Life before Transistors :-((
(or why the Nike System was so big)

Dear Friends,
A long time ago, maybe a hundred years ago, say 1900, there were no

I can't tell you about life then, but I can tell you about life in 1950, when the Nike Ajax was designed.
We had

Nike was designed in that era - World War II was just over. There were no commercial transistors, no color TV, no cell phones, no satellite news, no NASA,
- but the Russians were poking people with their big elbows, had the atomic bomb, and had just helped North Korea invade South Korea.

Since transistors were still a laboratory curiosity, Nike used vacuum tubes when ever you wanted to amplify some signal - and there were lots of signals to be amplified. A guess would place maybe 1,000 vacuum tubes working in the IFC (radar and control) area and maybe 200 working in the Launcher area (including the vacuum tubes in the Nike Ajax missiles.

Why push the vacuum tube point? Because each vacuum tube

This meant that the Nike system was

A reason modern anti-aircraft systems are smaller, better, easier to transport and maintain is because of - you guessed it - transistors have replaced vacuum tubes in all but very specialized high power, high frequency applications.
The precision analog adjustments necessary to get great Nike accuracy have been replaced by massive digital processing and communicating with the missile and responding to missile sensors. Techniques actually impossible in Nike design days.

A Patriot battery with transistors and modern digital, communication, & radar techniques,

Dan Lasley found following web sites which give some idea of vacuum tubes


If you have comments or suggestions, Send e-mail to Ed Thelen

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Updated June 26, 2007