Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Mike's History



I delayed writing this biographical summary for as long as I could because I really did not know what to say or not to say. My career has not been as successful nor spectacular as many of you who I joined that fateful day in June 1960. I was 17 years old and had never traveled more than 250 miles from my birthplace in Marshall – a small town in East Texas. I was an early model of what became known as a geek in later years.

I was small and had very little strength or athletic ability so that first year was difficult. About the only thing I could do well was talk – but I did not speak the same dialect of English as everyone else. Many of you were convinced my name was “Maack” rather than “Mike”.

I learned not to “fight the system” but rather “understand it and make it work for you”. Probably not the best philosophy nor as lofty as some have written but it worked for me.

I worked hard enough to stay on the Dean's List the whole 4 years and took enough extra courses to have an Engineering Science major. Major memories include my leather glove freezing to the butt plate of my M-1 at the Kennedy Inaugural Parade; having a good time touring Northern Europe sampling breweries but subsisting on peanut butter sandwiches in the Wiesbaden BOQ because our ride home was late and we were out of money; and meeting Di Anne at CWC. We were married the day after graduation and went from wedding to wedding until time to report to Reese AFB.

Air Force

Ill health and my lack of athletic ability caught up with me at UPT after I soloed in the T-37 but failed a check ride miserably. Only the intervention of an Astro instructor at the Academy rescued me from Aerospace Munitions Officer School at Lowry. Instead I got orders to go to Purdue and join in the Astronautics degree program. I believe that God intervened with a setback that probably saved my life. I would have been a marginal pilot and would probably not have survived SEA. I was on my own for the first semester then I joined with the Class of ‘65 crew in the program and graduated in January 1966 with an MS in Astronautics.

After graduation I was assigned to the Aircraft Test Branch of the Central Inertial Guidance Test Facility at Holloman AFB. I learned how to modify aircraft into test beds for guidance and navigation systems. We flew as test engineers on the test-bed aircraft. (We were “non-rated, non-crew members and got the same Hazardous Duty pay as jumpers.)

We had the first on-board video recording system operating on a C-130A simulating a missile by diving at targets such as tanks to test various tracking algorithms. Our tests were used to develop the Maverick missile. I was also the Lead AF Test Engineer on the guidance verification testing for the AGM-69 SRAM missile. Two pallets were loaded on a C-130A (the number 2 aircraft accepted by the AF). One pallet had the navigation system destined for the B-52 and the other pallet had the guidance system destined for the missile. The key issue was to test the ability to transfer the alignment from the B-52 master to the missile slave.

Our tests were successful but, unfortunately, the first live firing was ended abruptly by Range Safety. (It was a high launch, low “cruise”, pop-up profile test conducted at White Sands Missile Range. Range Safety was assigned tracking by the “Stallion” radar site which is in the northwest corner of the Range near the Trinity site. Those of you familiar with the Range know that there is a mountain range that runs diagonally across it. So, after launch, the missile dropped to its nap-of-the-earth profile and went into the radar shadow of Range Safety and was destroyed.) In these days of laser designators and GPS navigation, it seems hard to remember that accurate, self-contained airborne systems did not exist when we went on active duty.

My next assignment was as an AFROTC instructor to Virginia Military Institute. It was a “poor man's” Academy assignment but rewarding. I introduced my classes to the type of tests (multiple choice, True/False, etc.) we received at the Academy and received feed-back from graduates that it really helped them when they got into training after going on active duty. This was time of campus upheaval and reaction against ROTC in most schools (remember Kent State?) but not so at VMI. They were proud of the fact that they were the only student body in the nation that had met federal troops in pitched battle and won (New Market, VA – 1864).

My last AF assignment was to Sunnyvale AFS in California where I entered the world of Space Operations. This was the final stage in my training and preparation for the next half of my life. The largest task I had was in the preparation and execution of post-launch initialization activities that brought a vehicle from a dormant state to operational orbit and mission ops. This was the time that the AF OERs went to the mandatory 1,2,3 ratings spread and I did so well I got a “1” two years in a row. But by now pilots were far more valuable to the AF than engineers so I received another one of those major career adjustments. I used my VA benefit to get an MBA from Santa Clara University deep in the heart of Silicon Valley and resigned my commission to go to work for Lockheed Missiles and Space.

Post Air Force

It was during the next 11 years that I made my most useful contribution to the defense of this nation. I continued with the type of work I did in California at a site in the Washington, DC area – mostly in an interior room of a windowless building. I was part of a team that was on-call 24x7. I remember leaving in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner one year to go in to help solve an anomaly and get the mission restored to operations. I left that position to start a 15 year stint with the IDEX II system. It was the first soft-copy Image Display and Exploitation System for NTM imagery deployed to national sites and unified command intelligence centers. We deployed in time to support the first Gulf War.

Mid-eighties technology now seems ancient compared to what we deploy today, but how many of you had a 1024 x 2048 monitor in 1990 and how many had fiber connections from your desktop to the data center then? I left my position as Chief Engineer just as we deactivated the last site and joined a team that was starting a new program that promised to employ some really exciting new technology. But if you want to see an IDEX II workstation, look behind the Space Shuttle at the Smithsonian Air & Space Annex at Dulles.

The new program has been down-sized due to budget cuts so some of the really neat things never happened. I spend most of my time trying to figure how to do more with less. I would retire, but I'm still having fun and I hate to get cut off from the Intelligence Community and all the fun things.

I am still married to Di Anne (47 years come June). We never were able to have children, but we have enjoyed our life together.
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