An Interview with Walter MacWilliams

 Developing the First “Working” Transistor Application


Oral History – Walter MacWilliams



After you began work at Bell Labs in 1946, how did your project evolve to the point that transistor circuitry was possible?

After a year the work was transferred to the Whippany Laboratory, under Stuart Hight.  We presented our report to officials at the Navy Bureau of Ordnance, and were awarded a contract for further study, looking toward design and manufacture of a gunnery defense system for the USS NORTHAMPTON, a command ship that was being designed.  We studied the problem of analyzing an air attack, with a system for establishing tracks on incoming aircraft, evaluating the emerging priority of engaging the various aircraft, taking into account dynamically the threat to the ship that they represented, and selecting gun directors to track the aircraft, assigning gun mounts to the directors, and controlling defensive gunfire as appropriate.  The defense would be a fluid affair, taking into account the threat represented by the attacking aircraft and the limits of defensive gunfire, a dynamic problem as the attack developed and the ship maneuvered with the rest of the fleet unit that was being attacked.


We developed a set of principles for evaluating the relative threats of the incoming aircraft, the ability of the defensive gun directors to track them, and the computed effectiveness of engaging the various aircraft with gunfire, and designed a defense system for switching assignments of directors to track incoming aircraft and assignments of gun mounts to engage them with gunfire.  


Oral History – Walter MacWilliams



The system was dynamic, and emphasized a dynamic solution, with a presentation for the personnel organizing the defense to control the operation.   We proposed a system that would show the threats of the incoming aircraft and the capabilities of defensive gun directors and guns to engage them, to be managed by gunnery defense personnel.   We also developed a system for analyzing the developing air attack, and presenting, to defensive personnel, assignments of directors to targets and guns to directors, with the capability of carrying out the defense automatically, by analyzing data from the aircraft tracks.


The computer envisaged for this purpose was called the TEWA (Target Evaluator and Weapon Assignor), and it also had an automatic mode, called the ATEWA (Automatic Target Evaluator and Weapon Assignor), in which the defense would be carried out by the ATEWA computer.


We developed a scheme for quantizing the principal variables of gunnery defense, and designed a computer to determine the optimum defense, and to generate orders for assigning gun directors to incoming aircraft, and gun groups to appropriate directors, dynamically, using multi-contact relays of the type used in telephone switching centers.




Go To MacWilliams Oral History, Pg 4


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