Harold M. Watson, 84, engineer for Westinghouse Electric Corp.

July 25, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Harold M. Watson, a retired Westinghouse Electric Corp. aerospace engineer whose career encompassed the automated pilot technology of the 1940s and the first orbital flight of the Columbia space shuttle in 1981, died of pneumonia Tuesday at Somerford Place, a Columbia assisted-living facility. He was 84.

Mr. Watson was born and raised in Denver, and earned a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1943.

He began his career that year with Westinghouse in Pittsburgh, in the company's electro-mechanical section working on automated pilot technology that was installed on fighter aircraft.

In 1951, he moved to Baltimore when he was named manager of the company's air arm division in Linthicum.

"He lived by the motto: `If there is a problem, there is a solution,'" said a daughter, Janice W. Grim of Catonsville.

"After Sputnik in 1957, everyone was scrambling to get into the space race, and he assumed control of our space work. They were pioneering days, and he became our space czar," said Harry B. Smith, retired president of the Westinghouse Defense and Electronics Center in Linthicum. "When you think of Harold Watson, you think space."

One of the longtime Catonsville resident's significant projects was a joint effort in 1962 between the United States and Great Britain that resulted in the development and launching of the S-52. The 150-pound satellite was used to measure radio noises from distant galaxies, determine the distribution of ozone in the atmosphere and measure the quantity and size of particles in space.

After being promoted in the early 1960s to manager of space and information systems, Mr. Watson received top security clearances and assumed control of larger and more complex programs such as Ariel II, another satellite whose functions were similar to the S-52.

He worked on the aerospace division's lunar camera project, which built the cameras aboard the crafts in the Apollo 9 and Apollo 10 missions. Westinghouse also built the small television camera used by astronaut Neil Armstrong during the historic 1969 Apollo 11 mission that enabled the world to see live pictures of the lunar landscape.

Another notable project of Mr. Watson's was the meteorological defense satellite, known as Block 5D, that was designed and built for the Air Force in the early 1970s.

"I liked his management style. He never tried to micromanage or delve into the theory of operation or the design details at the transistor, resistor or capacitor level. He trusted his engineers, model shop technicians and manufacturing and assembly operators," said Jack Spangler, who was the Block 5 program manager.

After the space shuttle Columbia's inaugural 1981 mission, he was presented a signed certificate for his work with the ship's onboard cameras by pilots John Young and Robert Crippen, family members said.

At the time of his retirement in 1983, Mr. Watson held six patents and had written numerous technical articles.

"Harold was well-known in the business and highly respected. And he was always eager and upbeat," Mr. Smith said.

In his retirement, Mr. Watson became an active volunteer and member of the Historical Electronics Museum in Linthicum, where he worked alongside retired colleagues to collect and restore vintage communications equipment.

A particular interest of his were early radar devices such as the SCR-270 "bedspring" radar that was used and ignored on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, as Japanese enemy aircraft aimed toward Pearl Harbor. He traveled to the wilds of Saskatchewan, Canada, where he located an SCR-270, which he reassembled at the museum. He also enjoyed maintaining the van-mounted SCR-584 radar that was widely used later in World War II.

"He had an appreciation for these things and was very enthusiastic about collecting them, which he did. He restored our SCR-584 and got it working," said Robert L. Dwight, a retired Westinghouse mechanical engineer who founded the museum in 1973.

Mr. Watson was active in amateur theatricals at the Catonsville Little Theatre and enjoyed sailing the Chesapeake Bay aboard the Harjo, his 27-foot sloop.

He was married for 51 years to the former Joanne Lucas, who died in 1996.

Mr. Watson was a member of Catonsville Presbyterian Church, 1400 Frederick Road, where a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday.

He is survived by another daughter, Linda W. Spittel of Wilmington, N.C.; a brother, Roy H. Watson of Lockwood, Colo.; and three granddaughters.

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