The Twister

The Twister and its Inventor, Don Cowles

A key patented invention that enabled the Hexagon camera system to succeed was that of the “twister.” This was a mechanical device, shown below, that allowed the film to travel both linearly and in rotation past the focal plane of the camera. It made the film travel over air bars that twisted back and forth in rotation and in synchronization with the rotating image.  


Twister, jpeg.jpg

Don Cowles, a mechanical engineer at Perkin-Elmer invented and developed the twister. He was acknowledged and honored at a celebration at Perkin-Elmer in Danbury, Connecticut many years ago by Chester Nimitz, Jr, CEO of Perkin-Elmer and attended by many other staff members of the program.

Don Cowles facing front .jpeg

The Underside of the Hexagon Reconnaissance Satellite

The Underside of the Hexagon Vehicle

This is a view of the underside of the Hexagon reconnaissance satellite. The imagery that 19 orbital missions produced over 15 years provided key intelligence information for the United States and helped keep the peace during the cold war.

The photo shows the aft section on the left that contained the film reels, the middle section contained the two cameras, one facing 10 degrees forward and the other facing 10 degrees to the rear, thus providing the ability to take stereo photos. The forward section contained four Re-Entry vehicles that periodically returned the used film to earth.

Underside of Hexgon vehicle .jpeg

Last Hexagon Program Review

This is a photo of the HEXAGON Program Review Meeting for the last mission (flight #20). The meeting was held on February 6, 1986 at Perkin-Elmer. This meeting was held 2 ½ months before this mission exploded about 1000 feet above the pad at Vandenberg AFB on April 18, 1986. The list of participants (provided by Air Force Colonel Phil Datema), is as follows:

Front row (sitting):  Jim. Lewis (PE), Lt.Kathy Dixon (AF/Program Office), Capt Stephen Gourley (AF/PO/1218 PM), Lt Col.Phil Datema (AF/HEXAGON Payload PM), Len Farkas (PE/1218 PM), Capt Don Aguirre (AF/PO), Vic Abraham (PE/HEXAGON PM)

Second Row:  Al Cardenas (AF/Contracts), Nick Izzo (PE), Jim Kiraly (PE), Bill Lynch (PE), Dan Bernstein (Aerospace), Duane Wickholm (Aerospace), Paul Belia (PE), Frank Finnerty (PE), Bill Macafferty (PE/WCFO), Howie Cummings (PE), Bill Mitchell (PE)

Third row: Arnie Wallace (PE), W. Straub (PE), Bill Deane (PE), Bob Zarba (PE/WCFO),  R. Melberger (PE), Al Thompson (PE/WCFO, Chet Sokol (PE)), Don Armstrong (PE/WCFO), J. Emmerson (?)

Fourth Row: L. Lindstrom (PE), Jerry Elder (AF Security), Bill Heidbreder (DMA), Don Berns (AF/DCAS) J. O’Connor (PE), R. Rau (PE), J. Stewart (PE?), George Manolis (PE/WCFO), Frank Harrigan (PE/WCFO), R. Licarie (PE), 

Missing: Capt Mike Dunn (AF/Program Office), Capt Randy Cohen (AF/Program Office)


Program Review Meeting in the mid eighties.jpg

Air Force Program Office SP21

Here is a photo of the Air Force (SAFSP-21) Payload Program office:  

Sitting: Capt Randy Cohen, Capt Don Aguirre

Standing: Capt Mike Dunn, Capt Stephen Gourley, Maj George Grogan (Gambit), Lt Col (Sel) Phil Datema.  Cira 1984. 

At the time Datema worked for Col Les McChristian, the HEXAGON and GAMBIT payload Progam Manager.  Datema, who replaced Gainey Best, was responsible for the Hexagon and Gambit payloads. Col Larry Cress replaced McChristian as the HEXAGON Payload Manager after the last Gambit mission in 1984.

Air Force Program Office SP21.jpg

Playing the Clarinet at the PE Christmas Show led by Joe Zelle

Nick De Filippis, the manager of the mechanical engineering department at Perkin-Elmer in Danbury, Connecticut was a talented guy. In addition to being a fine engineer he was a good clarinet player. He played in the Perkin-Elmer band at the Christmas show for many years. The show was led by Joe Zelle who also worked at PE in Danbury. In his younger days Joe was a masterful trumpeter and band leader. He was also leader of the Casa Ritz Orchestra, the house band of the Ritz Ballroom in Bridgeport from 1947 until 1962. Joe also played for proms at many schools in Fairfield, County. Both Joe and Nick worked on the Hubble Space Telescope and the Hexagon satellite programs. The cast of the Christmas shows, as well as the many children of PE employees over a span of 25 years loved the band and the popular annual musicals that Joe produced and directed. 

Band Xmas Show, Nick DeFilippis.JPG

West Coast Field Office Personel at Perkin-Elmer

This old photo was taken in the blockhouse at Vandenberg Air Force Base on 18 April 1986, the day the 20th and last Hexagon satellite was launched. Unfortunately it exploded about 1000 feet above the pad. Some of the Perkin-Elmer WCFO (West Coast Field Office) crew were trapped in the blockhouse for several hours before being allowed to leave. They were subjected to the extreme noise and shaking of the ground during the explosion and subsequent damage to the area outside the blockhouse.

left to right. Lyle Lindasy, Chuck Bruener, John Knauer, Roy Odom, Don Armstrong, Ed Woyshner, Capt. Steve Gorley (customer), and Ken Dudschus. In the background on the wall are things from previous missions such as cut ties, a tradition after each successful launch.

Don Armstrong provided this photo.

WCFO in the block house.jpg

Perkin-Elmer West Coast Field Office group that searched the Vandenberg AFB area near the launch pad for several days for leftover film after the rocket explosion in 1986. They recovered much debris ending up with numerous bags of film and other items.

Left to right:

Bill McCafferty, Jim Dimas, Ken Dudchus, George Manolis, Frank Harrigan, John Thomson, Jim Manis, Don Armstrong, John Knauer.

Their shirts say “Slick Bushwackers.”

Here is another photo of some of the west coast staff in front of the memento wall with souvenir ties cut from participants in past launches. Sorry for those I could not identify. 

Figure 4. Some of the West Coast  Personnel jpg.jpg