[SIGCIS-Members] whirlwind, radar and real-time tracking

Guy Fedorkow guy.fedorkow at gmail.com
Fri Apr 23 13:41:03 PDT 2021

Greetings Colleagues,
   I've been working on restoring a 1951 Whirlwind program, written at 
MIT, used to demonstrate real-time tracking of aircraft with radar for 
the purposes of guiding an interception (the Cold War was in full flight 
in the 1950's).  This work ultimately led to the massive SAGE air 
defense network in the US.
   You can see some rather informal preliminary notes on the work at
   The program does work in simulation; you can see a four-minute video 
of the simulator running an intercept at
   Spoiler alerts: The original really did display moving dots on a CRT, 
but the graphics are "spartan" to say the least.  And nothing in 
particular happens when the intercept actually happens.

   Would anyone know of contemporaneous work involving digital computers 
for either radar tracking or real-time computing around 1951?  I think 
all the familiar digital computers from those years were used in 
applications where batch operation was perfectly acceptable, e.g., 
computing ballistics tables.
   Innovations like this rarely occur in a complete vacuum, but I don't 
see references to any similar digital computing projects.
   If anyone has pointers, do let me know!
Guy Fedorkow

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