The team was in full stride as 1964 ended and Bob Hirsch had proven his value to the admiral and ITT. In 1965 the Cave is constructed to run Bob’s ideas using the superb ion guns designed by Gene Meeks who was now permanently assigned to Bob as his personal assistant and technician.
The pit team working on Phil’s ideas had a technician assigned by the name of Jack Fischer. Little is known of Fischer as he was a short hire. He would leave after only 6 or 8 months. He was not generally liked by Meeks or the fellow who replaced him, Steve Blaising. Blaising was brought in to assist Fischer and the busy pit team of Bain and Haak. Steve noted that for a couple of months he was on loan from the Federal tube engineering division of ITT also at Pontiac street. By mid-1966 Fischer was gone and Blaising would be made a permanent member of the Pit team as their technician.
From 1965 there would be two main teams with two significant fusor projects running co-jointly.
The cave fusor was expected to be every bit as radiologically dangerous as the pit fusor. A second pit was impractical and if dug would totally disrupt the original pit teams work for a few months. The solution was to build a borated cinder block wall all the way up to the ceiling in the big main lab area near the pit. Placing borax, (sodium borate), in cinder block mix would act to absorb much of the neutron radiation. This “block box” would come to be called “the cave”. At first, the cave used an older “pit” supply limited to 100kV. With the big 1966 budget, the cave received a new 150 kV Universal Voltronics supply capable of 100ma. This new supply was just a little lower in top voltage than that used for the pit fusor.
The pit fusor would remain rather fixed in form factor from 1965 until the end of the program in mid-1968, but would see a large number of innovations and changes internally as Phil would be his usual font of new ideas about the inner dynode structure and, ultimately, physical cathode structure design alterations. I will not mention or discuss every alteration as there were many and not every piece of documentation about them is extant. Internal alterations to the Mark II pit reactor would take at least a week to a month to accomplish as the device would have to be cracked open, alterations made, be made vacuum tight and re-evacuated. Bringing a freshly altered pit system back down to 10e-8 torr could take days. In the record, we see that the yield on such a fine system rarely exceeded 10e8 n/s.
Electrostatic ion guns would be replaced by more normal Pegatron ion guns to get the ion current up in the pit fusor which was starved for deuterium with pressures on the order of 2-8 microns. Regardless of what they did in the pit, 10e9 n/s is about the best that they turned out during the MK II’s entire tenure during the program. Some of the bold alterations would reduce the output to no more than 10e6 n/s. To reach large neutron numbers well over 100kV applied was the norm.
The cave turned out to house several totally different form factor fusors from late 1965 until 1967 as Hirsch and Meeks tried many ideas that would not allow one fusor body to house some of their more wide-ranging ideas. The one test they did that surprised everyone was two or three non- ion gunned fusors with just a central grid. This far simpler concept would prove to be the germ of the idea for a future demonstration fusor that would go to Washington D.C.!! Most of the variations and test fusor ideas would cease in the cave by late 1966 and the “final variant” small 6” ion gunned fusor would troop through to the end of the program. This small fusor would ultimately produce 8X10e10 n/s or a flux of 10e7 n/sq. cm/sec! All the numbers for the best pit and cave fusors were using a D-T fusion gas mix.
Philo T. Farnsworth steps out of fusion
In general, the teams worked separately and harmoniously, sharing data and ideas. Phil seemed happy until he was not. In late 1965, it appears that a paper written mostly by Phil was needed by ITT to try and solidify ITT’s ideas about what it would be funding in future. This paper involved math and conceptual ideas related to fusion. Bob Hirsch was to oversee the paper before submission. He and Phil did not agree on some of the math routes taken by Phil and some of his assumptions related to fusion physics. Already in serious disagreements on the paper, a visit by a group of scientists and officials to explain what they were doing as a team had Phil, the admiral and Bob shepherding them around the facility and lab. At some critical junctures, during the tour, it is said, when questions were asked on specific points, Bob immediately jumped in to answer. Some of the team present said that Phil slowly hung his head and sunk back in the crowd. He would later leave that day and said, “I am going home to get drunk.” He did just that and it is noted in Pem’s book Distant Vision. Phil had done this sort of thing before. A case of depression followed by drunkenness and a wasting of his already thin and weak constitution would never see him at serious fusion work ever again. During this period, he was asked by his friend Fritz Furth, the admiral, to please work on the paper at home as drafts would be sent back and forth between, he and Bob Hirsch. Phil just gave up. He said the ideas in the paper were not his ideas and thoughts on fusion.
Phil’s prolonged absence forced ITT to put him on a medical leave status with reduced salary. Phil’s condition got so bead that his would have to be sent to a facility that could help him get out of his state of depression and drinking and try and build him back up physically. Gene Meeks was called upon to help Pem take him to the airport for the trip. Gene told me that he hand-carried Phil in his arms to the car and then to the airplane. Gene told me he started to tear up as he did this. When it became obvious that Phil was not going to return in an active role. ITT effectively fired him in a letter noting that he was medically and permanently retired. This was in early 1966. Phil would take all of 1966 to pull himself together, all the time dreaming of returning to Utah for good to start up a business devoted to the betterment of man, once again taking up fusion, water purification and other medical ideas. This company would be called Philo T. Farnsworth and associates. The plan was to be delayed until late 1967. This ended all connections and work on fusion at ITT for Farnsworth. He would not be there for the last two full years of the project that he started.
The team troops on….
Bob Hirsch would finish the scientific paper and see it submitted. His paper was well received at ITT and boosted by the admiral. ITT would OK the largest budget ever submitted of $600,000 for their 1966 fusion project. This would be a peak year for the project. Whatever they wanted, they got. George Bain noted to me that they really could not spend it fast enough. Most would go for new and better instrumentation, several neutron counters, oscilloscopes, much heavier power supplies, etc. As 1966 worn on with the profusion of Bob’s ideas turned into hardware in the cave and the pit fusor now also operating under his supervision. ITT and Bob wanted input from other universities, scientists, and fusion experimenters as to what they thought of the ITT effort. Part of the 1966 and 1967 budget was gobbled up by this effort as all of those queried would be paid a certain sum if they would answer some questions and submit a formal review paper related to their careful study of what was going on at ITT and any recommendations they might have. Bob liked the idea of getting their work out there and reviewed. ITT, however looked at the effort as a final look at what the people in the fusion community thought of the possibilities of the inertial fusion effort at its current state. In other words, ITT was beginning to worry that they were funding a program that like many funded by the government might develop into a money pit with no reward at an actual end that was not is plain sight.
In the end, in late 1966 and early 67, a formal compilation of Bob’s original thorough paper on ITT’s fusion effort that was reviewed by all the participants in the query, plus all of their rather voluminous paper responses, took the form of a thick GBC bound volume. One of the key questions demanded in an outline of what the participants must touch on in their reports to earn the money was, “Where do you think such work as this might best be handled in future”. (Industrial labs, academic research labs, government laboratories, other).
The respondents rather universally dismissed the industrial setting, like ITT or a Bell lab type environment. Most opted for academic research labs, with a few suggesting turning it over to the government.
In addition, most responded that they could not see the methods explained to them in the paper, becoming a path to controlled nuclear fusion from which energy might be extracted. Some few noted the idea might have merit.
It turns out this is exactly what ITT wanted to hear. A way out was being planned.
Strange goings on - unreported observations kept secret – Confirmed and Unconfirmed amazing events.
I include this section as an interesting side bar. All that is related here is taken from the horse’s mouth, as it were. This means real people telling real stories that they either witnessed or heard about from other lesser players who could not be interviewed. These events are numbered, and all took place in the 1964-1966, time frame when the participants were all “on the wise” related to the fusion process, the general ideas involved in fusion physics and as to what they were doing every day.
1. Phil’s nocturnal fusion event.
This was told by Pem Farnsworth in her book Distant Visions and must be consulted by all who want it related verbatim. People that were present: Phil and Pem Farnsworth. Pem almost never appeared in the lab and had little knowledge of the workings there beyond what Phil relayed at the dinner table or in conversations at home. Thus, we must regard her, at that time, as not being a fusion savvy person.
One night, Phil, for whatever reason decided to take Pem to the lab and operate the pit fusor. It is known and told to me that, after the bell jar fusors, Phil was an observer only at all test runs. Apparently, he had watched the procedures for the pit system and felt he could bring the system up to functionality on his own. Phil was no dummy. He had many years of experience in lab situations involving vacuum systems and general electronics from his television experimental days. However, a differentially pumped, gunned fusor is a complex device. Phil did not build it nor was he privy to the many delicacies involved in preparing it for a normal run.
According to Pem, she sat and watched as Phil brought the system to life. Phil advanced the voltage until a large flash occurred. Phil shut off the power, she says, and the meters went to full scale. For a while and then slowly decreased. She asked, “what happened”? To this Phil got up and said, “I have seen all I needed to see”. What this means is left for the reader to interpret. Did Phil do fusion, or did he just think he did fusion, or did he want Pem to think he had done fusion?
I asked about this “event”. Gene Meeks told me that Phil had wrecked the fusor that night and it took Gene and Fred Haak about two weeks to get the system in working order again. He noted that the current meters for the guns and the Universal Voltronics supply current meter had their needles bent requiring them to order replacement meters. Fred Haak was also questioned, and he told me that Phil had burned a hole in the shell of the fusor. This is where the flash would have lit up the pit as an arc in air would have formed for a moment until the power supply over current sense relay would drop out. Bain: “We had issues with Phil working the fusor. He was not familiar with the intricacies involved” Meeks: “George told me to go down to Pep Boys and buy two key ignition switches. I installed them in the power cabinets so only George, Fred and I had keys. Phil never ruined another system after that.”
From my standpoint, I write this story off as a non-event. (beyond a destructive one.)
2. Another event touted as a runaway fusion reaction.
This event was reported to both Steve Blaising and Gene Meeks by Jack Fischer, (another technician of short tenure with the team). I will relay this as it was told to Paul Schatzkin and myself in 2001 by both Gene Meeks and Steve Blaising in-person.
Blaising: “I do have one event that was relayed to me by Jack Fischer. One morning he came to me as white as a sheet. He told me that one evening he and George were running the pit fusor when there was a bright flash in the pit and a loud bang. George shut everything down in order and brought the fusor up for inspection the next morning. Fred had found a small hole in the fusor body near one of the guns. The system was repaired. What Jack was so upset about was the next week after the three radiation badges placed in the pit had been developed, a report came back that all were black, totally exposed! The letter with the developed badges suggested that the employee involved should be immediately evaluated! We all knew that those three badges routinely came back, “no recorded exposure”. That was the norm for all badges, pit, cave and personnel.”
Meeks: “Yeah, I heard about that from Jack. He was a nervous-Nelly any way. He says that George had sworn him to secrecy on the matter as he was worried ITT would shut the project down. They never duplicated that event. Jack left and that was that for me.”
Blaising: “Gosh, Jack was really upset about that. He left ITT not long after that. I asked about his and George’s badges, he said they showed no exposure, but Jack was still worried.”
Meeks: “Well good riddance to that guy, he was kinda’ out there anyway. I never liked him. He was always bragging and telling stories”.
I have no personal comments or theories here and will leave this to the reader. Three exposed badges collected after the event, according to Jack Fisher who collected and mailed off the badges for everyone on a regular basis. The only badges fully exposed were in the pit. No personal badges exposed at all. These badges are proof against light flashes, exposure to the sun, etc. Only penetrating radiation can expose them.
3. Invisibility reports - Confirmed by multiple observers - Occurred on two separate occasions. - Three observers - Not repeatable
This one grabs me. It points to a lack of communication that works out to advantage here.
Before I ever went to Fort Wayne for the week-long interviews, this entire amazing saga unfolded before me. It initially came to light in a phone call with Gene Meeks. I had already made maybe six long phone calls to Gene over six months with lots of notes. Gene had come to trust me and was opening up more and more realizing I was a technical and fusion savvy guy.
I will paraphrase the conversation……
Gene: Here is something you might be interested in.
Hull: Sure, go ahead
Gene: Bob called me one Sunday and said he wanted to run the cave fusor at higher pressure with a new grid we put in Friday. The admiral was flying in from New York on Monday and he would like to give him an update on it. So, I went in and we were getting the vacuum set up while I was whipping the guns into shape and getting their supply currents and ion currents balanced. Boy, that was a job. It could take an hour to get them right before we applied high voltage to the fusor. The high voltage extractor supplies were acting up a bit. Once I got them working right, we applied high voltage to the fusor and at about only 40 kilovolts, I noticed the gun currents were wobbling around and I told Bob to hold off on raising the voltage as I had gun issues. He asked if I wanted to remove the high voltage, I told him no that I had them balanced before high voltage and I wanted to balance them at voltage. (note: 40kv was not a full voltage for their normal runs which usually exceeded 100kV) I was worried that I had an extractor connection issue. So, I used the binoculars to look down the corridor into the corner mirror to visually check the wires on the guns. I could not believe my eyes!
I could see four red ion beams through the stainless-steel gun bodies, it was like the guns were transparent!!
Hull: Wow! Were the guns still visible?
Gene: Yes! They were, but the red ion-beams were just sitting there in mid-air with the guns still visible. I got up from the control table and walked down the tunnel and looked around the edge.
I was 6 feet from the fusor and looking right at it. The beams were there! Bob wanted to know what I was doing. I told him, come here, quick. I ran down the tunnel to get out of it as it was narrow and the two of us would not fit. I told bob to go down and look at the fusor. He said to go shut the high voltage off. I told him we didn’t want to touch anything right now. He got halfway down the tunnel and must have seen the fusor in the mirror and the beams. He turned around and looked at me. I said take a quick look around the corner. As he came out of the tunnel, he said, what is that, the ion beams? I told him that is exactly what they are. Bob immediately turned the high voltage down and the beams faded a lot but could still be seen. I turned the extractor voltage down and they were gone.
Hull: Gene this is incredible
Gene: yeah, we thought so too. Bob and I did everything to reproduce it. The guns’ extractor currents came up much more stable this time. No beams. As Bob turned up the voltage, the ion gun currents remained stable, no wobbling and no beams. After a few more tries we gave up and ran the experiment normally in total silence. Bob took his notes of the experiment and we shut the cave system down.
Hull: What did bob say? Did you guys talk about this? I have talked with Bob, Fred and George and they never mentioned this.
Gene: Fred and George were never told about this and Bob is not going to tell you about it.
Gene: Bob and I did talk about this for a little while that day, but he told me that “We never saw this”. He told me to not tell anyone about this. He said if we can’t reproduce it, we can’t very well report it, and we will not report it! So, that was that.
Hull: Thanks for that amazing insight Gene. Is it OK if I mention it to Bob in my next phone call to him?
Gene: Sure. I don’t care. He’ll probably deny it ever happened. Go ahead. I know what I saw and so does he.
Needless to say, I got on the phone to Bob the next day while at work. I had called Bob only about 3 times thus far. I knew he was a busy man and did not want to wear out my welcome. He sounded cheery and said he had a few minutes and I was not disturbing him. I posed a couple of important, but softball questions to warm him up. Here is the gist of the phone call from this point on. Bob knew I was talking to everyone on the team as I was sending him regular Team member list updates. This was a service I provided all team members.
Hull: I was talking on the phone last night with Gene…
Bob: yes, he’s a good man.
Hull: He mentioned that you and he had an incident at the cave where you both observed what appeared to be ion beams showing through the gun bodies as if the bodies were transparent to them.
Note: Not only was there a very pregnant and noticeable pause, but I could hear an definite exhale over the phone. He had drawn a breath and blown it out.
Bob: Richard, I can’t speak to anything that is not reproducible. I hope you can understand that.
Hull: Yes and I can respect that you wish to be candid about this, but did you see the beams?
Bob: I saw something I could not understand or reproduce and that is all I want to say here about that.
Hull: I understand and thank you for your answer and I respect your forthrightness and explanation.
Bob: Thanks, I appreciate that.
The conversation continues for a minute or two on other questions. I thanked him and the called ended. For me this was a full confirmation of what Gene told me. This was so amazing to me that I had to mull over how this could possibly happen as there is no physics to readily explain it from my point of view. I was fully aware if you take gold foil that is opaque and thin enough and heat it, it can become transparent to a limited degree. With some thin films, electrical potentials applied can darken a window pane and control its transmission to a degree. This can make a transparent item virtually opaque, but not a dense solid object transparent.
I figured that George Bain, as a fellow electronics engineer, and head of the project, might like to hear about this revelation. I phoned George about a day later. Again, everyone knew by now that I was talking to everyone else due to my Team listing supplied to all of them. I once again softened George up with a few lead-in questions. I also knew of his past issues with Gene at this point as both had discussed their issues in previous calls.
Hull: George I have learned of an amazing event to which I am told you are not aware of.
George: Oh really, what was it?
Hull: Gene told me of an event that occurred that both he and Bob Hirsch observed. I have more or less verified this with Bob who was cagey about it, but effectively confirmed Gene’s story.
Note: I retold the story above to George. Listening carefully for his reaction yielded a long pause on his end. So long in fact, my brain raced ahead wondering… is George upset over not being told by his team? Is George trying to compose a response? What will George say? Again a long exhale before speaking followed by a totally shocking response. He vaults immediately into speech…
George: You know, I might have had a similar experience.
George: One night, I was there by myself rather late. We were scheduled to have a big group of people come and see the pit fusor in action, doing fusion. I had raised the fusor up as high as it would go and in view of the operating control panels. As you might know, the guns are very touchy to get aligned and ready for a run. I was determined not to have to fiddle with the guns during the group visit and was going to balance them as best I could. I had learned that by putting a little high voltage on the fusor the guns seemed to be a bit easier to adjust. I had applied about 20kV to the fusor and the guns were balancing well. As I raised the extractor voltage some pulsing was noticed this was a bit unusual, but I though I would master it. I happened to look up at the fusor and I saw what looked like red beams or streaks of light. I looked around to locate a source of red light in the room that might be reflecting off the fusor platform. I couldn’t find any red light and looked a little harder at the red-light streaks. They appeared to be located at the ion gun location along their axis. I removed my glasses and rubbed my eyes as I was weary and tired. I put my glasses on and thought, are these the ion beams or am I burning the guns up to the point the exteriors are at red heat? I quickly turned all extractor voltage and high voltage off. I got up and went over to the fusor and felt the air rising off the guns. I felt nothing like hot air rising. I gently tapped on one of the gun bodies. I felt no sharp burn. It turned out the guns were merely warm to the touch, which was normal. I got back to it and the guns balanced normally, no beams noted. So, I just let this incident slide. It never happened again the whole time I was there, and I have never thought about it until this phone call. At the time, I thought maybe I was just tired. I noted the gun bodies tended to shimmer about the red beams when it occurred. That was when I panicked and felt these were heat waves coming off red hot guns and shut it all down.
Hull: Wow, George, thanks very much! It appears that for lack of communication an interesting aspect of the fusor effort was overlooked.
George: It may have been. I might not have been just seeing things that night.
After a bit more discussion and the call ended. Both Fred Haak and Steve Blaising were amazed at hearing about this double incident at different times observed by the people.
In effect, this is my big revelation that would probably have never been uncovered had I not had full access to the team members. Interestingly It would be another year before my in-person interview with Bob Hirsch. I pressed him to the mat a bit and he added, I will admit that what I saw looked like what you would expect ion beams of hydrogen would look like, but it wasn’t reproducible therefore, it wasn’t amenable to scientific study. Both Gene and Bob were also amazed that George claimed to have seen what they saw as well. Make of this what you will.
There were just too many modifications and systems run in the time frame of this missive to elaborate on. I will enclose a number of images from this general period of high activity. The first batch will be added to over time.
- Hirsch notes (1).jpg (250.66 KiB) Viewed 1030 times
- Cave fusor66 1.JPG (127.62 KiB) Viewed 1037 times
- Cave fusor 66 2.JPG (91.2 KiB) Viewed 1037 times
- Cave fusor 66 3.JPG (168.33 KiB) Viewed 1037 times
Progress may have been a good thing once, but it just went on too long. - Yogi Berra
Fusion is the energy of the future....and it always will be
Retired now...Doing only what I want and not what I should...every day is a saturday.