I was born in 1956 (one year after World War II rationing finally ended) as the youngest of four sons of a coal mining family in central Ayrshire, Southwest Scotland. My oldest brother was born in 1938 so the family spanned the war years and subsequent recovery. I had family members who served in both world wars and several of those relatives were killed or injured. My late wife also had relatives who fought in WWI, and both sides of the US Civil war. Only her grandfather survived although he was seriously injured when he was shot down. My father, Harry, is the focus of my presentation.
As a young child I would pour over the aircraft manuals and play with the many artifacts my father brought back. Although he would never talk about the uglier aspects of his service he passed on many skills and a ‘just figure it out’ attitude that he had learned both before and during his service. That directly led to me being the first member of his family to go to university. I graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland.
Upon graduation I joined the Flight Automation Research Laboratory of Marconi Avionics (now part of British Aerospace) where I led development teams working on helicopter autoland systems, aircraft data bus systems, ballistic fire control solutions, and speech recognition systems for military cockpits. The latter program was partially funded by the Marconi facility in Norcross, GA and that led to my transfer to the US in 1984. It was a 2-year deal; apparently I liked it here and I became a US citizen in 1994.
My career in the US has spanned multiple military avionics developments, telecommunications, and ISR satellite systems. My focus has always been heavily centered on the man-machine interface and making things easier and more efficient for the user. The programs about which I am most proud are the development of an effective weapon aiming and fire control system for US Army Special Operations helicopters, major enhancements to the AC-130 gunship Head Up Display and Low Light TV systems, and completion of the development of the cockpit display for the F-35 fighter. I retired in early 2022 and now continue to satisfy my warbird cravings through my hobby of building and flying radio-controlled aircraft, a hobby that began in the attic of my home when I was a young child.
This is the story of how a working-class lad from a Scottish coal mining family ended up in charge of electrical maintenance for an entire squadron of B-24 Liberators and certified as a Flight Engineer.
Run time: 1 hour 30 minutes
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