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Chapter 1 of The Story of Hastings-Raydist
book title

HICO Is Born, 1944-1946
Laying a Foundation, 1947-1950
Deceptive Prosperity, 1951-1953
Shifting Gears, 1954-1955
Everything Goes Right, 1956-1967
A Teledyne Company, 1968-

A 16-year-old boy picked up the Baltimore telephone directory and looked for the name of someone, anyone, who lived within walking distance of his home. Finding such a name, he lifted the telephone receiver and dialed.

"Hello," answered a voice.

"Hello. I understand you have a radio that needs to be fixed," the boy said.

"Well yes, I do have a broken radio …"

"I'll be right over."

Click. The boy hung up without giving the voice a chance to say no.

Charles Hastings had landed himself another customer.

It was 1930. Commercial radio broadcasting had been in existence for only a decade, and Baltimore's few stations had been operating for less than that. By now many families had radios, but the gadgets were unreliable. They frequently needed a new tube or a minor repair. If you called at random, you had a good chance of finding a home with a radio that needed to be fixed.
1930s radio

By now it was rare that Charles had to drum up business with random calls. The word had spread around that he knew more about radios than 99 per cent of the professional repairmen, and people with broken radios called him.

Charles picked up the radio and brought it home to his bedroom workshop. That evening he checked its wiring and components and diagnosed its problems. The next day, instead of coming directly home after school, he took the streetcar to the local radio parts house and bought the tubes and supplies he needed to complete the job. He repaired the set that night. The next day he delivered it to its owner and collected his fee.

The money was more than welcome, for Charles needed all the spare cash he could get to buy parts for his own experiments. His bedroom was overflowing with wires and tubes, and the roof of his parents' home was sprouting larger and larger antennas.

C harles had been bitten by the radio bug at the age of 10, when he began to build and experiment with radio gear. At thirteen he shellacked an oatmeal box and wound wire around it to build his first crystal radio set.
airplane club

In 1930, high school seniors Charles Hastings and Ray Doyle take a course in airplane engines and join an airplane club. One Sunday afternoon club members pay a dollar apiece for a ride on a World War I biplane. Hastings wears the flyer's cap for the photo.

Before long he decided that building radio receivers was old hat; he would now build a transmitter. Soon afterwards he asked his junior high school buddy Raymond Doyle, who lived less than two blocks away, to stop by his house. The new transmitter was ready for a test. Ray happily agreed, for he always had time to help out with one of Charles's projects.

Charles took Ray up to his bedroom workshop where the prized equipment awaited its trial. "All right, Ray. I'll pick up that microphone and talk. You run down the street to my aunt's house on the corner and see if you can tune me in on her radio."

In a few minutes Ray was listening to Charles's broadcast. Tuning the radio was unnecessary, as the fledgling transmitter covered just about the entire spectrum of commercial radio broadcasting.

The thrill Charles received from making his own broadcasts was not shared by his neighbors, who found themselves unable to listen to their favorite radio programs. Soon he heard an announcement on the radio saying that the authorities were trying to locate the bootleg broadcaster whose antics were disrupting broadcast reception over a large section of northwest Baltimore.

Charles discontinued his transmitting and turned to radio repair. Probably some of his radio repair customers were the same people who had found their sets jammed with his transmissions a year or two before.

The radio repair business flourished as he went through both high school and college. Charles was setting a trend that would be with him the rest of his life—combining his business with his hobbies.

C harles Hastings attended Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, one of the few technical high schools in the country, and took courses in drafting, electricity, shop, physics, engines, and many other technical subjects. He went on to Johns Hopkins University to major in electrical engineering.

Charles Hastings and Mary Comstock are married on March 30, 1940.

He received his college degree in June 1935, and began to look for a job. Although his degree was in electrical engineering, he had his eye out for any opportunity. Among other attempts to land a job, he took a civil service exam for physicists.

In early September he received a letter offering him a position as "Junior Scientific Aide" with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in Hampton, Virginia. The NACA had been founded in 1917 to do basic research in aeronautics. It was a small organization, of about 300 employees, and the hiring program of 1935 was its first major one since the Depression began. Hastings accepted the position, moved to Virginia in November, and was soon busy with the routine assignments given to neophytes in the hydrodynamics division.

The next few years went well for the young engineer. He soon transferred to the Instrument Research Laboratory, which suited his interests more than work in hydrodynamics. He enjoyed his work there, and saw himself learning a lot. Outside of the office, he scoured local junk yards for electrical test equipment, and spent his free time converting it to something usable. He shared a cottage at Buckroe Beach with a group of friends and frequently drove up to Baltimore for weekend visits.

In mid-June 1939, a new face appeared at the NACA and Charles Hastings was quick to notice it. Mary Comstock had been hired as a mathematician and assigned to the office across the hall from his. Before the month was out, he had asked her for a date, and within a year they were married.

M eanwhile, Hastings' work became more and more interesting. It was the job of the NACA to find solutions to aeronautical problems of all sorts, and this appealed to him.
airspeed indicator memo

Assigned to develop instruments to measure the speed of aircraft, Hastings explores the possibility of an indicator based on heated thermocouples. The idea turns out to be unsuited to this purpose, but will bear fruit later.

In late 1939 the spin tunnel section needed a remote control device to flip the controls in its free-spinning airplane models. Hastings came up with an idea for a magnetically operated reed switch that could be installed in the model. The switch would be closed by passing current through a coil of wire wrapped around the tunnel.

Soon afterwards he found himself trying to find accurate methods to measure the speed of aircraft. Airplanes were flying at speeds of 250 miles per hour, a speed then considered extremely fast. The standard method of measuring airspeed was by a pitot tube projecting from the front of the plane, but this method was not accurate at high speeds.

In March 1940 Hastings came up with an idea for an airspeed indicator using a heated thermopile. A heated thermopile generates a voltage. Air flowing over such a device cools it at a rate related to the air velocity. Therefore it should be possible to measure air velocity by measuring the voltage generated in the thermopile. This idea turned out to be practical only at very low speeds, so Charles filed the idea in the back of his mind and continued thinking.

In July he proposed a method of measuring aircraft speed using radio waves. As he later described in a formal report:
A transmitter in the airplane of which the speed is to be measured transmits a continuous-wave radio-frequency signal, which is heterodyned by a ground station. Receivers at each end of the flight path receive this heterodyne note differently because the frequency of the moving transmitter is apparently increased with respect to the end of the course it is approaching and decreased with respect to the end of the course from which it is receding.

By adding the audio-frequency signals—that is, the heterodyne notes—received by the two receivers, a beat frequency that is proportional to the speed of the airplane is obtained.
radio ground speed system memo
(click to enlarge)
Hastings proposes measuring airplane speed with radio waves. These ideas come to life as the NACA radio ground speed system.
The idea was tested in November 1940, measuring the speed of planes flying near Langley Field. This was the first continuous-wave heterodyne system ever used for speed measurement, and was named the NACA Radio Ground Speed System.

The NACA was happy with the project and Hastings continued to develop it for several years, testing his final version in February 1942. Eventually Doppler radar, which was also being developed at this time, became a more practical method of measuring aircraft speed, and the NACA discontinued work with the Hastings system.

Anticipating that the United States would soon be at war, the NACA had begun a major expansion program in 1940. By the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, it had 1200 employees. The place was buzzing with activity.

After the work on his Radio Ground Speed System was complete, Hastings worked on a variety of projects, filling his head with dozens of ideas for useful electronic gadgets. In the evenings, he taught classes in basic and advanced electronics at the University of Virginia Extension Division in Newport News.

In May 1944, along with most of the others in his age group, Hastings received orders from his draft board to report for induction. But he knew it was only a routine procedure; the NACA men would report for their physicals, be inducted into the Army, put on inactive status, and then assigned to continue their work as before.

I n June, Hastings began to work as a consulting engineer to the Flight Research Division, and although the work was interesting and enjoyable, he was getting restless. He was thirty years old and eager to be off on his own.
radio ground speed system

Charles Hastings displays the final version of the radio ground speed system he developed for the NACA, 1943.

He had thought for years that many of the ideas he had developed for the NACA had good commercial potential. He believed that this was especially true of the radio ground speed system. Although the NACA had used it to measure velocity, Hastings believed its greatest commercial potential lay in the measurement of distances. In the formal report he had written about the system in 1943, he suggested several possible applications:
The NACA radio ground-speed system would lend itself to the accurate measurement of distance; or, if the distance were known, the speed of radio waves could be accurately checked. This system for accurately measuring distance might be useful for such purposes as charting bottoms of rivers or for laying buoys and mines in known positions.
Hastings' plan was to start a company to research and develop ideas for commercial products. He did not intend to get into manufacturing. Instead, he wanted to sell the rights to his ideas in exchange for royalties. He would then go on to develop other ideas.

One problem with the commercial development of the radio ground speed system was that it was classified. But he knew that the classification would be removed as soon as the war was over.

It was important that he get the system patented. The NACA policy on patents was ideal for people such as Hastings. An employee who developed an idea while working there was allowed to patent it. The United States government was satisfied as long as it was given a non-exclusive, royalty-free license to use it. In 1941 he had asked the NACA to help him get a patent on the system, but no action had been taken. Now, in the summer of 1944, he asked again, pointing out that the NACA should do so for its own protection. If someone else independently thought up the system and applied for a patent on it, the NACA would lose its ability to use the idea royalty-free. He added that in the event the NACA decided not to pursue the matter, he wished to seek to patent it on his own.

At the same time, he requested permission to contact private companies about making commercial use of the idea.

In late August he received the answers he wanted to hear. The NACA agreed to help him seek the patent on the system, and he could promote its commercial applications on two quite reasonable conditions: he could not divulge technical details to persons not authorized to receive classified information, and he had to give the NACA a list of the people contacted.

Also that summer he discussed his ideas with one of his oldest friends, James Benson. He and Jim had known each other since 1935. Both men had taken the same civil service entrance exam, joined the NACA within two weeks of each other, and been assigned to the Hydrodynamics Division. Although Hastings had transferred out of that division a year later, the two had lived in the same cottage at Buckroe Beach for several years and remained good friends.

Charles explained to Jim that he was thinking about setting up his own company to develop the commercial applications of several of his ideas. Would Jim like to be a part of it?

He would.

Jim was especially interested in the magnetic switch. It would take a lot of work to convert the one-of-a-kind switch developed for the NACA spin tunnel into a switch that could be mass-produced at a reasonable price for the general market, but they agreed that the idea was worth pursuing.

Hastings then spoke with several other close friends, and again received an enthusiastic response. Then he and Mrs. Hastings talked it over and came to a decision.

Their house was just about paid for. In 1942 they had bought a three-bedroom house with an apartment in the back. At first they had rented out the apartment and two of the bedrooms. Now that they had two children, they were renting out only the apartment. Thanks to the rental income, Charles's salary, and careful budgeting, the house would be paid off in October, leaving them some extra money that could go to help out the business.

With patents pending, permission to promote the commercial applications of Charles's work, and their finances in order, they decided that now was the time. It would have to be part-time, at least for the duration of the war. Charles was still technically a private in the U.S. Army, assigned to duty at the NACA. In addition, they needed the financial security of his salary. But it would at least be a start.

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Copyright © by Carol Hastings Sanders