Preface on the History of the World’s First Microprocessor. Author Preface to the “Accidental Engineer” ~ Ray Holt ~
Growing up was not so normal. Our father was an Itinerant welder and pipe fitter and we traveled across Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and California. We had a family of five in a 20-foot trailer and moved about 15 times during our elementary school age. Waking up in a different city and school two or three times a year was not unusual. Coincidently, we were in Compton California when each of us was born. Finally, when I was 10, we stayed in Compton and two years later our parents bought their first house for $5,000. This was quite exciting for all of us. We attended Stephen Foster Elementary School, Whaley Junior High, and Dominguez High School. Yes, we walked to all the schools most of the days. Dominguez was two miles each way.
During this very portable time of our life it did not seem to affect my sister, Liz, who was two years older or my brother, William “Bill”, who was 1-1/2 years younger. Both of them were excellent, straight-A students and excelled in extra curriculum activities, and earn many top awards in high school. In junior high Liz won an art contest and a trip to Washington DC. Bill won a sports and academic scholarship to Stanford University. I seemed to come through this portable time with fewer skills. I struggled with reading, comprehension, and grammar. I took English grammar twice and was asked to leave Spanish. I was able to maintain an overall “B” average and did well in Math. I had no direction leaving high school other than I was told to not go into engineering. I did the only natural next step and that was to attend the local Compton Community College. That turned out to be quite a challenge.
There are times in one’s life where you can’t see to the end of the day much less what you will do in life. During my teens and early 20’s I had lots of those days. Just to mention some of them to make my point; walking out of college and not doing any paperwork to drop classes (I received all F’s) eventually made me appreciate college administration, standing on dirty, messy, smelly garbage and handling a fire hose all day makes you wonder what just happened to your life and makes college look pretty good. Moving very far away to a university with no real goals or plans puts a huge void in front and back of you. Placing 2nd in an axe throwing contest, when you had to be shown how to hold the axe, was not supposed to happen. Having been told by your college major dean to take a class outside your major and having it change your college direction and location. Taken a course you had no idea of the application of the subject and having it become the foundation of your career. Taking six years to finish college and wondering what you just learned. Walking into a job thinking you were going to be doing one thing and all of sudden you are told you are doing something else that is beyond your thinking.
All of us are faced with opportunities, either from bad decisions on our part, from opportunities just because we were there, or from opportunities because someone decided it made sense for us. All through these opportunities we are just going for the ride and not even trying to fit it all into a plan as we really don’t have a plan. Sometimes life takes us along a very strange path that makes no sense to us. For those that have a spiritual background and have learned to depend on God or had committed to God’s direction earlier in life then we just have to know that He created these opportunities for our good. I often wonder why He doesn’t just ask us, however, if He did, we would probable just laugh and rebel, which is the very reason He guides us in the first place.
I was the most unlikely person at 24 years of age to be a key designer on a highly state-of-the-art computer system for a very important state-of-the-art fighter jet. Not just any fighter jet but one that would become critical in defending our country and would be exposed as a top-notch fighter jet in the eyes of many people. Here are a few reason why I was the most unlikely to be one of the designers; 1) I had never designed a computer before, 2) I had never worked for the military engineering establishment before, 3) I had only taken ONE class that might be associated with computer design, 4) I was only 24 and still would rather play baseball, 5) My college friends that helped me get through college were not here, 6) I was told I should not talk to others outside the company about what I am about to do, 7) I was completely lost in all the military acronyms and had no idea which applied to me or not. And then there was the high school counseling words “Do not go into engineering.” and the discouragement of knowing my mechanical aptitude is low. And now, all of a sudden, I am to engineer design a state-of-the-art digital computer (not done by anyone else) that does the same thing as a previous mechanical computer. So, in summary, I did not know where I was to go and I had no idea where I came from.
This is how it all started. “Lord you brought me here on this long path of opportunities so now you are going to have to help me finish this project…. So let’s go.” For those of you reading this that might feel like they are living a little part of this story then I would say just increase your faith and just trust in the Lord as he knows what He is doing.
Here are some wonderful outcomes from this project. When I was hired the company did not have the contract. I was told to take two months and learn all I can; read, read, practice designs, study, and attend classes. I was sent to a premier computer arithmetic class at UCLA with a very well-known instructor. I was given all the equipment and electronic components I needed. I was assigned the best Electronics Lab Technician, Lynn Hawkins, who baled me out on many occasions. I was given freedom to hire programming help which included James Lallas and my brother Bill Holt. I was given freedom to choose the final technology for the computer (and thus the responsibility that it really would work). I was given access to the world’s best applied mathematician, Bill McCormack, who could analyze complex equations in his head and then give you the adjusted “constant” to make everything work fine (still amazing today). I was surrounded by the best excellent experienced aerospace engineers I could have ever imagined that helped me make the computer system actually work in the required space and in the required environment. This team was led by Tom Redfern and Ralph Ichikawa with designers Cameron Pedego and Russ Almand. And finally, I was teamed up with world-class integrated circuit chip engineers at American Microsystems; Ken Rose, Jim Kawakami, Brian Schubert, and Gordy Leighton.
Yes, I had many days that seems like the computer was impossible to make. Too much math to perform, too little space for the microchips, too new a technology to know if the microchips would actually work (of course on paper we proved it would work). Being told, at least, twice the microchips are too large to make and forcing us to re-architect the design. Too little time in a day to meet deadlines. And finally, who was I to say this was all going to work or not. There was no history on how to prove the math would work, the computer logic was correct, the new technology chip design and layout would work, the state-of -the-art 8-layer printed circuit boards were a risk, and I was the least likely person to be assigned to this computer design project.
Many days I felt God literally controlling my brain. This is especially in the area of the detail computer design. This stuff gets really involved and complicated and when you get tired it all gets very fuzzy. Making organized sense out of 1000’s of logic gates being moved by electricity over 300,000 times a second gets challenging and difficult. Every logic gate had to work correctly in order for the computer to be considered ready to go. Sometime just pausing and taking a deep breath gave me a jolt of temporary energy and sanity and a new direction or a new design technique. Sometimes in the shower some really cool solutions to difficult design techniques came to me. Sometimes opening some of my recently acquired books (books by Gordon Bell and Yahoan Chu) highlighted a solution to difficult design areas. These microchips used several unique design techniques that were the result of the above God moments.
Besides the challenges, there were many success moments. 1) The first I remember was when I was successfully able to simulate the complex logic of the 20-bit divider and multiplier. Exhaustive test patterns were ran against the simulated logic design. 2) When the prototype of the microchips worked. 3) When I was told that American Micro Systems would make the microchips. 4) When the first microchips worked and worked and worked. What a joyous day after two years of hard, tedious work. 5) And finally, the day the first CADC was delivered to Grumman Aircraft.
My whole story goes from being lost, following blindly (by faith), accepting opportunities, moving forward with what I had, working with others, seeking God’s direction, and finally letting Him work out the complex details. In the end it was my stubbornness to not accept failure that drove me to pursue excellence and, of course, doing what an engineer does and that is to make sure every detail of their design works under all required conditions.
I get asked a lot what it was like keeping the F14 CADC a secret for 30 years while yet still working as a design and developer in the pioneering microprocessor and microcomputer industry. Initially, not being able to present my first paper to Computer Design magazine, was very frustrating as it would have helped my career. After the first two years it was not as difficult as other microprocessors had been announced. I had completed two others with American Micro Systems (the AMI7200 and 7300). In 1972 with the announcement of the Intel 4004 and then 8008 and 8080 and with the big marketing push it became very hard to keep quiet. Since I was a consultant to Intel it was hard to not mention to them that they were not first. Once I got over that initial frustration the rest of my time there became easier. During the 80’s and 90’s I did not think much about it or talk much about it except to my family. I think the overall disappointment did affect my personality and probably made me a little difficult to be around at times.
I still see myself as the most unlikely person to have designed the F-14 CADC microchips, however, God knew I could do it and with His help it was a highly successful, reliable, and dependable flight computer for the highly successful F-14 Tom Cat. He developed a personality of “perfection” in me that insisted that every detail worked.
My hats off and much praise to all the pilots and RIO’s that risked their lives in this huge machine guided by my design. I have yet to read about a CADC failure which is what I want to hear the most. Job well done is nice to hear but no CADC failure is music for a lifetime.
To the entire design team from Grumman, Garrett AiResearch, American Microsystems, and all the other vendors of the F-14… job well done and may the music keep playing.
Recollections from Jim Kawakami and Ken Rose
“Most of the commercial designs of CADC era were intended for calculators. My recollections are a little fuzzy but when I started working in 1965 at General Micro Electronics (a Philco Ford company) the most complex design was a calculator for I think Smith Corona. At American Micro Systems, the LSI type designs were all for either calculators (Ricoh, Burroughs) or government projects for NSA, Garrett, etc. I remember second generation Ricoh and Burroughs (France) calculator chip sets both utilizing computer fundamentals, i.e. buses, instruction sets, programmable memory, ALU, etc. The Intel 4004 was a custom design for Busicom in Japan and I think the lead designer for the 8080 came from Busicom. It is too bad that Intel was able to capture all the first microprocessor hype with their 4004. In the commercial microprocessor market, they were first and won the day. I recall that the second generation Motorola microprocessor (6800) was deemed superior to the 8080 but Microsoft picked the 8080.”
“Early in 1966 GMe was sold to Philco-Ford and a number of engineers left in late spring to form a new company, AMI, American Microsystems Inc. under Howard Bobb, President. I personally decided to leave the government and join AMI in August, 1966. The VINSON program was subsequently stopped at GMe and given to Texas Instrument for completion.
1967 – AMI, under NSA sponsorship, developed a fairly detailed course and textbook in the techniques of designing MOS-LSI circuits, including system design considerations, logic, circuit and layout techniques as well as the rudiments of circuit fabrication. The course was taught to a number of people, government and contractors, establishing a fairly large group capable of designing custom LSI circuits for both government, NSA Comsec, NASA and various weapons systems, and commercial use, primarily electronic calculators. At least some of the companies that had students in this course were RCA, Burroughs, National Cash Register (NCR), Honeywell, TRW, and Collins Radio.
1967-71 – A number of programs initiated by the agency were intended to take advantage of the new LSI technology and to do this, AMI subcontracted for a number of the companies involved with developing the equipment in order to do the MOS-LSI circuits. I led the teams at AMI that did the circuit development for the INY program (5 circuits), a space Comsec equipment developed by TRW, the PARKHILL speech scrambler (8 circuits) developed by Collins Radio, Newport Beach, Calif, and the FOXHALL program (13 circuits) developed by Honeywell, St Petersburg, Fla, the predecessor to the Army/Air Force TRITAC program. These programs were all based on custom circuit designs, with standard MOS-LSI products not appearing until the early or mid 70’s. Memories were the first to be developed as standard items, with microprocessors to come next, being derived from electronic calculator designs.”
Tribute to the F-14 CADC team
The real legacy of the F14 CADC was in all the project design engineers.
The Garrett AiResearch Corp and American Microsystem, Inc. design team
Garrett AiResearch Corp
Paul Lyons – Department Manager
Andy Papadeas – Director of Engineering
Bill McCormick – Mathematician/Analyst
Phil Erath – Project Director
Dick Barcus – CADC Manager
Steve Geller – Logic Design Engineer
Ray Holt – Logic Design Engineer
Larry Hammond – Project Documentation Manager
Cleve Hildebrand – Circuit Design Director
Ralph Ichikawa – Circuit Design Manager
Tom Redfern – Circuit Design Manager
Russ Almand – Circuit Design Engineer
Cameron Pedego – Circuit Design Engineer
Dave Knickerbocker – Circuit Design Engineer
Ian Linton – Test Engineer
Lynn Hawkins – Engineering Technician
K.T. Chang – Programming Manager
Bill Holt – Programmer, Simulation
Jim Lallas – Programmer, Simulation
Murray Lubliner – Programmer, Simulation
Jessica Kuo – Programmer
C.Y. Chin – Programmer
Pete Miller – Test Programmer
Al Gaede – Test Programmer
American Micro Systems, Inc.
Ken Rose – Director of Engineering
Al Pound – Design Manager
Jim Kawakami – Project Engineering Manager
Brian Shubert – MOS Design Engineer
Gordy Leighton – MOS Design Engineer
Lloyd “Red” Taylor – Research Engineer
Jay Miner – Research Engineer
Legacy Ken Rose (AMI) continued his work in the cryptographic field for the Department of Defense. Tom Redfern (Garrett AiResearch) continued his work with National Semiconductor in CMOS design and was selected as the first National Fellows for design excellence. Jim Kawakami (AMI) continued his work with AMD and became a top innovator and leader in microprocessor design. Brian Schubert (AMI) continued his work with AMD and Intel in graphics chip design and led the Intel Graphics Division.
Jay Miner (AMI) left AMI in 1970 and joined Altair and became the father of the Amiga. I would say that is probably the single most important contribution of most designers in the entire industry. Jay’s other contributions are mentioned at Wikipedia. Ray Holt (see Ray’s Resume) not only designed several other microprocessors, co-founded Microcomputer Associates, Inc. and co-published the industry’s first magazine, The Microcomputer Digest, he was a contributor at most technical trade shows. He also was hired by Intel in 1974, along with Mr Manny Lemas, to travel the USA teaching engineers how to program the 4004, 8008, 8080 and PL/M language. The big reason for this was that, and I quote, “We are having a difficult time selling the products because engineers are not familiar with programming their design.” It might be safe to say the Mr Ray Holt and Mr Manny Lemas were big contributors to the success of the sales of the Intel 4004, 8008, 8080 and PL/M. Mr Gary Kildall, designer of PL/M and later CP/M was also a course instructor.
Gary was also a huge contributor to the courses as he would come in the last day or two and teach PL/M which most engineers could understand because it was a high-level computer language and contained words that were somewhat normal. In my opinion Gary Kildall was one of the greatest technical and business contributors to the small computer industry and market. Jay Minor, Chuck Peddle, and John Fagans were the other great contributors.
There are many people that influenced me during my life and career. Needless to say, my family (Mom, Dad, Bill, Liz), my wife (Lynda), and sons (Mark, Michael, Brett). No one discouraged me during the development of the F-14 CADC. Certainly no one understood the work that was being done, even if I could have stopped and explained it in detail. The technology was so new and the application of the technology kept the project like a moving ball. They also had to put up with me keeping this a secret for 30 years while the world took the largest technological advance ever and I could not talk about this until 1998.
Let’s start with the entire Central Air Data Computer (CADC) team. This was a team effort and the microprocessor was only a part of the entire CADC project. This was the most powerful set of engineers and programmers I have seen together in my entire career. Thank you to all of them from Garrett AiResearch and American Micro System. Their own lives and careers proved their excellence.
A big thanks to Sam Ismail, in 1998, who believed, after a 30-year secrecy, that this really happened and put himself on the spot and let me be the keynote speaker at his Vintage Computer Festival in 1998.
To Chanda Roby, Mississippi, who put in hours and hours encouraging and working with me to get the manuscript started and to help me to put it in a readable form. She was my big motivator to get moving on this. Thank you, Chanda.
To Amy Skalicky, Colorado, who put in hours making proposals to agents and publishers trying to get one of them to see that this is an important story to tell. Thank you, Amy.
To Leo Sorge. The one who understood the importance of this story and ran with it as Chapter One in his own book, “From Dust to the Nano Age”, and finally his great skills and effort in putting together what you now have in your hand. Thank you, Leo.
Finally, to all the brave F-14 Tomcat pilots and RIO’s that trusted this high technology computer to take them on 1000’s of missions and back without a hitch. Your stories are the most important. I salute all of you!!!
This is the story as I know it of my life and adventures leading up to and designing the Central Air Data Computer (CADC) for the F-14 Tomcat airplane. The CADC was the main computer that controlled the moving surfaces of the airplane and provide the critical data to the pilots and the weapons systems.
The F-14 turned out to be one of the most successful fighter jets in American aircraft history having performed its duties for over 35 years, the longest life of any American military aircraft.
I am starting this story when I was young because many events or failures in my life lead me to the F-14 project. Every one of them is important to the direction and decisions I made. When I started the F-14 computer design I was 24 years old and had just graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in Electronics Engineering. I did not know what I was about to be asked to do.
The project took two years to complete, 1968-1970, and upon completion of the F-14 computer design, I attempted to document the effort in a technical paper for Computer Design magazine, the premium magazine for computer designers. The paper was accepted; however, I could not get approval from the US Navy to allow it to be published. After several attempts over the next many years I was able to get approval in 1998 (thirty years later).
The major significance of the F-14 CADC was that the design of the computational chip set is, arguably, the first working microprocessor set chip. Many technical and technological feats were accomplished. Whether this is of technical or historical importance is for history to deal with.
The first public announcement of the F14A CADC was a published article by the Wall Street Journal on September 22, 1998. This paper and the details of the design were first presented publicly by myself at the Vintage Computer Festival held at the Santa Clara Convention Center on September 26-27, 1998.
Many thanks to Mr. Sam Ismail of the Vintage Computer Festival for, not only his believability of this design, but for his hard work in making it a significant announcement in the microprocessor world.
Needless to say, a major announcement 30 years late, causes many good people to say and do many strange things and for many academic professors and design purist to doubt if what really happened did happen, or is it “just a good story told too late” as some say. Is accurate history ever too late?
My purpose is to document how it all happened, as for me, it is not too late and it is a good story of great importance.