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September 15, 1959 - Image 3

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1959-09-15

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

WILLOW RUN LABORATORIES
Research Vital to the Nation's Defense
By RALPH LANGER

THE LOCATION isn't very glam-
orous and the buildings aren't
very modern, but what takes
place there is of vital importance
to our nation's defense. Looking
across the field from Willow Run
Air Terminal, one has difficulty
seeing the low grey buildings
strung out along the concrete
ramp. Under the drone and
whistle of modern airliners, more
than 700 men and women are
daily applying University research
methods to the solution of mili-
tary problems.
Most of the work at the Willow
Run Laboratories is classified and
no visitor would get far wander-
ing around peering through doors
and windows. But if he could, he
would see dozens of small benches
cluttered with electronic pieces,
complicated electronic computers
with mazes of buttons, dials, and
wires, and small offices where the
only research tool is Man's brain.
OR.ANIZATION of the Labor-
atories looks simple on a
chart. There are research groups,
administrative staffs, and service
units that provide skills and pro-
duce information for the outside
world. But an additional division
accounts for the largest amount
of activity. Project MICHIGAN,
or PM, is a major contract fi-
nanced by the Army Signal Corps
to the tune of several million
dollars annually.
Begun in 1953 the Project's six
Task Groups do research in the
employment of the physical sci-
ences to the accomplishment of
combat surveillance and target
acquisition.
Briefly, surveillance is the col-
lective means a military com-
mander uses to keep tabs on
operations and potential develop-
menis in a battle area. If the
need ever arises, the commander
of the future will know far more
about what's going on than he
ever has before.
Battle areas stretching for pos-

not be tied in with the transconti-
nental air system then under de-
velopment. When no public agen-
cy would accept responsibility for
operating Willow Run Airport, the
University reluctantly stepped in.
In the process several old hangars
were acquired which were not
needed for commercial use. From
this less than glamorous begin-
ning the present Willow Run
Laboratories has emerged.
THE Laboratories pay their own
way, but this very fact makes
it difficult to obtain funds for fu-
ture buildings. For years there has
been hope that modern research
facilities will someday be built on
North Campus enabling, the lab-
oratories to work still more close-
ly with other University personnel.
Within one of the rambling ex-
hangars a visitor would see masses
of small benches sometimes sep-
arated by temporary partitions.
Here, original ideas may be put
into their first physical form, test-
ed for feasibility, and, provided
it passes, tested further in more
complex situations. Each man is
encouraged to use his fullest imag-
ination.
One such idea was the adapta-
tion of seismics to battle area
needs. Explosions and other mili-
tary noises can be transmitted for
great distances through the earth's
crust. It follows that special sound
receivers known as "geophones"
placed in the earth might be able
to detect the explosion of an atom-
ic bomb that a human ear could
not hear. The final refinement of
this rudimentary method of col-
lecting battle area noise is to make
complete and reliable intelligence
available for the, battle area com-
mander's use. This means that the
identity of each noise or "signa-
ture" must be carefully determined
and filed so that it may be re-
trieved when needed and be add-
ed to other data to form the over-
all intelligence picture.
SCIENTIFIC and engineering
personnel must determine what
technical equipment will make the
tab-keeping accurate, -swift, and
practical. By the very same re-
search methods taught in the Uni-
versity's classrooms, Willow Run
Laboratories is finding the answers.
The purpose of Project MICHI-
GAN is not to' develop finished
(Continued on Next Page)
Ralph Langer is former
contributing editor of The
Michigan Daily.

Engineers and technicians developed a battle area simulation device for Project MICHIGAN at
the Willow Run Laboratories. The instrument permits precise location of enemy activity on an
illuminated display console.

sibly hundreds of miles and
ranged over by fast moving com-
bat forces present formidable ob-
stacles to good communications.
Dependable systems for quickly
detecting enemy actions and pro-
cessing combat iniformation are
essential to the security of our
own troops. Project MICHIGAN
is evaluating these systems con-
cepts through simulation and
analysis, by the development of

breadboard models to verify new
technhiques, and by testing mod-
els of experimental equipment to
ascertain their technical capa-
bilities.
WILLOW RUN Laboratories,
under a different name, be-
gan about 13 years ago when the
the University acquired Willow
Run Airport. Two unusual events
led to its nascence. World War II

Sthe

had added to the demands on the
University for full-time research
facilities. The Engineering Re-
search Institute, born in 1922, had
made major contributions to our
war effort by providing a staff to
do university-type research un-
der both private and government-
al contractors. As the need for still
more research was felt, the search
for additional facilities was stepp-
ed up.
At the same time, something else
was taking place which Was to
greatly influence the University's
research program. Twin-engine
aircraft had been the standard
for transcontinental air travel at
the start of World War II. The
United States emerged from the
war, however, with its major cities
served by four-engine planes which
required longer runways and more
handling facilities. Detroit was the
exception.'
Its tiny city airport was consid-
ered dangerous and for a time It
looked as though this area could

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TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 15, 1959

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