Genesis of the Litton Inertial Navigation System

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Genesis of the Litton Inertial Navigation System as the development of Litton's first INS was the result of a collusive act by the engineer, Max Lipscomb of the Wright Air Force Base in Ohio and Dr. Henry E. Singleton, Head of the newly formed Guidance and Control Dept. of Litton Industries at Beverly Hills, California.

Lipscomb's department was not permitted to engage in development of navigation systems, but was permitted to engage in other aircraft avionics such as pitch, roll, and yaw indicators. Singleton proposed to provide a system that would provide highly accurate pitch, roll, and yaw indicators. The system would be a north seeking stable platform controlled by gyroscopes and accelerometers. Such a system would automatically provide velocities in the East-West and North-South direction. And later, by providing integrators for these two axes, one would then have a full fledged Inertial Navigation System.

In about mid-1956 a contract for approximately $300,000 was awarded by Wright Air Force Base to Litton Industries for the development of such “Aircraft Attitude System.” Singleton appointed Sidney Shapiro as Project Engineer for this program. The system was completed and ready for flight test by the end of 1958.

Mr. Shapiro selected Paul Mantz, a partner in Tallmantz Aviation, to supply the aircraft, principally because of Mantz's extensive experience with the movie industry. They had done their work on several Cinerama travelogs. Mantz's people had also recently finished work on the picture “North by Northwest” starring Cary Grant in which there was considerable stunt flying. Shapiro's idea was to photograph the ground periodically and at the same instant to photograph the Inertial Navigation System's output. In that way no possibility of finger pointing was possible since none of Shapiro's people were involved in the data taking. So the two extra integrators were installed and the system was ready for test by early 1959.

By 1959 things had gone well enough that Shapiro was able to obtain three successive flights in which the accuracies were substantially better than one mile an hour. On the basis of these results, Litton Industries was awarded a contract to provide 2000 systems for the F104 NATO Fighter Aircraft.[1]

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