Md. facilities make products for use around the world


October 12, 1991|By Ted Shelsby

An article in The Sun on Saturday incorrectly reported that Westinghouse Electric Corp. produces electronic radar jammers for warplanes at its plant in Sykesville. The equipment is made at the plant near Linthicum.

In Maryland, the name Westinghouse has been synonymous with radar almost as long as there has been radar.

Workers at a plant on Wilkens Avenue developed one of the world's first radars. That unit, the SR-270, was based on a TTC mountaintop in Hawaii and detected Japanese dive bombers making their way to Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Unfortunately, the warning was dismissed by an Army officer who had little faith in the new electronic equipment.

After that, radar rapidly proved its worth, and the Westinghouse Electronic Systems Group, as the company's operations based next to Baltimore-Washington International Airport are now called, grew into one of the world's leading radar manufacturers.


By 1989, the group's employment had swelled to about 17,000, but recent layoffs -- including 1,200 announced yesterday -- have shrunk the company's Maryland operations to the levels of the early 1960s.

While radar has kept its pre-eminent role at the Electronic Systems Group over the decades, the Maryland operation has long been involved in a multitude of projects.

A Westinghouse plant in Columbia is involved in the design and development of robotic equipment that replaces human labor in the factory of the future. In Annapolis, Westinghouse engineers are developing sonar equipment.

In Sykesville, the Pittsburgh-based company is working on a new anti-submarine warfare combat systems designed to detect a new, quieter generation of Soviet submarines. And fighter pilots flying sorties over Iraq were protected by electronic jammers produced in Sykesville.

And at BWI, the company is working on the development of a giant blimp that can be used by the Navy to protect ships by scanning over the horizon to detect incoming cruise missiles.

While such defense-related projects still make up a majority of Westinghouse's work in Maryland, the Electronic Systems Group moving rapidly to apply the warlike technology it has developed to more peaceful ventures.

One of its first moves in this direction was to pick up $70 million in orders from the Postal Service to produce automatic mail sorters. The postal machines make use of optic sensor technology that had been used on the Army's Apache attack helicopter to detect targets.

Westinghouse has also moved into the home security market with a system that not only alerts police if a burglar breaks into a home but also does such things as place a call to your office if the youngsters don't come home from school on time.

Workers here make electronic equipment used by hotels to make room reservations. Similar equipment is used to speed the sale of concessions at sport stadiums and keep track of the number of hot dogs, bags of peanuts and beers in inventory.

Police and airport security officials are testing a Westinghouse hand-held scanner that can tell if someone is carrying drugs or trying to smuggle a bomb aboard a jetliner. Meanwhile, the state's Mass Transit Administration is testing Westinghouse electronic equipment made here that allows it to keep constant track of its buses.

Westinghouse's Maryland wing is also taking flight in world markets.

Earlier this year, the company formed a joint venture with a Tokyo electronics company to develop a new computerized printing technology, called an edge emitter light source, that the company says will make laser printers obsolete.

And Westinghouse is a partner in an estimated $10 billion program to modernize the Soviet Union's commercial air traffic control system and open its airspace to more international flights.

Other Westinghouse operations in Maryland go beyond international.

Under one National Aeronautics and Space Administration program, Westinghouse has been selected to coordinate the development of a low-cost rocket capable of putting a 1,500-pound satellite into orbit at a fraction of the cost of current launch vehicles.

Westinghouse would not build the rocket or the recovery systems but would serve as the prime contractor. It also would build satellites that would serve as tiny "factories" that could have a variety of application, including material processing or the development of new drugs.

As diversified as Westinghouse's operations in Maryland are, radar remains its bread and butter.

In its 53-year history in Maryland, Westinghouse has built a wide assortment of airborne radars, including units used in the Avenger torpedo bomber of World War II fame and another to guide the BOMARC anti-aircraft missiles that were pressed into service in the early 1950s to counter the threat of a Soviet bomber attack.

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