“And I said, well who is his boss? It was Maj. Dick Lathrop in flight test in Bldg. 30. So, I called him, and I told him a little bit. He said, ‘Well send your resume and we’ll see what we can do,’” O’Brien said.
“After he did that, he agreed that I could take the lieutenant’s job, that was getting out of the Air Force. And, of course, this all came by accident by getting picked up by his wife.”
One of the early programs he worked on was an electronic recovery system intended to automatically pull an aircraft out of a spin. They determined a B-17 was a strong enough aircraft to survive the tests which involved flying over Huffman Prairie, putting the bomber in a spin and seeing if the gadget worked.
“But it wasn’t working very well. The pilots would do their best to pull it out of their spin, which wasn’t easy. Thankfully, the B-17 being a strong airplane, it didn’t pull the wings off,” O’Brien said. “The only problem was when they pulled out, my eyes went up. I was in the bombardier’s position in the nose of the 17. So, when it was into a spin, I was flying. It was just the world that was turning around.”
Later in his career, competition between Area A and Area B to hire the best college graduates led to the matrix management system. They saw it as a way to share limited technical expertise in different programs.
“It was difficult for the folks in Test to recruit the kind of people they would like to have,” O’Brien said. “I was in the doctoral program, and my major was management. I was interested in this matrix approach, and I went to Detroit to see how they did it. Not many people were using matrix except the motor companies at that time. I came back home and talked to people and decided we’d give it a try.”
To hear the full conversation, you can watch Leadership Log on YouTube at https://youtu.be/hHTGCgchlwc. You can also listen by searching “Leadership Log” on Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, Spotify, Overcast, Radio Public or Breaker.