Gladys Mae West and The GPS

| March 4, 2020

Sikorsky in flight

She was the person behind the development of the GPS system, something that we take for granted now. Yes, there were other people involved in it, and she was involved from the start of it as a code writer and programmer. (You try doing all that coding that way. Go ahead.  I dare you.)  Her area of specialization coding was water surfaces, which involves something referred to as the chaos factor, not mentioned in the article.

https://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/meet-gladys-mae-west-the-hidden-hero-behind-gps-technology/678873

We can all thank this incredible woman for forging ahead and doing what she loved to do, because it has an impact on us that we just take for granted now. She never let anything hold her back, getting her PhD after a stroke that had a physical impact on her life. She has now been honored by the USAF’s Space Museum.  That Sikorsky in the photo benefits from her focus on getting the GPS system to work properly, as do the Coasties when they’re out doing rescues of boaters on the Great Lakes or opening up shipping lanes in the northern reaches with those big icebreakers of theirs.

And we just take it all for granted these days.  Happy 2020, Gladys.

Category: Air Force, Blue Skies, Bravo Zulu, Gathering of Eagles, Historical, Navy

Comments (13)

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  1. Ret_25X says:

    BZ Gladys!

  2. Comm Center Rat says:

    “West earned her Ph.D. at Virginia Tech at the age of 88. Also around the same time, she was inducted into the Air Force Space and Missile Hall of Fame.”

    There’s smart and then there’s genius level intelligence like West’s.

  3. 5th/77th FA says:

    FIRST heard of Ms Gladys when we were working on the TVRO (Television Receive Only) Systems way back yonder. One of the guys that had worked with the placing of the GEO Birds talked in vague terms of the work she was doing. This was in the mid 70s. Heard she could use a slide rule to “race” the computer to a hard solution.

    BZ Gladys Mae West. Another lady that could “dance backwards…wearing high heels!”

  4. OmegaPaladin says:

    https://infogalactic.com/info/Roger_L._Easton

    Gladys played a vital role, but Easton is the guy who created GPS and came up with the idea. There were a lot of people involved, like the Manhattan Project.

  5. BruteLarson407 says:

    We were using Loran-C for our small boat navigation when I was in. It was pretty good, but you had to plot your own course with dividers, a parallel ruler(sometimes quick and dirty with a T-square underway if rough), and triangles.

    Set and drift had to be factored in as well; especially if they were far out, or we didn’t have good comms with them.

    You could ignore some of it if they were close, or you did have good comms with the stricken boat. You could just periodically get a new set of Loran numbers with the FM radio, and correct the course with a new plot.

    That’d at least get you into eyeball sight of them. We were easy to spot, so usually they were the one that transmitted, ‘Yeah, I see you to the___east or west,’ depending on which coast. I was lucky enough to be on both.

    I thought it was the cat’s ass, even if I do mostly forget how to do it now.

    We never imagined little hand held gadgets that’d be able to sit you down in their mess deck, or put fire on them like The Almighty.

    Clearly, this smart lady was.

  6. David says:

    Big deal, she can code… according to Bloomberg anyone can easily enough learn to code to get a job doing it… no big thing. (and yes, that is MAJOR sarcasm)

    • Ex-PH2 says:

      Sure… and you just dig a hole and drop a seed in it to be a farmer, right???? (snorttt!)

    • BruteLarson407 says:

      From what I’ve been reading; she’d be training an Indian guy with a curious name for an Indian guy like, ‘Mike’ to take over her job at half-price in order to get her severance pay.

      Maybe her sex and/or ethnicity would’ve saved her, I don’t know. I refuse to use the linguistic term gender. If I live long enough, I’m going to get in trouble for refusing to play along on a few things.

      Wonder if things would’ve worked out the same if it was like that back then?

      She isn’t the only woman that was good at this sort of thing.

      Navy had a brainiac woman named Grace Hopper, who made some huge strides in the 1950’s with computers, and even the actress Hedy Lamarr was a gigantic brain. Not rough on the eyes either.

      I think she was at least partly responsible for frequency hopping to keep a jammed torpedo or missile on target. She patented it, and submitted it. It was initially panned maybe due to actual capability because she came up with it early(WWII).

      A decade or few later we were doing it.

      That last one was news to me when I heard it not long ago.

      If I hear another scumbag politician say ‘learn to code’ I’m going to pop.

      My daydream is to be on horseback with a shotgun and mirror shades, supervising their work on a captive road crew.

      • Graybeard says:

        “Amazing” Grace Hopper is one of my heroes. Among the many things she did was help develop COBOL – whereby I earned my living for many a year.
        She also recorded the FIRST actual finding of a computer bug:
        https://www.computerhistory.org/tdih/september/9/

        Other trivia about Admiral Hopper is the fact that she worked hard to get folks to think “outside the box” – including having a backwards-running clock in her office.

        • ninja says:

          And now we have learned from you, Graybeard, i.e. about what you did to earn your living and Admiral Hopper’s backwards running clock!

          Thank You for sharing!

        • BruteLarson407 says:

          ‘Amazing’ a computer illiterate dumbass knew it(laughing)! I saw her on Letterman in the 80’s I think, and remembered it. Serious Lady. He kept trying to make her laugh, or smile to no avail if I remember right. She wasn’t angry, just very professional. We need more ‘outside the box’ thinkers today.

  7. ninja says:

    Thank you for sharing this with us, Ex-PH2.

    For some reason, when I opened the link, I received an error message.

    Perhaps it was meant to be, because I found this 2018 article about her that has a nice picture of her and her husband and an interesting tidbit about her using a tracking system.

    Ironically, it turns out she rather use a Paper Map. 😉

    https://atlantablackstar.com/2018/02/04/meet-gladys-west-black-female-engineer-played-pivotal-role-developing-gps/

    “When it comes to traveling, the seasoned mathematician surprisingly prefers a paper map over the tracking system, as some of the data points could be outdated from the time she worked on the equations, her daughter told the newspaper.”