Interesting People I Have Met: Cubic Defense Systems


Edited (3/23/2015): Added Judy Rees
Edited: Added – Wayne Newton, Don Knight, Tom Pekar, Sam Whitt, Bill Norris  – at the request of Wayne Newton … thanks Wayne.


In retrospect, some of the most interesting people I have met are the folks I worked with for 30+ years at Cubic Defense Systems and at the Tactical Air Ranges Integration Facility (TARIF) at China Lake, CA.

I say this because of the remarkable system these folks built which has been the premier on-line training system for US and allied combat air-crews since 1973. Some of us call it the B-52 of training systems because of its longevity and adaptability for continual growth in terms of capability.

The first video below shows the system and the technology as it was when I began my career with ACMR/I on March 1, 1976.  In the film you will see state of the art real-time graphics as it existed in those days. You will also see large  trailers;  but what the film doesn’t show are the 3 large Xerox Sigma-9 mini-computers that made up what was called the Computation and Control Subsystem (CCS). The software of the CCS was originally developed by Systems Development Corporation (SDC) under sub-contract to Cubic, the prime contractor.

My first job in 1976 was to double the number of missile simulations from 4 to 8 within the Display and Debriefing System (DDS), a seemingly simple and straightforward task. This graphics system was built by a Boston company called Adage, and the software was developed primarily by a Mr. Bob Fullford.  Chuck Whitney and I were hired on to Cubic as part of a team of young programmers who were to bring all of the software in-house to Cubic and establish full cognizance and responsibility for the complete system under one roof in San Diego.   The success of that Cubic management decision has been borne out over the many following years as the videos below illustrate.

A key component of the DDS then and now was the Large Screen Displays (LSDs). These were necessary for the post mission debriefs in a theater environment. You may wonder why we just didn’t go down to Costco and get a couple of those 90” TVs. Well  …there was no Costco back then, and there were no 90” screens either … so Cubic had to build custom and very expensive and hard to maintain LSDs because that was what was needed to debrief groups of fighter pilots in a theater venue.

In the first video a program called ACEVAL/AIMVAL is mentioned. That was my first project, and as mentioned above my specific task was to double the missile simulations. Accompanying my relatively modest task was a much more significant task in the CCS. To double the missile systems capability of the CCS, a duplicate of the CCS was built with its own set of 3 Xerox Sigma 9 computers housed in an additional large van parked next to the CCS van. You see in those days, with the technology available, it was very expensive to do what in todays world can be quickly done with a trip to Best Buy and a few hundred dollars.   A few years latter, a project I had at Yuma Arizona required the doubling of the memory in the DDS. Though not as dramatic as the earlier expansion of the CCS, we Cubic were the first customer of an Adage memory expansion that did not work out of the box and required much additional hardware and software work to make it functional.

A couple of interesting and humorous side stories of that graphics memory  expansion come to mind:

Hugh Kohnen, one of our program managers/marketers – a sometimes gruff ex Marine and his equally no-nonsense NavAir counterpart Ray Shriner got into a somewhat heated discussion about this memory that didn’t work. You see, the program under which the memory was purchased really did not technically need the extra memory for the success of the applicable project. So as the story is told, Hugh and Ray are sitting across the table from one another when Hugh states “show me in the contract where it says its gotta work!”  Wow … now understand that Hugh and Ray actually had a good working relationship, so Ray calmly replies “OK Hugh, but we both know what’s coming next at Yuma where the memory will be needed … and guess who’s going to have to fix it and on whose nickel!”  Wow again …

And up next at Yuma was my project which indeed did need the extra memory. This brings up the next interesting side story. You see in those days we had trouble keeping display programmers, and especially those supporting Yuma because that was a tough and arduous task requiring much travel to Yuma and long hours after the flight day was done. The current programmer told me he would quit before going back to Yuma. I took him at his word and started looking at resumes and hired a young San Diego State graduate named Curt Bryan. What I didn’t tell Curt was that he was faced with an impossible task – helping to fix the memory as well as the requirements of the project at Yuma. Well … Curt didn’t know the job was impossible since this was his first real job … and he just went ahead and did the job in an exemplary fashion. Curt and a few other folks in later years went on to start their own software company.

Ault Report – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The “Ault Report”, or more formally the Air-to-Air Missile System Capability Review, was a sweeping study of US Navy air-to-air missile performance during the period of 1965 to 1968, conducted by Navy Captain Frank Ault. The study was initiated at the behest of Admiral Tom Moorer, Chief of Naval Operations, who had taken office in August 1967. He was disturbed by the dismal performance of Navy air-to-air missiles in engagements with North Vietnamese fighter jets. Admiral Moorer tasked the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIRSYSCOM) to conduct “an in-depth examination of the entire process by which Air-to-Air missile systems are acquired and employed” and further directed that Ault be placed in charge of the effort.

Air Combat Maneuvering Range

One of the critical findings of the Ault Report was that many of the missile failures were due to out of envelope firings due to unfamiliarity of the aircrews with the dynamically changing launch acceptability regions (LAR). Ault proposed to create an instrumented range to help aircrews become familiar with the complexities of firing their air-to-air missiles. This led to development of the Air Combat Maneuvering Range (ACMR) at MCAS Yuma for use by aircraft flying out of NAS Miramar. The Air Force was faced with the same problem and also began development of a similar Air Combat Maneuvering Instrumentation (ACMI) range at Nellis AFB

Let me back track to the beginnings of the ACMR/I in the early 1970s.  I was not there at the beginning so all I can do here is describe the original system, since I did see it in action and actually worked on it for a few days. This is the system, and those who developed it were the giants on whose shoulders I and many others were fortunate in standing upon. I wish I had been more diligent in the years I was at Cubic to learn more of these early pioneers – who they were and what were there credentials and accomplishments.

The original system deployed on line in 1973 at MCAS Yuma and NAS Miramar boasted these characteristics:

  • 4 high activity aircraft
  • 2 missile simulations
  • 30 mile training range
  • CCS was 3 Xerox Sigma 5 computers
  • image
  • CCS software developed by Systems Development Corporation
  • DDS was Adage
  • DDS software developed by Adage

Now with that background, enjoy this interesting video narrated by Wally Schirra



Between the system you have just seen in the previous video and the following videos representing todays capabilities (2014), there were a number of significant upgrades as follows:–Australias-Largest-and-Most-Complex-Air-Training-Exercise





What stands out in the record of this amazing system is its close correlation and tracking of its capabilities with the advancement of technology  over the years and decades – this being computer technology and the GPS tracking systems.

An incident stands out in my mind illustrates this remarkable transition:

In about 2005, a colleague and I traveled to Eglin AFB  to install and test a latest generation of the system. We had rented a pickup truck for the trip, and stopped by our very small company office to pick up several of the systems and took them out to the base. On the way I turned to my colleague in surprise and said something like this:

“I started my career with this system in 1977  when we had 5 ocean towers in the Gulf of Mexico, a computer system in Carrabelle, about 100 miles to the east, and a complex of large trailers three of which were filled with computers … now – today – we have four systems right here in this pickup, two of which are laptops!”

While working at China Lake, we supported all versions of the Navy and Air Force systems fielded at the time (the decade of the 1990s). They all ran on very expensive multi-processor  mini-computers. At China Lake I often gave tours of the room we referred to as the “museum.” One particular subsystem, the Control & Computation Subsystem (CCS) ,  that we had in that room was a replica of the Nellis AFB  Red Flag system which supported the very large scale missions conducted in the desert North of Las Vegas. The CCS computer system was a 20 computer – shared memory system with something on the order of 20  large refrigerator sized cabinets.  The cost, as I recall, for this system was on the order of $2.5 million dollars, and that did not include the display systems that were scattered throughout the building, another $1 million each.

Now, as we drove onto the base at Eglin, with the back of our pickup truck loaded with 4 systems, we had in each of these laptop and desktop computers … much more user capability and compute power at the cost of perhaps $1,500 each.

And finally but certainly not least: The following are just some of the many people who have contributed to this fine system as I can remember them, going back into the early 1970s – Since I was a software developer on these systems since 1976, most of the names will be from that arena. However, there are so many other names from other areas such as hardware, and I would encourage some of the old timers to add their names as well.
Undoubtedly I will leave off some names, and I apologize and invite someone to add more names to this list.

So let’s begin:
Walter Zable (Founder and lifelong President & CEO of Cubic), Cronkhite, Minton B (Bruce), Bob Fulford; Ed Legerton; Dave Danell; Tom Reese; Fred Small, Steve Sampson, John Beckstom, Roland VanDruff, Dick  Koch, Walt Davis; Rob Law; Don Jacobs; Sally Poor; Chuck Whitney; Don Johnson; Karen Griglac; John Thomas, Rich Smith; Jim Parsons; Larry Williams; Tom Bain; Darrell Smith; Gordon Ritchie; Tom Markle; Ted Clowes; Theresa Clowes; Val Carr; Randy Smith; Mike Dayton; Rusty Dawes; John Phillips; John Hill; Frank (The Wizard) Oswald, Gene Snodgrass; Mike Ilku; Chuck Boornazian; Dave Bansack; Ron VanderGriend; Rick Vandergriend; Jackie Vandergriend; Judy Rees, Barry Moore; Blake Etem; John Towers; Jesse Dolan; Doug Lee; Lou Lopez; Mike Brindley; Dave Lee; Mary Jane Pack; Eric Loos; Al Gramp; John Dill; Bruce Jones; Tim Cockerham; Matt Evans; Lisa Evans; Earl Furman; Naomi Norris; Bob Moore;  Jim Dossette; TR Swartz; Fred Lord, Wayne Newton,  Don Knight, Tom Pekar, Sam Whitt, Bill Norris
… My heavens, my brain hurts and I must take a break, but feel free to jump in and add names.

And don’t forget the many industrial partners who invented the technologies used to develop this remarkable system … not the least of these is Bill Gates and Microsoft whose operating systems we ultimately  settled on.

Hope you enjoyed this travel down technologies memory lane.

Don Johnson – March 2015


4 responses to “Interesting People I Have Met: Cubic Defense Systems

  1. Don! Great article. I worked for 14 years with Ed Legerton on Submarine Comm Sydtems before i worked on NACTS on the CS and DD. I eventually was the Software Program Manager for Both NACTD and TGAP. I would be honored to have my name added to your list! Here are some others …
    Don Knight, Tom Pekar, Sam Whitt, Bill Norris, and Bruce Jones!

  2. Thanks Wayne … glad you liked the article. I feel it is important to remember those that contributed to our own livelihood as well as to the national interest.
    I knew Ed Legerton only briefly as Cubic took over the TACTS/ACMI software, but for some reason his name has stuck with me … he is one of those “giants” I was fortunate to have followed.
    I’ve added your name and the others to my “hall of heroes”
    I know you were Navy, and I would be interested in knowing of your Naval career … should have picked your brain on that while I had the chance, but would like to catch up in some fashion. And I remember you stepping up and heading off to Kuwait (or somewhere) as the Iraqi buildup started… thanks for that, some of noticed and were thankful.
    Best regards,

  3. Shannon Wheatley

    Don stumbled across this. Great to see that someone documented the amazing people and system evolution of TACTS/ACMI.

  4. An interesting and gratifying “small world” conversation here between myself and an Air Force Major I worked with back in 1977.

    Facebook message from me:
    Hi “Foxy” It’s been many a year, but we worked together at the ACMI at Tyndall. I was part of the Cubic crew that installed the range back in 1977.
    I think of those days every now and then, and they were good times … and I remember working with you with your dedication and good hummer.
    Your name came up last night in one of those strange “small world” events. My daughter’s friend Krissy was at our house baking Christmas cookies and they took a break to make some Red Beans & Rice. It smelled really good and I made the remark that it reminded me of my days in Panama City with my old friend Ed Burdik. Krissy perked up and said “you were in Panama City? That’s where I was born … my dad was a F-106 pilot stationed at Tyndall.” And as it turned out we were all there together at the same time.
    I don’t know her dad’s name, but when I find out I will send it to you per chance you may know one another.
    Another name that came up was Skip Sanders. I knew Skip over the years as I continued working Cubic Air Ranges and we would run into one another on occasion.
    I don’t know what you did following Tyndall, but you may be interested in knowing a bit about what happened to ACMI in the subsequent years. You can take a look at and see the latest. The last project I worked, in 2009, was what is called P-5 and handles 72 aircraft and the pretty much the entire battle space (computer technology is wonderful).

    And I put together my own remembrances and history of the system and its people at:

    It’s good to see your face once more.

    Don Johnson

    Response from the Major:
    Wow, Don, what a pleasant surprise to hear from you. Working with you and Cubic on the ACMI helped really propel my career; I got promoted early after that stint at Tyndall, later became IWS Commander, then on to Europe and F-16s. I retired as the Tyndall Base Commander in late 1992. I do not recognize Krissy; but certainly I relished knowing and working with Skip Sanders. Thank You for contacting me. Let’s keep in touch.

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