Time Travel Logs

1954 Part 2

Chapter 2.

After the next break, Bob Thomas started with, “There is a security issue I should bring up now. Throughout the Cold War, 1947 to 1989, there were well placed Soviet spies. Britain and West Germany were riddled with them. The US had some also. Unfortunately, I don’t remember many names. I think there was Aldredth Aimes, or something like that, in the 1980’s. There was some decades long debate in the US intelligence community about some early or mid-1960’s Soviet defector, whether he was a double agent. Your project MK-Ultra to find a truth serum never really worked, and as late as the 2000’s, the US used crude interrogation methods. Also, lie detector tests simply don’t work. Some of the long standing spies in the FBI and CIA passed those tests.

They also had patrician Yankee backgrounds that seemed to put them above suspicion, even when they seemed to have unexplained money. Their motivations were often strange, not even communists, maybe they liked the adventure of being double agents. The Soviets only paid them relatively  modest amounts. I think some US people stationed in Moscow were turned by local girlfriends. Then there was a new embassy that the US built in Moscow, where the Soviets actually built listening devices into the structure of the building, and other cases were typewriters had spy devices attached to them.

The main effect of the spies was to compromise the Soviets working for US spies in the Soviet Union. Many of those were killed.

In terms of technology, there is a way discovered to bounce a light beam off of a window, and hear the conversation. The countermeasure is to play music with speakers vibrating each window. The light beam is a laser, which I don’t think you discovered for a few more years, a coherent beam of the same exact frequency of light, using some sort of crystal to sort out the frequencies and align them.

As documents begin to be prepared on small computers with cathode ray tube displays, in the 1970’s and 1980’s, it turns out that there is a way to detect the radio emissions from the tube and see it from a van in the street in front of a building. That might even work to see the screen of today’s TV’s, but I’m not sure. The countermeasure is a Faraday cage.

Professor Robertson opened the next meeting, “Mr. Thomas, we have made your position official. You’ll be given a salary, the paperwork for a classified position, lodging and board. You’ll get daily newspapers and publications if that helps your memory of current events, also a radio and TV. You’ll be given outdoor recreation trips.

We think we found your laser. Charles Townes at Columbia has been working on a Maser, which is the acronym Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. We suspect that the laser is similar, but using light instead of microwaves. Do you remember anything else about lasers?”

Bob Thomas answered, “The element argon comes to mind, in addition to crystals. I actually remember there is a crystal from a fictional science fiction show called Star Trek, where a character builds a laser, rather than from any scientific knowledge. Lasers are used for far more than eavesdropping from windows. They are used for communication through optical fibers, also to read data from a special spinning disk. A 120 millimeter diameter disc can hold 5 billion bits, on off states, of information in the mid 1980’s, and 400 billion bits by 2008. It uses tiny elements that reflect light from a laser, and is cheap enough that the average person buy movies to watch on their home TV using that technology. By then, lasers are tiny and cheap. There was also a plan to use lasers or some other energy beam to shoot down missiles. It always seemed on the verge of being deployed, but by 2008, it still wasn’t ready.”

Professor Robertson said, “That is very good, we will try to help along our researchers without disclosing the source. We are going to try to be systematic about getting your recollections. First, we want to ask is there any urgent matter now, in 1954 that we should be aware of?”

Thomas answered, “What is today’s date?”

“July 8th, 1954.”

“Did the French lose the battle of Dien Bien Phu yet? Colonel James answered, “Yes, and at Geneva they are close to a peace agreement.”

Thomas said, “There is nothing urgent. I think the Soviets were prepared to accept a border a little north of where the agreement wound up being, but I don’t think that would help anything in the long run. By 1964, the US is going to send combat troops to prop up South Vietnam, and it is a war the US is going to lose, killing 50 thousand Americans, many more Vietnamese, causing a generation of young Americans to rebel against the draft and authority in general, and end with helicopters evacuating the last Americans from the roof of the embassy in Saigon, leaving behind most of their employees. Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon tried different strategies from special forces, a half million soldiers, massive bombing of the North, defoliation, electronic sensors, and none of it worked. I don’t think that war was winnable. And oddly enough, after the US left the place, the new Communist government became fairly friendly with the US and fairly hostile to China.”

“Mr. Thomas, since you know what it is that you know, I’ll have you draw up the agenda for what you’ll talk about. We are not going to bring in many people for now, and we are taking what you said about spies seriously. Everyone cleared to know about you, including myself, is going to be watched carefully, so that even if one of us was a spy, we wouldn’t have a chance to report our findings.

Do you have any ideas what your first topics will be?”

Bob Thomas answered, “I read today’s newspapers and the some of the stack of news magazines you gave me. One thing I’m glad of is that the McCarthy era is over. That was regarded as one of the low points in this era in later history. Also Brown versus Board of Ed, caused a lot of conflict in the next 25 years, but was considered an important step in removing a deep shame and in fulfilling the sacrifices made in the Civil war almost a century earlier.

For the next topics, I think I’ll start with space, then computers, then aircraft.

Space in the 1950’s represents a big unknown in what changing history would do. The Soviet Union got a satellite in orbit in 1957, about a year before the US, and then got a person in orbit before the US also.

This shock, caused the US to reform science education, and emphasize education. The US went on to be the only nation ever to land people on the Moon, and developed a commanding lead in computers and technology of all areas over the Soviet Union. Think of it as the being similar to the shock after Pearl Harbor, except there was no war involved.

In my history, space was an extremely important part of the economy, but only unmanned satellites in Earth orbit. They provided reconnaissance, weather reporting, communication including global TV broadcasts, navigation using beacon satellites that broadcast a precise time, allowing anyone with a special device reading at least 3 of them to know their precise location.
The TV broadcasts. along with long distance phone calls, used geosynchronous orbits, that stay over a fixed location above the equator. Later, cables with glass fibers on land and under sea largely replaced the data communication due to the speed of light delays from 24,000 miles up and back again, that made conversations awkward.

The manned missions, were national prestige projects that didn’t provide any practical benefit, except the technologies developed to make them possible finding uses on Earth.”

Bob Thomas said, “Now I’ll go over computers.

IBM is already on the right track, and they will be the leading company for a long time. However, it was the explosion of creativity of small to mid-size companies in Silicon Valley, that is Palo Alto, San Jose and everything around there in California, also Cambridge Massachusetts, and the entire arc of Route 128 in Massachusetts, and other places, that really puts the US in the lead. People had an idea, left one company to start another, and all sorts of creative ideas got tried out, with some of them succeeding, in a way a large company, or a government project couldn’t. By the 1990’s, secret government projects are more or less buying off the shelf computers, no longer even being able to keep up with the entrepreneurial industry. For similar reasons, the Soviet Union couldn’t keep up. Japan did pretty well with a group of large companies though, especially in the 1980’s.

If you looked at what is different in the 1980’s, or the 2000’s, versus the 1950’s, it is the huge number of tiny cheap, yet extremely capable computers then that transforms life. People are not riding around in flying rocket cars, there are still concrete sidewalks, cars and airplanes are not that different from now. It is the computers that make most of the differences.

Today’s computers from IBM use vacuum tubes. I presume they know that transistors are better, but it is maybe the early 1960’s or late 1950’s before they are producing transistor computers.

IBM is going to secure their lead in the mid-1960’s with a product line of computers that can all run the same programs, but have a variety of prices and capabilities.

I think they are producing a language to develop computer programs called Fortran, for Formula Translation. There will be programs developed that will still be in use in 1999. By the way, someone should tell them to leave room in all computer languages to represent years past the year 2000. They use 2 digit years, which causes all sorts of panicked redoing of programs in 1999.

Later on, printed circuits start being used, with a doubling of the number of transistors every 18 months or so, for decades. By 2008, the smallest elements are only 45 nanometers wide. They use some sort of photographic like process to create these using a substrate of silicon. I think they were talking about gallium arsenide for a while, but I think they went back to silicon.

Data for computers are of three types, volatile memory called Random Access Memory using transistors. Non-volatile random access memory, using magnetic discs. I think IBM is producing the first ones now. That same technology is still used in 2008, only instead of 5 million 8 bit Bytes, there are 1 trillion. For larger storage, magnetic tape drives are the preferred technology at least until the early 1980’s. IBM will refine these with sealed holders to keep the dust off of the tape, and clean rooms with air filtration to house the computers.

In the 1980’s, people will start to have a computer in the home, with a keyboard and a cathode ray tube monitor. It will be durable enough to not need physical maintenance or a special environment.”

The next topic was aircraft.

“This period is a bit hard to understand in terms of military aircraft. You are building some aircraft still in use in 2008, and others that are obsolete the day they are built. There are also so many types being built that it is hard to remember what was good.

The new F-84 variants, I think the F-94 is not good, the F-104 is a competent NATO plane, not quite the best, but sold to allies. The new F-86, the Super-Saber F-100 would be good if it was built today, but it has a lot of delays, problems with crashes, and by the time it is made in the early 1960’s, is obsolete. Aircraft development is so rapid now, that any project that is delayed is probably no longer state of the art.

The F-101 and F-102, I don’t remember much about them, sort of decent, but not extraordinary, I think. The F-105 was one of the better of todays planes. It might not have a number yet, and I don’t think I could identify it. It was used in the role called “Wild Weasel”, as was an earlier plane, maybe the F-86 or F-101. A Wild Weasel seeks out anti-aircraft, and destroys targeting radars, dodges missiles, sends out chaff for radar and burning stuff for infrared missiles and takes the heat off of the bombers.

The best bomber is the B-52, just being flown now. It is still used in 2008. The B-36, still being build now, I think, is very obsolete, and the B-47 is replaced quickly when B-52’s are built.
The high and fast medium bombers, like the B-58, B-66 or 67, seem impressive, but anti-aircraft advances make them useless. The B-52 flies subsonic at treetop level and also fires stand-off missiles instead of only dropping bombs. In a tactical role, it is accompanied by Wild Weasels and goes high, and obliterates a grid on a map. Even in 1991, after Iraq invaded Kuwait and dug in underground, the high-tech weapons that could fly through a  particular window of a building got the credit, but the B-52’s dropping incredible quantities of bombs is what put the Iraqi army out of commission. By the time the allied army rolled in, after weeks of B-52 bombing, the Iraqi army in their bunkers surrendered as soon as they could.

So high and fast that nothing could catch him, is what a U-2 pilot thought around 1959. The Soviets shot it down with a missile and that was the end of that era.

The best plane both as a fighter, fighter-bomber and carrier plane from this era is the F4 Phantom. Unfortunately it isn’t called an F4 or Phantom yet, maybe an F3 carrier plane in development. I can probably recognize the picture, two tall air intakes on either side of the fuselage. This was still the best plane right up until the mid-1970’s. It went through a lot of revisions, first no guns, missiles only, then they added a cannon again.

Also the A-4 Skyhawk was also one of the best strike aircraft also up until the early 1970’s.

The F-111 variable swept wing fighter was a concept plane, maybe around now, but had delays in development. It served as a fighter-bomber into the 1980’s, but probably could have been built earlier.

The theme of the 1980’s and later is stealth against radar. Black planes that fly only at night, every angle is a triangle, very few curved surfaces, special radar absorbing materials.

By reputation, probably the best plane of the late 1950’s is the Avro Arrow in Canada. The US aircraft industry didn’t want competition, so President Eisenhower told the Canadian Premier that the days of interceptors are over and being replaced by missiles, but that if Canada didn’t cooperate in building a missile system, the US would use nuclear missiles to intercept Soviet bombers over Canada, instead of over the Arctic. So, Canada not being able to afford both, ended the Avro program, and destroyed all prototypes and blueprints. Then, shortly afterward, the US convinced Canada to buy US interceptor planes. This is a bit of an aside, but the US got away with pushing Canada around a lot, without it turning against it. President Johnson even picked up the Canadian ambassador by the collar and pushed him against a wall when he criticized the Vietnam war.

In terms of Soviet aircraft, the Mig-17 is being built now, and is not just the Mig-15 variant that you think it is. The Mig-21 in the 1960’s is decent plane, and the Mig-23 is a peer to the F-4 Phantom. The Mig-25 is an extremely fast and high altitude interceptor. Is was built to counter the US SR-71, the successor to the U-2 in the early 1960’s. Initially there was supposed to be a series of fighters and bombers based upon it, but not only was they canceled, but the blueprints were destroyed, leaving only the reconnaissance SR-71 in that series. It was under the orders of Robert McNamara that they were destroyed. He was considered a genius at the time, the Defense Secretary who planned the Vietnam War, but privately knew it was unwinnable.

For rocket planes, nothing better than the X-15 was built for a long time.

Commercial planes, the Boeing 707 is being built around now, and looks like the commercial aircraft of 2008. There was a period that supersonic transports were built, but they used too much fuel to be economical, and there are none flying in 2008. Actually many of the aircraft are a little slower than the 707. They are somewhat larger, go further, and are more fuel efficient.”

Colonel James answered the talk on airplanes, “Mr. Thomas, I don’t know how useful your knowledge of airplanes are. I can pick out two errors. The U-2 is not a fast plane, it is considerably subsonic. The F-94 is not based upon the F-84 Thunderjet or F-84 Thunderstreak. It is based upon the F-80 Shooting Star, and the T-33 Shooting Star. A lot of what you said about the planes under development is vague. What makes an F-4 Phantom superior to other planes being developed now? Why is the F-105 better than the F-104?”

Bob Thomas answered, “Actually this is probably the period about airplanes that I know the least about. There are so many models being built, that I mostly think of them as the Century planes, everything from the F-100 to the F-106. I don’t know what makes the Phantom better. For that matter the best planes of the mid-1970’s to late 1990’s, the McDonnel Douglas F-15 Eagle and Lockheed F-16 Falcon, the first with two crew and two engines, the later with 1 of each. Both were used as air superiority fighters and fighter-bombers, with the F-15 a little better at air superiority.

I don’t know what made them better. I know the electronics were important, the theme was to detect and fire at enemy planes first. However, some countries that couldn’t afford those newer planes upgraded the electronics on their Phantoms in the 1990’s. It still wasn’t as good as an F-15 or F-16. I know the F-15 was about the loaded weight of a Phantom, but looked like it was lighter. It also had more powerful engines and could accelerate straight up if it wasn’t fully loaded. I think they were more maneuverable than the Phantom. They might have had better metal alloys also.”

Professor Robertson asked, “Is there anything else you remember about airplanes?”

Thomas answered, “I remembered a few more things. AWACS were important. I think they were Boeing 707’s with a big disk antenna on top. Airborne warning and control system, or something like that. It would be away from the fighting, but track every plane, every radar, maybe every radio call, and direct fighters and bombers to their targets. I think there was a smaller one used aboard aircraft carriers.

Another was the A-10 attack plane of, I think, the late 1960’s. Two engines on top of the tail, and designed to stand up to serious ground fire, it would destroy tanks and other ground targets.

One thing I sort of recall about the Century planes, were lots of crashes, delaying several of them. I remember it the same way as I remember the B-26, which you would be familiar with. I don’t know if those planes shouldn’t be built, but any long delays makes them less than state of the art.

Some of the best planes were Lockheed. They had a group called the Skunk Works that built new designs not being asked for. The SR-71 was something like Mach 3, and probably why I assumed the U-2 was fast. The F-22, the best fighter plane of 2008 is from them. The F-117, the first stealth plane to be deployed in the early 1980’s was from them. It was bomber the size of a fighter designed to sneak right past anti-aircraft and maybe take out command and control or anti-aircraft computers, or something like that.”

Story: 1954: Part 3


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