Image: Avionics News

What’s New: An interesting article by our colleague Dave Hughes about the early days of GPS. 

Why It’s Important: It showcases

  • How hard it is for organizations and individuals to exercise a little imagination and accept change.
  • The importance of a senior champion in making change happen.
  • The power of entrenched interests in a large organization.

What Else to Know:

  • “The Air Force continually tried to kill the program. It didn’t want to spend any more money on it.” page 27
  • Many of the people who eventually embraced GPS have spent 20 years opposing systems to complement and backup GPS.
  • Complementary and backup systems will protect GPS satellites, signals, and users, but they are opposed nonetheless.


GPS almost ended before it began

The untold story of how Brad Parkinson saved GPS

Story by David Hughes

Brad Parkinson was alone in the fading light trying to jack his scoutmaster’s 1949 Dodge out of a big, waterlogged pothole on a dirt road in the Minnesota wilderness when he heard a crashing sound. He looked up to see a huge timber wolf lope across the dirt road 50 feet in front of him in the fading light.

No maps were available, and Parkinson had encountered at least five forks in the road meandering through the abandoned logging area before the car got stuck. It was the road he would have to retrace his path on since the jack wasn’t budging the car.
Then things got worse when he heard a second series of crashes coming from the roadside where he had seen the first wolf emerge. He realized he now had a wolf to the left and one to the right of his path out. He would have to quietly thread this needle on foot on a night lit only by starlight. Then, if he didn’t lose his way, he could get help and the winch he needed, and he’d have a story to tell. He enjoys telling the story to this day.

The story shows Parkinson’s interest in navigation and positioning began at an early age.