April 24, 2009
The Second World War resulted in numerous changes and developments in areas that might otherwise have remained the same as around the turn of the century. Several of the most profound changes in technology and weapons development occurred in the unlikely area of New Mexico, a state sparsely populated and best known for ranching, mining and Indian reservations. Few are familiar with the history of the role the Navy and the Applied Physics Laboratory have had in the research and testing of the atomic bomb, the proximity fuze and fleet air defense guided missiles that have taken place in the desert and mountains traveled by Pat Garrett, Billy the Kid and the Apache Chief Victorio. APL and the Navy also influenced the future of three institutions of higher learning including the University of New Mexico as well as what are now New Mexico Tech, at Socorro, and the New Mexico State University, at Las Cruces. The early efforts at the White Sands Proving Ground were primarily aimed at learning how the German V2 rockets operated and, as a byproduct, investigating the characteristics of the upper atmosphere, about which very little was then known. Not until the latter was accomplished could be addressed the task of developing guided missiles and later embarking on space travel. Dr. James Van Allen, of APL, has been recognized as an early pioneer in upper atmospheric research which was initiated at White Sands and is the foundation upon which the aerodynamic design and control characteristics of the missiles of today are based. APL has had a long history of supporting missiles tested from the Navy’s Desert Ship, aka LLS-1 (Land Locked Ship # 1) from Talos to the Standard Missiles carried on the Aegis ships of today.
George Helfrich was born and raised in the Baltimore area, enrolled at the Johns Hopkins University (JHU) in 1951 in an accelerated engineering program, in 1953 was drafted into the Army Ordnance Corp, and entered the newly formed Guided Missile program. While in the Army, he attended Guided Missile Schools at Ft. Monmouth NJ, Redstone Arsenal AL, White Sands Proving Ground NM, and then serviced Nike batteries surrounding Los Angeles CA. In 1955, upon discharge, he enrolled at the University of Maryland, and graduated in 1959 with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering. While at the University of Maryland, he worked summers and part-time during the school year at the JHU/Applied Physics Laboratory in the Talos test area and in the microwave lab. Upon graduation he returned to White Sands to the APL Field Office to install and operate the first Talos CW Illuminator. In 1961, he became the APL Field Representative and Field Office Manager supporting Talos, Terrier and Tartar missile testing and target development. Over a period of 42 years at White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) as the APL Field Representative, he has participated in the Talos, Terrier, Tartar, Typhon, Standard Missile, Tomahawk Cruise Missile, Phalanx, 5 inch Rolling Airframe (RAM), 5 inch Guided Projectile, Canadian Sea Sparrow, NATO Evolved Sea Sparrow (ESSM) and the AQM-37C(EP) and Vandal Target programs. As Technical Advisor to the Navy at WSMR, he has been heavily involved in target development and evaluation, Range support and operation, and flight safety. Starting in 1980, he was responsible for coordinating flight Safety approval for Standard Missile (SM) and in 1997 established and chaired the SM Flight Safety Working Group which was formed to develop and maintain approval of a SM flight termination system acceptable to all test ranges where Standard Missiles were tested including WSMR, the Pacific Missile Range (PMR) CA, the PMR Facility (PMRF) Kauai HI, and the Atlantic Fleet Weapons Test Facility (AFWTF) Puerto Rico.