The Invisibility Project—the U.S. Enters the War
(1:02:48) But Tesla, as he went on, became more involved with this project: he had a great insight. And his approaches—or, I should say, his approach—to the idea, the object of invisibility, is most interesting. Now his ideas were not only mathematical but electronic. But in addition to the work that he did and his approaches, there were other people who theoretically fit into the whole background of this project.
Remember, [the invisibility project] started in 1931 in Chicago, at the University of Chicago, and it was moved in 1933 to the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. There are a number of things, background, which are very important. One of the people who was very important to this project was a mathematician known as Dr. David Hilbert, in Germany. He dates to before the turn of the 20th century, lived until some time in the 1950s; so far as I know he never left Germany. But he developed many systems of mathematics—five in actual count—of which the last one was the most important. It became nicknamed Hilbert’s Space, because his mathematics described multiple realities, and means for, shall we say, connecting to them—at least theoretically—to the alternate realities.
John von Neumann
Among the people who were in Germany at that period of time, of course, was Dr. John von Neumann, who I’ll give a little history of at this point. He took a degree in chemistry in 1925 and a PhD in mathematics in 1926, and taught in the German university systems for approximately four years before he came to the United States in 1930. During this period of time, of course, he met David Hilbert, learned a great deal of his mathematics, and von Neumann, in his most inimitable way, went on and developed some more of his own mathematics—things known as operators, polar operators, and what became known as the von Neumann algebra, eventually, to make it perhaps more palatable to a student.
These are some of the people who figured in the background. Hilbert made his contributions in terms of mathematics, which was brought over to the United States by Dr. John von Neumann. He was on staff full-time there, working perhaps most of the time on the project itself.
The approach which Tesla used was basically the same approach which was used in the later experiments. In the earlier phase, involving, of course, the test in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a very small ship, some rather scaled-down equipment was used, but the basic idea remained the same.
One has to understand the four basic energetic systems of our physical universe. A little bit of theory here. I’m not going to get into math and highly involved because this is not intended to be a scientific dissertation, but a more popular presentation of the ideas of what was going on.
Everybody, I am sure, has heard about magnetic fields—but I’m quite sure there are very few people who ever heard about a gravity field.
I’m sure everybody has heard about electric fields, both static and, of course, current flow—that’s the AC system we use today and has been used since before the turn of the 20th century. There are electric fields, and, of course, there are magnetic fields—everybody, I am sure, has heard about magnetic fields—but I’m quite sure there are very few people who ever heard about a gravity field. Because Sir Isaac Newton’s idea, when the apple hit him on the head as per the stories of yore, that he propounded the theory of gravity in which all matter had an attraction for all other matter, and the mass of the planet determined the strength of the gravitic field. This happens to be incorrect. But there is not much in the way of outside literature published in the open domain which indicates, other than the speculative ideas, that gravity is a field—an external field around a body like Earth or any other object. And it’s extremely important that one know the idea of a gravity field, because this is what we were using to create a means of access to the time field.
Now, that, again, is another new idea, because not many people outside of the, let’s say, the hardcore scientific field, the hardcore scientific community, really understand that time is not an illusion but is an actual fact in the form of a field. Without a blackboard and such, I cannot give you much of an idea of what I’m talking about, but I will attempt to do this, shall we say, off the cuff without actual physical representation.
Not many people outside of the hardcore scientific field, the hardcore scientific community, really understand that time is not an illusion but is an actual fact in the form of a field.
The gravity field, the electric field and the magnetic field are all interlocked. If you consider, or mentally look at a triangle, an equilateral triangle of some size, point-up, you can assign it in any way you wish. But at the three points, the three apexes of this equilateral triangle, one will be ‘e’ for electric field, one will be ‘h’ for the magnetic field, and one will be ‘g’ for gravitic field. If you interconnect these fields by electronics and electronic means—and that takes a great deal of math, and it took many years to understand how to do it, but this is what Tesla came up with, and, of course, the rest of the people at the Institute—you set up electronics and electronic means to properly interact with these three fields, you then access automatically the time field.
And when you access the time field—and this, of course, is in a small localized area, depending on how much power you put into this—you access it and you can manipulate the time field within a small—or perhaps not quite so small—area for effects which are local.
If you visualize a doughnut—this should be the easiest way to do it. A toroid, but let’s say a doughnut, which everybody I think has seen. But a toroidal structure resembling a doughnut. This thing is a closed circuit. Time is a closed loop—this is very advanced math, very vast concepts—in which there is quite literally no beginning and no ending. There is a point which one can say is plus and minus infinity: this is a mathematical concept, which perhaps doesn’t have any direct feeling in reality; but this is a concept. There is a point you might say is the beginning and the ending, the alpha and the omega, and you can go through that point. But we’re not there. We’re at some point in the time field, and in the terms of this torus or doughnut, if one describes a line around the edge, such as a full circumferential line enclosing that torus, enclosing this doughnut, this is the reality line of time as we understand it. Time being three vectors, but the first vector, t-1, the so-called fourth dimension, is time as we know it, time as we measure it with a clock, as we can measure it astronomically by the movement and the position of the stars. This is fairly easy to grasp.
Time also has another aspect, another vector called t-2, which is at right-angles with the first. And if the time that we understand and measure is along the edges of this torus or this doughnut, if you look at the doughnut as a three-dimensional object, you can describe a certain amount of circumferential rotation around it. You can literally trace around the doughnut, fully around one edge, and as you go, if it’s the helix, you go around the whole doughnut describing it. This is t-2. It is at right-angles to this linear flow. And this right-angle coil, if you will, is the second vector of time. We don’t measure that, but it is the one which controls t-1.
Now, what we were doing, and we’re speaking now theoretically, is accessing the time field. And in order to access time itself, if I use that term, you have to go one order higher, in order to affect everything that’s below it. Going one order higher is when you go to t-2, and you affect t-2. And therefore you can control–within that limited area that you’re working with, because the force of the electronics and the artificial field you create doesn’t go through the whole rest of the whole universe: it’s very much restricted. Depending on how much power you have, you affect the immediate area. This is one reason why they went to such high power in the early experiments—not the very first one Tesla did in 1940, but the subsequent ones. And that is the problem which developed: extremely high power, which became very destructive to the nervous system to the sailors.
But by doing this, you access time with the other three forces; and because of that, you can create a localized time field, and you can then play games with it. When I say, games, again I’m speaking mathematically and on theory. And what you can do, if you can create a field large enough to surround an object, whether it be this table or, say, a larger object like a ship, which of course is what we’re concerned with, what you are doing is creating a field, literally a doughnut or torus field around that ship. The ship is in the hole, so to speak, but the fields are around it, and that affects time around that ship.
Therefore, you can rotate the time field slightly as you go away from the line of reference, which we call time, or t-1—t-zero, if you want to call it that. As you go away from that by creating a field which starts a rotation around the edge of this doughnut, you’ll get to a point at approximately 60 degrees rotation where light passes through the object. It is then invisible. The only reason it is invisible—it’s still there—the only reason it’s invisible is because there is no longer a reflection of energy. If you reflect light, the radar energy, you will get energy fed back to you. You will see it, a camera will record it, while the radar system, of course, will record a return of energy and create an image. No return, no image—i.e., it’s invisible. That sounds very simple; it’s really not.
There are other means for, let’s say, portraying or actually creating an idea of invisibility. There were other systems proposed. One of the magicians went to the Navy many, many years ago and says, “I can create an illusion, which can be effective to make a whole ship invisible.” The Navy listened to this man, and they classified the whole project and everything he said. So nobody knows what it is he really said. Apparently, the Navy thought enough of it that they thought they had better classify it.
There are other ideas which have been proposed, but there’s one other aspect of this I want to make clear. There are certain chemical solutions (at the moment I forget what they are) if you put them in a glass and set the glass on the table, the chemical solution that has the same index of refraction as the glass becomes totally invisible: you can’t see it in the glass. This is essentially what I’m trying to say. If you make the index of refraction, and the area where the ship is, one, there’s nothing there to see. It’s there, but you can’t see it. Just like the chemical solution inside the glass: you can’t see it. Water you can see. And it’s close to the same index of refraction as glass, but it’s not the same. It’s different than air; it bends light. Because it bends light, you see the water. Light will bounce off of an object or go through it, and depending on whether it goes through without obstruction, such as very good window glass—essentially all the light goes through it and you don’t see it. A glass, of course, is a combination of basically oxygen, silicon, and a few other chemicals, and is almost pure oxygen, which perhaps most people don’t know.
But there are many ideas, and the basic one we were working with was very complex. It required enormous amounts of power. But in an initial test that Tesla did, as he conducted this in 1940, didn’t require the power that was used later, and he did take the precaution: all personnel were removed from the ship when he had the power turned on. And the ship was completely invisible to sight or to a camera. Radar is nothing but electromagnetic energy at a lower frequency than light. So, if you can make it invisible to light, theoretically it’s invisible to radar, which did prove to be the case at a later point.
Tesla was involved in this all the way up to March of 1942. With that successful test, what happened was, of course, was that Roosevelt got the news and he said, “Well, Mr. Tesla, I’m going to give you a real ship now. I’m going to give you a battleship. If you can make that invisible, you can make anything invisible.” So a battleship was moved into the back yards of the Philadelphia Navy Yard, in the area which at that time was for classified efforts.
T. Townsend Brown, inventor of degaussing German magnetic mines
Tesla went to work, of course, prepared the equipment for that. And, of course, he was backed up by the people at the Institute. I mean, he was not working alone. He had John von Neumann working, he had Einstein there as a consultant, and other people who became involved, including a man by the name of T. Townsend Brown. He was a Navy man in the Reserves; he had a bachellor’s degree in electrical engineering. I’m not going to go into his whole history, but in 1938 he was pulled out of the Navy Reserves into a full-time commission, and then assigned to a number of projects. But one of them he was involved with was the Philadelphia Experiment. He contributed a lot of work in terms of the RF systems, particularly the antenna system, which was used to create the electric field, and that was one of his contributions to the experiment.
He perhaps is better known for the fact that he worked on the degaussing systems, and he developed the degaussing systems for the German magnetic mines. In the early stages of that he used to wrap cables around the entire ship, create a pulsed magnetic field strong enough so that if a magnetic mine was near the ship, they would, at a safe distance, be exploded. Not too near the ship, obviously. The magnetic mine worked not by contact, but by the proximity of a large mass of iron or steel, which, of course, all the ships were then. (Today it’s a lot of aluminum, the hulls of the smaller ships.) It would detect the mass of metal, it would change the magnetic flux of the magnetic system inside the mine, trip it, and of course it would explode. Theoretically, it would blow the ship apart without having any physical contact with the ship. That system, of course, the Germans developed about 1938, and T. Townsend Brown found the remedy for it. And that was one of the things he did that did bear some relationship to what came later in the Philadelphia Experiment. Some people, such as John J. O’Neill, thought it was nothing but an extension of T. Townsend Brown’s work on the magnetic mines—it was not. There was similar technology, but only a small part of it.
Edward and Duncan Cameron assigned to USS Pennsylvania
When this battleship arrived in the harbor and then up into the Philadelphia Navy Yard in January of 1941, approximately, Duncan and myself were tapped on the shoulder by the brass in the Navy and told, “You’re in the Navy as officers; it’s time you found out what the Navy is really all about.” Because up to that point we had had very little contact with the Navy; it was almost entirely working at the Institute. Aside from that fact, of course, we had a social life. It was quite easy, and around Princeton and that whole area, of course, there were a lot of social activities. We were part of them; we took part when we could. Because at that point before the war started there was no dawn-to-dusk and that type of operations: it was on an eight-to-five basis. So we would go out and do various things, and we’d have a social life, and we’d do some dating, and eventually, a little bit later, I became engaged to a woman to marry, but that became the case in 1943.
In that period we had some social life. We went around. We learned a lot about Philadelphia because it’s not that far from Philadelphia—they had a lot of social life going. There were a number of people I remember dating. And, of course, being that we came from the Cameron family, and there was a certain degree of prestige to that. And, of course, you wear a white Navy officer’s uniform and the women were falling all over you. In this case they were falling all over me and Duncan—Duncan was still the better looking of us. We never had any problem, shall we say, socially. The problem was how to fit the social life into the work life. It was an interesting competition.
Japan attacks Pearl Harbor
When we went to the sea in the Navy, of course, that ended, and we were all over the Pacific until October of 1941. The Pennsylvania came into dry dock at Pearl Harbor. It was due for an overhaul. It, of course, had been launched in 1916, commissioned in 1916, and it was quite an old battleship, actually, but still very seaworthy. It was the favorite of Roosevelt at that point and the flagship of the fleet.
“Gentlemen, your orders have been cancelled. We have reason to believe the Japanese are going to attack Pearl Harbor within 48 to 72 hours, and we don’t want you there.”
It went into Pearl Harbor into dry dock. We took leave first in Hawaii and then we went to San Francisco. And on December 5, 1941, we were about to board a Navy plane at the Alameda Naval Air Station when we were intercepted by a Navy captain who says, “Gentlemen, your orders are cancelled; come with me.” And we followed him into an upstairs room at the Naval Air Station and met Harold Bowen Sr. This was the first time we’d met him. He was the director of the Office of Naval Engineering, as they called it in those days. It’s been since renamed of the Office of Naval Research. And he said, “Gentlemen, your orders have been cancelled. We have reason to believe the Japanese are going to attack Pearl Harbor within 48 to 72 hours, and we don’t want you there. Stay here in San Francisco; it’s the home port of the Pennsylvania. Show the Navy some paperwork and things you can do, but take all the time you want off. Have a good time. In January you’ll go back to the Institute and there will be nothing but hard work, I can assure you.”
So, we did exactly that: we continued our leave, if you will, in San Francisco—had an absolute ball. San Francisco was always wide-open for sailors and we didn’t have any problems. And, of course, history records that on December 7th the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. It was known in advance by certain people in the Navy and in the military and the brass. And it was known in advance, as I found out many, many years later as Al Bielek, by a woman whose husband at that time was stationed in Pearl Harbor in 1941. It was interesting to note that the people expected an attack for two months prior to December 7th, but nobody knew whether it would come or when. All of the male population on the island of Oahu, which is where Pearl Harbor was, were armed. The military gave sidearms to every male who was 18 and over on the island, expecting an invasion. Now, if the population expected it there two months before it actually happened, what about all of the hoopla afterwards that it was a surprise sneak attack? Oh, yes, we were surprised all right, because it was set up in order to get us into the war. That is, of course, a part of history that I do not wish to deal with at this point; it’s not necessary. But we were not there when it happened.
Back to the Institute for Advanced Study (January 1942)
In January we returned, of course, to the Institute for Advanced Studies—January 1942—and preparations were underway, well advanced, for the test of the battleship. Now, they didn’t want to cut into the deck of the battleship in order to, shall we say, bury machinery and equipment below decks. If the ship were being built—and there was no one who wanted to put this stack of equipment on board a ship—then they would have made preparations for a space to store the equipment. But this was, of course, the first stage of a series of experiments, so everything was lashed to the decks, and the heavy equipment was on the dockside.
Tesla, when I got back and was talking with him, was very concerned about the fact that his calculations showed you had to go up to many, many times the power—almost 100 times the power—he used for the initial test. And we’re talking about megawats of RF energy, and many kilowats of electrical energy through the coils. He designed four coils to go on the deck of the ship—whatever ship it might be—which were conical. He loved, I might add, conical coils. Instead of the flat ribbon-wound, or the typical type that you wind on the core of a transformer, which is flat, layer by layer, these coils were spirally wound—small at one end, and they get bigger and bigger and bigger. He considered them more efficient. He even made flat coils which were spirally wound: he said they were more efficient than the standard techniques then being used, and being used to this day.
But these coils stood something over six feet high, about six-and-a-half feet high. They were copper tubing, approximately 1 3/4 inches in diameter, hollow, because they had to pump coolants, water, through them in the final stages, in the final design. And they had one cable connecting at the top and one at the bottom. They would sit four of these on the deck of the ship, whichever one it was, whether it was the battleship or whether it was the later work on the Eldridge. And they would be pumped with AC power from special orphenators [phonetic] which were designed for this job. They provided the magnetic field. The electric field was internal to this. And it was a special antenna, which was designed in the stages for the battleship and on as a quadriphage antenna, which means there were four segments, 90 degrees apart, around the periphery of a mounting tube. And these things were sort of embedded. Because it was high-frequency, they could embed it as a rod, insulated, 90 degrees displaced from each other. So you had them in the four-quadrants, so to speak, of the circle—90 degrees apart. And each one of those was fit separately with an RF system, where the energy that was pumped to them was 90-degrees out of phase with the next one, and so forth, around the whole circle.
By proper use of much, much electronics, separate from the antenna and separate from the coils, you would produce a rotating field—a rotating electric field and a rotating magnetic field. The electric field rotated counter-clockwise inside the magnetic field, and the magnetic field also rotated counter-clockwise. The interaction of those two fields, in relationship to much other unmentioned mathematics—and still-classified, for that matter. Even though the Philadelphia Experiment today has been essentially declassified because of the 50-year limit on classification of anything, unless it’s special dispensation to keep it going longer, it will not, I’m certain, show the mathematics. I have not had access to those records, even though I’ve tried to get them. There are ways of keeping people from getting them even though it’s declassified—I’m speaking of the current time.
Going back to that time, the power was quite excessive, and Tesla knew it. But I might add that in terms of the knowledge of the effects of electric and magnetic fields on the human body and the human nervous system, there was little or nothing known at that time of those effects. We’re dealing at a time when the only high-power transmissions were radio. There was no television except in its earliest phases, not as we know it today. And they had no medical knowledge to indicate at what point the human nervous system will break down, fry, or break down or break apart completely due to exposure to electromagnetic energy. The magnetic field component is, in terms of a DC field, not damaging; in terms of an AC field it can be extremely damaging. Tesla was the only one who had a real feeling for the dangers involved. And he kept saying to everyone, to Duncan and to myself and other people, “We’re going to have a problem.” He says, “I’m not sure whether we can run this equipment safely without affecting the safety or the welfare or perhaps even the lives of the sailors who may be near it.
“Mr. Tesla, do what you have to do, but there’s a war on. The date is firm. You will have to meet that test date.”
So, he went back to the Navy. They already had signed the test date in March of 1942. And he said, “I need more time to look at this and to find a solution to the problem which I know is going to develop.” He says, “We may wind up with dead sailors, and I certainly don’t want that to happen, and I have to redesign this equipment and do other things.” And the Navy came back to him and says, “Mr. Tesla, do what you have to do, but there’s a war on. The date is firm. You will have to meet that test date.”
Nicola Tesla leaves invisibility project, is replaced by John von Neumann
So, the date rolls around; the equipment is turned on. The night before, Tesla went around and apparently sabotaged a few pieces of equipment so they wouldn’t work. And that result was that what did turn on produced a few sparks, and no invisibility field, no heavy radiated field of either RF or magnetic fields. No one was hurt. No test results, of course. But Tesla bowed out and said, “Gentlemen, this test is a failure. I have other things to do. There’s a very good man who can take over.” And that was Dr. John von Neumann. He recommended Dr. John von Neumann, who was assigned the task of being the director.
The night before, Tesla went around and apparently sabotaged a few pieces of equipment so they wouldn’t work.
So, what does Dr. von Neumann do? He says to the Navy, “Well, I have to find out what went wrong.” A very obvious question, a very obvious answer, and a very obvious statement. It didn’t take him long to find out what went wrong, the fact that the equipment had been sabotaged. But he decided he wanted to redesign the whole system. Now, that does not mean that he wanted to take a totally different mathematical approach, because the mathematical approach was correct, as we were using it in those days. But he decided that he wanted to scrap the analogue system which Tesla was using.
By analogue, I mean, very much like current radio, you have an RF carrier that’s modulated with the voice or music, and it’s a continuous modulation—it’s not digital. It’s a continuous modulation at varying amplitudes. In the case of frequency modulation, the amplitude is constant. You cause a variation in frequency in accordance with the modulation that you want to impress on it. But it is continuous.
Now, the idea which von Neumann had, which he wished to do and he did do, was that instead of it being continuous radiation, it would be pulsed, at about a ten-percent duty cycle. In this manner he was going to pulse not only the magnetic fields, but he was going to pulse the RF fields. More efficient, in his view.
Von Neumann was a strange man, I might add. And he was not only a very good theoretician mathematically, he was one of those very rare breed who could convert it to engineering hardware. He designed the hardware himself. Very few people have that capability. You think of mathematicians like Hilbert and many others in history, Einstein, and Einstein probably couldn’t tell you which end of a wrench to hold, but when it came to mathematical equations, he had little or no peer. Von Neumann was probably equally as capable in some areas of mathematics, but he had the additional expertise of being a good engineer.
Von Neumann is given the USS Eldridge
He decided it had to be a pulse system, and he needed much time to redesign. He also decided that, [instead of] trying to lash equipment on the decks of a battleship, he wanted a ship from the ground-up, designed for the project. So, he went to the Newark shipbuilding yards, not too far away, and took a number off the drawing board—DE-173—and decided that, “This is what I want done.” The Navy concurred; told the builders, “You’re going to change the design slightly here. We want number-2 gun turret left unfinished. We want a quite large area in the hold of the ship which is left open—it’s not going to have all the usual compartments.” Of course, the main machinery had to be functional: the ship had to be able to go to sea. “And you will build the ship this way, run it down the ways, with the unfinished section in the interior and the unfinished gun turret number-2. But you can provide a dummy gun turret, if you wish, to cover up the hole.” In fact, if it’s going to go to sea, you’ll have to.
The Navy does not and never has denied the existence of DE-173—it has only denied the much earlier date of launch, and its use in the Philadelphia Experiment. To this day they insist there never was a Philadelphia Experiment. Well, I’ve got news for them: there was, and I was there.
Well, that ship was on the ways in the summer of 1942—and I’m talking about DE-173. The official Navy record shows, if you care to look it up, that it was commissioned on August 27th, 1943, and it went down the ways about two months before that. And it was under construction in 1943, not 1942—and I’m speaking, of course, about the official record. The Navy does not and never has denied the existence of DE-173—it has only denied the much earlier date of launch, and its use in the Philadelphia Experiment. To this day they insist there never was a Philadelphia Experiment. Well, I’ve got news for them: there was, and I was there.
Let me give you a picture of, shall we say, what our daily work was like. We reported in every day. We didn’t live on the base, Duncan and I. We reported in every day, typically around seven in the morning, through the main gate. It’s interesting to note, and anybody can check the old maps on this, there’s an old trolly line, and may to this day be running, on Broad Street, which went right through downtown Philadelphia, and straight and directly to the Navy base. In fact, at one point it ran on the base, but they cut it off eventually, right at the entrance, at the entrance gate, and you walked from there. Direct trolly line, no problems getting back and forth. And we lived off-base. And, of course, actually, we shuttled back and forth between the Institute and the Philadelphia Navy Yard.
We’d come in in the morning, we’d go to work, and our job there in the yard was really more supervisory than anything. We were not involved in design; we were not actually part of building equipment or moving the equipment on board—we were supervisory. But we had to know everything that was happening; we had to know everything that was being done, and watch literally the equipment that was installed.
After the Eldridge was actually launched in September of 1942, I was transferred to the Philadelphia Navy Yard, and the finishing work was done on the ship there in the Navy yard. And this, of course, included, as time went on, the installation of some very heavy equipment on board the ship. The ship’s power was totally inadequate for supplying the power necessary for these tests because you were using megawatts of power as the equipment was designed, and we had an 8-megawatt diesel electric generator, which was the biggest piece of equipment that we moved in the hold: that took a lot of work. Then there was a pair of alternators, 75 kVAh, with a huge motor drive system and gear boxes: they had to be rolled and bolted into place very securely. And then some additional work was done by another man I talked with since as Al Bielek, as he is still alive the last I heard, and he designed the synchronizing equipment. Which became a real problem, because von Neumann knew—and without going into the specifics of the theory—the two alternators had to be electronically synchronized in an exact phase relationship. And that could not be done mechanically. It was tried, but it was a totally hopeless task, because you’re dealing with huge gear boxes, a 75-horsepower motor, and all of the adjacent gear boxes and other systems, and there was always mechanical slop. Finally, it had to be done as electrical synchronization directly between the two alternators. That was accomplished; it took a lot of work.
The Blue Lagoon
Like so many other pieces of equipment on board that ship, you put them in, you test a particular system, that particular piece of equipment, there are all kinds of failures, all kinds of frustrations, and everybody took out their frustrations, typically that night in one of the downtown bars in Philadelphia. At the Blue Lagoon, to be specific. That bar was mentioned in the movie, the commerical movie of the Philadelphia Experiment, titled “The Philadelphia Experiment.” produced in 1984, but they never mentioned the name of the bar. The scenario that they showed in there was essentially correct. That bar, in fact, existed far beyond the period of 1943. It was finally shut down, I understand, in about 1993, which is quite a few years. But I remember it, and Duncan remembers it, because we usually went together, unless we were on dates or something. We’d go down there and have a beer or two or three with the boys, that is, the sailors, or noncommissioned, or had no rating, or whatever It was rather an interesting group because we stuck rather closely together. We had to for a reason. We were all under orders not to talk about the experiment. Now, people would ask us in those days, “What are you doing? You’re here in the yard?” “Yes.” “What are you doing?” “Well, we’re working on a project.” “Well, what are you working on?” Well, we couldn’t talk about it. And we’d beat around the bush, and occasionally there was a little leakage, and reprimands, but basically people kept their mouths shut and just said we were working on a war project. That was the password at those times—nobody asked much more.
So, time went on. We became very familiar with the bar. Of course, the night before the final test there was a sort of farewell party. And I say, the final test of the Eldridgee—actually, I’m talking about test number-two. Even before test number-one to the Eldridge, there was a sort-of going-away party. But the whole process of getting the equipment ready took months and months and months. It went on from December—when they took the Eldridge out of drydock, finally—when they put on the very heavy equipment and did the finishing work on the ship, which was December of 1942. They put it in the back section of the Navy yard, where all of the other equipment was put on, and there were subsection tests and various pieces of equipment were tested; the radio communications system was tested, and they made their final assignments of personnel. And the crew, I might add, was a specially selected volunteer crew. Now, that gets into another interesting part of the history.
First test of von Neumann’s engineering designs (July 22, 1943)
Before I go into that, I just want to say that with all of the frustration of all of these tests, we finally decided the ship was ready for testing. And von Neumann conceded it was ready for testing some time in early July of 1943. And this test, the first one, was conducted on 22 July of 1943 about six miles down-river from the yard itself, in the river. Not where it became already the bay, the Delaware Bay; it was up near— actually part of the city, in an island called Tinicum Island.
We did not drop anchor. This, of course, was not to be done because nobody knew what would happen with these fields if you dropped anchor—it might short them out. So, no anchor was dropped; it was put on station—it became stationary—and equipment was turned on. The results I will describe shortly.
But that only came on 22 July, 1943. There was a lot of grief and work to be done [before that happened]. When we were all satisfied it would work, and Tesla said, long since, “You’re going to have problems with the high power.” Von Neumann agreed, eventually, with a lot of argumentation between Duncan, myself and von Neumann. Tesla said so, and he [von Neumann] didn’t want to hear this; but eventually he agreed there was a possibility. Of course, we were dealing with some rather high powers. What kind of power were we dealing with? Von Neumann decided to [increase] the power output of the RF transmitters from the original half-megawatt the original design to each antenna, to a two-megawatt design. And this is operating at 160 megahertz. Now, some people may feel that frequency was impossible in those days with the kind of power we were using. Never forget the fact that military electronics and government electronics systems are always years—decades, typically—ahead of the civilian sector.
Now, in the period of time I was in, let’s say, a more reasonable statement would be that it was 30 years ahead. Today the secrets of electronics and other systems which our government has are probably anywhere from some 50 to 100 years ahead of what the civilian population knows, and the commercial population and the commercial uses knows. But we were ahead. We had the capability of producing that kind of power—obviously for military usage and for the government—the various manufacturing companies would produce equipment on special order which is not for commercial usage. The theory is there; it’s just a matter of “Can you build it?” Well, if they say, “We offer you this amount of money; get it built,” they do it. And there was no limit, because the war was already on. There was no limit on the money that was expended: just get the job done.
Never forget the fact that military electronics and government electronics systems are always years—decades, typically—ahead of the civilian sector.
And why were they so anxious to get the job done? Well, historically, for those who are not aware of it today, in this era, when the war started, the Germans had huge fleets of submarines. They were very effective at sinking shipping. In fact, they were so effectiven they almost cut England off from food. They sank every other piece of shipping coming across the Atlantic, or from wherever, heading for England. Up until December 7, 1941, of course, the U.S. was not involved, and U.S. shipping was theoretically immune from being sunk. Comes December 7th, with the attack on Pearl Harbor we were part of the war, and, of course, we were just as vulnerable as anyone else. But fifty percent of the shipping going down in the Atlantic, it was quite a problem. They wanted, of course, to reduce this as much as possible, and get shipping, munitions, food, whatever through to England; and the idea, the whole basic concept of invisibility, was that if you could make the ship invisible to radar—the Germans had good radar—they won’t be able to find the convoys and the ships and the fleet, except by day, and if the submarines were seen by day, there were means of taking care of them if they were on the surface, or even if they had a periscope up. You could spot them, and torpedos or whatever will take care of them.
If the convoy is invisible to radar, they’re not even going to be able to find the general location by radar, and they’ll probably miss most of the convoys. That was their hope, and that was the idea, and why so much time and money was spent on Project Invisibility.
Edward Cameron worked on the Manhattan Project
In the background, but just a little bit after this, not concurrent, there was another major war effort, of course: the atomic bomb. That work started about 1942. The theory, of course, was laid down much earlier. But the work on that was totally separate and began in Los Alamos Laboratories in 1943. I will go into that a little later, because I was part of that.
The concern was, how do you stop these wolf packs from being so effective? Invisibility seemed to be the answer, if it worked properly. So, all of the work and the effort, and having our little farewell party on the night of July 21, the test crew was on the Eldridge, was taken down-river, and on the orders from the observer ship and the man who was in charge of this whole test for the Navy—you might say the official coordinator running all these tests was a man by the name of Captain Harrison. Harrison was a very interesting man in his own way. He was the first native American to achieve the rank of captain in the U.S. Navy, and it was sort of an honor for him to do this. I know this because I know his son, who is currently alive today. And he was in charge of the test.
Well, of course, on this carrier, which was used for the observing of the tests, they wanted it to be high enough above the water so that it was very easy to see what was going on—through binoculars. And also see the other very important aspect of this test is, it wasn’t just the ship that became invisible. This doughnut field was surrounding the ship, but did not impinge on the hull of the ship—it was a little bit outside of it. As a result of this, water also became invisible. There was a waterline around the ship, which showed essentially the outline of where the ship would be, except the waterline was a little larger than the ship.
So, from the observing ship high enough up, you could see what this waterline was, and tell where the ship was—hopefully it was really there: it was, in fact—and observe this. Well, Harrison looked at this, and after about twenty minutes of the test, he could see that something did not appear to be quite correct. Something in his mind [bothered] him—namely, if the ship is sitting there invisible, and we can’t see the water under the ship and so forth, is the ship really in water or is it in air? This is what bothered him. So he says, “Terminate the tests after twenty minutes.” And they were terminated; the ship became visible. It was totally invisible to sight and up to radar, which they could test it for, because in 1943 we already had good radar systems.
They were told to return to the yard, which it did, in the back section, and then we knew there was a problem, because all those sailors were deliberately stationed on deck to be observers of what they could see from inside, i.e., could you see anything outside the ship. No, nothing. Gray field, gray fog. Thick, gray impenetrable fog. But everything on board the ship appeared to be normal within the purview—up to the rail. But those who were on the deck became very sick, very nauseous, totally out of it mentally. They weren’t injured physically, but they were totally, shall we say, incapacitated mentally.
So, von Neumann sees this when they get back, and says to the Navy, “We got a problem. I’ve got to find some solution to this. The Navy says, “Not to worry: we’ve got another test crew for you.” About half of the volunteer crew was used on the first test, and the second half was used on the second test.
Von Neumann sees this when they get back, and says to the Navy, “We got a problem. I’ve got to find some solution to this. The Navy says, “Not to worry: we’ve got another test crew for you.”
To get into that aspect of the volunteer crew, where did that come from and how did this occur? So, I mentioned previously that my father left the Navy in December of 1929. Unbeknownst to us at that time, he was not only building racing sloops in Long Island and putting them in the racing regattas, but he was also, as I have already mentioned, bringing some German scientists out of Germany. Why was he doing this? What were his connections? What else was going on?
It took many, many years—long after I was no longer Ed Cameron; I was Al Bielek—to find the answers to what Father was really doing and what he was involved in. But that I’ll get into later, other than to say at this point that he was doing many things we weren’t quite aware of. Now, what is of record in that period was that when the war started, the Coast Guard tapped him on the shoulder and asked him if he would give volunteer service to the Coast Guard. He did. And there are pictures of him in his Coast Guard uniform at the age of 50—he was still a very good-looking man—and he became, literally the man who was the schoolmaster for the special volunteer crew. Von Neumann wanted not only a special ship—he wanted a volunteer crew, which the Navy agreed was a very good idea, because nobody knew what might really happen. And Tesla let it be known that some things might happen.
They went throughout the whole Navy, and they asked for volunteers for a very special project. These were the requirements: you had to have at least a normal intelligence quotient, you had to be in good health and so forth, and if you volunteered you would be taken out of your present billet and be put on some other special project, you’d go through a special school, and all of this. They got a number of volunteers, and eventually selected and settled on on some 33. They went through a special training class between September and December of 1942 at one of the Coast Guard facilities in Connecticut, and Father was the one who briefed them. And I have in my collection a picture of this test crew, and its very interesting because they were in the gymnasium when they took the picture. In the middle, and seated in the first row, was my father.
This became the backbone—of course, when they finished this schooling in December of 1942—they became the backbone of a crew, the enlisted crew, for the tests. There were, of course, some officers in addition. These people stood by, quite literally, in the Philadelphia Navy Yard in the period from January of 1943 until they were required on the Eldridge—with some training on board ship, of course. And then, of course, we had the first test on July 22, 1943.
To the radar systems, the ship was invisible. To those optically viewing it, the ship was invisible. It just faded out, if you will. According to what I was told, not being on the outside but inside with Duncan running the equipment, it just sort of faded out from view like some of the modern fade-out montages that they do on television and in the movies, which they’re expert at creating these effects now. But this was a real effect, not an illusion. It was illusion in the sense that you couldn’t see the ship anymore, but it was very much there.
“You have a drop-dead date. You complete these tests by 12 August, 1943, or forget it.”
But it had a price, and the price was what happened to the crew on deck. Those below deck were shielded by the steel and not affected. So, von Neumann looks at this and says, “We’ve got to solve this problem.” And he went to the Navy and says, “I need time to solve it.” The Navy didn’t give him an answer at first. Finally they came back to him about August 1 and said, “You have a drop-dead date. You complete these tests by 12 August, 1943, or forget it.”
Now, this was very unusual, because von Neumann didn’t understand this, Duncan and I didn’t understand it. I went to Harold Bowen Sr., who was still available, director of the Office of Naval Engineering—we had some friendship with him—and asked him, “What is this all about?” And he says, “Well, I got the order; it comes from upstairs.” And he says, “I’ll look into it.” And he came back in a rather short time and he says, “This order originated with Admiral King,” who at that point was chief of Naval operations worldwide. Now what is a man, as I asked—and Hal Bowen couldn’t understand it—why is a Navy admiral running all of the Navy’s affairs in the war out of Washington, concerned about a date on an engineering test and having it end on 12 August, or be completed by 12 August, or, “forget it”?
We didn’t understand this, and frankly, we never got the answer to what this was all about until, quite literally, the late 1980s. No longer was I Ed Cameron—physically I am, but I have my identity today as Al Bielek. And through a lot of research, we did find the answer, but I will not get into that at this point. That is quite a bit of explaining as to what that was really all about.
Von Neumann didn’t understand it—nobody did—but we had the date and we had to live with it, so it was around-the-clock [work]. And the Navy did say, “Yes, one other little point: we’re not concerned about optical invisibility, only radar invisibility, but if this helps, fine.” The reasoning at that time was, at night in a convoy, you better be able to see the ship in some manner or other, optically, by eyesight, because you had no satellites at this point, no LORAN, no SHORAN, no long-range navigation: all we had was “by the seat of your pants” and by sight and by radar; and if the radar invisibility was in effect, of course you’re not going to see anyone else in the fleet by radar. And, of course, hopefully the Germans would never find the fleet or the entire convoy, either.
So, that was a slight relaxation. It didn’t really make any difference in the equipment: just a matter of how much power was involved and how finely tuned it was. So, we went along with this, and by 9 August of 1943, just about everybody involved with the test in terms of being on shipboard was getting this funny, queasy feeling in the pit of their stomach, like we all knew something was wrong. That funny feeling that you get something isn’t right—we got it, strong. Nobody knew why. Nobody knew what was wrong, nobody had any concept that there was anything wrong. Duncan had it, I had it, and most of the crew members had it.
And one very interesting young man, who was a sailor, who came from Bozeman, Montana, Bill Cody—he was an enlisted man who was in . . . the picture of the graduating class—was particularly ill. And that night, on the ninth of August, he was quite sensitive and quite ill to the effects of feeling that something was terribly wrong. He was totally beside himself; he was agitated. And I said, “Let’s go out and have some coffee.” We went out the back-door of the Navy yard, and about a quarter of a mile down the line was a diner. And we went there and we stayed half the night and we came back, and he felt a little better. A lot of sailors went there because it was a 24-hour diner. We’ll get into this later because it’s historically very important.
Comes the 12th of August, of course. We all get on the ship. We have our, shall we say, our final party the night before, going into the wee morning hours, at the good old Blue Lagoon. And we arrive, and we get on board and take our positions. The ship goes down the harbor to the point of test. And now we have three observer ships. We have the carrier, we have a Navy Coast Guard ship, and we have a commercial merchant ship known as the U.S.S. Feurseth, on which was stationed a man who was at a later date called Carlos Miguel Allende. That was not his true name. His real name, well known then, was Carl Allen. He was an officer in the Navy, and also had a PhD in physics.
But that was the lineup. We were [ready] for the test, and, of course, at the appropriate hour, everything was turned on by radio link. We turned on the equipment, and of course, the ship became radar-invisible, but it was not optically invisible. You could still see the outline of the ship through what was a green haze, a green fog. This green fog, actually, in technical terms is highly agitated ionized oxygen, or ozone, generated by the various pieces of electrical equipment operating—particularly the RF generators. The RF field generated by the antenna and certain other equipments were producing this greenish fog. That identified where the ship was, and you could see it, and the same large water outline. But then there was a blue flash after about 70 seconds. A blue flash of light, and the ship disappeared, the waterline disappeared, and there was no Eldridge. No communication. And this condition, that everybody on board the Eldridge, knowing nothing about what has happened—I will get into that very briefly—but everyone on the carrier and the observer ships had no idea what was wrong and had no concept of what was going on or happened until the Eldridge returned four hours later in the same point in the harbor. (1:57:09)