Astronautics Corporation of America

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Astronautics Corporation of America
Type Private
Industry Aerospace and defense
Founded 1959 Milwaukee, WI
Headquarters Milwaukee, USA
Key people Nathaniel K. Zelazo, Founder
Dr. Ronald E. Zelazo, CEO
Chad Cundiff, President
Stephen Givant, CFO
Products Commercial airliners
Military aircraft
Space systems
Computer Services
Employees 1,800
Subsidiaries Kearfott Corporation
Astronautics C.A. Ltd.

Astronautics Corporation of America (ACA) was established in 1959 and is a major supplier, designer, and manufacturer of avionics equipment to airlines, U.S. and international governments, commercial and defense aircraft manufacturers, and other major avionics systems integrators. Over 150,000 aircraft worldwide have been equipped with Astronautics instruments, displays, computers & components. Astronautics products are used in numerous air, sea, ground, and missile and space applications. Astronautics major product lines include Electronic Flight Instrument System, Electronic flight bag, Engine Indicating and Crew Alerting System, Network Server Systems, Multifunction Displays, Mission and display processors and systems, Flight director, Flight control system, Inertial guidance system, Air data computer, Integrated Network Server Unit and Auto pilot.


In June 1959, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Nate Zelazo decided to start a new company devoted to advanced technology in the Aerospace field. Together with his sister, Norma Paige, he organized a small group of experienced engineers and established the Astronautics Corporation of America. Having had previous experience being employed by the Navy Department and with his knowledge of government procurement the company began to compete for government business for the military. Initially, the company worked with local universities and with their help was soon was able to obtain a program from the US Air Force investigating fuel management techniques for space vehicle orbital rendezvous. Mr. Zelazo and his small staff of engineers had an extensive background in designing and developing flight instrumentation. Thus, after working on the Air Force space program, they began to compete with their much larger competitors for Navy, Army and Air Force flight instrumentation production programs.

Nate Zelazo, founder, in front of one of his earlier projects

In the latter half of the 1960s, Astronautics received substantial backing from the American City Bank and Trust Company. After that corporation was bankrupted by the 1973-75 recession, Zelazo hired its former CEO, Pete Erickson, as Astronautics' CFO in 1976. Erickson helped grow the company over the next thirteen years (until his retirement), masterfully investing its booked capital in the stock and bond market and arranging the highly successful purchase of a corporate building on the city's west side in 1982. Today, that Teutonia Avenue location is the corporate headquarters. He also handled the financial side of the purchase of Astronautics’ subsidiary, Kearfott Corporation, in 1988.

Having won several production programs for aircraft flight instruments for the military, Astronautics soon developed a design and production capability. They began supplying flight instrumentation for aircraft such as the B-52, F-4, A-4, C-130, UH-1, P-3 and many others. This capability was soon expanded to provide the complete flight director systems, which included the flight director computer, for several military aircraft.

As military flight instrumentation advanced, Astronautics began competing for the new Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) technology that was being applied to aircraft instrumentation. Astronautics was successful and won a contract to provide the Horizontal Situation Display (HSD) for the Air Force F-111 Aircraft. This display program, which combined CRT and optical technologies, resulted in further expansion of Astronautics Engineering, Quality, Reliability, Production and Contract Administration Departments. Astronautics then also developed the Head Up Display for both the A-10 Aircraft and the Shuttle trainer aircraft. Having design and production capability for CRT displays, Astronautics became a supplier of medical monitors for CAT scanners and also supplied displays to NASA for the mission control center in Houston, Texas. In avionics, Astronautics became a supplier to Italian, German and British governments for their high performance aircraft with new avionics equipment.

Numerous new developments were then made by Astronautics in flat panel displays and digital avionics. Astronautics not only supplies military aircraft worldwide with its highly sophisticated avionics, but now also supplies the airlines and cargo carriers with the Electronic Flight Bag and also the latest technology in airborne servers. Having acquired Kearfott Guidance & Navigation Corporation in 1988, Astronautics also provides Inertial Navigation Systems for Space, Satellite and Sea applications.

Astronautics attempted to enter the low-end supercomputer market with a design from Dr. James Smith of the University of Wisconsin, CS Dept. This model was designated the ZS-1. A single model was produced but failed to enter the market place. The single model is now a part of the Rhode Island Computer Museum.

Product Lines[edit]

Astronautics major product lines include:


  • Fumo, Joe (February 1986). "Astronautics, A Low Profile Company with a High-Tech Reputation", Wisconsin Business.
  • Decker, Eric (April 17, 2006). "Ventures: Blue Ocean Strategies", Biz Times.

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