The Foundations of DRTE
(F.T. Davies)

A Brief History of CRC
(Nelms, Hindson)

The Early Days
(John Keys)

CRC's Pioneers


Bits and Pieces


The Alouette Program
The ANIK B Projects
David Florida Laboratory
Defence Communications
Detection Systems
The DRTE Computer
Doppler Navigation
HF Radio Resarch
The ISIS Program
Janet - Meteor Burst Communications
Microwave Fuze
Mobile Radio Data Systems
Prince Albert Radar Lab.
Radar Research
Radio Propagation Studies
Radio Warfare
Search and Rescue Satellite
Solid State Devices
Sounding Rockets
Trail Radio


John Barry - Doppler Navigation
John Belrose - The Early Years
Bert Blevis - The Role of the Ionosphere and Satellite Communications in Canadian Development
Bert Blevis - The Implications of Satellite Technology for Television Broadcasting in Canada
Richard Cobbold - A Short Biography of Norman Moody
Peter Forsyth - the Janet Project
Del Hansen - The RPL Mobile Observatory
Del Hansen - The Prince Albert Radar Laboratory 1958-1963
LeRoy Nelms - DRTE and Canada's Leap into Space
Gerald Poaps' Scrapbook
Radio Research in the Early Years
John Wilson - RPL as I Recall It, 1951-1956



Annual Reports





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Getting Underway

Much had to be done to finally get the facility functioning satisfactorily. The installation was essentially complete by January 1960. However, the transmitter output klystrons (X626's) developed by Eitel-McCullough proved less than completely reliable and could not be run at maximum power. They were subsequently replaced by klystrons developed by Varian. This change required some modifications to the transmitter.

Staffing was the first major problem we faced. DRTE had never operated a facility as complex as PARL and did not understand either the staffing or the logistical requirements of such a system. Management at DRTE had tended to view PARL as one of the ionospheric stations operated by the Department of Transport. Consequently, DRB headquarters had been informed that PARL would be operated with four technicians and an Officer-In-Charge. Fortunately, Dr. Jack Meek, to whom I reported, visited PARL early on and immediately recognized the need for many more staff than had been provided. As a result, staff numbers were increased in increments. By January 1960, the engineering and technical staff totaled eight people. Eventually, sufficient staff were assigned to enable PARL to function properly. That included a detachment of personnel from the Armed Forces.

The second problem that had to be resolved was one of logistics. The initial concept of performing the major functions of stores, stores accounting and procurement from DRTE at Shirley Bay in Ottawa proved unsatisfactory. It was necessary to maintain, at PARL, a stock of over 140 different types of tubes. Of this number, some 50 were types not used at Shirley Bay. Similarly, it was necessary to have on hand some 100 different types of transistors and diodes, few of which were either used or stocked at DRTE. Procurement had to be done through Defence Production office in Regina. Initially, the procedure involved sending a requisition to Shirley Bay where it was retyped and forwarded to the DDP Regina office. This involved an unacceptable delay in obtaining needed items, not to mention unnecessary paper work. In addition, it was obvious that storage for several hundred items needed to be readily available at PARL. To satisfy this need, it was necessary to provide additional space. To satisfy the requirement, a contract was let for the construction of an extension to the building. Such building contracts were issued by and the construction supervised by Defence Construction Limited., whose local office was in Regina. A contractor was chosen by Defence Construction, the contract was let, and work was progressing.


Late in the morning of January 31, 1961, Peter Graystone, a member of the PARL staff, came into my office and said, “Did you know that the construction crew are going to burn today?” The phrase meant that the construction crew was going to use torches to cut into the existing structural steel of the building and start to weld horizontal beams in place. I immediately phoned Shirley Bay, to the person in charge of construction, to inform him of this. His reply was, “This is no concern of yours, Del. Just stay out of it”.

A short time later, one of the construction crew ran to the front of the building, asked for a fire extinguisher, and ran back. Then he ran up for a second extinguisher. I ran back to the construction area and could see a line of flame running from the floor to the top of the wall and it was clear that the fire had already progressed several feet laterally (towards the front of the building) inside the wall.

Someone, I believe it was Peter Graystone, suggested that we try to make a fire break. We decided to start with the ceiling. One of the staff, Jimmy Horne, moved the traveling beam crane to the storage mezzanine at the front of the transmitter bay, where it was relatively easy to “get on board”, and four of us, equipped with wrecking bars and shovels, balanced ourselves on the narrow beam while Jimmy moved the beam, with us on board, half way down the transmitter bay. Once it had stopped, we stood up, balancing ourselves like birds on a wire, in preparation for stripping the ten-test off the ceiling to create the fire break. Because I was tallest, I had the privilege of removing the 4x8 foot sheet at the peak of the ceiling. No sooner was it loosened but dense black smoke poured out the opening. It was necessary for us to get down off our perch, quickly, so that we would not be overcome by the hot gases. Jimmy moved the traveling beam back to the mezzanine of the building to permit the four of us to get off safely.

It was clear that the fire was out of control, so I asked the staff to save any equipment they could, by moving it out of the building. This included most test equipment but also the sixteen racks of equipment in the receiver room which were mounted on wheeled trolleys. The cables between various portions of this equipment were all connected from the top of the racks. The staff used fire axes to sever these cables then rolled the individual racks to the side of the room and physically threw them out the windows. The receiver room was at ground floor level, the windows were low and the ground outside was covered with snow, so the equipment survived the experience with little damage.

As soon as the fire was detected, I had phoned the City of Prince Albert, to explain that we had a serious fire and asked if the Fire Department could help. Although this was outside their range of operation, authority was given and firemen were soon on site. Unfortunately, aside from what they had in their trucks, there was no available supply of water, so they were very restricted in their ability to assist.

As it happened, four of the staff (Ian Gordon, Art King, Ted Petterson and Don Selin) were not on duty but were ice curling in Shellbrook, a small town about 15 miles west of PARL. They heard word of the fire on the radio and rushed back. By the time they arrived, much of the building was engulfed in flames. They saved equipment from the machine shop. They also unbolted a section of the WR2100 waveguide that carried the transmitter output power to the antenna. This was done to prevent the large wave guide (16 X 9 inches) from acting as a chimney and carrying the hot gases from the fire up to the antenna proper where it might have done considerable damage.

In due course, a Board of Inquiry was convened to determine the cause of the fire and, I suspect, to assign responsibility. It was a three person board, consisting of a representative of the Judge Advocate General, Dr. Jack Meek, and the person at Shirley Bay with responsibility for construction.

Rebuilding Arrangements were made to clean up the site and activities started to enable the radar to be rebuilt. Some of the heavy equipment (servo generators, etc.) were moved to the Sask Power workshop where they were cleaned up and put back in shape by PARL staff. Other members of the staff were engaged in recovering various items of equipment that had been saved.

A working location for PARL staff was required until the building could be reconstructed. We settled on space in the Prince Albert Amouries which was available because it was owned by DND.

Engineers from Continental Electronics, the transmitter manufacturers, suggested that this would be a good time to make any modifications to the equipment that would prove useful in research. The main one was the ability to easily control the output power. We requested that modification.

Much of the equipment—the antenna control gear, for example—had been built at Lincoln Laboratory. Consequently, there were no drawings and specifications of the type normally required for tender by the Department of Defence Production (DDP). The size and urgency of the requirement led DDP to select a suitable contractor and arrange to permit the manufacture of equipment to commence as specifications became available.

The Lincoln Laboratory made available all the relevant information it possessed. Certain portions of the system were redesigned by John McAlpine and Keith Bedal of PARL staff. Drawings and specifications from all sources were passed to Shirley Bay where Mr. E.A. Seaman was assigned, full time, to expediting the equipment replacement. In this capacity, he maintained close liaison with DDP, was in almost daily radio contact with PARL and made weekly visits to the plant of the contractor. The arrangement proved very satisfactory -- remarkably few problems arose in the installation of this equipment.

Soon after the fire, plans were laid to maintain a limited scientific program. DRB headquarters, with minimum delay, arranged the procurement of the transmitter driver. This unit was housed in a trailer located near the antenna tower and a low power auroral radar program begun with the antenna pointing in a fixed direction . Unfortunately, the level of auroral activity that existed was so low that negligible results were obtained with this set-up. Another part of the program consisted of cooperating in satellite measurements with Dr. James Van Allen of Iowa State University. A description of this activity is given below.

An architectural firm, Underwood & McLellan and Associates Limited of Saskatoon, was selected to handle the design of the building. Al Cameron, of the PARL staff, was named to liaise with them to ensure that our requirements were met. An optical dome was specified to house an optical director to enable the radar to be pointed at specific portions of auroral displays. Also, additional office space and a cafeteria were requested in the second floor area that had previously been a storage mezzanine. Also, most importantly, a large water reservoir with emergency pumping facilities was constructed not far from the new building.

The Research Program

This is a list, mostly chronological, of activities that took place both before and after the fire and rebuilding. The details of the program are in the reports that were prepared by those involved. A few of the descriptions are somewhat more technical than those in the rest of this document.

Once the Official Opening was over, we got down to the business of learning how to operate the system. This produced an interesting experience early on. One morning, the staff on duty in the operating room detected a very strong echo that was either stationary or moving very slowly. Had a UFO been detected? Could this be the big break? Would PARL make the news? One could almost see the headlines in the paper, “Prince Albert Radar Laboratory detects an Unidentified Flying Object”. The exaltation lasted only a short time. Someone—I believe it may have been Harold Serson—had the presence of mind to check the co-ordinates of the target in the Nautical Almanac. Indeed, a large stationary object had been detected. It was the Moon.

On several other occasions, slowly moving objects were detected. Their identity was never determined but it was thought that they may have been stray weather balloons.

As soon as the system was partially operational, programs got underway. For example, the first scientific use of the PARL radar occurred in early December 1959, when, at the request of Prof. Harold Webb, the moon was illuminated on alternate days with linear and then with circular polarization and the reflected signal received at the University of Illinois.

In those early days, there were few facilities available capable of tracking satellites. Satellite tracking began at PARL in February, 1960 and continued with data passed by telephone to the National Space Surveillance Center, U.S.A.F.

On May 14, 1960, Russia announced the launching of Sputnik IV, designed to carry a cabin adapted to man's flight in outer space. Its initial period of revolution was 91.27 minutes. On May 19th, Glen Lockwood and the PARL staff, who had been monitoring the satellite, noted that the period was 94.26 minutes. Something had occurred, probably an explosion, that had placed the satellite in a higher orbit; it had also resulted in the satellite and final stage rocket being joined by 7 additional objects. Subsequently, the Russians were understood to have announced that no attempt would be made to recover the cabin, which was reported to have contained a dummy man.

Early in the tracking history, the last known tracks of three satellites in decay were observed. These were Sputnik III, 1958 Delta 2 which decayed on April 6, 1960; the rocket body of Sputnik IV, 60 Epsilon 2, which decayed on July 17, 1960; and the rocket body of Sputnik V, 60 Lambda 2, which decayed on September 23, 1960.

In 1960, NASA launched Echo 1, a 100-foot-diameter, reflective-coated balloon to be used as an experimental communication reflector. The official contractor for the experiment was Bell Labs. Mr. Paul Sebring, Officer In Charge Millstone Hill Radar, suggested as a backup to the Bell Labs., that we replicate, using the Echo satellite, the Moon Bounce communications with which the laboratory at PARL had been officially opened. We did, and because Echo 1 came into view of PARL and Millstone Hill before it could be seen by the Bell Labs, we were the first to use it. Here is a sound clip (62 sec, 244 kb). Echo was tracked from PARL for 20 passes ending on December 27, 1960. The satellite itself continued much longer but gradually lost its spherical shape because of impact from meteors.

Certain items of WR2100 waveguide for the PARL transmitter were received in September 1962, the day before the launching of the Alouette satellite. Vigorous efforts by the staff, coupled with the fortunate absence of serious problems, enabled the radar system to be used at low power to observe the Alouette satellite as it travelled over Alaska on it first pass. Later, daily telemetry operation of the Alouette satellite continued from PARL for selected pass-times that occurred during the period 8:00 am to 4:00 pm CST.

Track information was obtained on three ARCAS rockets fired from Cold Lake as part of the DRTE auroral absorption experiment. In addition, numerous Black Brandt rocket firings from Churchill were tracked from PARL.

Interestingly, much later, on January 23, 1963, Space Detection and Tracking (SPADAT: the agency then handling satellite data) advised that information was so scarce—and, I guess, the objects in space so numerous—that intercept coordinate information alone was very useful, even if tracking information could not be obtained. They asked that the time and range at which a satellite passed through the beam be reported, even though its exact position could not be obtained with certainty.

PARL cooperated in an experiment initiated by the University of Illinois whose purpose was to investigate the scintillating nature of signals received on the ground from satellites on the signal path through the upper atmosphere in northern latitudes. This was code named Noah-Alice and had transmitters carried on Discoverer XXXII and subsequently on Discoverer XXXVI (launched 1961).

PARL performed telemetry command for, and received data from, the Injun series of satellites, to assist a program conducted by the State University of Iowa.

Auroral Research, the reason for the existence of PARL, began in January, 1960. It was conducted in cooperation with the staff at the Institute of Upper Atmospheric Physics, University of Saskatchewan. Results have been reported by them. The principal researchers were Peter Forsyth and Gordon Lyon. There were others. (Peter moved to Saskatchewan from DRTE in 1958 and stayed until 1961 when he moved to the University of Western Ontario.) Early results showed that radar auroral echoes were observed at elevation angles of 0 to 23 degrees and within the limits of 330 through zero to 105 degrees azimuth.

In addition to the high power radar, PARL operated numerous other sensors. They included: an Auroral Luminosity Recorder; a three-component Magnetometer; an Earth Current Recorder; a VHF Radar; and a Riometer (30mc polar).

By early 1963, the observation of daytime aurora by optical means, from ground level, was believed technically possible. The radar at PARL would serve to indicate where and when the optical device should look. The development of a Fabry-Perot spectrometer with the right specifications was in progress at U. of S. Gordon Shepherd directed the work


The following is a list of people who were employed at PARL at some time during the interval from 1958 to 1963.

Professional Technical Administrative & Support RCAF
John Day Dave Barlow Doris LaCroix F/L J.M.MacDonald
Peter Graystone Keith Bedal Ian Murray F/L Gaines
Del Hansen Jim Bennet Dorothy Kerr Ft.Sgt. DePottie
Percy Kelly Jack Brown Dean Smith Sgt. G.L.Shuflebotham
Glen Lockwood Al Cameron Cpl. H. Dyck
Larry Maynard Allan Craig Cpl. J.D.MacKenzie
John McAlpine John Draper Janitor Cpl. D.J.Rooney
Fred. Peet Barry Dutton Roy McShannock Cpl. J.Williamson
Al. Seaman Ian Gordon
Ted. Petterson Jimmy Horne Driver
John Hanchareck Lawrence Demery
Art King
Harry Meredith Guards
Don Selin Colin Edwards
Harold Serson J.W.Hooton
Gordie Thomas W.J.Luck
Bill Tigges W.C.Walls
Don Williams H.Slawson
Lloyd Winacott

Concluding Comments

The DRB staff at PARL demonstrated remarkable skill and versatility. The members of the Armed Forces melded effectively and helpfully into the staff structure. Personnel from Lincoln Laboratory were invariably co-operative and helpful. It was a pleasure to work with our main ‘customers’ at the Institute of Upper Atmospheric Physics, University of Saskatchewan.


The following people have supplied facts and information that might otherwise have been omitted: Al Seaman, Peter Forsyth, Jack Hogarth, LeRoy Nelms, Doris Jelly, Keith Bedal, Al Cameron, Ian Gordon, Peter Graystone, Jack Hooton, Lloyd Winacott. Valuable editorial assistance was provided by Keith Bedal, Peter Forsyth and Kirk Hansen.

Please report any errors in this document, and send any comments, to
Del Hansen
April 2005.

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