Two swaggering technicians are dramatically humbled when they flip the power switch on a high-voltage simulator.
Early in my career I worked for a company that produced all of the world’s simulators. They made some of the most fascinating and realistic simulators of all types, from locomotives to airplanes of every size and shape, for many decades. Of course all of this was done before the age of digital-image solid state storage, so everything had to be done from film or with miniature models of a grandiose scale.
They had intricate models of countrysides constructed on sheets of plywood erected vertically into a massive set 20 feet high by 40 feet long. A camera with a fisheye lens mounted on a gantry could fly through the landscape and do touch-and-goes on the detailed runway. Every job was a joy to work on, and I learned many things.
For one project I was tasked with doing a flight simulator for the jet trainers that everyone used. The visuals were done with 35-mm film running through a flow-motion film transport, with a flying spot scanner tracking the frames and producing images on the large wraparound displays.
The deflection amps on these displays got very warm, so water was run through the heat sinks to cool them off. Just imagine the water leaks dripping around 40,000 volts. Of course the cockpit had motion simulation with large actuators. The power consumption on the total simulator was quite large, in order to accommodate all of these features.
I was lucky enough to acquire two very cocky technicians -- Frankie and Davey -- to assist me with the construction and assembly. I was suspicious of these two from the get-go, because at that point some of their previous exploits had become company legend.
One famous incident involved the two going out to the West Coast on an installation job, where they got lost for a full week after they were expected to return home. Even their wives were searching for them, since they did not contact anyone during that time. They returned and miraculously did not get fired. Instead they were assigned to me.
The simulator was in the large high-bay area of the plant. My desk was upstairs in the middle of a football field of desks. As Frankie and Davey were wiring and assembling the simulator, I continuously warned them of impending doom when they energized the system.
For months I told them that I did not want to be near the area when they threw the switch. If I were down on the floor, I wanted sufficient advance warning to seek shelter behind a concrete barrier. I felt that I had sufficiently put the fear of severe maiming, even death on their shoulders.
Well, the day of reckoning finally came. I left the high-bay area and went to my desk on the football field. As soon as I sat down, all of the lights in the office area went off. The sea of desks was now in twilight. Silence prevailed.
I was in utter shock and did not know what to do. In the distance, I could barely make out two figures running from the high-bay area towards my desk. Lo and behold it was my techs, who arrived with ashen faces, trembling as they were trying to talk to me. At the moment that they had thrown the switch, all the power in the building went down. They wanted to know what they did. I told them I knew it was going to happen.
My phone then rang and my boss informed us that we just had a community blackout due to a power fault at the substation. Frankie and Davey then looked at each other, laughed, and breathed a sigh of relief.
I did not stop laughing for a week.
Chuck Maggi earned his BSEE from PSU in 1967. A self-proclaimed “old and tired electrical engineer,” he has worked in oil fields, communications, aerospace, consulting, and spooking, and is now into asphalt and viscosity in his waning years. He is back into the exciting world of amateur radio, after a 40-year hiatus, as N3CRM.