How we started
ITS, then known as ITC, was founded in 1967 by Gary Himler and John Ahlstrom. Gary and John were the perfect team. Gary, a registered professional engineer, had extensive experience in engineering management, and John was a hands-on engineer with exceptional technical skills. The plan was to build a company that could provide custom products for both commercial and government applications. And that they did.
The approach was to design a "systems vehicle" which included a chassis, with power supply, and a library of logic cards which could be used to build custom products. For this task, John was aptly suited, having been Systems Manager at Computer Measurements Company for a number of years. In those days you didn't buy power supplies off the shelf, so design of a power supply that would provide all of the voltages that might be required in a system was the first order of business. And one of the voltages had to be high enough to power neon Nixie Tubes, which everyone used for numeric displays back then.
Over the years ITC/ITS made several attempts to come
up with standard products that could be sold to the general market
but with little success. When a company is staffed by a bunch
of engineers, making new things every day is much more fun than
producing standard products. So all development was paid for
by the customer and the company found itself in just about anything
electronic. Products were seldom sold to anyone other than the
original customer. Some of the areas in which the company
found itself were: Data Acquisition Systems, Production Test
Equipment, Ground Support Equipment, Simulators, Photo
Instrumentation, Text editing (ITC built a text editor before anyone
else, using Philips Audio Cassettes to store the data) and Video
Instrumentation (more about that below). To get some idea of
the diversity of products, here are a few early advertisement
However things change, and in 1978 ITC (Instrumentation Technology Corporation) was reorganized and became ITS (Instrumentation Technology Systems). Gary retired and left the company. John remained for a while but then he also decided to leave for new adventures. But business continued under new management drawn from the original staff, and in 1986 ITS finally developed their first "standard" product, financed by the company. It was a VMEbus Video Data Encoder. It was decided that it was about time that the company not re-invent itself each morning, but have a real product line. And the product area decided upon was Video Instrumentation. And since one of the main reasons for inserting messages into video was to provide timing, time code generators and displays were a natural addition.
So now, ITS specializes in video and timing systems. And since video cameras are often mounted on Pan & Tilt positioners, we find ourselves in the PTZF control system business also. We say we are a provider of standard products however we never say no when the customer says, "Your product is almost exactly what we want, but could you just make a few changes?". That sometimes turns out to be big changes but that's what makes this business interesting.
How we got into Video Instrumentation
The very first Video Inserter, Model 9195A,
Because of the video expertise we acquired in designing the 9195A, we began receiving a number of "video inserter" jobs. We didn't know what to call this class of instruments, so we settled on "Video Insertion Generators (VIG)".
After building several other VIGs, we received a contract to build the video inserter for the "Pave Tack" Laser Designator pod which was used on the F-111. It was called the Cathode Ray Tube Display Interface Unit or CDIU. The customer, again Ford Aerospace, didn't know what to call these units either. This was quite a project since, being a critical item, it had to meet very rigid specifications. The result was the Model 9367.
Model 9367, CDIU
Another ITS first in video insertion was the Model 9461, the
first machine readable video data inserter, and it's companion, the
Model 9462 Video Data Reader, built in 1975. The requirement
was to develop a unit that would insert information into video that
could be electronically read from the recorded result. It was
decide to encode binary data on the left edge of each horizontal video
line. Again, this had never been done before so there were no
standards. So, in order to get all of the required data into one
field of video, two bits were encoded into each line. The
state-of-the-art in portable video recorders, at that time, was such
that we had to modify the recorder to increase the bandwidth so as to
eliminate errors during playback through the 9462 decoder.
However the ITS "encoding standard" did not become
universal. It was decided that one bit per line was more reliable
so when the final standard was released, Optical
Systems Group Document 452-86, the original ITS standard bit the
dust. Later we built the first Scanline Video Data Encoder under
contract to the Navy at China Lake, where one or more video lines were
devoted entirely to data. Again we developed an ITS standard
format and again it didn't become the final OSG standard.
You can always tell the pioneers from the arrows in their backs.
We continued taking on various video instrumentation jobs but our main business was still custom systems. But in 1986 it was decided to phase out of the custom systems business and emphasize standard products, and it was believed that our unique expertise in video instrumentation would give us a competitive advantage in this niche market. And so that was the direction ITS took. So now, several hundred products later, we are still video instrumentation specialists. It was discovered that just trying to keep up with the state-of-the-art in the video arena was enough to keep engineers happy and on their toes. You don't have to be a technical dilettante.
The Story of the Radar Range Simulator
The First Range Simulator, CMC/Rutherford Model S1
Radar Range Simulator, ITC Model 9007
|Rutherford was probably the best known
manufacturer of pulse generators in the US during the 1960s. Computer
Measurements Company (CMC) specialized in frequency/period counters and
was interested in expanding into other test equipment lines. So
when the opportunity to purchase Rutherford came about, CMC made the
acquisition. At the time that Rutherford was acquired, they were
working on a very complex "pulse generator" to be used to
generate simulated targets for radar ground support testing. The
Rutherford engineers joined the CMC engineering staff and the project
was completed after the merger. Originally called the
CMC/Rutherford Model S1, it was later changed to the CMC Model 301.
At the time all this happened, Gary Himler was CMC's Director of Engineering and John Ahlstrom was Systems Manager. Then CMC was sold to Whitaker and the new management was not interested in pursuing the Range Simulator market. Gary and John had left CMC and founded ITC and in 1970 got a contract from Hughes Aircraft for the design of a Radar Range Simulator for the Phoenix Missile System. Functionally it was very similar to the CMC/Rutherford unit, but internally it was a totally different design, being configured within the ITC system vehicle. You can always build it better the second time. The model number was 9007 and it is still in use today,
In the era of electronic products becoming obsolete after only a couple of years it is remarkable that the 9007 Radar Range Simulator is still in use. It did undergo a few changes, albeit minor. The first and only functional change was to add two gate selector switches, DRS gate and GRS gate. This was done in 1975 and the new model number was 9007-1. ITC/ITS continued to supply these units until 1987 when after receiving a new order from the Navy we hit a snag. The problem was that several parts were no longer available. The reference oscillators had been obsolete for years and the vendor had been making them as custom assemblies under special order since their obsolescence. Now however, they were no longer willing to make them at any price. Also several IC's that were used on three of the plug-in cards were not even available in the surplus market any longer.
It turned out that the 1987 order, which was for seven units, was the last one received. We have been supplying spare cards continuously since then. And almost every time cards are ordered we have to say, "Yes, the new cards will work in the old units".
But the saga of the Range Simulator really tests a company that guarantees that they will support any product they ever built that is still in service. In 2002 we received for repair, a 9007-1, S/N 40, built in 1974. This was very unusual since, as mentioned above, repairs were normally performed at the Navy Depot. It turned out that this unit had been the recipient of all of the problems extracted from other units in for depot repair. A classic case of cannibalization. It had a dozen unrelated problems. So we pulled out our custom 9007 test and calibration equipment, built in 1970 and not used since 1987, cleaned the corrosion off the connector pins and set it up. After a week of effort the 9007-1 was fully repaired and calibrated. When we set our support policy, we never dreamed that we would be responsible for maintenance of a 32 year old design.
In 1977, ITS received a contract to design a new Range Simulator for use on the US Roland missile system. The initial order was for a small quantity, however we were told that the potential was for quantities in excess of 200. The new unit was ostensibly a modification of the 9007, but in fact was a completely new design and approach. Digital state machines, the heart of the old 9007 was not the way to go in the "modern" era. It was decided to use a microprocessor and the one chosen was the 16 bit National Semiconductor PACE. This was a state-of-the-art chip and we believed that it would be around for a long time. We were of course, very wrong. And so, not realizing that long term support of the new unit would make support of the old 9007 seem easy, we marched on. We provided a number of units to Hughes and Rockwell from 1977 until 1980 and then it ended. The United States had decided to cancel the deployment of the Roland missile.
The missile was however, being used in Europe and in 1983 we were asked to make a few modifications to the unit. So now it was the 9007/9629-1. Seems we can never get away from dash numbers. As it turned out, Hughes was building the ground support equipment for the European Roland, under contract to Krupp Atlas Elektronik in Germany, and had incorporated the 9007/9629-1 into the package. We supplied the units to Hughes and Rockwell International until 1985 at which time the orders stopped. We didn't know it at the time but Krupp Atlas had taken over the manufacture of the system.
So that ends the story of ITS and the Radar Range Simulator. We will probably never build another, but true to our word, we will support all those wonderful machines in the field for as long as they have a use.
ITS Model 9007/9629
A Footnote on Range Simulator Evolution
|It seems that Radar Range Simulators all have a common origin. The Rutherford personnel, designers of the Model S1, that ended up at CMC after the acquisition, later left CMC and formed a company called Tri-Phenix. They made a line of pulse generators and one of those generators was a Radar Range Simulator called the Model PX219. So it seems that without the engineers of Rutherford, and the fact that the company was acquired by CMC, the whole Range Simulator story may never have been written. Who knows where those simulated targets would have come from.|