A memory of Dick Carricato
by Phil Pressel
Dick Carricato was my colleague and friend at Perkin-Elmer and we worked together from the start of the Hexagon program. He passed away on May 24, 2017. He was a gentleman and a great electrical engineer with a specialty in servomechanisms or control systems. He looked like an all-American athlete with his trim physique and crew cut hair.
He and I both began our Perkin-Elmer careers in 1965. The chief engineer on Hexagon, Bob Landsman, described itas “Hexagon was an orbiting reconnaissance satellite system consisting of two large independent stereoscopic cameras. They will be performing search and surveillance missions from about 100 miles in space.” Between Bob’s technical explanations and the security officer’s briefing, Dick was asked if he was surprised. Dick said “I felt numb. I just read a lot of words and concepts that I had never heard before. Covert operations, undercover, search and surveillance of the Sino-Soviet bloc, and compartmentalized security clearances were all new phrases to me and quite foreign to me. I had a lot to learn! No I didn’t feel surprise: I felt like I had just joined the big league.”
All of us design engineers became familiar with the requirements of the job, and we all thought it would never work. The program also had severe schedules.
The bottom line is that we did it successfully. There needed to be experts in many fields, among which was to design the servo control to perfectly synchronize the speed and position of the fast moving film with the moving image. Three electrical engineers designed the servo system. They were Dick Carricato, Marty Yellin and Dick Labinger. Many engineers did outstanding work but to me these stand out as key people and Dick Carricato was the one who knew how Hexagon worked better than anyone. He was the “go to guy” to investigate causes and solutions to anomalies in the system prior to and after launch and while operating in orbit. He was often called in the middle of the night.
Len Farkas, a former director of the program said “Dick was one of the most important and least appreciated and most honest person on the program. He would do anything to help you out and if it weren’t for Dick Carricato we would not have been so successful. He was close to a genius and should given special recognitions for his contributions to the program.”
One of his major contributions that few people knew about occurred in 1972 when one of the two cameras experienced a film break. Dick was called at 2:30 AM and came in to evaluate all of the telemetry data that was coming in. He next directed a series of simulation tests on the Engineering model of the system and when the test results showed similar “signatures” as the data from orbit, he was able to determine the real cause of the problem. After several weeks of evaluation and analysis Dick prepared a detailed report that he presented to the CIA and senior representatives of associated companies such as Lockheed, TRW and Kodak. At the conclusion of the meeting the various program managers, including Mike Maguire the Perkin-Elmer Director of the program, met together with the CIA to discuss the performance fee that would be awarded for this mission. When Mike came out of that meeting Dick asked him if they agreed with our assessment of the problem. With a smile Mike said “They gave us full fee.” This indicated that Perkin-Elmer’s analysis of the problem was correct, contrary to a defensive explanation by one of the other companies and as a result earned some millions of dollars for Perkin-Elmer. Thank you Dick. What a guy.
Dick was not only a talented engineer but he was a kind and gently guy. He was always happy to go out of his way to explain things, to perform a test, to do favors for anyone. He never raised his voice or showed disappointment or anger. It was such a pleasure talking with him about anything. He owned and flew his own one propeller airplane and told interesting stories about it. He could describe trips and neighborhoods in such an elegant and poetic way. He was curious about so many things. He taught himself Fortran when he saw that there was a dire need for it. He was always quite formal and wore a jacket and tie even during the early days of “casual Fridays.” Best of all he listened to people and communicated so well verbally and in his writings. He had a great influence on so many of us, and certainly on me even through today. I will miss him greatly.