Age and Wrinkles

I should tell you about my dad. He was born in 1910 and grew up in Hammonton, NJ.  He was not an easy child.  He quit high school when he turned sixteen.  He told me that he didn’t think his teachers knew anything and later found out that he was right.  Whether that was his sense of humor that prompted him to say that or not, we’ll have to leave to conjecture.  He died in 2004.

Upon leaving school, his parents threw him out.  He worked at picking crops, selling refrigerators, and who knows what else, and when the Stock Market crashed during The Great Depression, he joined the Army.  He was always an avid reader, which is probably what shaped his ultimate career.  While in the Army, he studied blueprint reading.  And while I don’t have his complete work history, I know that he eventually wound up working at Hall Aluminum as a sheet metal worker after the Army.  Along the way, he picked up an airplane mechanics license.  After Hall Aluminum, he worked for Sikorsky Helicopters, and it was there that he got his biggest break.  He was laid off.

Now that sounds bad, but he had impressed an engineer with whom he interacted when there was a need for sheet metal work for a special job.  He ultimately wound up solving a difficult manufacturing problem for the engineer, and in turn, the engineer gave him a letter of recommendation that said that my dad worked as a draftsman, which he didn’t, although he was quite good at it.

That got my dad a job with Republic Aviation at the time of the start of WWII.  There he worked hard, and studied on his own.  He designed the belly fuel tank for the P-47, and eventually went on to design other fuel systems for Republic’s jet fighters.  His biggest job was being in charge of sixty engineers and draftsmen designing the engine installation and fuel system for the F-105.

So, for a high school drop out, he did pretty well.

Now for the wrinkles.  While working at Hamilton Standard, I had a small group of engineers designing various parts of the Shuttle ECS (Environmental Control System).  Here again, water was a major cooling medium.  The Shuttle had what was called a spray boiler.  It was a chamber open to the vacuum of space in which water was sprayed on the inside wall.  The water froze, or at least cooled, because of the low pressure.  The wall was then used as a heat sink for heat generated elsewhere in the Shuttle.  Well, that meant that we had to have a tank of water available.   This all made sense except for one thing.  The NASA specification said that the tank had to withstand temperatures all the way down to twenty five degrees Fahrenheit while the Shuttle was not flying.  That was because temperatures in Florida sometimes dip below freezing.

So, I was stuck with this problem, and no doubt you are already thinking of ways to get around it, use a heater, insulate it, drain it when temperatures drop, who knows what else.  What we needed however, was a simple, cost-effective, and light weight solution.  At that point, I didn’t have a clue, nor did I have much time to come up with an answer.  So, I did what any other red blooded American male would do, I called my parent for help.  At the time, my dad was still working for Republic.

When I got him on the phone and explained the problem, he started to talk about rain gutters and downspouts.  He asked me what shape the downspouts were.  I said they were rectangular with wrinkles in them.  So he asked me if I knew why.  To which I said no.  And he said that they were made that way so that when they froze in the winter, they could expand with the ice and not break…DUH!

And that is how the water tank in the Shuttle got its  wrinkles.

By the way, in case you are worried, the Shuttle did not launch with ice in that tank.  Ahhh, the warm Florida sun!

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