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[Aslakson, Carl I. [1980] Earth Measurer. Excerpt from unpublished manuscript.]

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Closing Out a Career


Tour of Aero Service Shoran Project in Canada

Shortly upon my return to Patrick, Virgil Kauffman sent one of his executives down to see me. He spoke again of my joining the firm, and I replied that I would retire shortly and would contact them at that time. He then told me that Aero extended an invitation to visit their Canadian Shoran photogrammetric project at their expense. I thought it would be a good idea to inspect their project before accepting an offer of employment. In a few days, I cleared up the backlog of work at Patrick, applied for leave, and flew to Philadelphia. After spending two days there, I was a assigned liaison man to handle expenses, and we flew to Ottawa, Canada, where the headquarters of Aero Canada was located. From Ottawa we went west to Saskatoon where we were picked up by a company airplane, and we flew north to Fort Norman on the MacKenzie River where the Shoran party was based. It was a good base and missions were flown from there daily, weather permitting. I examined their methods of computation and went on one of their line crossing missions on an east-west line over the Amundsen Gulf. The line crossing was well above the Arctic Circle. I had seen enough of their work, so I knew that with a few changes I could bring the work up to my standards.

Returning to Ft. Norman, I was taken on a flight to the shore of Great Bear Lake. One who had not been in that area in summer had no conception of the pests mosquitoes can be. Although our faces and hands were covered with repellant and we wore headnets, the swarms were so thick it seemed difficult to breathe. It was even hard to see through the nets because of the swarms of mosquitoes covering it. We were glad to be airborne again after we had used the flit gun in the plane.

Upon arriving in Philadelphia, I discussed the changes in techniques and computations I wanted to make with Virgil. I told him of my plans to retire, and he made me an offer which sounded very good compared to my service salary. Later I realized that he would have been willing to bargain, but I enjoyed my work and have no regrets. He actually did give me a $4000 raise after my first year with the company, and he was always most generous with expenses. I assured him that I would retire in the spring of 1955 and join him then.

Promotion to Permanent Rank of Captain

While I was attached to the Air Force, my promotion to Captain had been temporary and I had reverted to the rank of Commander upon returning to the Coast and Geodetic Survey. While I was assigned to the Missile Range, I served as an advisor and therefore was still Commander. However, shortly after my return to Patrick, I received my permanent promotion to Captain. I had been reluctant to retire at an earlier date for the difference in my retired pay was considerable.

In the Officer's bowling league at Patrick I had taken up 10-pin bowling and became fairly proficient. I was the oldest bowler in the league, and the staff sergeant in charge of the alleys took considerable interest in my bowling and coached me a good deal. In May 1955 when the league season closed, certain prizes were awarded. I was awarded the following prizes:

1st High Game 276

2nd High Series 658

3rd High Aver. 181.5

The sergeant, following my promotion to Captain, said, "Do you mind if I keep calling you Commander?" Captains are a dime a dozen around here, and Commander sounds much better. So thereafter, in spite of my stepping up a grade in rank, I always remained Commander at the bowling alley.

Some Other Events During My Final Days at the Range

The Hiran missions were flown out of Ramey Air Force Base, and I had no control over when and where the lines were measured. Therefore it was with some surprise that I received a letter from the National Audobon Society protesting the flying operations of "my group". It seems that, in flying the lines from the vicinity of Great Inagua Island, they were disturbing the nesting grounds of the pink flamingos. I made it clear that I was merely a technical advisor and had no control over flying operations. I forwarded the letter to Col. Hunkapillar, and that was the last I heard of the matter.

On another occasion Marian and I took a few days off and visited Sanibel Id. in Florida to collect some shells. Upon returning, I sorted them out and finding a lot of beach specimens I did not wish to keep, I took them out to Cocoa beach one afternoon and drove along the beach tossing out shells as I drove. For two years thereafter, I kept hearing of the "new and unusual shells" some one had found on Cocoa Beach. Upon driving off the beach that day I got stuck in the sand, and Marian said it was just retribution for fooling the local shell collectors.

Once when we were living at a large house we had rented north of the base, I saw a most unusual sight. A mother cat was very obviously training her kittens to stalk birds. She was slightly behind and crouching low as they inched forward ahead of her. However, they became impatient and suddenly dashed forward. The bird flew away, and the mother cat leaped forward and soundly cuffed the kittens with her front paws. It was obvious punishment for their loss of patience.

Just south of that house, there was a couple who always started drinking in the middle of the morning and continued throughout the day. One day a Colonel, who was a friend of ours, came to the house and asked Marian if she would pose for photographs on a sand dune in front of the house. She had made a clever mermaid costume which she had worn at a costume party on the base, and he wanted to take her picture in natural surroundings. As she lay on top of the dune, he crouched at the base to take her picture. Suddenly, they heard a loud scream. The lady next door had gone out on her front veranda, seen a live mermaid lying on the sand dune, and thought she was hallucinating and dashed back into the house. That was the last anyone saw of her for the rest of that day.

The Position Determination of Ascension Island

One of my final projects was to determine the geographic coordinates of Ascension Island, lying midway between Brazil and the west coast of Africa. Distances were too long for it to be located by Hiran. When asked how it could be done, I gave them a plan. Great accuracy was not required, and my plan would give them the required accuracy.

In essence, I called for the following observations:

(1) Five astronomic positions to be made on the island, one on the mountain in the center and four others to be distributed on four sides.

(2) A series of lines of gravity observations to be observed at sea spaced about 75 to 100 miles apart and extending out from the island for at least 100 miles.

The gravity observations could only be made with the Vening Meinesz submarine gravity instrument, and the cooperation of the Navy in supplying the submarine and the observers was required.

Those observations could then be used in a rather long computation called an isostatic-topographic reduction to give the coordinates. However, I stated that the accuracy might not be better than 100 meters. The latter computation would have to be done by the Coast Survey, and it would be necessary to transfer funds to them for that purpose.

That sounds like a tall order, and so it proved to be. The difficulty was in securing the cooperation of the Navy. As usual, the request for the submarine went through channels and after the usual delays the Air Force received a flat NO. However, Captain Jimmy Tison, a Coast Survey officer and a good friend of mine was serving in the Pentagon as a technical advisor to the Air Forces. When the Air Force request was rejected, I telephoned to Jimmy and told him of the request and the rejection. In a very short time, the top brass in the Pentagon passed the word down to provide the submarine along with the instrument and observers. We not only got our survey, but to the position of Ascension along the missile path they ran four profiles of gravity which greatly added to our geophysical knowledge. I visited the submarine at Key West before they started on the mission, and the submarine officers expressed their gratitude to me for making the arrangements possible. They had wanted to make the survey and were greatly disappointed when it was first turned down.

It is interesting to note that when the survey of relative positions over the entire earth was made a number of years later by observing the directions of a satellite in space, the position determined by that method checked the position as determined by the gravity survey within thirty meters, or about three times the accuracy I had promised them. The satellite method had an error of that order, but the check gave considerable confidence on both methods.

One day as I was driving into Cocoa, I picked up a soldier who was hitching a ride. He appeared to be an Oriental, but when he said, "Just imagine! No snow in January!" I recognized him as an Eskimo. I began to talk about Alaska, and soon he said, "You know more about Alaska than I do!" He had never been far from his home on Nunivak Island and, of all places, he had been assigned to the range in Florida.

The Last Hiran Project in the Pacific

Following the conclusion of the Missile Range Survey, the Air Force undertook a large scale Hiran project in the Western Pacific. In theory, it would have been very useful, but from all accounts that was not true. It was undertaken without adequate geodetic supervision. From what I could learn, no azimuth control was provided, and it is doubtful if the trilateration was ever used in mapping the islands. It is hoped that some of the distances could be incorporated in other types of geodetic connections. Possibly, when combined with some of the satellite work, they may have been put to some use, but no publicity was ever given to the work. Shortly afterwards, the Hiran organization was disbanded, and a useful tool for certain types of geodetic control was lost for good.

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