Harry B. Smith

Age 86 Westinghouse executive helped develop AWACS.

August 14, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,Sun Reporter

Harry B. Smith, a former Westinghouse Electric Corp. executive who was known as the "father of pulse-Doppler radar," died Friday of a stroke at St. Agnes Hospital. He was 86.

Mr. Smith helped develop the radar system for high-altitude surveillance aircraft before becoming president of the Defense and Electronics Center of Westinghouse, now Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems in Linthicum.

"He was a great leader and a down-to-earth individual, and his work had a most significant impact on our business," said James F. Pitts, corporate vice president and president of Northrop Grumman.

"He was one of those guys who was always at the top of his game technically and in every discipline. He was the consummate engineer," Mr. Pitts said. "We owe a lot to him as a company and a nation."

Mr. Smith was born in Baltimore, raised in Highlandtown and graduated in 1939 from Polytechnic Institute. He earned a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Missouri School of Mines in 1942.

From 1942 to 1943, he worked for the Naval Research Laboratory in the consultant section of the radio division.

In 1943, he enlisted in the Army and was assigned to an elite intelligence unit at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"At the age of 23, he led a group of engineers that was developing decryption machines, which were electronic systems designed to analyze codes using tube and volt meter technology. This was part of the Enigma project" that helped Allies break German code, said a son, Sheldon C. Smith of Catonsville. "These machines were considered precursors to modern-day computers."

Discharged with the rank of lieutenant at the end of the war, Mr. Smith earned a master's degree in electrical engineering from the University of Maryland in 1949 and completed the advanced management program at Harvard Business School.

In 1952, he joined the Baltimore division of Westinghouse, then located on Wilkens Avenue in Arbutus, as a senior engineer in the company's Air Arm Division.

The next year, he was appointed manager of advanced development, responsible for analog and digital computer development and infrared and countermeasure technologies.

Along with two other Westinghouse engineers, Dave Mooney and Walter Ewanus, Mr. Smith invented pulse-Doppler radar, which today is the heart of the Airborne Warning and Control System, or AWACS.

Pulse-Doppler radar allowed high-altitude surveillance aircraft to detect and track moving targets despite obstructions such as clouds or trees, while flying safely above the fray.

Mr. Smith told The Evening Sun in a 1988 interview that a modified Boeing 707 flying over Andrews Air Force Base, equipped with a 30-foot rotating AWACS dome, "could see the traffic over the Great Lakes, over New England, Boston and Florida."

The result of Mr. Smith's work was a major breakthrough in radar technology. It became a major business component of Westinghouse's Maryland operations, which designed, developed and produced the AWACS airborne warning and control and F-16 fighter sensor systems.

Company officials said yesterday that the AWACS and F-16 fighter sensor systems are two of the most successful and longest-running programs in the company's history.

His work earned Mr. Smith an IEEE David Sarnoff Award in 1962 and the IEEE Pioneer Award in 1984. He also was awarded the Westinghouse Order of Merit in 1969.

He also held 20 patents in radar technology.

Mr. Smith was named engineering manager of the Air Arm Division in 1961, and five years later was named general manager of the company's Aerospace Division.

In 1978, he became president of the Defense and Electronics Center and executive vice president/defense of Westinghouse. He retired in 1986.

During his tenure, Mr. Smith, who at one time oversaw a work force of 14,000, presided over the expansion of the business unit from $500 million a year to $3 billion.

Mr. Smith's reputation was widely known throughout the company.

"Everyone knew he was a legend and a giant," said John D. Marks, a naval architect, who retired from the company's oceanic division in Annapolis. "He was a common man, yet brilliant."

After retiring, Mr. Smith established Apex/Eclipse Systems, a Baltimore communications and antenna systems company.

Services will be held at 10:30 a.m. today at the Sterling-Ashton-Schwab-Witzke Funeral Home, 1630 Edmondson Ave. in Catonsville.

Also surviving are his wife of 64 years, the former Dorothy L. McManus; another son, Dr. Blaine E. Smith of Guilford; a daughter, Lorinda G. Smith of Catonsville; and three grandchildren. Another daughter, Stephanie L. Smith, died in 2004.


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