White Oak Laboratory Alumni Association, Inc.
Oral History - Archive
Mr. Detonation Science For DOD: A Tribute to Sigmund J. Jacobs
Building 90 - A House Full of Memories by Frank Koubek
Do you remember Building 90? It was located just across the road from the tennis court
on the road to the “Back Area” only a stone’s throw from the “Main” WOL Building
(Bldgs. 1 to 5). Whether it still stands I do not know as I have lived in Cincinnati for the
past 19 years. (Editor Note: Alas, it was demolished with all the other buildings except
Building 1 in the front area.) What I do know is that Bldg. 90, living or dead, reminds me
of an old house in a neighborhood that has seen lots of changes. Whenever I drive
through such an area here in Cincinnati, I look at the grand, old homes and the same
thoughts go through my mind: “Each and every one o these old houses has stories to
tell about the families who inhabited it over the years.”
Building 90, in a way, is like one of those grand, old houses. Over a period of some 50
years, Bldg. 90 saw many occupants come and go, with each leaving behind an
interesting tale of their tenancy there. More than any other building at WOL, Bldg. 90
probably had the greatest variety of people occupy its spaces.
As near as I can tell (I came on board in 1956.), Bldg. 90 was probably built at the same
time as the Main Administration Building----circa 1946. In the latest issue of The LEAF
(Vol. VIII, Issue II—Spring 2006 on page 8), John Nachman writes that in 1948 or 1949,
he had a vacuum and special, high purity atmosphere melting facility located in the
basement of Bldg 90–later relocated to Bldg. 24. This confirms my belief that Bldg. 90
has its origins in the middle to late 1940's.
When I joined WOL in 1956, Bldg. 90 was primarily known as the Marine Barracks
Building—housing U.S. Marine Corps guards who provided the security for WOL. I still
remember their impeccable uniforms and snappy salutes as we passed through the
security gates showing our I.D. badges to them. In talking with some of the Marines, I
learned that many of them were Korean War veterans, and they considered being at
WOL a posh assignment----great quarters and chow and plenty of night life in downtown
Washington, D.C. Their Bldg. 90 barracks was certainly far better than most barracks of
the post-war era.. At Bldg. 90, They had small, but comfortable bedrooms (not the
dormitory open style of most service people), quiet surroundings, with very little extra
duty to pull, and a recreation area in the basement, which included table tennis and a
bowling alley, along with other amenities. Of course, there was a galley and dining area
(first floor—right side) and a food storage area (basement) complete with walk in
refrigerators connecting the galley to the food supply via a dumb waiter to lift the food.
There was even a one cell brig—complete with bars----located on the first floor to the left
of the main entrance!
I first began to learn the details of the Bldg. 90 layout in 1958 when my group (High
Temperature Materials) in the Nonmetallic Materials Division was granted permission to
occupy what was once the galley on the first floor. We needed a large, open space to
install a monster of a Hi-intensity, Water Stabilized, Electric Plasma Arc facility for testing
candidate heat resistant materials intended for the Polaris Fleet Ballistic Missile (FBM)
program. Since the Marines had been moved out of WOL prior to this time, (Civilian
guards were hired to replace them.), the old galley room (redesignated room 90-1000)
was an ideal spot for out Plasma Arc facility. This device featured a 1.5 megawatt, 3
Phase A.C. input (3 large transformers adjacent to the building) and a large mercury
vapor D.C. rectifier capable of supplying 2500 amperes of current at 600 volts D.C.
About half of this energy was expended at maximum output (300 volts-2500 amps.)
through a doughnut shaped graphite electrode having a 2 inch diameter hole. An electric
arc with 750,000 watts of energy was funneled through this small hole by a constricting
high pressure water vortex. This caused the plasma gases (oxygen and hydrogen—
from the water) to reach temperatures in excess of 25,000K! Thus, an ultra hot, ionized
plasma gas was produced having temperatures similar to the stagnation temperatures
experienced by missile re-entry nos tips and heat shields. Materials to be tested were
moved by a remotely controlled specimen holder into the plasmjet. Because of the arcs
noise level (greater than 125 DB) and ultra high temperature, ear and eye protection
were mandatory. We eventually built a sound proof inner room enclosure around the
equipment complete with welder’s grade dark glass window panes for safe observation of
test runs. Before we built the enclosure, our testing had to be done before 0800 or
after 1700 hours due to numerous complaints from neighboring tenants!
Electric current to plasma arc was regulated by a “liquid rheostat”----a large rectangular
steel tank having steel electrodes with a conductive solution of sodium carbonate
circulating through it and a heat exchanger (to cool the liquid) at 200 gal/min. Electric
current was regulated by raising or lowering (hydraulically) fiber glass panels separating
the steel plates. Yes, the plasma arc was quite a contraption and was only the second
(and probably the last ever built---later versions used compressed air to stabilize the arc
jet----the WOL wind tunnel people later had such a device---circa mid-1960's?). Our
plasma arc equipment had its origins at the University of Chicago. We contracted with
them to provide us with a similar arc system as well as guidance in its initial operation.
I’ll never forget the big day when we were to make our very first test run. It was Friday
afternoon—circa 1959. I had mixed feeling about its working the first time without a
hitch and wished that the VIP’s invited to watch had not come (some 20 people). Sure
enough, there was a hitch—w could not get it to run and everyone departed—
disappointed! What a downer! We were not daunted, however. We worked that Friday
evening, and most of Saturday, before we located the problem. In looking over the
wiring on the mercury vapor rectifier (Ignitron), I noticed that two wires connected to
one of the Ignitron tubes appeared to be reversed (Ironically, the Ingitron manufacturer
rep inspected it several weeks before and said that is was OK and ready to operate!). I
pointed out the misplaced wires to the University of Chicago scientist on hand to help us
get started and he agreed with me. We reversed the two wire connections and VOILA—
success—we had our first successful test run. The next week, we invited the VIP’s back
to see this noisy monster go through its paces and as they say: “The rest is history.”
The WOL plasma arc was one of just a few large plasma arc jets in the U.S. The one at
the University of Chicago was located at an old trolley car station to take advantage of
the availability of D.C. power there. Another arc facility at AVCO in Massachusetts used
2000 truck batteries it supply the D.C. power. Later, in the 1970's and 80's, the biggest
of them all was a 50 megawatt arc located at Wright-Pat AFB in Dayton, OH.
A Washington Star newspaper reporter learned of our arc facility, and, after interviewing
us and seeing the equipment run, published an article entitled: “Inferno in a Fruit Jar.”
The swirling water constricting the arc was contained in a plexiglass cylinder bigger than
the size of a very large fruit jar—thus, the moniker placed on it by the writer. I was not
enthralled with the fruit jar title, but did not learn of it until “after the damage was done!”
During the late 1960's, the Plasma Arc facility out lived it usefulness, and was dismantled
and the space int sound proof inner room was used to house a plasma arc ceramic
coating facility. This was a hand held small gas stabilized arc jet through which fine
particle oxide ceramic powders were injected, melted, and blown onto a metal substrate.
Using our new Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM)—also located in Bldg. 90m we were
the first to publish a technical paper showing the columnar, hexagonal crystalline
structure of aluminum oxide melt sprayed coatings using three dimensional (3-D)
Our SEM was first located in the basement of Bldg. 90—circa 1968—just beneath our
upstairs ceramic lab. This location wa chosen because the manufacturer recommended a
quiet, vibration free area. The WOL SEM was the first to be located at any of the Navy
laboratories and, it was only the second produced by the manufacturer (They owned the
first, prototype one.). The 3-D microphotographs it produced were far superior and
easier to produce than the older (and now archaic) electron microscopes and proved to
be useful for not only the Nonmetallic Materials Division, but for many other groups at
In 1959, my group (Hi-Temp Mtls) was moved to a large “office” space on the second
floor of Bldg 90 so we could be close to our lab facilities downstairs. This large “office”
space turned out to the former head (latrine) and bathroom for the Marine guards—
complete with urinals, toilets, showers, etc. When we moved in, most of the plumbing
had been removed (except for the urinal pipes), but the yellow ceramic tiled walls and red
ceramic floor tiles remained. We eventually had black vinyl floor tiles installed over the
red tile, but we always felt we were working “in the Men’s Room!”
The Plasma Arc room on the first floor (90-100) eventually evolved into a carbon-carbon
composite fabrication research facility (1970's) and then an oxide ceramics research lab
(1980's wherein a gas fired kiln and several electric kilns and other equipments were
installed for use by the temperature materials group until WOL closed in the 1990's, and
the group moved to Carderock along with the rest of the Materials Division personnel.
Thus, we were among the very first to move into Bldg 90, and the last to leave!
The above pretty much describes my recollections of the stories of “My Family” at Bldg.90
during this time. My memories of them have dimmed, however, so in the interest of
being accurate and comprehensive, I will not try to expound on them. I’m sure that
those of you who “lived” at Bldg. 90 during those times have lots of interesting stories
to tell about “your family.” Let’s hear from you. Send your inputs to the Editor of The
Editor Note: I worked in Bldg.90 from 1965-1972 as a member of the Systems Analysis
Office headed by Dr. Anson Solem. We were part of the NAVMAT’s ASW Systems
Project Office. We occupied the right side of the first floor of the building and most of
the second floor. The rest of the second floor was occupied by the Naval Tactical
Support Activity, headed by Al Letow. They were there from about 1966 until a year
after NSWC closed. During the same time I worked in Bldg. 90, a Mine Museum was
briefly housed in the basement of Bldg. 90, and the NAVSEA’s Mine Staff (Including Rudy
Schuetzler and Jack Shreve) had there office in the basement of Bldg. 90. This was very
convenient for the WOL Underwater Systems Department mine project management as
this group was their sponsors. The left side of the first floor of the building was home to
the Underwater Explosion Branch.
Infrared/Radio Fuze (IRAC) by Bob Trautvetter.
In the mid-50's, I transferred from the Naval Research Laboratory to the Naval Ordnance
Laboratory (White Oak), and joined the Fuze Group developing the IRAC Fuze. This fuze
used the design of the existing Radio Fuze, and combined it with a newly designed
infrared detector and optics that would detect the hot metal of the tail pipe of the target
The detector and the optics were designed to take advantage of the rotating projectile,
and together they determined the relative positions of the projectile and the target
aircraft for the best effectiveness of the explosive. The IR detector, electrically, was a
bridge circuit with the battery supply connected across one pair of the bridge
connections, and the output was taken off the other pair of connections. The optics
focused the hot spot of the aircraft on this rotating bridge detector generating a sine-
wave signal at the output terminals of the detector. The frequency was a function of the
projectile rotation rate, about 400 cps.
The Radio Fuze circuits also generated a sine wave from the Radio Frequency (RF)
energy, but as a function of the closing velocity. As the projectile approached the
aircraft, the Doppler frequency generated decreased to zero, and if the projectile did not
hit the aircraft, the Doppler frequency would then increase again as it continued past the
aircraft. The electronic circuits were also tuned to 400 cps. As the projectile-to-aircraft
distance got closer the signal energy also increased. This combination of the increasing
energy and the 400 cycle tuned circuits produced a signal that would trigger the
detonator within the projected “kill zone” of the explosive.
In the IRAC fuze electronics, the trigger circuit had two inputs and required a signal from
both sources to activate the detonator. In most cases, the radio fuze half of IRAC would
produce its signal first, and basically pre-arm the electronic circuit. Then, when the hot
metal of the aircraft passed through the “field of view” of the infrared optics, the
electronic signal generated would create the second signal for the dual trigger circuit, and
activate the detonator which set off the projectile’s explosive. In some approach shots,
the IR signal came before the radio fuze signal.
The field tests held at Dahlgren were disappointing. All of the shots resulted in the
“Pre’s.” The RF energy was triggering the IR circuit at the same time that the Radio fuze
half was being triggered, with no IR source in sight. Redesign and repeated tests
continued to have the same result, and so the project was eventually canceled.
Back in the lab, while the program managers were downtown discussing the problem,
and canceling the program, I became inquisitive and took a closer look at the hardware.
The design was perfect. It was well known that the IR detector was also a perfect
detector for the radio frequencies of the Radio fuze. To filter out this RF energy, a large
capacitor was connected to the IR detector at the same point as the battery supply. A
typical “can” capacitor was used (A “can” or shell completely covers the capacitor in metal
except for the one end where the second lead of the capacitor is attached. The shell is
normally grounded, shielding the “hot wire” of the capacitor, making a perfect filter
circuit.). This is when I discovered that all of the fuze units that we had been using had
the capacitor inserted upside down. The shell was “hot.” This reduced the effectivity of
the shielding over a hundredfold. I reversed the capacitor and ran a test in our “test
can” in the lab. The largest signal that I could measure was 3 millivolts. Before reversing
the capacitor, the signal were in the hundreds of millivolt range.
To this day, I can’t remember what I did next. I don’t even remember if I checked the
physical drawings to see if it was an assembly error. All of the supervisors were
downtown, and it was late in the day. I wasn’t one to get on the phone and scream.
So, when the people came back to the lab, I told them of my findings. I know no one
got reprimanded or fired for the mistake. I did write it up as and entry in my lab note
book. The IRAC fuze project was dead. Eventually, they redesigned the package, and
project IRON (IR only) was born.
Some months later, I was asked if I would transfer to the Guidance Group because they
needed manpower for the upcoming field test of SUBROC.
Editor Note: Bob worked at the WOL from 1956-1982.
SUBROC Stories by Henry Hoffman.
Editor Note: In the previous oral history on IRAC, Bob ended by noting he transferred to
the Guidance Group to work on SUBROC. This group was headed by Henry Hoffman.
Henry later moved to NASA. Recently, he was asked to prepare a briefing for the NASA
Engineering and Safety Counsel to provide a series of Guidance, Navigation, and Control
“sea and space stories.” He planned to discuss SUBROC and called WOLAA to see if we
had pictures and material about SUBROC and AAP. During our phone conversation, he
told me several stories about SUBROC; thus this is really an oral history.
*Color of SUBROC Test Vehicles. SUBROC tactical vehicles were painted all white.
During testing, this made it difficult for the camera tracking to stay on the depth bomb
for its final trajectory when the depth bomb and rocket motor separated. The problem
was solved by painting the depth bomb orange. Sure enough one of the pictures in the
WOLAA archives shows the depth bomb a bright orange and the rocket motor being
*Stationary Underwater Testing. Before firing from a submarine, a lot of testing was
done from test stands underwater. These tests were conducted off San Clemente
Island. This allowed the project to test igniting the rocket motor underwater, and
assessing the trajectory up and out of the water. Henry noted on one test that the
SUBROC went down to the bottom rather than up and out of the water. Interestingly,
the on-board telemetry, tracked the contour of the bottom as SUBROC traveled its failed
*Land Shots. Most missile projects had some great “blooper” film footage in early
testing. Henry noted land shots were conducted at China Lake. One SUBROC found its
way directly over a camera station, making that camera operator’s day. He also noted a
German scientist was part of the testing team. He had acquired the skill of standing
behind the launch of SUBROC at China Lake and was able to predict the trajectory of the
shot almost as well as the telemetry of the bird and range. His skill was acquired by
working on the German V1 and V2 rockets during WWII in Germany. They did not have
the telemetry capability we had, and they had to improvise using eye sight.
*First Submarine Shot. Finally, the projects testing got to a launch from a submarine.
Originally, the Thresher (SSN-593) was to be the test platform; but she was lost at sea.
Her sister platform, the Permit (SSN-594) was the test platform. During land tests, the
ignition sequence had worked. On the first shot from Permit, the rocket motor did not
ignite. The shot was a dud. I remember this really caused long meetings at NOL to
discover what caused the problem. It of course stopped testing til a solution was
found. Henry noted that a monitor circuit was designed to safe the rocket motor igniter
if it was open before firing. On the submarine, the monitor circuit opened when the
umbilical cable separated at launch, thus dudding the missile. The circuitry was
redesigned so cable separation and the monitor circuit did not dud the system. Great
detective work found and then solved this mystery.
Recollections of the Cuban Missile Crisis - 22-28 October 1962
By Frank Koubek
Where were you during the Cuban Missile Crisis? During that stressful, fright-filled week
in October 1962, most NOL employees were at their work places at White Oak. As for
me, I was in down town Washington, D. C. participating in a week-long middle
management training seminar at Harry Diamond Laboratory, then on Connecticut Avenue
and Van Ness Street (just behind the old Bureau of Standards buildings). Thus, I was
just a stone’s throw from what could become ground zero in the event of a nuclear
exchange with the Russians!!
To refresh your memory (and mine), in October 1962, U. S. intelligence people detected
the presence of USSR missiles in Cuba aimed at U. S. east coast targets, including
Washington, D. C., and this is what precipitated the crisis. When Russian navy missile
re-supply ships were spotted in the Atlantic ocean en-route to Cuba, President Kennedy
told Soviet Premier Khrushchev that if he did not turn the ships around and also remove
the missiles from Cuba, there would be dire consequences. Kennedy imposed a sea and
air quarantine on Cuba and dispatched U. S. Navy ships to intercept the Russian ships if
they did not turn about. At first, Khrushchev refused to back down, and it was believed
that a nuclear encounter was imminent. All DOD installations, including NOL, were put on
emergency alert basis and strong steps were taken to increase security. Every one was
traumatized at the specter of a nuclear exchange between the two super powers. People
were preparing their homes with survival kits, emergency food and water, nuclear fall-out
protection, etc. In my own family, my mother-in-law, that week, traveled 100 miles by
bus to our home, “so she could spend her last days with us.”
And, there I was, almost at ground zero, about 10 miles from NOL and some 40 miles
from my home in Catonsville, Maryland (a suburb of Baltimore) wondering like others,
what was going to happen next. The thing I remember best, is that one of the persons
attending the management seminar, worked at the Organization of American States
(OAS) in D. C. This man (“John”) was getting first hand dispatch information from his
office during our coffee and lunch breaks regarding the progress of negotiations between
Kennedy and Khrushchev, where the two opposing naval flotillas were, etc. John was
nice enough to share his information with us. (In those days, we did not have 24-hour
TV news to give us minute-by-minute updates on the crisis.) Each break, John would
stand before the class and brief us on the latest developments.
In a way, this made it more scary; it was like sitting on the 50-yard line, with the score
tied, and only 2 minutes left to play!!
As you will recall, it all ended on a happy note...Khrushchev blinked first...he recalled the
Russian supply ships, and his missiles were removed from Cuba. Following this, the U.
S. agreed to remove our missiles based in Turkey, which were aimed at the USSR.
Historians later said that the missiles in Turkey were obsolete and were no longer
needed. I believe, probably, because by then the first Polaris missile and Fleet Ballistic
Missile submarines were already on station during the crisis.
Nevertheless, it was one stressful, frightening week that I shall never forget. We’ll never
know what would have happened if Khrushchev had not blinked first!! Perhaps, I would
not be here telling this tale, and you, perhaps, would not be around to read it anyway!!!
Editor Note: During this crisis, the Marine guards were stationed at the gatehouse on
New Hampshire Avenue. Each car entering the Lab was carefully inspected. This is the
only time that I remember that gate house was used for security purposes. What is
your memory of this crisis from the perspective of what went on inside NOL at this time?
Let us know, and we will include in the Summer LEAF.
WOL Oral History Coming Attractions
*Building 90. Frank Koubek is planning to write a oral history of his reminiscing on
Building 90 with its beginning as a Marine Guard Barracks, and the long-term use of
parts of the building by the Non-metallic Materials Branch.
*F-4 Aircraft Connector Problem. Frank is thinking of preparing an oral history of the
role NOL played in solving the F-4 aircraft electrical potted connectors problem during the
Vietnam War. He noted that, “Dr. Joseph Augl, one or our cracker-jack polymer
chemists solved the problem and made it possible for the Navy to get some 900 fighter
planes back into the air. This is covered briefly in the LEGACY book, but there is a lot
more to tell about this problem.” He noted that he is still in touch with Dr. Augl, who
lives in Arizona, and plans to contact him about this history.
*Plastic Lab on Georgia Avenue. The NOL plastic laboratory began in World War II,
and was located on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring, Maryland. Frank notes that, “Bob
Barnet was involved in the plastic’s laboratory during World War II, and he was a Navy
Lieutenant and Chemical Engineer graduate, who the Navy assigned there in 1943. Al
Lightbody, who was a Navy Commander was also assigned there, coming from DuPont.
The plastic laboratory was moved to White Oak in 1948. Apparently, Bob Barnet played
an important roll in the move of the equipment from Georgia Avenue to White Oak.” The
history on Georgia Avenue and the move to White Oak would make a great Oral History.
NITINOL Re-Examination By William J. Buehler
I have noticed with great pleasure the rather frequent reports in THE LEAF on NITINOL
and its varied applications. The summer issue (Vol. VII, Issue III) emphasizes an
overlooked point. That being the RECOGNITION of the inventors, NOL and U.S. Navy in
the discovery and early development of NITINOL.
The RECOGNITION aspect along with the frequent misleading reference to its
“ACCIDENTAL DISCOVERY” are the two sensitive areas that need some clarification.
Since I initiated the NITINOL research during the summer of 1958, I feel compelled and
qualified to address these two subject areas. Please allow me, as concisely as possible,
to shed some early historical light on those two emotionally delicate areas.
Let me first address the issue of what I feel to be “DISCOVERY” rather than what is too
frequently described as “ACCIDENTAL DISCOVERY.” In order to differentiate between
the two views, let us examine a condensed version of the key points of conception,
research and early development. These are chronologically provided as follows:
Problem (1958): To find a metallic alloy material to withstand the high temperature rigors
of a missile re-entry nose cone.
Concept: I chose to investigate metallic alloys that formed intermediate phases, of the
intermetallic compound type, particularly those that tended to exhibit melting
temperatures higher than the alloying component metals.
Literature Search: During the summer of 1958, I spent about one week at the Library of
Congress. While there, I primarily searched through Max Hansen’s lengthy text,
Constitution of Binary Alloys (1958), for intermetallic compound alloys that met my
predetermined criteria. Around sixty compound systems were selected. These were, for
numerous reasons, reduced to twelve compound systems. The equiatomic nickel-
titanium (basic NITINOL) was one of the twelve selected for further study.
Hand-on Study: With a support staff attrited to two sub-professionals (Messrs. Edward
Everly and Ernest Heintzelman), I employed the simplest and most direct techniques to
become more familiar with the selected twelve systems and a few of their overt
properties. The twelve systems were alloyed by controlled-atmosphere arc-melting into
cast button form (approximately 1/2" thick by 2 ½" diameter). Their relative brittleness
was determined by the simplest and most crude test of striking the cast buttons with a
hammer. The twelve varied from being highly brittle (ionic atomic bonding) to highly
impact resistant (metallic atomic bonding). Equiatomic nickel-titanium (basic NITINOL)
was the most impact resistant and invited further study. Wrought forms of this alloy
were produced. This was accomplished by hot and cold rolling, hot and cold swaging and
wire drawing at room temperature.
Startling Discovery: Arc cast bars (approximately 5/8" diameter by 4" long) when
suspended and struck rang brilliantly when heated slightly above room temperature. The
same bars were leaden-like when cooled slightly and struck. VOILA! The equiatomic
nickel-titanium was acoustically signaling that it was quite unusual and unique. This
equiatomic nickel-titanium compound alloy system seemed, at the time, to be almost
“crying-out” for more thorough investigation. More detailed quantitative metallurgical
research was undertaken.
Shape Memory: The above acoustic damping as a function of temperature was truly
startling. This overt property change was immediately felt to be related to some change
at the atomic or crystalline level. Messrs. Raymond Wiley and David Goldstein, both
Metallurgists, joined my group and assisted greatly with the multitude of early physical,
mechanical and metallographic studies. Simultaneously, Dr. Frederick Wang also joined
my enlarging group. Dr. Wang’s interest and expertise in basic atomic crystal physics
was vitally needed. He immediately undertook the research into the basic understanding
of these unique alloys, at the atomic level, which included by then the “shape memory” as
well as the acoustic damping change as a function of composition and temperature.
Before his arrival, the various unusual and unique behavior was analogous to having a
“black box” that overtly performed—but we lacked the most rudimentary basic
understanding of why and how.
Let me digress here slightly and describe the “shape memory” finding. Some very early
overt indications of it occurrence were:
*Cold rolled sheet and cold drawn wire, when heated (annealed), noticeably reduced in
*Hardness measurements (indentations), made at room temperature, markedly reduced
in size with heating to moderate temperatures.
*The acoustic damping change with modest temperature change occurred roughly at
about the same temperature range as the above observed shape changes.
*Metallography revealed, under certain conditions, an acicular microstructure that is
characteristic to metallurgists of a Martensite structure. This structure was particularly
noted to be related to the stressing of the specimen’s surface during metallographic
specimen polishing. More careful stress-free polishing was found to avoid its formation.
The above indications of some “shape memory” behavior, while perceived, were somehow
still not sufficient to sense the very major shape recovery possible in these alloys at near
room temperature. That large and unique “shape memory” was found, of all places, at
an NOL management meeting. For that meeting, I bent a thin-strip of NITINOL into an
accordion shape. It was intended to be flexed numerously to demonstrate the material’s
fatigue resistance. Dr. David Muzzey, Associate Director, applied heat from his pipe
lighter toe collapsed strip. The strip immediately extended with considerable force.
VOILA! VOILA! A truly unique “shape Memory” alloy with significant magnitude of force
and with significant energy conversion (heat energy mechanical energy) was revealed.
Our earlier above findings were trying to tell us something but the bend heat
recovery of such gross magnitude was a truly astounding finding. Who said
management meetings are a waste of time?
Crystallography and Property Data: At this point in time (approximately 1962), we had
uncovered a truly unique metallic alloy material. We had to now understand its basic
atomic behavior and characterize its many properties to make it reliable for possible
product use. It was here that Dr. Wang accepted the basic atomic level challenge and
soon through appropriate selective research provided conclusive basic understanding of
the very complicated Martensitic transition responsible for NITINOL’s unique overt
Technology Transfer: Awareness of NITINOL’s unique combination of properties quickly
radiated outside NOL. This occurred mainly through technical reports, presentations,
various forms of media coverage and NOL’s Technical Information Organization. Let me
cite just a few examples of the key organizations that became involved. NASA
independently sponsored two major characterization studies, one at Battelle Memorial
Institute (under Dr. Curt Jackson) and a second at Goodyear Aerospace Corporation
(under William Cross). Dr. George Andreason, DDS, Professor at the University of Iowa,
using some variable composition NITINOL wires, started studying its use as an
orthodontic bridge (arch) wire. Raychem Corporation (under Jack Harrison)
independently developed the successful hydraulic couplers for the then new U.S. Navy’s
F-14 jet aircraft. These very low transition temperature ternary alloy couplers were
expanded radially in liquid nitrogen and then, on warming to room temperature, radially
contracted with great force coupling the connecting pipes. The coupler was Trade
Marked “Cryofit.” Raychem also developed an electronic connector called “Cryocon.”
These were some of the early technical accomplishments during the super active and
harried 1960's. Following these lines of activity, the medical people were starting to
show some interest. That initial interest was primarily under Lt.Col. C. A. Heisterkamp,
MD., at Walter Reed and Dr. James Hughes, MD., an orthopedic surgeon at Johns
Hopkins. This early medical research activity ultimately led to the many very important
special medical devices employed today.
I could continue endlessly recalling detail from memory. But my main objective is to
convince the readers of THE LEAF that NITINOL was a rather planned DISCOVERY and
not an ACCIDENTAL DISCOVERY.
An “Accident” by definition implies some occurrence that is unplanned, unintended,
without forethought, etc. Above, I have tried to describe the intentional step-step
forethought and designed research that stimulated the initial finding, development and
technology transfer that made NITINOL into a very unique, new class of metallic material.
Conversely, I will accept the sometimes used term SERENDIPITY for NITINOL which
Webster describes as “finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.” But I hope
the above detail confirms my objection to NITINOL being referred to as an ACCIDENTAL
I retired from NOL in 1974, quite exhausted and as they say, “burned out.” Being
involved simultaneously with technical leadership, technical writing, public information,
sample requests, progress reporting, meetings, etc., finally took their toll. However, I
was not alone in working hard. Over the years, from the humble beginning with two sub-
professional assistants, I acquired part or full-time professional and non-professional
associates who also worked diligently. Most have been mentioned. However, I would be
greatly remiss not to mention the great sub-professional services provided by Messrs.
Charles Sutton and Richard Jones. They aided the program immensely with the
preparation of metallurgical research items and very timely and important technology
A question raised in the Summer 2005 issue of THE LEAF: Have NOL, the inventors, and
early developers gotten deserved credit? Recognition by its very nature is always a
rather sensitive subject. NITINOL recognition is no exception. Allow me to relate my
personal experiences in this area. Understand, my comments on this subject are solely
my own and they should not be considered to necessarily express the feelings of any of
my living former associates.
For some unknown reason, the NITINOL development has gotten much more of its
recognition and acclaim outside the government, Navy, and the NSWC Laboratory. Let
me illustrate by citing just one very typical and gratifying example. In September 1988,
several years after the universal acceptance and use of NITINOL in the highly important
area of dental orthodontic bridge (arch) wires, I received a letter from Dr. George
Andreasen, DDS, the key researcher who first employed NITINOL for orthodontic use.
Let me take out of context two very pleasing sentences from that letter. They read:
“The dignity you are still receiving has spread around the world in your development of
the alloy—NITINOL. ...If you would not have sent me the 3-foot piece of cobalt
substituted NITINOL wire, I could not have applied it to orthodontics. In fact, I’ll be in
your debt forever.” This example praise for cooperative technical early assistance is
somewhat symbolic of “outside” recognition.
Very early, the unique properties of these alloys indicated a promising future. In order to
assure that the development would always reflect favorably on NOL, I named these alloys
NITINOL (Nickel-Titanium-Naval-Ordnance-Laboratory). At the beginning, there were two
NITINOL compositions of interest: 55-NITINOL, 55 weight percent nickel—the “shape
memory” alloy—and 60-NITINOL, 60 weight percent nickel—a non-magnetic precipitation
hardenable tool-like material. With time, the “shape memory” composition became so
popular that numerical values were dropped and the name NITINOL was considered to be
almost exclusively the “shape memory” alloy. History has confirmed the value of this
early naming as it has given the Naval Ordnance Laboratory continuing recognition.
Let me now briefly review the area of formal individual recognition. In 1961, I received
the Meritorious Civilian Service Aware, a recognition that I was pleased to receive and at
that time in keeping with the very early NITINOL research and development activity.
About ten years later, in 1971, after a great deal more in-house research and
development, and by then far greater application in a wide diversity of products, Dr.
Wang and I were jointly nominated by NOL management for a higher level Navy award.
Our award was rejected. The rejection was primarily based upon, and I quote, “....not
yet proven itself.” The spokesperson for the rejecting committee further suggested to
the NOL representative other award levels, and I quote, “....let it jell for a while, wait and
see how much NITINOL is used, and then try for one of these awards.”
Now let me pan ahead in time to the somewhat humorous part. As suggested in 1971,
I, in 1993, thought on behalf of Dr. Wang and myself it seemed time to remind the Navy
and more specifically NSWC of the earlier suggestion. Contact was made with NSWC
management. Historical, technical, and application details were submitted. Nomination
for any further recognition award was rejected at the NSWC level. To be brief, the
primary reason for rejection, among other lesser reasons, was simply the passage of
time. I quote from context from an NSWC letter dated 24 November 1993: “I struggled
with evaluating the consistency of such an award with Division and Navy philosophy,
policy and practices, and the significant setting of precedent that your nomination for
such and award would make, i.e., thirty-five years after discovery and nearly twenty
years after employment.” Followed in the second paragraph: “Proposing either of these
highest level Navy awards for work conduced in a Navy Laboratory many years ago would
have to carry very compelling reasons for its justification at this time.” End of story!
Does my recollection to the CATCH-22 scenario seem to be in play here?
In an overall sense and on balance, I feel that the continuing commercial non-government
recognition for NITINOL has been very favorable and highly appreciated. Most commercial
products continue to use the NITINOL name. Stories by NOL/NSWC retirees like those in
the summer issue of THE LEAF are deeply pleasing. Further, many current versions of
the Webster Dictionary carry the NITINOL name. More importantly, they usually
reference the “Naval Ordnance Laboratory,” where it was created. Still further, a search
of the Internet provides many references to NITINOL and its many applications.
My personal regard for recognition, and I feel quite certain also expresses the feelings of
those who worked with me, requires no additional formal recognition at this time. Our
satisfaction really lies in the many wonderful results being accomplished in the area of
engineering, dentistry and life-saving medical applications.
Untold Stories of the WOL Ceramics Laboratory Epilogue—How It Got Revitalized
in 1983 by Frank Koubek
The book “Legacy of the WOL” on page 276 briefly alludes to the reinvigoration of the
WOL Ceramics laboratory in 1983 and goes on to tell of the many accomplishments of
the “new group” under the guidance and leadership of Dr. Inna Talmy. (See also The
LEAF, Vol. VII, Issue 2, Spring 2005, p. 10)
What is not told is how we came to revitalize ceramics R&D at WOL. By the 1980'a the
WOL REVMAT (TRIDENT Missile Materials) Program had evolved into an omnibus missile
materials R&D program to include tactical missiles as well as strategic ones creating a
need for the development of advanced super refractory ceramics for nose tips, radomes
and side-looking antenna windows. Thus, we needed a top-notch expert in this area for
our in-house efforts. Unfortunately, we were hard pressed to find anyone with this kind
of expertise and knowledge due to the scarcity of such people and competition with
private sector the their services.
This all changed in 1983, when I received a resume form a Dr. Inna Talmy. Inna was
interested in the possibility of working in ceramics at WOL. I was impressed and invited
her to come to White Oak for an interview. At the time, Inna, a former Russian ceramics
scientist, was working in Columbus, OH doing Chemical Abstract translations for the
American Chemical Society, after emigrating to the U.S. a few years earlier. Inna’s
interview with us was dazzling!! She was full of innovative ideas and her career-long
accomplishments and experience in hi-tech ceramics spurred us on to see if we could
bring her onboard to help revitalize the ceramics laboratory. Finding someone with her
credentials and willingness to work at WOL turned out to be a God-send. But, more
about that later.
There remained the obstacle of getting her onboard. Hiring someone who had worked
behind the Iron Curtain proved to be a formidable task and was further complicated by
an impending hiring freeze imposed by the White House. After a lot of promotion and
salesmanship, we were able to get upper management’s approval. (I got a lot of support
and encouragement from Dr. Jack Dixon, my boss and head of the Materials Division).
However, we met a major road block at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). To
hire Inna, we needed the approval of an individual at OPM who insisted that we provide
strong documented evidence that Inna’s education was equal to or better than that in
the U.S. (Inna has a PhD in ceramics from the University of Moscow.) I thought that
this requirement by OPM was a bit absurd to bring her onboard at the GS-12 level. But,
in view of the impending hiring freeze, we would have to move fast to satisfy the OPM
To help, Inna volunteered to drive to New Jersey (at her own expense) to a reputable
private agency that certified foreign country education. When we presented this
certification to the OPM contact, he said it was not good enough!! But, he said he would
accept a certification from a highly reputable U.S. Ceramics university attesting that the
University of Moscow’s ceramics program was as good as those in the U.S. (Ohio State,
Rutgers Alfred, Georgia Tech, etc). At this point, we had less than a week to beat the
deadline for the hiring freeze, and it was also near the Christmas holidays when WOL
closed for a week. I quickly got on the phone and called an acquaintance of mine on the
ceramics faculty at the University of Washington in Seattle. Then, bad luck again; an ice
storm in Seattle had shut down the university, and my friend was not there! But, lucky
for me, the head of the Ceramics Department managed to get into work that morning,
and he answered my phone call! I told him my problem; and he replied,”no problem, the
University of Moscow’s Ceramics program is as good as any in the U.S.” I asked him if
he would put it in writing. He said, “yes.” I mailed him the forms to fill out by over night
mail ($10.00; my expense as the WOL mail room could not pay for overnight mail.) So, I
hand carried it to the Post Office myself. The next day, he received it; signed off on it;
and returned it to us by overnight mail. Thus, in 3 days and 2 nights, we had the
paperwork to get Inna hired; but the deadline was on top of us! To expedite things, we
decided to have someone hand carry the package to OPM. Mary Truesdell, one of our
super-duper technicians drove to OPM to deliver it. Later that same day, Mary came into
my office and said, “The job’s done, boss.” I asked, “Did you take the envelope to OPM’s
mail room?” She replied, “Heck no. I took it right to the OPM staffer who is holding up
the works. When I dropped it onto his desk, he nearly fell out of his chair.”
And that’s how we hired Dr. Talmy----lots of red tape and hurdles were defeated!
Before I retired from WOL two years later, we also hired several young and well qualified
professionals to assist her. In addition, with Dr. Dixon’s aggressive support, we were
able to procure the necessary high tech sintering kilns and other equipment needed to
investigate the many great R&D ideas formulated by Dr. Talmy. Instant success by Inna
on researching Celsian oxide ceramics, using utlra high purity starting materials, brought
more support for additional programs.
Inna’s fame and fortunes grew quickly; and, as they say----the rest is history. I believe
she is now at the super grade level, and she has received numerous awards and citations
for her accomplishments. While my association with her was in the twilight of my career
at WOL, I consider my efforts to get her and her group started to be one of the
highlights of my career.
Trip to Goodyear Aircraft Corp., Akron by George Stathopoulos
Early in the development of the SUBROC Missile, we got a call from the Prime Contract,
GAC, that they had assembled a prototype version of the missile in their Akron plant and
that we should look it over as a possible laboratory test vehicle. Ed Rzepka and I made
the trip to Akron for this purpose in the dead of winter; the trip turned out to be more
than just routine.
We decided that we could make better use of our time if we drove to Akron rather than
flying to Cleveland and taking a rental car to Akron. Ed assured me that he had good
driving directions, that his station wagon would have no problems if we should encounter
snow because he recently installed “new” recapped snow tires, and that we could easily
meet GAC’s schedule by leaving for Akron at four o’clock in the morning. He also said
that we could break up the trip by having breakfast at Breezewood and that he would
bring a thermos of coffee to tide us over until we reached Breezewood.
We left on time, and things went well until we reached just west of Frederick. At that
point we ran into a very thick fog making the drive over the two-lane mountain road to
Hagerstown very treacherous. To compound the problem, the darkness of the early
hour made visibility even worse. As we crawled over the two-lane road, a bakery truck
breezed past us. Ed raced the station wagon to catch up to the truck. I thought that
Ed was angry with the truck driver for passing so close to us and had some sort of
retaliation in mind. Ed explained simply that the truck driver probably makes the trip six
times a week to deliver bread and consequently knows every curve and turn in the road.
He said that if we followed him closely we couldn’t have a better guide into Hagerstown.
He was so right. At this point the fog lifted.
After this ordeal, I thought it was time to break out the thermos of coffee. I was
wrong. Ed simply explained that he couldn’t let me have coffee because I would want to
stop at every toilet on the way. Apparently, he knew my bladder better than I did.
Coffee-less we made it to Breezewood and had breakfast. Shortly out of Breezewood,
we heard a thumping noise in the back of the station wagon, and before we could stop
to investigate, we heard a big bang. What had happened was that the snowcap had lost
its bond to the tire and flew off the tire in big chunks. We mounted the spare tire and
continued on our trip along the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
The weather was rather pleasant; however, after we exited the second tunnel, we
encountered snow. At first it was rather light, but as we approached Akron, it became
quite heavy. The streets in Akron were covered but were passable. The problem was
that the street signs were snow covered. Being that this was our first trip to Akron by
car we had to make use of the street signs to find the GAC plant. Ed, ever resourceful,
had a broom in the back of the station wagon, and I was elected to sweep the snow off
the signs at certain intersections. We finally made it to the plant and were able to
accomplish our work that afternoon and the next morning. During the course of
inspecting the missile we had their photographer take a number of pictures. For one of
the pictures, it was necessary to move the dolly on which the missile rested. It wasn’t
two minutes later that a labor grievance had been filed, never mind that we moved the
dolly less than three inches. We were informed that moving the dolly was work that only
highly skilled laborers were allowed to do. Outside of impressing us, I don’t think that
anything came of the grievance.
The GAC engineers working with us were sympathetic to our ordeal with the tire and
offered to take us to their tire outlet and use their employee discount to buy two new
snow tires. We took them up on their offer and had the tires mounted.
We finished our work around noon of the next day and set off for home. It had stopped
snowing, but there was snow piled up high along the highway. About an hour out of
Akron, the station wagon came to a stop. How embarrassing, we ran out of gas. The
highway patrol came to our aid within a couple of minutes and dispatched an emergency
vehicle that provided enough gas to get us to the next filling station.
After that, the trip was uneventful except for a couple of minor incidences. When we
drove into the first tunnel, Ed panicked. He yelled that he couldn’t see. I yelled back,
“Take off your damn sun glasses.” That cured his blindness. At another time, I noticed
that Ed was steering with a certain rhythmic cadence. It dawned on me that he was
keeping time with the movement of the windshield wipers. I do believe that he was in a
hypnotic trance of some sort.
When we finally made it home late that night, we were both ready for a sound sleep.
About a week later, I had occasion to discuss some detail of our inspection with Ed. By
way of conversation, I asked him how he liked his two new tires. He said that they were
fine, but that he got ripped off. It turned out that the tires sold for less in the
Washington area than they cost in Akron, even with the employee discount.
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