Charting The Course For 45 Years Of Microwaves

Aug. 18, 2006
Much of the time has been dominated by military customers, although the industry more recently has diversified into commercial, industrial, medical, and automotive markets.

Magazines come and go, but few survive for 45 years. In that passage of years, many fine people, places, and things have come and gone as well, while some have also survived the 45 years. Many should be remembered, and perhaps there is a book in it somewhere. For now, this celebration of 45 years of editorial service to the microwave industry will offer a sampling of what has come before.

This magazine began as a section in sister publication, Electronic Design. A preview issue was published in March 1962, with microwave coverage in the April 12th and May 10th issues of Electronic Design. The first "official" issue of what would be called MicroWaves was launched in June 1962. On the cover, the CK303 silicon varactor diode from Raytheon's Semiconductor Div. (Lowell, MA) offered engineers the promise of double and tripler circuits through 1 GHz which, at that time, was known as 1 gigacycles per second or 1 Gc as well as kilo-Megacycles per second or 1 kMc. Glyn Bostick, president-and chief engineer of Radar Design Corp. in Syracuse, NY (later to found Microwave Filter) detailed narrowband microwave terminations in a technical article. And Leo Young, of Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park, CA, offered 20 useful Smith Chart formulas. Ironically, the editorial (by Managing Editor Manfred Meisels) celebrated the by-then-late Russell and Sigurd Varian and the 25th anniversary of the invention of the klystron tube. An entire industry would grow around the two brothers, a scientist and pilot/ adventurer/tinkerer, respectively.

One of the advertisers in that June issue was ARRA (Antenna & Radome Research Associates) with a line of continuously variable attenuators from 1 to 11 Gc. Founded by "Microwave Legend" (see the story beginning on p. 51) Harold Isaacson, the company has been a loyal sponsor of this magazine from those early days, and continues to offer superb-quality continuously variable attenuators (now at somewhat higher frequencies). Familiar names advertising in that issue included Microwave Associates (now Tyco/M/A-COM), AMP, Inc. (now also Tyco/M/ ACOM), Waveline (offering waveguide through 90 Gc), American Electronic Laboratories (AEL), RLC Electronics (lowpass filters with cutoff frequencies to 10 Gc), Astrolab (with coaxial terminations, power splitters, and fixed attenuators), Litton Industries (for klystron tubes), Weinschel Engineering (with calibrated thermistor mounts for power measurements), Andrew (with Heliax flexible cables), Merrimac Research and Development (with power dividers, couplers, and phase shifters), Microlab (now part of Wireless Telecom Group, along with Noisecom and Boonton Electronics), and Raytheon. Advertisers perhaps not so familiar to younger readers include Eimac (later to be acquired by Varian), Polarad Electronics Corp. (for their 40.8-Gc spectrum analyzer), Microdot, Phelps Dodge (for their waveguide), General Radio Co., Gremar Manufacturing Co., Westinghouse (with a 10-kW, 5.65-Gc traveling-wave tube), Sperry Microwave, and General Electric (for their vacuum tubes).

With Robert Ahrensdorf at the helm as first publisher, the August issue contains special coverage of the microwave industry's major trade showWESCON 1962. Articles of merit includes a procedure for measuring small losses in waveguide by Floyd Johnson of Varian Associates (Palo Alto, CA) and the first half of a two-part article on super-regenerative microwave receivers by Robert O'Nan of Sandia Corp. (Albuquerque, NM). Managing Editor Meisels offered an editorial on the success of the Telstar communications satellite, in the hopes that it would signal the growth of a large satellite-communications industry and the beginning of a more balanced military/commercial microwave industry.

The editorial content of those early issues focused on fundamental knowledge of microwave engineering. Articles showed how to develop impedancematching transformers, how to measure power, how to design antennas, using acoustic simulation to model radar returns, and how to select solid-state (diode or ferrite) switches. Product features highlighted early semiconductor devices, high-power tubes, and waveguide components. The influence of military applications, such as radar and countermeasures systems, was obvious in many of the new products. That influence would continue through the 1980s and the defense buildup prompted by the two President Reagan administrations. That decade was a time of investment and growth, as DARPA funded GaAs monolithic microwave integrated circuits (MMICs) and other technologies. It wasn't until the 1990s that the industry would finally diversify into commercial, military, industrial, medical, and even automotive applications.

In spite of rapidly changing technologies and business environments, some microwave companies have remained true to their original visions. For over 50 years, for example, Microphase (see Crosstalk, p. 65) has continued to build upon its filter and diplexer technology. And National Instruments (see sidebar), which was formed on the basis of applying computers to measurements, continues to tackle those challenges that helped create the company, even 30 years later.

Companies such as CTI-Herley (Whippany, NJ), which began in 1973 as Communications Techniques, Inc., have maintained their focus and their strong place in the industry (in frequency synthesizers) in spite of an acquisition. Similarly, the Microwave Associates that eventually became M/A-COM has also remained true to its place in the industry as a technology leader even after its acquisition by Tyco Electronics.

The ARRA originally of Westbury, NY is still ARRA, and still family owned and run by the Isaacson family, but now based in Bay Shore, NY. The company still produces continuously variable attenuators, as well as extensive lines of coaxial and waveguide components including phase shifters, power dividers, couplers, and terminations, and features one of the lowest turnover rates in the industry.

Another Long Island, NY company known as a favorite place to work is MITEQ (Hauppauge, NY), known for its amplifiers, frequency converters, and synthesizers. As one of the founders, Frank Haneman, relates, the company was founded by seven engineers and technicians from Long Island's Airborne Instruments Laboratory (AIL) willing to take a chance on their own company. From the same AIL came Harvey Kaylie, who would follow his own vision of a low-cost microwave mixer and create a company, Mini-Circuits (Brooklyn, NY), now well known to component specifiers worldwide.

As Haneman explains, "The name MITEQ is an acronym for Microwave Information Transmission Equipment. We stretched the acronym to include that 'Q'. In 1968, when the seeds for MITEQ started sprouting, I was a Department Head at AIL. I approached a friend, John Brogan, then working with the Singer Sewing Machine Co., to back a new microwave company. I then approached Aksel Kiiss, a Section Head in my department, to be our technical leader."

Not surprisingly, their AIL experience had much to do with the ongoing entrepreneurial spirit of MITEQ. They built a company based on being fair to employees and total honesty with customers. The company began in a 600-sq.-ft. loft in Westbury, NY, building lownoise broadband amplifiers and octave-wide voltage-tuned oscillators. Four months later, they would move to a 4200-sq.-ft. facility in Hauppauge, NY.

The company almost shut down in 1971. In what amounted to a $75,000 loan from the Long Island Division of Fairchild Camera and Instrument Corp., and some movement of employees between companies, MITEQ survived, with Aksel Kiiss as new president. Aksel died in 1999, and then Vice President Art Faverio became the firm's next president.

Microtech (Cheshire, CT) has been supplying waveguide to avionics, aerospace, communications, and military customers since 1955. The company's rectangular and double-ridged waveguide assemblies and components include many specialized and custom products with performance levels or features that cannot be matched by other suppliers (see figure). Although the company relies on its large collection of plating, molding, and computer numerically controlled (CNC) drills and lathes, it is the extensive experience and expertise of its peoplemany with at least 20 years on the jobthat give the firm its competitive edge.

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