January 28, 2020


This silent film was likely a test print of “dailies” for an industrial film about the missile guidance computer for the Titan II ICBM and rocket booster. The film was shot by IBM-Oswego, also known as IBM Federal Systems, which was created in 1957 to handle IBM’s military business. This organization later became Lockheed Martin Systems Integration – Owego (LMSI), a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, and also called Lockheed Martin Federal Systems. IBM’s contract for Titan I/Titan II was to provide a missile guidance computer (MGC) known as the IBM ASC-15 digital computer. The ASC-15 (Advance System Controller Model 15) was a digital computer developed by International Business Machines (IBM) for use on the Titan II intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). It was subsequently modified and used on the Titan III and Saturn I Block II launch vehicles. The ASC-15 was built on an aluminum frame about 1.5×1.5×1 feet. The sides, top and bottom were covered by pieces of laminated plastic, covered with gold-plated aluminum foil. These covers were slightly convex and ribbed for stiffness. Inside the covers were fifty-two logic sticks, each containing four welded encapsulated modules. These surrounded a bell frame housing a drum memory. The drum was a thin-walled stainless steel cylinder 3 inches long and 4.5 inches in diameter covered with a magnetic nickel-cobalt alloy. It was driven by a synchronous motor at 6,000 rpm. The drum had 70 tracks, of which 58 were used and 12 were spare.

Its principal function on these rockets was to make navigation calculations using data from inertial sensor systems. It also performed readiness checks before launch. It was a digital serial processor using fixed-point data with 27-bit words. The storage was a drum memory. Electronic circuits were welded encapsulated modules, consisting of discrete resistors, transistors, capacitors, and other components welded together and encapsulated in a foam material.

The first Titan II guidance system used with the ASC-15 was built by AC Spark Plug, whose factory is seen at the 3:25 mark. It used an IMU (inertial measurement unit, a gyroscopic sensor) made by AC Spark Plug derived from original designs from MIT Draper Labs.

Some of the more interesting footage shown in the film includes shots of the drum memory system (1:20), a rocket sled test at 8:29 to see how the guidance package would respond in launch conditions, footage at 7:53 of what appears to be a Cray supercomputer, more detailed rocket sled track tests at 9:44, shipment of a Titan missile by truck in stages at 10:25 to the U.S. Air Force Missile Test Center located at Cape Canaveral, part of the Atlantic Missile Range, insertion of the package into a missile at 11:50, IBM and AC/Delco workers going into the launch complex at 12:47, and a countdown and launch at 13:20.

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  1. A great uncle of mine moved to California just after the war. He was an electrical engineer. I was told he was working on the development of missle tracking systems. I wonder if he was involved in any of this?

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