Mathematician and Physicist
Served 1956 – 2012
Agee was born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1936. He attended the University of Nebraska at Omaha where he earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics in 1956. Later that year, he came to what was then White Sands Proving Ground as an intern in the Simulation Branch.
As his contributions to the White Sands mission multiplied, Agee advanced. Finally, in 1992 he was promoted to the supervisory mathematician position, GS-14, in Mathematical Services. He retired in 2004 but continued his association with WSMR until 2012 as a consultant for software and algorithm development.
Agee is recognized for his continuous work to improve the information or data that is collected during a test. That data is vital for many reasons.
For starters, the safety of the test depends on precise and accurate “real-time” information on every object flying through the missile range’s airspace. Since the airspace box over White Sands is not all that large, in a test where a missile is traveling at supersonic speeds to kill another missile, also flying at supersonic speed, there isn’t much room for error. If one of these vehicles makes an unplanned turn, it could easily leave the evacuated airspace and speed into public space.
For safety reasons, these tests are conducted miles and miles from the nearest human. It is impossible for a White Sands safety officer to see the test firsthand and perceive that there is a problem, let alone intervene if necessary. Safety personnel depend on computer generated displays that show the officer where the objects are in three-dimensional space with only a fraction of a second of delay. Also, the computer calculates where each object is headed if they stay on their present course.
Most of these displays depend on information from the many missile range radars. Bill Agee stepped in to make that data more precise, as error-free as possible, since the atmosphere can bend the radar’s waves. If not corrected when processed, the displays can give a location that is not real or true. That is not good when you are working in the safety world. Agee wrote algorithms that “smooth” the data and eliminate the error so safety officials can respond to only real conditions.
The system has been around for decades, but because of contributions like those of Bill Agee, the missile range has been able to claim that no one in the public has ever been harmed by a missile failure.
Another use of this real-time data is in pointing other instruments like cameras with large telescopes for recording events. Finding a small, high-flying item in the big blue sky can be difficult especially if the camera operator is looking through a spotting scope. His field of view is so small it is virtually impossible to find the missile and get the camera locked on.
With corrected data, the missile range’s computers can automatically and accurately point cameras so the operators don’t have to search the whole sky. This ensures the data is captured and the test not wasted.
Agee did the same thing for the analysis of data that is done after the test. Sure, missile program directors want to know if they hit the target but they also want to know how the missile got there. If the missile flew in a big arcing circle instead of a straight line, the program wants to know that. In the post-test analysis, they want to see the position of the missile at a plethora of points on its flight to make sure it operated as designed.
This information can be derived from radar data but optical data – from film and video – can be much more accurate. Again, however, the atmosphere can bend the reflected light from the object and the recording cameras might give a false location at any single point. Once more, Agee wrote the necessary algorithms to correct for this.
Ultimately, providing this precise test data is what keeps America’s sons and daughters safe. It gives them the advantage in a conflict because they can be sure our military services have fielded the very best equipment – weapons that will perform exactly as they were designed.
In his time at White Sands Agee wrote more than 23 technical articles about these processes. In 1984 he was presented a commendation for Meritorious Performance of Duty because it was determined that four of his articles “contributed immeasurably to the success” of a single program’s testing at WSMR.
Over the years, Agee was invited to host technical symposia at conferences around the country and to speak on technical topics. In recent years his work has benefitted the testing of such current systems as the Army Tactical Missile System, the Army’s Multiple Launch Rocket System, the Army Patriot Missile System, the Navy’s Standard Missile and the Air Force’s Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile.
Agee’s passion for the usefulness of applied mathematics and its power has made him a rock star in the field. He has been an inspiration to several generations of young engineers, mathematicians and physical scientists – mentoring many at the missile range. He is generous with his advice and has a reputation for incisive and positive criticism.
Bill lives in Las Cruces with his wife Betty. They have three children, William, Deborah and Darlene.