APL Colloquium

February 5, 2021

Colloquium Topic: Charles Stark Draper and the Origins of Inertial Navigation

Charles Stark Draper, often referred to as “the Father of Inertial Navigation,” was the moving force behind the development of the floated gyroscope in the United States. He was an engineer, a scientist, and an inventor; an inspiring teacher; and a dynamic leader, responsible for creating the laboratory that brought inertial navigation to fruition for operation use in submarines, aircraft, and space vehicles.

Draper’s experience as a pilot and knowledge of instrumentation naturally led to an interest in inertial navigation.  He liked to claim he got the idea out of a bottle of whisky – he had a fondness for drink, which he considered a social lubricant – but it really started through his association with Lee Davis, who was head of the Armament Laboratory at Wright Field.  This led to the first Air Force contract for in inertial navigation bombing system that formed the basis for SPIRE, the forerunner of all modern navigation systems.

Colloquium Speaker: Thomas Wildenberg

Thomas Wildenberg is an independent historian and scholar with special interests in aviators, naval aviation, and technological innovation in the military. He has written extensively about the U.S. Navy during the interwar period. His articles have appeared in several scholarly jour-nals, including the Journal of Military History, American Neptune, Air Power History, and U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings. He is the author of a number of books on naval history covering such varied topics as replenishment at sea, the development of dive bombing, and the history of the torpedo in the U.S. Navy.  His interest in the personalities of innovators has led to books on Admiral Joseph Mason Reeves, Billy Mitchel, Charles Stark Draper and Howard Hughes.

Mr. Wildenberg served as a Ramsey Fellow at the National Air and Space Museum in 1999-2000.  He is a recipient of Arthur W. Radford Award for Excellence in Naval Aviation History (2012), the Surface Navy Association Literary Award (2005), two John Laymen Awards from the North American Society for Oceanic History for best naval history (2013) and best biography (2003).  He received the Air Force Historical Foundation's award for the best article in the 2009 volume of Air Power History, was awarded an honorable mention in the Ernest J. Eller Prize in Naval History (1994), and received the Edward S. Miller Naval War College Research Fellowship (1998).