Recalling the AUTODIN – Part I

Recalling the AUTODIN – Part I

February 24, 2012 4:36 pm 59 comments

Autodin (short for “AUTOmatic DIgital Network”) was the Department of Defense’s first computerized message switching system. It was developed to replace a semiautomatic teletype switching system called Plan 55. Like Plan 55, Autodin was developed in the late 50’s, early 60’s by Western Union. The original five Continental US (CONUS) sites were operated jointly by the military and Western Union. Subsequent sites located in other parts of the world were operated by Philco-Ford and military agencies. Autodin remained in service into the 2000’s and has been replaced by the Defense Message System.

I worked as a tech controller in the Autodin AESC (automatic electronic switching center) at Norton AFB, San Bernardino, California, from mid-1966 until 1968. The Norton switch was the first one to come on-line (around 1962, I believe) and maintained a heritage of being the most reliable switch in the system. The last full year I worked there, the switch maintained an uptime of 99.97%. That may not seem amazing, but you have to understand that this was with second-generation computers.

Second Generation Computers

Autodin Computer Room

Autodin Computer Room

Autodin was initially implemented using second generation computers. These were built using semiconductors (as opposed to vacuum tubesΒ in the first generation) but no integrated circuits. Even simple flip-flops were constructed using discrete transistors, resistors, and capacitors. Usually the circuits were built on small printed circuit boards that were plugged into racks with interconnecting wiring on the back. A large computer typically had thousands of such cards.

Communications Data Processor (CDP)

The primary switching computer for Autodin was called, simply, the CDP. It was a monstrous thing, comprising 19 racks of equipment, each containing hundreds of circuit cards. It was built by RCA and, if I recall correctly, was based on the RCA 501 commercial computer. It was a word-oriented (as opposed to today’s byte-oriented) machine, with 56 bits per word and ferrite core main memory storing 40,960 words. DC power requirements were quite high (hundreds of amperes) and were supplied by large motor-generator sets (AC motors driving directly connected DC generators). It needed a large air conditioner to keep it cool.

CDP Console Layout

CDP Console Layout

There was a wide data bus connecting all the racks together via large cables. Because the signal path was so long, data placed on the bus was parity protected. In fact, the most frequent failure mode was a BTPE (pronounced buhTEEpee), a bus transmission parity error.

It supported a variety of I/O devices. Magnetic drum storage units holding 322 kilobytes were used to store temporary operating data. Console printing was done on Flexowriter automatic typewriters. There was a high-speed line printer for dumps and other large printouts. A bank of half-inch reel-to-reel tape drives provided secondary storage for initial program loading, logging, and off-line message storage. It also had interfaces to multiple Accumulation and Distribution Units (ADUs – see below) and a specialized computer called the Automatic Display Processor (ADP – see below) that drove the system console.

Each switching center had two CDPs, arranged in a hot standby configuration. If the online CDP failed, all I/O devices were automatically switched to the standby processor, which took over with little discernible interruption.

The CDP was notable in the history of computer development because it was microprogrammed. Each instruction in the custom language developed for the Autodin application decoded into a subroutine of simpler operations that the hardware could perform.

The message switching program on the CDP ran in a cyclic manner through receiving, switching, and sending phases. This could be observed easily on the CDP maintenance console, which provided light displays for many of the CPU registers. They were arranged to display 27-bit half words in a 3 by 9 arrangement. Each column of three binary bits could easily be read off as an octal digit, which was used for troubleshooting and debugging purposes. The rapid cyclic flashing of the register displays became very familiar to system operators and usually the first indication that anything was going wrong was a change in the light pattern as the online unit executed a transfer to the standby unit.

Accumulation and Distribution Unit (ADU)

ADUs were the equivalent of what would later be called communication front-end processors. They provided the interface to the data communication circuits connecting the switching center to tributary terminals and other switching centers. Each switching center had three ADUs, with two required for normal operations. The third was maintained in warm standby and could be substituted quickly for one that had failed.

Automatic Display Processor (ADP)

The ADP was a curious little computer used only to drive the System Console, which provided convenient display and control capabilities for operating the message switching system. It was curious in that it used mercury delay lines for main memory. That is, the contents of main memory were kept circulating in a loop through the delay lines, with the processor executing its cyclic program as the instructions streamed by. It was also curious in that its initial program load was from punched paper tape.

Tape Search Unit (TSU)

Tape Search Unit

Tape Search Unit

There was also a stand-alone computer called the Tape Search Unit, which was used to search history tapes to recover messages that had failed to be delivered for some reason. This was the first computer I ever worked with that required manual entry of a bootstrap program to get it started. If the power to the TSU had been turned off you had to manually enter about thirty instructions in binary by punching buttons on the TSU front panel. That bootstrap program could then read the tape search program in from mag tape.

Terminal Equipment

Synchronous Terminals

Compound Terminal

Compound Terminal

The primary terminal equipment used at Autodin tributary stations was called the Compound Terminal (CT) or, more familiarly as “the cube.” It was called that because the processor unit, made by IBM, was exactly square, about 3-1/2 feet on the sides, and about 5 feet high. It provided facilities for transmission and reception of 80-column punched cards using an automated version of the IBM 026 keypunch. It also could send and receive text messages using a Teletype ASR28, which had a paper tape punch, tape reader, and page printer. Messages were prepared by punching them into either cards or tape, then reading them into the system. The CT then transmitted them into the Autodin switch.

Larger facilities used a faster terminal built by IBM, which could punch paper tape so fast that it would fly four or five feet out of the punch before dropping to the floor. Later there was another high speed terminal built by Univac, called the 1004/DLT6, basically a Univac 1004 computer with special data com equipment (the Data Link Terminal model 6) attached.

All the originally planned terminals operated synchronously using (originally) a six-bit character code called Fieldata. Later, the whole system was converted to use ASCII.

Mode 5 Terminals

In an attempt to reduce the cost of Autodin terminal equipment, while still obtaining its automatic acknowledgement of messages by the receiving station, the DOD commissioned Western Union to provide an asynchronous Autodin terminal that could be used with existing Baudot (five-bit code) teletype equipment. The result was an asynchronous system called Mode 5 (the main synchronous terminals were Mode 2).

A Mode 5 control unit could be connected to an existing teletypewriter terminal to provide automatic numbering of outgoing messages, and automatic acknowledgement of incoming messages. With no control characters available in the Baudot code, it transferred control sequences in a novel way–one that was later used with the Smartcom modem control codes to switch from data mode to command mode–the use of idle blind periods. A control sequence consisted of a pair of identical characters that followed an extended idle period on the line. The control unit inserted pauses in transmission so it could send acknowledgements back for received messages, and it automatically detected pauses and control sequences sent by the Autodin switch.

Mode 5 transmissions were not error protected, but there was at least assurance of delivery of each message by the automatic numbering and acknowledgement system.

Continue to Part II >

59 Comments

  • Joseph Reger

    I worked in the Norton Autodin\Crypto shop 1976 to 1979. There were KG-26C, and KG-13 in that time. What crypto equipment was there in 1966 to 1968? I ended up as the senior 2 stripper for over a year as shift supervisor, minum requirement was a 4 stripper. Work week consisted of: 3 days on, 3 days off, 12 hour shifts. They rotated also. Presently I supervise an Open Computer lab with 9 employees.

  • Crypto in the 1966-68 timeframe was KW-26s for the teletype circuits, and KG-3/13s for the higher speed data circuits. I’d have thought that ten years down the road they would have come up with something cryptographically stronger, but I guess not. The KG-3/13 with its completely randomized initialization vector was a godsend for us tech controllers. All we had to do to resync a data circuit was push a button on the tech control console. No need to call into crypto for a card change, as with the teletype circuits.

    • Kenneth Leber

      Phil Ryals, When we installed the Autodin Equipment that interfaced with the Crypto equipment in Norton Tech Control, Auto Sync was designed into the RCA computer. We were not permitted, however, to activate that feature because Security required manual intervention on any loss of sync.

  • I’ve just been reading these pages and brings back a lot of memories for me. I also worked at Norton AFB. I went to work there right out of H/S and was trained as a teletype operator. Our station was at top of a hanger out near the runway. 3 people on duty 24-7. Below us in the hanger, was maint. going on for Atlas,Thor,missles. In the same room with us were Key Punch operators. After about a year, we were trained to use the new Autodin Compound Terminal. Only one bomb scare where we had to evacuate the hanger. We were then moved down to a large building, where we worked alongside AF men. Those were fun times, so long forgotten. Thanks for some memories.

  • P.S
    Forgot to mention that I was standing at the incoming msg mach. when over United Press came the report that John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas.

    • Kenneth Leber

      I was Site Manager in the AUTODIN site at Norton AFB when the news came that Kennedy had been shot. A terribly sad time in the history of our great country.

  • Gerald Joiner

    I was stationed at the Coltano ASC 1971 to 1973, Fort Detrick ECTC 1973 to 1975, Pirmasens 1975 to 1978 and back to Ft Detrick 1978 to 1980 when I left the Army. A lot of good memories, good friends – too bad we lost contact – would love to know what everyone is doing these days. I’ve been medically retired since 2003.

    • Mark Furman

      Was stationed at Ft. Detrick ECTC Fall 71 to Feb 73. Then to Germany, and ETS’ed. Transferred to Detrick from Richie/ANMCC radio room under the Hill, first to USACEEIA, then next door to ECTC/USASTRATCOM.Multiple transfers show in my DD214. Lived in the barracks in between the USASTRATCOM and the USACEEIA buildings.Did some TDY at Meade putting up new NSA antenna field, spring of 72. Can’t find single picture of exterior of ECTC from back then; want it so can show where I worked. Got there as Pfc, made Spc4 there. Did the Tues/Thurs security runs to DC – 9AM, 3PM with locked pouch after typing pouch routing sheet in USACEEIA office. Had a good time at Detrick. Write me at my yahoo email.

  • Gerald Joiner

    if anyone remembers me, would love to hear from you…

    • Gerhardt "Gary" Lahs

      Hi Gerald. Was also at Coltano when you were along with a lot of other fine people. Went from Coltano to NTSC (N. Syracuse, NY) then back to Coltano, then appointed as WO and off to Ft Sill, OK and the to Vaigengen (Stuttgart Ger).

      Gary

  • Stephen Ames, SMSgt (Ret)

    KW-26 gear has been around a long time. I decommissioned a set in the SSO comm center on Kadena in the late 80s. They were a challenge and most of us from that day knew how to reinitiate a card that has been cut without having to “burn” a new one. In my day I had to certify monthly on KL-7s offline encryption gear. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/KL-7 The KW-7s were also a pain when they had the 30 wires to configure. [used on Shu Lin Kou, Taipei] They were later retrofitted with card readers. [used on Kadena] I’ve worked with the whole gauntlent of crypto gear culminating with the KG-81/83/84 family when I retired in 1998. I cut my secure comm teeth on the old Model 19s, manual keyboard action and all. Univac 1004 and DCT 9000 and General Dynamics D.S.T.E.. Model 28s! It’s all coming back. Never fades.

  • KL-7’s were still in use in 1969 when I was stationed in Samsun, Turkey. Although it wasn’t my job, I always set up a KL-7 for the new day’s key since the teletype operators were very busy at that time of the day. As I recall, we had two and alternated them, so you had one to decrypt anything received using the previous day’s key. They were only used if all our links were out for some reason and they had to read messages over the telephone.

  • Art Brown

    I worked at the Communications Computer Programming Center (Det 10, 1800 Support Squadron, AFCS at Tinker AFB,OK) from 1967 to 1970 on the Air Force Logistics Systems Autodin System known as, I believe, Set 8 or RAIDS (Real-time Autodin Interface and Distribution System). We programmed Univac 418-11 computers for the AFLC bases (Tinker, Wright-Pat, Kelly, McClellan, Warner-Robins, etc.). Our commanders during my time were LTC Anna and LTC Love. Our offices were at the Universe Building offbase but near Tinker. I was the Project Leader for the installation at Kelly AFB and spent a lot of TDY time there. I also went to Wright-Patt, Warner-Robins, McClellan and, of course Tinker. In addition to the Univac 418-II programming group, we had programmers for the IBM 360’s, Univac 1004s, and had a remote group in Hawaii developing a so-called Pacific Interim Access and Control System using some old IBM equipment. We had about 170 on-site programmers at locations around the world as well as in the programming group at Tinker.
    Your web site brought back a lot of memories for me. It’s amazing how much of the technical details I had forgotten so I am enjoying reading the various parts of your web site.
    Art Brown

    • Phil Combs

      I wonder if you knew my grandfather. His name was George Combs and he worked on this at Tinker AFB before he retired from the Air Force in the early 70’s.

      • Art Brown

        Phil,
        I don’t remember him so we probably didn’t overlap timewise. Sorry I can’t be of more help.
        Art Brown

  • Howard A. Johnson

    Great article Phil! I started my ASC career at McClellan AFB, working first in the dual homed minor switch (RUVM), then moving over to a mode 5 trib station (EPA) with REAL Western Union equipment. After that I was lucky to move over to the McClellan ASC (RUWM) for a year. My last AUTODIN assignment was at Elmendorf AFB (AJA), in AK. I so loved working AUTODIN and despise it’s replacement, DMS, which I was forced to support marginally at McGuire AFB, NJ! I did get to go back to messaging when I was in Mainz-Kastel, Germany working at first on a Newdealer terminal, then it’s replacement, AMHS which I enjoyed. But these were not AUTODIN jobs, they hung off the remnants of AUDODIN that was being kept alive by different agencies and departments who refused to switch to DMS.

    • Kenneth Leber

      Howard Johnson, AUTODIN was truly a phenomenal system. When it was shut down,it had served DOD more than 40 years as the primary message communications COMPUTER, WITH AN UP-TIME OF 99.9% AND NEVER HAVING LOST A SINGLE MESSAGE.

    • Ned Evans

      Cheer up Howard I was/am an AUTODIN Programmer since 1972 (and other efforts) and I can tell you, we put DMS out of its misery in 2013 after just less than 10 years, meanwhile the last actual AUTODIN ASC was still chugging at Detrick until we finally retired/replaced it in late 2014 (gave it to the Smithsonian). DCA/DISA still runs 3 switches and legacy messaging is still alive and dependable today.

  • Randall Morrell

    I worked in the Primary Criticomm Relay Center at Chicksands, Kelly, Incirlik, Turkey. Maintained all tty and offline crypto available at that time. Favorite was Chicksands. Mode 5 was a favorite in Korea. KL-7’s were a bitch. πŸ˜†

  • Richard Riffe

    Great article. My grandfather is Richard “Dick” Crumm. One of the creators of DIN and later AUTODIN. Unfortunately he passed away in 1985, and I was born in 1986. I dont kniw to much about his work. I’d be interested to know if you know anything about him.

  • Hi Phil;

    I was an Air Force Tech Controller at McClellan AUTODIN (north side of Sacramento) in 1975 and 1976.

    Having signed-up for a 4 year hitch in the AF I had 3 years out-in-the-field (after finishing tech school at Keesler and waiting for clearances to come through) with my duty at McClellan coming after I’d spent 18 months at Karamursel (in NW Turkey)

    Once my year-and-a-half at McClellan was done it was back to civilian life for me (the 4 years in the AF was good as it allowed time for the motivation to grow such that I finished up my EE degree once I
    put away Air Force Blue).

    I could be wrong but I have long held the opinion that being in an “imbalanced AFSC” (Tech Control with an SSIR) career field (they needed us overseas but not really stateside), plus the DOD reg (can’t remember the number) that said you couldn’t be kept over seas all-the-time, meant that the AF had to ‘find’ positions in the U.S. that required SSIR clearances. In the mid 1970s Sacramento was a nice place to be (the weather was similar to central Texas where I’d grown-up) and with the Sierras less than an hour’s drive to-the-east, and San Francisco about a 90 minute drive west, it made for a good tour (though the summer weather could be a bit harsh).

    Regards;

    Paul

  • Marvin E Woody Sr

    I was a UNIVAC tech. I installed UNIVAC 1004 AUTODIN systems at Langley AFB, Ft. Bragg and a couple other posts. Mid sixties.

  • Bruce Morley

    I will throw my 2 cents worth in here. My last duty assignment was at Gentile A.F.S. in Kettering Ohio. Gentile was a part of the Defense Electronics Supply Center, Just seven miles from Wright Pat. I was in Tech Control in their Autodin center. I had just finished 1.5 years at Clark in the PI and worked in primary control for awhile and then up at the FM Hill microwave site. My point is…..the equipment on the hill was microwave and equipment was older than I was. And then I get to go and work with the state of the art equipment. What a revelation.

  • Martin

    I worked in autodin in Japan in 71-73 was wondering if anybody remembered the programming language. I worked on the Philco equipment

    • Gerhardt "Gary" Lahs

      The overseas Autodin (Philco Ford/Aurospace System) employed two different languages (both which were assembler based). The first was an I/O language and the second was an operational language. I believe that that second was really originally written in Fortran IV and then converted to assembler.

      Coltano ASC (Italy) 1971- 1974 and then again 1976 – 1980. Attended AUTOCON programmer’s course at Fort Gordon in 1980 (self taught before that in both CONUS and Oversea’s AUTODIN Systems – totally different systems). I also worked at NETSC (Hancock Field, North Syracuse NY 1974 – 1976) knew Gil Schorr (msp?) for that period, a really delightful gentleman and really really intelligent. Hancock Field, while an Air Force Base, had the ASC manned by Department of the Army Civilians – that is until the Army attempted a “take over” – not popular to the existing staff.

      Gary

      • Ned Evans

        The original Overseas coding was SHAL-A assembler for all functions until 1981 when we installed PDP-11’s and moving head Disks to replace Tape Drives. The PDP-11 code was Macro-11 assembler for the On-Line PDP-11 functions and Fortran for the Off-Line functions (Table loader/Retrieval, etc.)

    • Ned Evans

      SHAL-A assembler.

  • Willis Alexander

    I was stationed at Norton from July ’72-Mar ’73. As a 295 and came to Tinker in ’74 as D295 assigned to CCPC, sent to Southern Comm Area Hq. Came back to CCPC in ’78 went to Ft Dettrick with DCA and the Autodin Switch at Andrews came back to CCPC in ’82 and retired in ’85. Loved my time as an operator and programmer for autodin, u418(set8) and the OCR (by Digital Equipment Corp(DEC). They changed the name from CCPC to AFCCPC and moved us from the Universe building to an on-base location. I have been trying to find patches for CCPC. By the way the unit was none as CCSO when I retired. (Command and Control Systems Office) when I retired.

  • Mike McClendon

    I was a 291 stationed initially at England AFB, LA (76-79). Worked on DSTE and DCT9000. Went to Osan (79-81) and worked in the 314AD AFSSO and then moved up to 6903rd SS (ESS). Worked on Streamliner. Then I moved up to the HTACC and still worked on Streamliner. Working as a 291 was a more than busy job. Then I cross trained to 274 (1C3) and the 291 world changed. Great memories, lots of great stories and worked with some real characters.

  • Forrest Allen

    I worked first in Plan 55 at McClellan in 1965. When that closed down I was transferred to Norton and got some training and then worked as a Spvr. until 1971. I left to help my brother that just came back from Vietnam. That didn’t last so I found out there was an opening at McClellan so I joined the force in 1973, got my clearance back and worked there until 1975 when there was a reduction in force and I was one of the low men to go.

  • Jerry Donofrio

    I left the AF out of Denver and moved directly to Syracuse Feb 1966 and worked in the Crypto area of the Autodin system. Only stayed there a short time then went to General Electric where worked on 645 Computer system later sold to Bell Lab where they developed UNIX on the parts of the GE645.

    • Bill Marsico

      Hi Jerry, I remember you from Crypto School at Lackland. I worked at Hancock ASC from Dec 66 to Feb 70. Then moved to DSTE Maintenance at Jefferson Proving Ground in Madison IN. Got out of electronics and finished my career with the Government, as a Logistics Analyst.

  • Mike Lowery

    I was stationed at the Taego ASC from Sep’79 until 1st quarter of ’81. That was when being a computer tech was still fun, because virtually everything had to be troubleshot to the component level. No black box replacment!

  • Lee Earhart

    I worked at McClellen on the Plan55 system as a technician. When they shut it down in early 1968,most of the techs went on leave and worked on removing the equipment.

  • Joe Klein

    I was with RCA which built the Autodin system for WU. Assigned to help integrate the ADU’s at the Tinker site in 1962. Hired in with WU in early 1963 as a site supervisor. Left in late 1965. It was a great program. Terrific people. Just wrote a story (6-27-15) for Bob Pollard’s web site for Tinker. Found my name in his write-up on Tinker!

    • Kenneth Leber

      Joe, believe I remember you from the Autodin installation at Norton AFB. I was on the initial W.U. team working with RCA to get the equipment ready for cutover to live traffic. Was assigned as first W.U. Site Manager for maintenance of the equipment. Was on-site when President Kennedy was assassinated. Operations and Tech Control were performed solely by Air Force Personnel.

  • Glen Warholic

    I was stationed in Taegu from October 1977 through July 1980 and then at Ft Detrick ECTC from August 1980 through July 1983.

    I got to work with a lot of great people, military, government civilian, and contractors.

    It was the greatest learning experience a person could have for learning computers and data communications at their roots.

    It greatly prepared me for my future working with the development of the internet and future positions as a software engineer.

    I wish there were more pictures of the site(s) and the hardware showing the components (printed circuit boards) — I doubt most younger computer people would even recognize them.

    I still remember some of the opcodes of the Philco 102 instruction set — Transfer Memory to A register (TMA) — 0x4C — I wrote a lot of test and play program simply toggling in the instructions at the maintenance console.

  • Richard Robinson

    Worked at Coltano ASC in crypto. Repaired the KW26s and KG13s from Aug 70 thru July 72. Loved the work, disliked the Army

  • Jerry Flesher

    I worked at the AUTODIN major relay station at Long Binh, Vietnam in 1969 (1st Sig Bde, 44th Sig Bn). It was spread throughout eleven 40 foot over-the-road trailers (BM 360-20 and all), linked in a maze that you could get lost in – I. It was operated from trailered gasoline powered electrical generators 24/7. Does anyone know if this was a one-off or were they scattered all around?

  • Tom Tesmer

    Nha Trang Autodin ’68-’69, then Coltano ’70-’71. 32d40. Great experience. Had a real adventure with Master Clock outage at Coltano.
    Does anyone have pics?

  • Jim White, Msgt. USAF, Ret.

    Like so many others, this brings back many many memories. In particular was the comments by Art Brown. I was stationed with him at CCPC. Always great to see old associates. I was also at Andrews and Korat. Retired and went to work with UNIVAC/UNISYS. Retired once again from Cape Canaveral.

    • Art Brown

      Jim,
      I just noticed your post on this website. I’ve kept in touch with Richard Arnold, Don Campbell and Dennis Reedy over the past few years via emails. What is your email address?
      Art

  • Alan Winters

    I worked autodin from 1969 to 1989. From 1004s, to 418-II, 418-III, from Carswell to Vietnam ending at Dyess. Today people cannot spell Autodin. Let alone ASC.

  • Jerry Zeisler

    I worked at Ft. Detrick’s ECTC from early 1976 – late 1977 in Autodin repair (Army Signal Corp 34H20). Worked mostly the night shift. Had a great time, learned a lot, had longish hair slicked back with Dippity Do (no brass worked at night), and won a lot of card games. :-) I still have the installation manual for the system with pictures.

  • Mike Fleming

    I was a 295 at Tinker from July 1969 to Jan 1971. I was reassigned from a 291 in June 1967 because I had worked at the Weather Relay at Tinker from 1963-1965. I was injured in Nov 1967 and was a patient at Wilford Hall until July 1969. They sent me to Tinker on limited duty, walking with a cane. When I was considered fit for full duty they attempted to send me to Fuchu AS as a 295. I decided to terminate my career and was discharged. I always wondered if I would have been assigned to the Weather Relay at Fuchu. Was there an Autodin Switching Center there as well?

  • W. Deane Brimm

    Phil you look a little older in the picture. I know how that goes. I was a WU tech at Norton from 1964 to 1965 give or take a few months. I was promoted to Site Supervisor and stayed as such until 1975. During the early 70’s I was part of the team to install the IC upgrade for most sites. I left WU and Autodin and hired on at JPL for the Viking Project mission to mars (Senior flight controller). I will never forget my Norton days.

  • Mark Fisher

    I was at Shepard A.F.B. 1982, Eglin A.F.B ’82, working with ASR 28’s UNIVAC 9300’s, SRT’s KG-13’s, Tsec/KW26’s Incirlik, Turkey 83-84 DSTE, KL-7, KL-51, Balikeshir older Klienschmidt teletypes, NATO equip. McChord AFB back to UNIVAC’s, SRT’s, KG-13’s…

    I found the equipment interesting, all of it. The traffic, and operational aspects were always interesting. What however, because laborious, and possessed a burnout factor were the large traffic loads associated, with the rotating shifts, and under manned staff. We were pummeled with large masses of data traffic load we could not handle in critically under staffed situations. Constant 12 hrs. rotating shift situations, with few days off. No replacements when someone retired or left. Which made the career field less attractive for others to come into it. The Air Force would not allow others to cross trained out of the field. Which only caused more people to leave the military, in order to get out of the service to escape the career field.

    That was the real dirty secret behind the dilemma of most 29150’s Telecommunications Operators in the Air Force, which later were merged with the computer operators, then were designated as 491×0’s Information Systems Processors. Still there were not enough people. And merging two career fields diluted the specialty of the expertise of the career fields. I had left active duty right before 1986, and went into the Air National guard until 1990. I know the field eventually ended sometime after that?

    If only the Air Force had made attractive bonuses, and incentives to offer more people to the field, and allowed the few who wanted to retrain to leave, it would have served them greatly in the long run by retaining Airmen and NCO’s, who were career minded with lots of experience. Increased retention, and actually helped avoid senarios like this; however given the political era of the 80’s that was not being looked at that way.

  • Mark Fisher

    PS. As a side note: Later in the Air National Guard, to highlight the point I am making above ^ I continued to perform my duties as Telecomunications person (same as active duty Air Force). Midway through my time while in the Air Guard they came down and told me they would be phasing the position out, and I would have to re-train at the 295 Tech Control school at Kessler AFB for 6 months. I said, “Great Finally!!” after all this time :)
    Well, So, I go there for 6 months to Kessler, I attend the school there. I gain Honor graduate, top of my class! Just before the final exam, a fellow guardsmen tells me while I’m studying for the test, when you get back, “They are going to tell you, you have done all of this in vain!” “Because, they have changed their minds. They are going re-force you to be a 29150 all over with, an you have done this 6-months for nothing. You have been robbed!”

    :( Imagine being told that, right before taking the final exam. Never the less, I still pulled out getting honor grad. But, I returned, and sure enough I was told, sorry, there will be no facility built or arranged for you to work with, so you’re going right back in the commcenter as a 29150 all over again, too bad.

    As I explained the Air Force to the Air National Guard just could not understand why they had retention problems, and why people avoided the field like the plague and not one wanted to go near it.

    Even some one from Kessler wrote a letter to my unit and was surprised what a waste had occurred that such an expense, of training, time, personal dedication, efforts, commitment was so poorly squandered in such a manner. I think it best not to mention my unit here, to revel who made such a poor decision.

    Again, it was things such as this that hurt the manpower in he field the most.

  • Jim Cornwall

    I ran across your site in one of those random “looking for a reference on stuff I used to do…” searches. What a wealth of info and memories! I wasn’t a direct user, but I was part of the comm detachment supporting Air Force Global Weather Central at Offutt AFB. There were about a dozen or so of us, an Operating Location under the Communications Computer Programming Center at Tinker AFB. At least I think that’s the right name, later on we were the Command & Control Systems Office (then Center). Anyway, we maintained the communications software on AFGWC’s primary mainframes, a pair of Univac 1100/84’s, including a dual-home AUTODIN connection. We had a pair of DLT’s connected to the 1100s, running thru our comm s/w which was all in Univac 1100 Assembler. We also ran a mix of another dozen or so protocols for around 80 distinct lines. As you might imagine, we had our share of headaches… Our DLT circuits went to Gentile and Hancock ASCs.

    Most of our traffic was computer-generated flightplans with no human intervention from anyone but the requester, but we also had a small detachment from the local base Comm Group, handling the other message traffic and doing updates to our local routing library. Somewhere I still have the punched card deck to run the library update program on the mainframe…

    I did make a slight mistake one time doing a test run on that update program, missed having the console operator flip a setting and ended up running it on hte live system not the testing/backup system. Turns out the ASC operators were not terribly amused with my test address. Did you know that “RATSASS” gets flagged as invalid? Had a nice conversation with the ASC NCOIC, oh well…

    Anyway, thanks for renewing a lot of memories. Great site!!!

    Jim Cornwall, Usetabe Capt, USAF ’83-’97

  • Glen E Kelly

    Well now; looks like a gathering of the been-there done-that crowd of old folk. As to myself, I joined WU in 1961 after a stint in the Navy, and worked as a Shop Repairman in San Francisco. I bid for and received a COMLOGNET slot soon afterward. Went to RCA Cherry Hill in Jan. ’62, and then to McClellan assigned to the TSU. Was promoted (?) to Maintenance Supervisor in ’63 and went to Tinker for more schooling. After Tinker, it was off to Andrews to work. In late 64, I was moved to Ft. Detrick where I became a Maintenance Analyst. In late ’65, after being part of the Hancock installation crew, I was moved to 60 Hudson St. And, my final assignment, was to the lab in Mahwah NJ. I left WU in ’67, returning to my west coast roots. The WU days are remembered most fondly …

  • Erin Seminatore

    My father, Ray Barrett, worked for Autodin in the early to mid 1960s. πŸ˜€

    • Glen E Kelly

      It’s truly a small world. Ray and I were close friends; I worked with him at Andrews AFB and 60 Hudson St. in NYC (and maybe Frederick MD?). He and his wife lived upstairs from my wife and I in Garfield NJ. After I left WU in late 1967, we communicated but rarely. He visited me and the family once, out in Camarillo CA. Joan was also was a special and dear person. PS: Our youngest daughter is also named Erin. Here’s wishing you all the best of everything; Glen & Mary Alice Kelly

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