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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The DRTE Computer (page 2)


The P-N-P-N Flip-Flop

The cornerstone of the DRTE computer was the P-N-P-N bistable switch invented by Norman Moody. The first published reference to the use of a P-N-P-N trigger circuit in computer design occurred in 1956 (Note 4).

In that year, Moody delivered a lecture on "A P-N-P-N Bistable Element Suitable For Digital Computers" at the Canadian I.R.E. convention. The bistable switch, flip-flop as it is commonly called today, was the fundamental building block of the computer's binary arithmetic and internal memory. This P-N-P-N trigger circuit was built around a complementary pair of N-P-N and P-N-P transistors. The basic feedback loop in the circuit is given in Fig.1.

Fig. 1

This was a major departure from the symmetrical Eccles-Jordan type flip-flop designs that were so commonly used in those days. This produced a flip-flop, see Fig. 2, with the following characteristics

Table 1
Switching Time
< 0.2 microseconds
Output Fall Time when driving 5 similar stages
0.2 microseconds
Output Rise Time when driving 5 similar stages
1 microsecond
Output Load Current
> 30 milliamperes
Output Impedance
< 20 ohms
Resolving Time
< 1.5 microseconds


According to Florida the above P-N-P-N trigger characteristics gave "the designer great freedom, since at least five similar stages can be driven while still retaining good fall times, and at least thirty one-milliamp AND gates can be controlled by a single trigger circuit" (Florida,1959:2). (Table 1.)

In 1919, in the journal "Radio Review" W.H. Eccles and F.W. Jordan first revealed their trigger circuit. This trigger circuit was the first electronic digital circuit known to have been published (Note 5). Like a multivibrator, the Eccles-Jordan flip-flop is a two-stage amplifier with its output coupled to its input. Unlike a multivibrator, the two stages are directly coupled instead of being RC-coupled. The flip-flop consisted of two triode valves with each anode connected through a load resistor to a positive supply potential. "Each anode was also connected through a voltage divider to the grid of the opposite tube so that when one tube was cut off the other tube was maintained conducting, and the conducting condition of the other tube held the first tube in the cut-off condition" (Richards,1967:3) (see Fig. 3). The circuit in Fig. 3 exhibits a symmetry in its configuration. The two stages are identical.This flip-flop has only two states (first tube on and second tube off, or vice versa). Once the circuit has assumed one state, it stays that way until an external trigger pulse initiates a change over. A transistor equivalent of the circuit shown in Fig. 3 is shown in Fig. 4. The circuit in Fig. 4 exploits the transistor as merely a solid state valve. The triode is replaced by an npn junction transistor. The solid state version of the Eccles-Jordan flip-flop exhibits the same symmetry.

Fig. 3

Fig. 4

As was mentioned earlier the problem with viewing transistor circuits as extensions of valve circuits is that while all valve circuit configurations have transistor equivalents not all transistor circuit configurations have valve equivalents. While there is only one kind of triode there are two kinds of junction transistors: npn and pnp. It is this difference that Moody exploited in his design of the P-N-P-N flip-flop.

"I had developed a trigger circuit which at that time was unique for it featured a complementary pair of transistors. All the trigger circuits yoqu saw were made up of similar pairs. They were copies of vacuum tube ones. In my trigger circuit, for the first time, you had a pnp and npn whose states were off for a short circuit. This proved to be a very interesting basic circuit on which a great deal of work was done..." (Moody,l985:6).

"There wasn't anything like it anywhere else. The basic trigger circuit was fairly different from anybody else's. It had many properties which they're almost striving for now in CMOS circuitry. It was not sensitive; it wasn't fired by little interference pulses" (Moody,1985:15).

Moody's interest in trigger circuits goes back to the war years. While working on a radar problem Moody came up with a novel mono-stable trigger circuit. This device so impressed F.C. Williams that he asked Moody to come work with him. Moody's interest in faster and more reliable trigger circuits stemmed from his work on the digital counting circuits used in measuring the flux readings of radioactive particle emissions (Note 6)

It is interesting to note that the early work of Mauchly, Atanasoff and others on flip-flops was also based on the digital counting circuits used in Geiger counter instrumentation technology. "In the late 1930's a few scattered references began to appear on the use of flip-flops in counter circuits, where the application in most cases was the counting of pulses from a Geiger-Muller tube..." (Richards,l967:4). Mauchly recalled:

"In fact binary counters and vacuum tubes were already known to me; they existed in cosmic-ray labs (like his father's)... So I thought, see, if they could count at something like a million per second with vacuum tubes, why it's sought of silly to use these punch card machines, which can only do maybe a hundred cards a minute and don't seem to do much at that." (Shurkin,1985:91). There was one important problem associated with the P-N-P-N Bistable circuit. The circuit had a basic asymmetry between the current drawn in the "0" state and the current drawn in the "1" state. Recalling the circuits design Moody concluded:

"In hindsight one can see that it was wrong. A row of zeros meant no current was being drawn and a row of ones meant the maximum current was being drawn. So the current from the supply lines would vary randomly with the type of number existing and that was a very difficult problem. It is much better to have a current that never varies whatever happens because the transistors in those days drew quite a lot of current. We weren't into microelectronics; we were thinking milliampere currents and not microamperes" (Moody,1985:6).

George Lake wrote: "(These photos show) a pair of PNPN flipflops that I kept, used in the original arithmetic tester. When that work was done we built a single flipflop on a 2 1/2 by 2 3/4 inch board. By the time we came to build the computer we used larger boards about 6 inches square and put 4 flipflops on a board. (you can see the larger board sticking up above the drawer in your Console 2 and 60-4345 photos)

In the (upper) photo attached you can see the 2 PNP transistors at the bottom and the NPN at the top. On the reverse side in the (lower) photo you can see that the transistor leads were led through holes in the board and soldered into the circuit.

It didn't come through very well in the photos but across the top on the front and in the top right hand corner on the back is printed in copper "DRTE/EL PNPN No 1"

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