The heritage of the Santa Barbara Research center goes back to the 1940s

The heritage of the Santa Barbara Research center goes back to the 1940s when Dave Evans equipped an airplane with radios for Howard Hughes’ round-the-world flight. Dave was doing fine in Hughes Aircraft Company until they started hiring brilliant PHds, such as Si Ramo and Dean Woolrich. Since Dave had little formal education it soon became apparent that he was out of his depth so he left to form a new company. Several engineers at Hughes had been working on a daylight star tracker for navigating bombers in the daytime but the management was more interested in radar so they stopped the program. Some AF customers were interested and were willing to provide a contract if the engineers could get settled in a suitable company. Among these employees were Custer Baum, Gene Peterson, Al Paul, and Jack Kuhn. Dave Evans saw the opportunity in 1951 and talked Pacific Mercury into forming a Research Center in Santa Barbara. Dave soon disagreed with the owners and they locked him out. He went to the Carrillo Hotel, rented a room and put a sign on the door, “Santa Barbara Research Center – Now Hiring.” Employees of Pacific Mercury began to leave and joined Dave. Since he couldn’t pay them until he got a contract, the ones with family responsibilities had to wait for a while and got the larger badge numbers. The Santa Barbara Research Center was established in 1952 as a non-profit company since Dave was trying to capture a study contract slated for such a company. He didn’t get the contract and realized that you couldn’t make any profit as a non-profit so he changed the company charter but kept the name. They were able to capture contracts for star trackers and detector development. SBRS struggled along for several years as a division of Grand Central Aircraft and then as a subsidiary of Bulova Watch. Bulova lost interest in the venture and Dave talked Hughes Aircraft Company into buying it in 1956 as a wholly-owned subsidiary. SBRS had 45 employees at that time. Business improved under Hughes because they know the DoD electronics business and more importantly shared some of the contracts with SBRS. Unfortunately, relations began to deteriorate because of technical feuding among the engineers and Dave’s lack of interest in being directed by Hughes management. Finally Pat Hyland, General Manager of Hughes, fired Dave in 1959 and VP Custer Baum with several ex-Hughes engineers left with him. The management vacuum had to be filled quickly by Hyland who transferred Dave Hill, the corporate QC manager, to be the new SBRC president. Dave immediately asked Al Paul, who was responsible for the business side of SBRC, for the organization chart. Al had to admit that there wasn’t one because Dave Evans did not like that much bureaucracy. After some fast reorganization, Dave appointed Robert Talley manager of the laboratory and kept Al Paul as business manager. At this time, SBRC as just beginning to be a valuable high technology organization with considerable potential. Detector technology advancement had considerable interest for missile guidance and infrared tracking, however, SBRS was poorly equipped and housed with few funds for research and was not well organized. Dave was starting to solve these problems but was pulled out by Hyland to try to fix another division of Hughes that was larger and in more trouble. Lloyd Scott was drafted from Hughes corporate to be President with the charge of either making something of SBRS or disposing of it. Lloyd was particularly interested in interested in succeeding at keeping SBRC afloat because he wanted to escape from the “four martini days” as he described his life at Hughes due to their management practices (or lack of them). He worked hard to define how SBRC should interface with Hughes and to develop operating practices for SBRC. Since he had good relations with Hyland and because Hughes didn’t know what to do with a wholly-owned subsidiary, his job was easier. With the rapid expansion of the military technology market and the maturing of the infrared field, SBRC found itself well-placed to grow. Equally important, NASA began to be an important source of optical sensor contracts which fit the technical expertise and the size of SBRC since the volume demand was small. Generally, it developed that SBRC had the charter for non-military sensors and infrared detectors while certain Hughes organizations retained military infrared systems which, if successful, usually required significant production. In these early years SBRC mainly had contracts with large engineering content and rarely any production requirement. To some extent this fat was due to the early state of infrared technology. As the company became more mature they developed advanced detectors which were required for many years by the military. SBRC also made some of the early discoveries which culminated in large programs such as the TOW anti-tank weapons system. In the first NASA contracts SBRC developed meteorological sensors which were used in operational polar orbit weather satellites. As NASA planetary probes developed SBRC imaging and radiometric sensors were on nearly all of the missions. Several sensors were developed as prototypes of potential weapons systems and some radiometric measuring equipments were built which provided valuable information for the growing infrared community. Infrared detector research and development was driven by the military need for passive sensing of targets and scenes. Since there is no control of the signal strength the sensors had to be very sensitive and the detector had the greatest potential for improved performance of the equipment. The first applications took advantage of already developed detectors working in the near infrared region close to the visible where the radiation was strong from high temperature targets such as aircraft tailpipes. In order to sense radiation from objects near room temperature it was necessary to refrigerate the detector and its surroundings to eliminate signal and noise from these sources. It was discovered that the ultimate limit was set by noise from radiation absorbed by the detector which mostly came from the background around the target. The detector development challenge was to make detectors perfect enough to achieve this level. This goal required the selection of the best compounds including alloys and doping by other elements, preparation of perfect single crystals of high purity and processing the surfaces to avoid any extraneous noise. Because of the nee for refrigeration small vacuum enclosures suitable for mounting in small sensors and capable of being interfaced with military qualified coolers had to be developed. In addition, the military required long-term storage at relatively high temperatures without change of electrical properties. Obviously, meeting these requirements provides both interesting challenges and competitive opportunities for SBRC for some time.

As detector technology advanced, scanning considerations encouraged the development of linear arrays which could cover larger fields of view without two dimensional scanning. A further advantage was that greater sensitivity could be achieved with the same size sensor by increasing the number of detectors in the focal plane which generally improved the ratio of the square root of the number of detector elements. This approach led to the need for photolithographic processing of the detector focal plane and development of technology for multiple leads through the vacuum jacket. Increasing the number of detector channels led to integrated electronics with multiplexed outputs from the detector array. The ultimate approach was two dimensional arrays integrated with two dimensional multiplexed electronics which permitted small non-scanning imaging systems. This breakthrough revolutionized seeker design since it provided small, high sensitivity sensors which could be placed in conventional sized missiles. The infrared detector field went from single room temperature detectors suitable for seeing hot exhaust pipes in the 1950s to quarter-million element arrays for imaging of room temperature scenes in the 1990. SBRC became the world’s leader by the 1980s in infrared detector technology. All of this growth required facility growth and improvement. SBRCs first permanent building was built in the Santa Barbara Research Park in Goleta in 1964. It was the first building sold in the park. Later buildings were added to fill out the block owned by SBRC and additional buildings were leased in the same area. Employment went from 189 in 1959 to 563 in 1969. Although Hughes had to provide capital in the first few years, SBRC was successful enough to fund its growth and had a favorable cash balance with the parent company. The company was well organized for engineering and ligh production of internally developed products and had a sound financial basis. There were three business areas: infrared detectors, civilian optical sensors, and a new activity involving small special military sensors which were not being developed by Hughes. This last business area was added to provide an independent business base which would hopefully not have the same business cycle as the other business areas. As SBRC and the infrared field matured, major products were developed which had long-term demand. The first detector production orders were for room temperature PbSe cells for Navy projectile proximity fuses. SBRC developed new PbS units which made possible the Hughes TOW tracker and later produced most of these detectors. The PbS detector for the shoulder launched anti-missile, Redeye, was manufactured for many years for General Dynamics. Development of photovoltaic indium antimonide detectors for a Hughes search track set resulted in long term Phoenix detector production and also foreign sales. After advanced development efforts in mercury doped germanium SBRC made possible the Hughes Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) imager for the B-52 and later the A6 aircraft which also resulted in long-term production. So SBRC grew from a small, mostly technology oriented company to a world player in the important infrared detector field in the time period,

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