also invented most of the components, such as the pendulums, the accelerometers and the two-degree of freedom gyroscopes used in the missile guidance system.

ARMA's engineering staff, consisting of some 1900 engineers and technicians, did an excellent job of converting the ideas of the scientists into working hardware.  The inertial guidance system fitted into the Atlas missiles and the ground support equipment used to test and align it before flight were robust and of the highest quality.  Overall, the product offered to the Air Force for installation into the Atlas missiles was first class.

There was, however, a constant discord within ARMA Division between management and the unionized technical staff.  This discord had existed since the engineers and technicians had voted to unionize, not without reason, in 1951. Several long strikes had occurred, in 1951, 1953 and 1955, and these had left a level of bitterness among the employees which was seen constantly in their relations with their supervisors and with management in general.

This atmosphere also affected relations between co-workers. There was a noticeable lack of  work-place cooperation at all levels, and a strong tendency to protect one's turf by sharing no more information than necessary.

The Atlas Missile Guidance System was the last large contract awarded to the ARMA Division, and as the various phases of the project approached completion without another project waiting, it became obvious that large scale layoffs were looming on the horizon. This added to the discord in the Division.  The union contract required that layoffs occur in reverse seniority order within each job classification, e.g. mechanical test technician or electrical design engineer.  It also provided, however, the opportunity for a laid off engineer or technician to "bump" a less senior person in another job classification if he could show that he was capable of doing the less senior person's work. Needless to say, this caused havoc, with many grievances being filed after every lay-off and most of these going to arbitration because management would usually rule that the laid off person could not perform the other job.

After successfully completing the Atlas project the ARMA Division rapidly went down hill, being awarded no new major projects from the Defense Department and thus settling for small subcontracts from other defense firms. By late 1964 only 1,100 employees remained. Revenues had fallen from $100 million to $20 million, and the company was forced to condense its operations into the smaller of the two buildings at Carle Place.

In 1973, with less than 200 remaining employees, AMBAC Industries including its ARMA Division were sold to the United Technologies Corporation and were relocated to UTC's Pratt and Whitney facility in Stratford, Connecticut. After further reductions in employment, the ARMA Division was finally closed in 1983. A sad ending for a once successful and highly capable company.

Despite the turmoil in the rest of the company, the base activation program proceeded smoothly and was successfully completed essentially on schedule. The first three Atlas bases involved Series E Atlas missiles which were stored horizontally in concrete coffins prior to a necessary launch, which was fortunately never required. These bases were:

     Forbes AFB in Topeka Kansas               - Activation completed in October 1961
     Fairchild AFB in Spokane Washington  - Activation ompleted in September 1961
     Warren AFB in Cheyenne Wyoming      - Activation completed in October 1961

The remaining bases used Atlas Series F missiles which were stored in vertical silos.  These bases were located at:

     Schilling AFB in Salina Kansas
     Dyess AFB in Abilene Texas
     Lincoln AFB in Lincoln Nebraska
     Altus AFB in Altus Oklahoma
     Plattsburg AFB in Plattsburg NY

Product Support Operations Management Team

This section describes the Product Support management team which managed the Atlas base activation program to a successful conclusion in late 1963.  Unfortunately, corporate politics destroyed the team in what was to be called Black Monday.

Operations Manager - Edward J Rapetti

In 1960, Product Support Operations (PSO), to which the responsibility for the Atlas base activation program fell, was managed by Edward J Rapetti, an engineering graduate of Manhattan College and a long time management employee of the ARMA Division.  He managed PSO until early 1964, when he was promoted to be President and CEO of Packard Instrument, another subsidiary of AMBAC Industries.

In 1971, Ed Rapetti was promoted to be Vice-president of the parent AMBAC Industries, and in 1979, after AMBAC was purchased by United Technologies, he was promoted to be President and CEO of what remained of AMBAC Industries.  In essence, he followed an upward path of promotion through a corporation which was in a downward spiral that ended in 1983 with the final closing down of the Corporation by United Technologies.

Logistics Department Head - Donald Lynch

While Ed Rapetti was the overall manager of PSO until his departure in late 1963, Don Lynch was the executive responsible for day to day management of Product Support Operations. This included overseeing several the several existing sections, which included Field Service Support and Spares Support sections for all of the company's earlier products, and a Technical Manual Preparation and Publication section. These were highly profitable operations comprised of about sixty employees in total.  The responsibility for the Atlas base activation program was added to this and included the new in-house systems support section and all of the out-of-plant personnel needed to install and test the guidance systems at the various Air Force bases. This added a requirement for about four hundred personnel, most of which was met with newly hired employees.

Don Lynch was a forward looking individual who looked beyond the base activation effort. He took advantage of the fact that ARMA's engineering and test departments had run out of funds and were laying off personnel. As company layoffs occurred, PSO supervisors were instructed to identify and retain the more skilled engineers by offering them positions in the in-house systems support group, hiring so many of them that little travel was expected from any one of them.  The systems support group was expanded in this way from three to over thirty experienced systems engineers, all of proven capability.

Meanwhile, the PSO managers were looking into government project opportunities that would be available after completion of the base activation program, not necessarily military projects, and not necessarily projects involving other parts of the ARMA Division. One example involved developing systems and equipment to improve the postal system.  PSO was in the process of preparing a major proposal to the US Postal Service when Black Monday occurred.

Don Lynch was terminated on Black Monday and was then hired by the TRW Corporation where he eventually became CEO of its Space Technology Laboratory (STL) division.

Logistics Department Managers and Supervisors

Section Head - Frank Morgan.  A graduate of Yale University and formerly employed by Booz Allen and Hamilton, Frank was responsible for the marketing of additional support services. He was
terminated on Black Monday and was then hired by the Quaker Oats Company where he rose to be President and CEO.

Section Head - Chuck Stiles.  Was responsible for the technical publications activities.

Section Head - Gordon Parker (1927-2013).  A mechanical engineering graduate of Yale University with a Masters degree from the University of Rhode Island, Gordon was responsible for the in-house Systems Support Section for the base activation program. He was later promoted to Department Head given the added responsibilty for the Spares and Logistics groups.  He was terminated on Black Monday and hired by the Grumman Aircraft Company, where he worked until his retirement. Gordon lived in West Islip NY and passed away in January 2013.

Supervisor - William King   Responsible for out-of-plant field service representatives.  He was         terminated on Black Monday and then worked for the Grumman Aircraft Company.

Supervisor - John Foster  Jack Foster was in charge of the group responsible for providing spare parts for all of the company products.  He was terminated on Black Monday and opened a Sizzler Steak franchise restaurant on Long Island.

Supervisor - Charles Jackson  Charley had been the site manager at Fairchild AFB and was working in plant temporarily while awaiting retirement. He was terminated on Black Monday, just six weeks before his scheduled retirement date.

Supervisor - Orvis Adams  Orv had been a supervisor at Forbes AFB and then site manager at Schilling AFB while they were being activated. He was working temporarily in plant awaiting another assignment and was terminated on Black Monday. He was then employed by the STL Division of the TRW Corporation. He currently resides in California.

Supervisor - Roger Trudeau  worked as a systems engineer in the in-house Systems Support Section from 1960 to 1963, spending much of this time working out of plant to support the activation program at the various Air Force bases. In June 1963 he left the company to accept a position as a senior test engineer on a submarine inertial navigation system (SINS) at Sperry Marine Division.

He was recruited back to ARMA in late 1963 as supervisor for the in house Systems Support Section. After surviving Black Monday, he was assigned the added responsibility of the spares and logistics groups, the in-house field service group and for all out-of-plant product support activities.  He was also heavily involved in labor relation activities, as the engineering and test departments were in a period of heavy layoffs and the available jobs in PSO became the targets of "bumping".

He resigned from the company in 1965 to accept a position as a test engineer and group leader on the SABRE Inertial Guidance System at the MIT Charles Stark Draper Laboratories.  He left there in 1969 to start Bedford Control Systems Inc., where he served as Chief Engineer and CEO until 1996. Currently resides in Sydney Australia.  (rogertrudeau34@hotmail.com)

Product Support Operations - Systems Support Group  (Incomplete Roster)

Group Supervisor  - Gordon Parker, then Roger Trudeau
Senior Engineer     - Harold Bernstein, recruited from Test Department
Senior Engineer     - Sam Ferrantino, recruited from Ground Support Engineering
Engineer                - Roger Trudeau, hired into group
Engineer                - Larry Feldman, recruited from Test Engineering
Engineer                - Herb Shonefeld, recruited from Test Engineering
Engineer                - Mort Danin, recruited from Test Engineering
Engineer                - Ed Mermelstein, hired into group
Engineer                - William Albert Stead Jr, hired into group
Technician             - Doug Karrel

Black Monday for Product Support Operations

It was a Friday evening in mid 1964 and ARMA Division was hosting its annual management dinner at a local auditorium. There was not a lot to celebrate because the company's revenues and profits were dropping drastically, but it was an opportunity for the company to thank its management team for its efforts over the past year. A good dinner was served and drinks were plentiful. Entertainment was provided in the form of a speech by Sam Huff, the star linebacker of the NY Giants NFL football team.  E D Gittens, ARMA's executive vice-president and operations manager, gave a speech and pep talk, singling out Product Support Operations for being the only department in the company to boost revenues and to show a respectable profit. All in all, it was an enjoyable evening.

Arriving at work on Monday morning, however, Product Support Operations managers were greeted by security personnel, told that they were terminated, helped to gather their personal belongings and escorted from the plant. Every manager, from Don Lynch, the Operations Manager, and down was included except for Bill Schneiderman, who had been on loan from the Ground Support Engineering Department, and Roger Trudeau, the supervisor of the Systems Support Section. Schneiderman was told to report back to Engineering. By noon-time, all of the terminated managers had departed.

Product Support Operations was turned over to Bob Harding, the manager of the Design Drafting Department, which as a result of earlier layoffs, then consisted of less than ten employees, all draftsmen. Harding had no engineering background and little if any knowledge of what Product Support Operations was involved in.  But, he WAS related by marriage to the executive vice-president, and that seemed to carry the day.

Late on that same day, Irv Chapel, one of Harding's employees, told Trudeau that Mr Harding would like to see him in his office.  When Trudeau arrived, Harding was sitting behind his desk with his feet on the desk, wearing a pair of riding boots, and he held a riding crop in his hands. He told Trudeau that he was the boss now, and that Trudeau now worked for him, and for him only. He said that Trudeau was now in charge of what remained of PSO, that he did not know what that involved, and that he did not want to know. He then told Trudeau that the only thing that was expected of him was to make sure that no problems were brought to his office, by him or by anyone else. That brief meeting was the death knell of Product Support Operations.

Engineering Support to Product Support Operations During the Base Activation Program
 The success of any major program often comes down to the unstinting efforts of a small handful of people who put success of the project ahead of personal considerations.  That was true in this project as well, and the people below are remembered for making this effort.

Robert Rogers was the supervisor in charge of the Atlas System Integration Laboratory. This facility maintained two complete inertial guidance systems and was used as a test bed to duplicate and resolve problems detected in the production systems.  Bob was always ready to fully support  the needs of the program and made numerous trips to the field sites to assist the activation effort. Bob remained with the ARMA Division until it was closed down in 1983.

Howard Salmon was a supervisor in the Ground Support Equipment Department and, as an engineer, had been responsible for the design of major portions of the ground support equipment. Howie was a no-nonsense engineer who had little time for distractions from the task at hand. He gave unstintingly of his time and expertise whenever and wherever needed. As ARMA grew smaller, Howie left and joined the Grumman Aircraft Company, where he worked in the Lunar Excursion Module Project.

William Schneiderman was a supervisor in the Ground Support Equipment Department and, as an engineer, had been responsible for the design of major portions of the ground support equipment. Bill was a friendly and easy-going individual, a hard worker who gave unstintingly of his time and expertise whenever and wherever needed. As ARMA grew smaller, Bill left and joined the Grumman Aircraft Company where he worked in the Lunar Excursion Module Project.

Robert Ulsamer was an engineer in the System Integration Laboratory. His expertise was often called upon to resolve technical problems encountered at the field sites. Bob subsequently joined the Grumman Aircraft Company.

Richard Smith was an engineer in the System Integration Laboratory and specialized in the digital elements of the Atlas guidance system. Dick left ARMA in 1964 to join IBM's Federal Products Division, in Huntsville, Alabama, and later helped organize a company working on oceanographic researchprojects in Groton, Connecticut.

Ralph Marchianda was an engineer in the Ground Support Equipment Department and was always willing to contribute his expertise and assistance whenever and wherever needed.

Mike Kuzmiac was an engineer in the Test Department who specialized on the digital components of the guidance system. He made numerous trips to the field locations and eventually transferred into the Systems Support Section of Product Support Operations.

Product Support Operations - Base Activation Field Personnel   (Incomplete Rosters)

Forbes AFB - Topeka, Kansas
   Site Manager  - Al Roberts and then Paul Fisher
   Section Head  - Robert (Bob) Kunce (1926-2009)
   Supervisor      - Orvis (Orv) Adams
   QCSupervisor - Ed Watts
   Technician      - Ray Utz
   Technician      - "Windy" Rawlins
    Technician     - Bert Reinertson

Fairchild AFB - Spokane, Washington
   Site Manager   - Charles (Charley) Jackson
   Section Head   - Floyd Danielson
   Technician       - Gus Kokinos

Warren AFB - Cheyenne, Wyoming
   Site Manager  - Robert (Bob) Martin

Lincoln AFB  - Lincoln, Nebraska
   Site Manager  - Al Roberts and then Paul Fisher
   Technician      - "Windy" Rawlins

Dyess AFB  - Abilene, Texas
   Site Manager   - Robert (BOB) Kunce (1926-2009)

Schilling AFB  - Salina, Kansas
   Site Manager  - Orvis (Orv) Adams

Plattsburg AFB  - Plattsburg, New York
   Site Manager  - Robert (Bob) Martin

Altus AFB  - Altus, Oklahoma

Comments and additions to the rosters are welcome.

1 comment:

  1. I was employed by Arma until 1964 and last served as Manager, Omaha Field Office at SAC HQ. During my years with Arma I worked alongside Bob Kunce and Orv Adams. I was at the OSTF site at Vandenberg AFB before going to Omaha. I would like to hear from former Arma employees who worked at Vandenberg, Loring, Walker, Dyes and other locations during the 1950’s and 1960’s. drtrhall@gmail.com. Dr. Thomas (Tom) R. Hall.