Friday, October 18, 2013

Mad, Radar and Blimps

I've been going through my records refreshing my memory as I write. This project is so much bigger than I thought when I started it. It started as a simple little mystery to solve and maybe write an article outlining the mystery.

I found myself mesmerized by the few facts I could find, the lack of information, and annoyed by the here-say, flights of fancy, and the puzzle that lay in front of me to figure out.

By now you know I have suggested that I believe radar had some part in the story of the Ghostblimp.
I'd like to explain how I came and do it in traditional Otto fashion - with facts, not just because I say so and I'm emphatic or passionate about my theory or the topic.No name calling either to bully your argument to the masses either. Just the facts we have at hand, a logical review, and may the best argument win.

So let's get started.

Even before I found the L-8 folder I was looking for hints using the list of names I'd gathered. That would include the people involved as well as the places involved. I happened to be working at my day job running the computer infrastructure group for finance department a large insurance company at the time. I was going through the microfilm index for the Navy along withn the rest of the name list. The Navy records I scanned included the Fixed Asset records ( something you own that is not consumed, but is reused - a stove or frig, for example, as opposed to food stuffs, if we were using your house as an example ).
In the records I found that lots of equipment was sent to both the Farralones and Point Reyes. The Farralones I could understand and this did not bother me. I made note to explain what Point Reyes had that required electronics. Bookmark until later.

Then I started to find other brought up the idea. I had ordered the DOD record for Cody and Adams. It's a long story but the records for Adams came through first after a long and Herculean effort. Thinking about getting Cody's records still can cause a nervous twitch. His record is long and impressive but one bit I couldn't understand was that he had transferred from a group called the "rangefinders".  Anyone into photography would have the image of a split prism view finder pop into their head. What's a rangefinder in the Navy and how does it fit into light-than-air. Range finders find the direction and location of things. Sometimes it a place you go to, sometime it's something you want to blow up. Bookmark that.

I found the L-8 folder and had some more facts and I could shed some light on the sequence of events that day. But with that I could eliminate the idea that the L-8 crew was taken by a Japanese sub crew since there were two sets of witnesses watching the investigation of the oil slick. The inquest also eliminated the idea that the crew "landed" in water since the recovery crew handling the refurbishment of the L-8 noted there was no water in the L-8, that the metal would have etched had it been sprayed with salt water, and that had it filed with water it was unlikely to have lifted that much weight, and that the secret document bag was intact ( the paper would have smudged and been wet, the bag filled with water, etc ).

Then I started to figure out who was involved in the Love 8 flight and the fact that they all came from Lakehurst, NJ. What are the chances that this was random? Unlikely.
So I set out to figure out what they did at Lakehurst and found connections to LORAN, and radar, and the NDRC.

I also found things like this:

This wasn't the first thing I found but it was one of the most impressive things I found. By that point I'd had some introduction into ASG and further investigation verified that the weight of the units ( as posted in the NDRC records ) matched the weight of one extra man and took about an hour to install.
The purpose of the device in the document above was to combine MAD and Radar to fine tune  figuring out where potential targets were. Radar was good at finding things far away, but blimps were slow. MAD was fair at finding a local massive metal object underneath a blimp. The idea was to combine the two. In my mind I liken it to figuring out range and bearing in targeting. In the early 90's I worked on SOSUS at AT&T Federal Systems as a contractor.

I recently found some records before the goverment shutdown at NARA 2 that describe the situation and the need to develop the means to detect and effectively bomb U boats. One thing wasn't so apparent was how blimps targeted and bombed submarines versus how submarines but fundementaly this seems to have been an early attempt attempt at the same thing.

Pilots spotting an oil slick or some other sign of a submerged target dropped one or more flares to mark the spot. Then would then go and drop bombs ... on the spot. The idea that the sub has moved on seems to have been lost more often than not. Human nature saw something concrete to bomb and that became the target. Finding ways of calculating where to release the bomb through estimate or detection becomes a topic throughout the NDRC. Radar has also become a panacea for addressing so many issues. Range finding, detection, IFF, LORAN and so much more.

But there are problems also.

This is one of them. I bookmarked it. It would matter later when I would find another note in August saying that the coupling they developed used a plastic that was too soft. It sounds like it was a urethane or styrofoam foam consistency and the with bouncing the antenna didn't align  any longer.
It was just after that that I started to see medical papers and questions in the NDRC/OSRC papers asking the question about the effects of radar of people.

There was also a lot of research into the reflective and non-reflective properties of radar materials, for a number of uses. Scientific papers included topics suggesting how much reflected energy might be thrown back from surfaces for example. Others were for how transparent some materials were, plastics used in domes for example, and how much or little energy reflected back.

I would also like to point out something that I think some people may be confused over. The difference between standard Navy SOP ( Standard Operating Procedure)  and NDRC/OSRD test flights. The  NDRC would use blimp as laboratory space and schedule time. Some flights might be part patrol, part testing, some solely missions.
Here's something I found recently from April 14, 1942:

The NDRC Lab mentioned is Fort Trumbull in New London, CT. Dr Gilbert, who died aboard the L-2 worked out that office. Anyone wanting to write about the war should read War Diaries. When I get a chance I will go back and read the War Diaries at random. The imagery is jaw dropping and anyone who wants to write a realistic WW2 scene of a sub attack should read the War Diaries.

For anyone still wondering about Radar and MAD on blimps here's something from South Weymouth, June 1942:

To understand the L-8 you'll need to make sure you understand that the NDRC was in charge of the development of war weapons. They were tactful ( usually ), but while funded by the Naval Research Lab, they reported directly to the President. It was to aswage feelings and make sure that the whole process worked that the NDRC was transformed into the OSRD, with the military taking a more visable role.Civian scientists versus soldiers. Men in charge don't like nerdy scientists dictating to them. and it was this "us" versus "them" attitude that I suspect leads to the mystery of what really happened.

Some questions I still have regarding the L-8 mystery I would have thought could have, should have, would have been answered in the Navy testimony.

The Army had a SCR radar unit at Fort Funston that would have tracked the L-8 flight and stored the path on radix. The testimony mentions it, yet the radix is never entered into the testimony.

A G-2 man is on-site at the crash site in Daly City and no one knows his name and it is never questioned or brought up further. If it was to secure the secret briefcase aboard the L-8 it would have bveen a non-sequitur to hide his name, etc. since they brought everyone else involved into the courtroom.

The point I'm making is that the story is not as simple as we imagine. The story will only be told when we gather as much  information as we can and reflect on it logically. No self-confirming bias. No ego filled filtering. After all it's history, not Agatha Christie.

Have a great day. I'll be away again the beginning of next week but I may post a document I found that I found interesting. A special thank you to those who have written.



  1. Cool stuff! Are you saying they abandoned ship due to radio effects or is there a larger potential conspiracy behind the radar they were testing?

  2. No conspiracy, just development of radar technology that had flaws and unexpected effects.
    And it doesn't appear they abandoned by choice but more from the side-effects of microwaves in a closed compartment, becoming unconscious and dropping out of the blimp.

    1. Two devices possible. One was a device developed to help get better results on detecting enemy subs. It was a device combing Radar and MAD to help get a long-range view and help localise the sub underwater. Like side scan sonar, but with radar.
      The second was a radar device used to control blimp flight; height, pitch,yaw, direction of he ship and keep it flying smoothly and level using radar to determine location and height.
      Early radar had two major issue. First, TR tubes leaked microwaves. Second, the antenna mount was originaly made of sytrene plastic and unsuitabe to hold the weight of the antenna under flight conditions, making directing the microwaves problematic.


Comments should be topical and civil. Questions are welcome but I may not be able to always supply answers. - Otto