Meet: Joe Lander
Pre-World War II: From 1936 to 1943, I worked at the Fokker Airplane Factory in Amsterdam, the Netherlands (Holland).
In Germany, Hitler was threatening war, and I enlisted in the Dutch Army for one year. I was discharged as an infantry sergeant. Upon my discharge, I returned to Fokker, and continued working on plane fabrications. After Germany attacked and then occupied Holland in May 1940, I kept working at Fokker, under German management. I kept working on T8WC planes, and later worked on the repair of flight control components such as elevators, rudders and stabilizers for JU52 German Transport Planes.
During this time, HitlerÕs henchmen were rounding up Jews and sending them to camps in the East. In February 1943, I was no longer able to obtain an exemption from Fokker, as I was Jewish. My wife Betty and I were captured by Germans, but we managed to escape and immediately went underground. We remained in hiding until the end of the war was near. Then, I was again captured and sent to a transport camp in East Holland. Just before Holland was liberated, I escaped from the camp and made my way back to my wife. After the war, we found out that most of our family members were killed in concentration camps.
From 1945 to 1953, I worked for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam. The hangars had been destroyed during the war by the Germans, and all maintenance was performed outside, on the aprons. For engine maintenance, rollaway covers were used. I was in charge of the production control department. The work consisted mostly of keeping the fleet of surplus C47 and C54 airplanes flying. Later on, we received the new model 049 Lockheed Constellation Airplanes. I was sent to the Dunlop factory in Burmingham, England, to learn all about the tires, brakes and their maintenance. After four years on the job, I was asked to take charge of major repair and modification jobs for KLM. I worked on remodeling three model 626 Constellations. We stripped the complete interior from the rear bulkhead to the cockpit. The "sleeper" configuration was replaced by the airplane interior complete with hat racks. We also had a new galley designed and built.
We also remodeled C54 interiors. The C54 airplanes were having a problem with leaking fuel tanks due to aging. The sealant in the tanks was deteriorating, causing gasoline to leak. Douglas Aircraft knew about this problem and made a kit to replace the tank access doors with high strength aluminum alloy doors and doublers.
When my projects were nearing completion, I gave notice to the director of KLM that I was quitting. He was quite shook up and offered me a job that would transfer me along with my family (Betty and I had three children by then) to Indonesia for a five-year contract. I regretfully declined the offer, knowing that I could never replace that wonderful offer for any job I would obtain in the USA. However, my family and I had waited over two years for a visa to the USA, which we finally obtained. I left Holland with my family on a ferry flight in the last Capitol Airplane being delivered to the USA. We departed on December 10, 1953, my 36th birthday!
Life in the USA
It was 1954. My sponsor thought that I could easily find a job with the Boeing Corporation in Seattle, Washington, but that was not so simple, as I was not a US citizen. I found work a few weeks after our arrival at Washington Iron Works as a helper boilermaker. The pay was low, but finding work in winter in Seattle was difficult for a newcomer. I had filed my first papers with a government office indicating my intention of becoming a US citizen, for I was told that it would help when I applied for a security clearance at a later date. The hard work and low pay finally became too much, and so I left for Los Angeles to find a job more to my liking. I landed work with the Fluor Corporation, a world concern in the field of oil refinery design and construction. This company had profit sharing and good medical insurance, but the pay was much too low.
My next job was with a job shop office at double the pay IÕd had before. The work was tool designing, which I enjoyed, and I learned a lot about this field. After about five months, I saw an ad in my local paper from Aerojet General Corporation for design engineers. I was hired, and began working outside the plant in a former high school near my home. No more driving on surface streets to West L.A., as freeways were still under construction at that time. I worked on reinforced concrete design for rocket test stands. After one month there, I learned of a need for a design engineer in an off-site location, working on thrust reversal systems for a jet engine contract for Boeing. By the time the hardware was about to be delivered, my security clearance finally came through and I could finally work inside the plant at Aerojet.
I was assigned to work in the infrared department, a new technology developed during the war. The group was designing an infrared fire control system for the F103 aircraft. I was amazed to learn that I was in charge of the group and accepted the challenge. It was fascinating work, and our team had to go into production design for the first of the fighter plans. I completed that job, and had a manufacturing engineer from Aerojet working with me.
My next project was the production design for a fire control system for the F81 Navy planes. Then I worked on a stabilizing fire control system for the UH-1B helicopters. I made several trips to a firm in Dallas to agree on the seeker and cooler tank mounting. I thought that the seeker was my masterpiece, as the housing was six inches in diameter and the gimbal could scan plus or minus 60 degrees. We lost the "fly-off" to Hughes, as their acquisition distance was farther due to a new concept of detector design. Our VP refused to buy a similar detector for $20,000 from the Santa Barbara Research Center, and that put Hughes in the driver seat of infrared systems.
Meanwhile, I was put in charge of the opto/mechanical design department, and worked on many different proposals. A proposal request came in from TRW for an infrared sensor, which could be attached to a satellite that would go into a fixed orbit. The size of the sensor was huge, as the interface with the satellite would be six feet in diameter. The purpose of this system was to view Russia and China for rocket firing activity. I was released from my department job to work full time on this proposal, and spent many weekends and most evenings completing this work. Aerojet beat the two other competitors, Lockheed and Hughes, and we got the contract! The first check from TRW was for $87 million dollars as a start-up payment. My division manager called me into his office and told me that management had asked him to see if I would like to take charge of the design of the satellite. A new division was being created, and I would be in on the ground floor. I didnÕt care for big projects with a lot of politics involved, so I declined the offer. (Moving a small screw hole would have taken a review board!) I preferred to work on proposals and building smaller systems. However, I ended up working on another big project Š this one for the US Army.
This next job was designing and building an infrared sensor which would be attached to the nose of a UH Helicopter in stabilized gimbals. The telescope would have two fields of view and provide the pilots with night vision of the ground on their TV monitors. Rocket pods and machine guns would be slaved to the gimbals. This happened during the VietNam War, and would help our troops on the ground. The detector array had 350 elements and the signal was processed through multiplexers that we built in-house. One challenge was using a miniature crygenic pump to cool the detectors to the liquid nitrogen temperature.
I worked on this project for a solid year, working almost every night until midnight, and every weekend and holiday. I was not paid overtime, but I felt that I had to do my share to help our troops in the field. I was working with a room full of draftsmen during the day, and worked on coordinating the project at night. We built four systems that we shipped to VietNam. We had done our job for the war effort.
After 14 years with Aerojet, I went to work for Xerox. I was attracted to the job by my former manager, who had left Aerojet for Xerox and took some key people with him. I was interested in designing in the commercial field, and found out there wasnÕt much different between government and commercial projects. The job was an infrared fire control system, something that I was familiar with! I completed an ongoing job through flight testing. Next I worked on laser printing systems for a new technology. I built and installed the first unit into an existing copy machine. The next unit was more refined, and we ended up making a pilot production run of 36 units.
I retired from Xerox at the age of 61, after my first heart bypass surgery. I had put in 40 years in many different aspects of aviation. It was time to move on to the next chapter in my life. I began working full time in a security business, Lander Security, with my son, Ron, and my daughter, Mary. My wife Betty did the bookkeeping. The company had been started a few years earlier, to install security systems for homes and businesses. We sold Lander Security after 10 years. It was finally time for my real retirement.