White Sands Missile Range Hall of Fame

Frank Hemingway
Technical Director of National Range
Served 1947 – 1977
Inducted 1980

Mr. Hemingway began his civil service career at White Sands Proving Ground (WSPG) in 1947 as a grade P-4 assistant chief technical supervisor for the Ballistics Research Laboratories, White Sands Annex. By 1961 he was the PL-313 Technical Director of National Range Operations. Over the years until his retirement in 1977, he was responsible, more than any other individual, for the technical leadership that transformed the Range from a lashed-up facility for exploring the potential of missiles as weapons to the modern missile range it is today.

In his early career he was active as a designer and evaluator of range instrumentation systems necessary for obtaining comprehensive measurements of missile performance. In his role as Director of National Range Operations he was effective in fostering innovations necessary to meet test support requirements of new systems still in the conceptual stage. Over his 30-year career he participated in literally hundreds of tasks, which ensured continuous improvements in test support capabilities. Some of the more significant improvements realized during the Hemingway era are outlined below.

In the early WSPG it took days and often weeks to prepare for a single test and the total capacity of the Range was consumed in the effort. By the time of Mr. Hemingway’s retirement, the Range performed over 6,000 tests per year and normally operated with two or three tests being conducted simultaneously.

Tracking a single test object was a problem of great difficulty in the early days, particularly if it had to be acquired during flight. Today the Range automatically points its instruments to the test objects and provides highly reliable tracking of several objects at one time. In the early days optical data reduction was accomplished with crude reading devices, and computations were performed on manually operated mechanical calculators. This process took 6 to 8 weeks and the mathematics was necessarily unsophisticated. Today much greater accuracy is obtained in one week through use of especially designed film readers and computations performed by modern S&E computers. Best Estimate of Trajectory techniques combine optical data with data from other systems to produce composite data of higher quality than any single system could provide.

Early flight safety decisions were dependent on observers watching through sky screens to determine that the missile was headed in generally the right direction. Today Range instrumentation systems feed data to the Range Control Center where real time computations provide “instantaneous impact predictions” and other performance data. This enables the flight safety officer to know at all times whether or not a missile is behaving appropriately and where the pieces would fall if the flight termination were necessary.

In the early days Army activity was confined to the area south of the White Sands National Monument. During the 1950’s, Mr. Hemingway was instrumental in the integration of White Sands Proving Ground (WSPG) and the Alamogordo Bombing Range into a National Range that provided support for programs conducted by the Army, Air Force, Navy, other government agencies, and authorized nongovernmental agencies, including foreign governments. During the late 50’s and through the 60’s, Mr. Hemingway directed the expansion of White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) to include call-up areas, which provide additional space nearly equal to the main Range when needed. Also, he directed the establishment of corridors from Texas, Arizona and Utah over which launches into the main range were conducted. The most active of these was the Utah corridor over which the Athena and Pershing firings were conducted. Although never implemented, he directed the planning of a corridor, which would extend from WSMR to Alaska.

Range Control in the early days was strictly by voice over the intercom (when the intercom was working). Today the status of range systems is automatically displayed for range controllers and voice communications are used effectively for trouble shooting and giving revised instructions. In the early years scheduling and support planning was a “shouting match.” Today support plans are documented in detail before scheduling, and scheduling is accomplished with only occasional need for resolving conflicts between high priority programs.

Electronic data, which used to require laborious data reduction taking 2 to 4 weeks is now partially available in real time and completely processed within 2 days.

Early tracking telescopes capable of only events data were “makeshift” optics and cameras strapped on machine gun mounts. Current tracking telescopes are equipped with a variety of optical, TV and IR sensors, automatic tracking and focusing and can provide a variety of measurements including highly precise miss distance in addition to events data of superior quality.

These accomplishments without question reflect the contributions of many others. However, it was Mr. Hemingway, more than any other, who championed the new technology initiatives, made the critical choices, and provided the technical leadership. In addition to his accomplishments at WSMR, Mr. Hemingway was a member of the Planning Commission of the School Board in Las Cruces, New Mexico, from 1960 to 1970; member and chairman of the Las Cruces Planning and Zoning Commission during 1961-1970; and a member of the Dona Ana County, New Mexico Civil Defense Advisory Committee in 1964. He was also a member of the American Geophysics Union, Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers, American Forestry Association, and the Association of the US Army, which he served as chapter president during 1966-1967.

Mr. Hemingway died on 13 June 2004.