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Electronic technologies that enabled aerospace

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This section highlights early electronics milestones that have made significant contributions to aerospace and defense. Today everyone thinks digital, whereas more than 50% of electronic advances since society founding 50 years ago were in the analog or continuous domain. It is too easy to forget that before the 1970s and 1980s analog systems had been the norm. Digital electronics emerged late in WWII, when the US Army contracted with the University of Pennsylvania to compute extensive artillery firing tables. The Cold War substantially accelerated advances in solid state electronics which led to the microelectronics that are so ubiquitous today. Defense and then aerospace programs were symbiotic with electronics in the development and mass production of transistors, integrated circuits, microelectronics, microprocessors, magnetic and then solid state memory. Small, reliable, low power and high performance electronics were the key to aerospace progress. The government backed virtually all these developments out of necessity. The power of computers has increased by over a million since 1972 and is still climbing. The initial enabling technology for advances in military electronics was the almost forgotten vacuum tube. The existence of electrons was first recognized as the "Edison Effect" in 1883. The seminal event in electronics was the audion invented by Lee De Forrest in 1906. The audion appeared just three years after the first Wright brother's flight and four years before the Army purchased their first Wright airplane. Up until the World War I (WWI) radio amateurs were the electronics pioneers, but the war created new demand for radio communications. Electronics expanded from communications into radar, navigation and control systems in World War II (WWII). Both wars brought about dramatic improvements in electronics, which resulted in a surplus of equipment and trained personnel to fuel postwar advances.

Published in:

Aerospace and Electronic Systems Magazine, IEEE  (Volume:15 ,  Issue: 10 )

Date of Publication:

Oct. 2000

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