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Information Technology (IT) Pioneers

Retirees and former employees of Unisys, Lockheed Martin, and their heritage companies

Chapter 43, Field Service Engineering

1. Introduction

To the customer we always appeared as the company representative - either as an on-site 'fix it' engineer, as a communications path to the home office, as someone knowledgeable about about equipment and software, or as a mentor to the customer's technicians and engineers. Behind each of us was a multi-talented team of experienced personnel who were specialists in their individual fields, whom we could call when an unusual problem couldn't be fixed immediately. [lab]

Thanks to Dick Roessler for writing the original text for this topical page. The Legacy Committee welcomes any additions to this Engineering tier 2 category.

2. Field Service by Dick Roessler UNIVAC - UNISYS, 1956 to 1989

In the late 1950’s when the Department of Defense Procurement Agencies began the major transition from analog to digital systems, it became very important that defense contractors such as Sperry/UNIVAC become aware that procurements of digital systems required a strong commitment and partnership between the Industries and the Department of Defense for providing exemplary field support. This need for exemplary support by the customer existed not only during the initial development contract but continued with even more emphasis during the production and system deployment contracts.
     As the defense agencies developed their procurement languages for purchasing provisioning and technical support, it became very clear that they were placing emphasis on developing operating systems which possessed a lengthy life cycle. During the development phase of a system development contract, the defense agency expected that the defense contractor would provide impeccable support for prototypes during early operating testing in the form of spare parts and technical support personnel Defense Systems Division found, during this early period, that the defense customer had high expectations that the warranty and logistic support of new products and systems was expected. It was not unusual for technical support personnel to be closely integrated with the customer personnel during the testing of prototype systems. During this infancy phase of development, it wasn’t unusual for the field support personnel to work around the clock in the proximity of the test site. Sometimes they even found it necessary to bunk proximity of the test site.
     During the follow-on product/system procurements, the defense customer found it desirable to have the user operations teams perform many of the support functions. It strongly desired that the using commands have a high level of self-sufficiency. However, this objective became more difficult to achieve due to budget limitations and reduced manpower availability. Therefore the procuring agency found it necessary to purchase these services from product/system contractors.
     During the early development contracts, the procuring agencies often took a rather cavalier attitude in specifying the technical and provisioning support required by the operating commands of contractors early in the product/systems life cycle. It often appeared that they assumed that many of these services would be included by contractors during warranty periods. In particular the assumption was made that spare parts and technical support may not have been specified in the contract but somehow would be provided as a specific need would arise. Somehow the issue would be solved by technical support people and parts as necessary to repair, or provision the equipment.
But as the defense customer learned that the level of self-sufficiency was not adequate and deficiencies were not being planned and procured from contractors, they revised their logistic approach during procurement. Sperry/UNIVAC responded to this need by beginning to propose and negotiate support functions to assure the integrated logistic support of customer programs. The contracting and program management team at DSD were soon able to fund visible program managers, project engineers and a team of multi-talented and experienced personnel to effectively demonstrate an interest and capability to assure the customer a satisfactory life expectancy of its operational systems. 
     Some of the support functions that were being procured were field service functions performed by a cadre of personnel in St. Paul or at field sites. The basic mission was to “install, integrate and support DSD products on a world-wide basis”. As the concept of Integrated Logistic Support services was implemented in the 1980’s, functions performed by field support functions continued to grow. The composite of the services included the disciplines associated with technical support services, training and documentation services, and logistic and repair services. {Editor's note:  Dick Roessler is shown at the right as he instructed new field engineers about repairs and logistics flow for the Athena computer.}  Functions performed or services provided within these disciplines would vary from program to program depending on specific contracted functions. Many of the support service functions would be performed in the home office in St. Paul. But personnel assigned might find them performing at customer field sites or company field offices as required. Whether in the comfort of a home office or in the field environment of a customers operational or test site, support service personnel found their billet very important in providing integrated logistic support to defense customers. Customer satisfaction with product/system requirements was always given a high priority.
     Field Service personnel were extremely valuable to both the customer but also to DSD program personnel. Functioning as technical personnel in assisting the customer to successfully test and qualify its products and systems, permitted the assigned UNIVAC DSD personnel to become very familiar with not only the available test software but also with the customers operating software. Personnel in particular at remote sites for NASA or the Air Force performed critical missions especially during the Cold War periods. Their ability to keep the systems working thru the periods of system alerts, was to the credit of the common goal of the customer’s operating commands and the DSD field personnel performing critical test and deployment functions.
     Not to be overlooked was that the very high performance of deployed systems permitted DSD frequently to take advantage of customer financial incentives when assuring contractual levels of high system availability was achieved. Personnel assigned took great pride in performing their duties above and beyond the specified contractual requirements. Despite the very high product reliability the customer would continue to depend on technical support personnel to restore a computer system to an operational mode when malfunctions would occur. The pride included basking in the high reliability of UNIVAC products but also in being recognized in making significant contributions to the team of customer personnel and contractor personnel in defense of the country.
     Hats off to the contributions made by these men and women. And now, years after the peak years of customer support, they continue to savor their collective contributions made over the years as they meet to exchange the many stories about their field service achievements. 

3.  Johnston and Vandenberg

UNIVAC/Sperry/UNISYS field service personnel supported several AF programs over the years. Now, a few decades later, bits about those programs are no longer classified. Unfortunately, these stories often come from co-workers after the passing of an engineer, i.e. Larry Koral. In addition to these anthology contributions, point your browser to,, and YZ.html#Tilford.

From Don Neuman

Larry Koral, Roger Feichtinger and I worked on a highly classified program on Johnston Island.  This island is 3000 feet wide and 9000 feet long and is located about 700 miles west of Hawaii.  Our families lived in Oahu, Hawaii and we were able to have R&R with our families one week out of every three weeks.  Our families lived in the same housing complex while Larry and I were at Johnston Island.  Our mission at Johnston Island has all been declassified and is available on the Internet.  The Johnston Island radio station was a 1 Watt transmitter and we called it coast to coast radio.  We had an open air movie theater that showed a new movie once a week.  Because the theater was open air you had to take a poncho to be able to sit in the rain and watch a movie.  As you can imagine, we were very short on entertainment.  Johnston Island is a air force base that is supported from Vandenberg Air Force Base.  We had an Officers club and a chow hall and we all lived in barracks.  The Univac field team members were considered scientists on the island thus we did get some special considerations.
This was back in the early 60s when we intercepted satellite targets that were put up by Vandenberg Air Force Base.  Security was very tight and we were not allowed to say to anyone where we went from Honolulu. There were no women allowed on the island, it was just us men trying to get the job done. One time we had a USO show come to the island but they brought along the biggest bunch of tough Marines to guard the women. Johnston Island had been used for nuclear testing and disposal of toxic nerve agents.
After we finished the Johnsotn Island program I went on to work on the remote tracking station program (RTS). I was the systems engineer and manager for that program for sometime at Sunnyvale California where the Air Force satellite control station is located.  If you would like more information about Johnson Island operations or the RTS program please let me know because I have lots of data. Don

From Vern Sandusky

Larry Koral’s easy going personality and technical skills made him a valuable member of the Univac ground guidance crew at Vandenberg.  He supported the Titan IIIB and Titan 3D launches including the Univac 1218 and 1230 computers.  I believe he also worked for a year or two at the tracking station on Oahu. 
Sorry to say I don’t know much about his career after he moved to Eagan. I knew him and Kathy well when I worked at VAFB from about 1967 to 1974.  There were 5 young families that all had our babies about the same time – Larry & Kathy Koral, Vern & Bonnie Sandusky, Stan and Mickey Olson, Jim and Lillian Marek and Bruce and Carla Greene. We babysat for one another, shared many meals and drinks together and a lot of laughter. We watched each other’s children grow from babies to toddlers to kindergarten. I still have occasional contact with Bruce, but until Larry’s death had lost contact with the rest of the families.
I wish I had more about Field Engineering especially those years, but my memory has faded about much of it, though I was surprised the other day when I remembered more about the guidance operation than I thought I did.  However, once upon a time in a fit of cleaning house, I threw away all of my old files about the VAFB operation.  Perhaps one of the folks I mentioned has more memories or files that they can share.
FYI, I have had contact with a Joseph Page who has written a book about SLC 10 (Satellite Launch Complex - 10). You can see the book at

He is also searching for information about the Satellite Tracking network, in hopes of writing a book about that operation. His email address is 'Joseph T. Page II'

So, feel free to share that address with anyone who might help in his project. I would certainly like to know more about their work. BTW, a man by the name of Phil Pressel wrote a book “Meeting the Challenge” about the Hexagon KH-9 Reconnaissance Satellite that contains a wealth of information about the actual satellite.  It was only after reading this book that I began to understand the very important role that these satellites played in the security of our country and I am proud to have been a small part of it.  I can recommend that book to anyone who worked on the guidance crew or the tracking crew. 
Thanks for keeping in touch and feel free to share this. Vern

4. Refurbishment by Steve Koltes!

Back in the early 1980s, I was involved in the refurbishment of the UYK-5 system aboard four Navy support ships: the USS Dixie (AD-14), USS Ajax (AR6), USS Hector (AR-7) and USS Jason (AR-8).
The UYK-5 system consisted of a 1218 computer, two 1240 tape drives, a 3300 High-Speed Printer (HSP) and a Card Reader Punch Interpreter (CRPI) used for logistics support and payroll. The overhaul effort would request 3-4 weeks of 12- hour days for 3 hard-working individuals. The 1218 computer was stripped of all chassis and cables. The cabinet cables were rebuilt with new shielding and sleeving and all indicators and switches were replaced. Chassis were stripped of all cards and the forks within the connectors were tightened and replaced if necessary. The chassis were then scrubbed and cleaned with an alcohol bath. The 1240 tape drives went through a similar process with the addition of all servo motors, tension arms and sensors reworked. The HSP always had several hammers to replace, as well as an occasional new drum. The CRPI was the scariest part of the process since the punch motor was disassembled and rebuilt. With more than 800 individual parts, it was quite an effort.
The best part of the effort was the looks we received from the sailors (Data Systems techs) that watched us strip the system down to the base components and rebuild the system like new, right there on the ship. I have left many details out in this summary version of my story, but I will add them to the Legacy Anthology page, just as I am encouraging all of you to do.
This effort was very successful and led to efforts in rebuilding several more systems aboard ship to allow the NAVY to receive equipment refurbishments without removing and shipping to a depot. In relaying this story to you, I want to acknowledge John Bly, who was key in leading these refurbishment efforts. John passed away in 1997 at the age of 50. Steve Koltes, VIP Club President 2023

5. Your story here


In this Chapter

  1.  Introduction [left]
  2.  Field Service by Dick Roessler.
  3. Johnston Island and Vandenberg. 
  4. Refurbishment by Koltes
  5.  Your story?

Chapter 43 edited 5/14/2023.