Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Vintage Computer - Minuteman 1 Missile D-17B guidance computer - David Larsen, Testing & Engineering 1960


David tells a few words about his work with the Minuteman 1 missile computer in 1960.
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Bugbooks David Larsen
This was another one of those - being in the right place at the right times- between my freshman and sophomore years at Oregon State University. I did not have a summer job so I jumped in my little 1955 Volkswagon and drove 1000 miles to Southern California looking for work. I applied for work at several tech companies.

Autonetics put me to work in test and engineering on a new project building D-17B computers for the Minuteman 1 missile guidance system. This was exciting for me being only 21 years old.
David Larsen D-17 computer
Dave&D-17B Computer 10-26-13
I must say I did feel a bit overwhelmed by the whole process as I had no previous formal electronics training other then in the Navy. I think it was my previous experience with the 1957 training at Remington Rand Univac in the Navy that really got me the job. Of course that Navy training was result of being selected for a special more or less secret work because of my electronics background and ham radio. Enlarge the photo's by clicking on them and then even more by a right click and select "View image".

A few words about the D-17B computer - it was all solid state and used DRL ( diode- resistor- logic) , DTL ( diode transistor logic ) was used only
Minuteman one missile
D-17B Guidance Computer
for gain or inversion. The computer was a 24 bit machine and could execute almost 13,000 additions per second. It was build with ( Approximate ) -  6000 didoes,1000 capacitors,500 resistors, 1500 transistors, 75 circuit boards, memory of 5500 words and weighed 60 lbs.

Here is a look at some of the computer boards

I enjoyed the engineering & testing work for three months and then went back to college for my Sophomore year. I wondered why I was hired because I did not hide the fact I was returning to college. It was a great experience. Seeing the D-17B guidance computer at the Computer History Museum brought back some wonderful memories from 63 years ago. Golly am I getting old or what ?

I would like to have a Minuteman 1 computer in our museum however that will be difficult. I do have a computer in the "Bugbook Historical Microcomputer Museum" made about the same time or a little earlier made by Autonetics, the same company the made the missile computer. It is an  Autonetics Recomp 501 computer made in 1958. The 501 is a transistorized computer and has some of the same features as the missile computer. It is likely the same team at Autonetics designed the 501.

Video of Minuteman Computer at Computer History Museum

David Larsen KK4WW
David Larsen
Computer History Museum
Computer History Museum
The visit to the  'Computer History Museum' located  in Mountain View, California was a trip down memory lane and a great way to learn about the history of computers. The displays of equipment are extremely captivating and the personal tour by Lyle Bickley was insanely great. Thank you - the Computer History Museum and Lyle Bickley for allowing me to make this video,blog, and podcast.
The Computer History Museum should be on the 'Must Visit' list for visitors to Silicon Valley.

 "by David Larsen"  KK4WW Computer Collector Historian   
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