Theft Of Trade Secrets
The Silicon War Triology
Chapter 4 - The Kite
Monterey Street House
South Laguna, CA USA
Saturday, October 13, 1956 - 1730 hours PST
It was amazing as I was growing up that neither my sister nor I ever heard my parents fight except during presidential elections like the one in 1964. My mom supported the Democratic Party and believed in the "Great Society" legislation that Johnson was pushing. This included Civil Rights, Medicare, Medicaid, Aid to Education, and the "War on Poverty." She was pro woman rights, pro-life and pro-union.
My father backed Goldwater who won the Republican Party nomination pushing labor-union reform and anti-communism. He was pro woman rights, pro-choice and anti-union.
For my mother, she was still pissed at Goldwater for voting against the censure of Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1954 for his abominable conduct with the HUAC.
My father was against Johnson because he was escalating American's involvement in the Vietnam War and spending more federal money the US had.
So it wasn't unusual to have political leaders over for dinner and have a "spirited debate." See, much of the fund raising my dad did, came from these political and business contacts throughout Southern California.
As a result, my sister and I became a "contrarian debater." We would always take the opposite side no matter what we really thought. For me, I never again saw anything as black or white, to me everything was just degrees of gray.
The other bad habit I gained was when I was told "No", I would do it anyway just to find out why I was told "no." My sister was much smarter than me, she would just ask "Why?"
Then came my projects. It started with a question of "how do you spell Polypropylene" and "do you have a Tee Square" that alerted my mom to another project of mine. At first, she was very worried that I had social problems or God forbid mental problems. She would watch me on the lot next-door, play by myself with my toys in this big dirt pile. But if you would have looked closer, there were freeways, overpasses, landscape, and a running river into a lake. This was when I was 6. By 7 years old, the freeways were made from cement that I "found" from a construction site a block away. However, it was the surface streets that amazed her the most. I had taken some tar off of the real roads, melted it and then mixed sand in it, and then rolled it in place with her rolling pin. Oh, I had cut it down to be 4 inches wide and reattached the handle. For years, she always wondered what had happened to it.
Then came my sprained wrist from jumping off the roof with my bed sheet parachute. When I was asked why? "Well, they did it on TV." See... that's where I learned most things about real life. Perry Mason taught me about Law and the Courtroom. Robert Culp and Bill Cosby taught me how to be a spy. James Bond gave me ideas for things I needed to build. And of course, Carry Grant who taught me manors and how to talk with women -- well almost.
You watch your kids with amazement as they try things. You encourage them to try new things but then my mom found in my bedroom my new project. I had starts building two, 7-foot wing sections for "my new project." My mom told my dad, "Thank God he doesn't have a bigger bedroom."
That night, it was her turn to host the weekly "girls night" bridge game with her best friend Harriet Nelson. They had met 14 years earlier when my mom had her own radio show in Hollywood and Harriet had hers before she moved into Television with her husband, Ozzie.
Although the eight women all had kids, the primary topic of conversation tonight was about the current antics of Christopher Pederson and me. It seemed we were always the main topic of conversation and tonight, it was about Boy Scouts. Chris and I couldn't just build propeller driven rockets like the rest of the kids; it had to be jet powered. Well, that almost burned down the whole side of the mountain as we test fired it the first time. "It took two fire trucks this time", my mom said with embarrassment.
However, as she walked out on the balcony for a break to look out at the golden sunset setting over the Pacific Ocean, she said, "Oh shit!" She now knew exactly what I was going to do. "He's going to try to fly into the ocean from here."
You see, from our front porch, you could walk 10 yards down the front stone stairs in the front yard to Monterey Street, hang a right 50 yards to Old Man Larson's house, and then go left down his driveway to the "fire trail." This fire trail wound its way down the side of the hill to the Pacific Coast Highway or PCH as it was called by the locals. Once at the bottom, you could jay walk across PCH to Aliso Beach County Park, then thru the parking lot to the beach.
Or as my father said all the time, "as the crow fly", it was 350 yards out and a drop of 110 yards. And this is what brought the "Oh shit" from my mom.
So only after asking me the most basic question did she get a more reassuring answer, "So what are you going to do with this?"
I said, "The 6th grade class has a project to make a kit that can lift 10 pounds off of the ground. We were also going to be judged for 'most novel', the 'largest', the 'smallest' and the most 'over all weight lifted'.
Now, how much trouble could a school project cause?
Fully assembled the kite had a wing span of just over 14 feet 3 inches. It had a typical airplane tail sitting at the end of eight food wooden pole obtained from Chris's sister's closet.
Please note: Mistake one, don't screw around with your sister' things. She will kick your ass.
We had finished painting the kite on Sunday and then very early on Monday morning before school; it had its successful madden flight. It easily flew stable at the end of a 100 foot of cord. This was well within the parameters of the project. But what would happen when we put some weight on it as required?
First, we used a 10 pound bar bell weight suspended from the kit's body. Up it went with ease but was unstable due to the weight was to far back. That took a simple fix; we suspend the weight from the center of the wing on a 20 feet long cord.
Next, was one of those large, loose cement brick from Old Man Larson's brick wall. At 50 feet: "no problem". Well, what about two? Now three? Still no problem.
Mistake number two. Lift was not our problem, the kite would have easily lifted all three of us off the ground, but with a 5 to 7 mph wind blowing out to sea that day, the load on the cord was at its maximum tensile strength. As we unwound the cord and let out more of the cord, the load was less due the releasing of the cord. But when you stop letting out the cord, the load hit's it max and then add a small gust of wind... "Yep, you guessed it", the cord broke.
Now most kites would just flutter and fall to the ground, right? Nope! Not this one. It just made a slow right turn, sped up, and entered a nice 10% glide back to earth. All three of us start breathing again when it passed over PCH without incident and headed out to sea towing the three bricks underneath it. However, as with all currents, air, or water, they swirl and the kite made a slow left turn and headed back to shore slowing as the wind died down.
The waves from the ocean that day were about 2 foot and there was a light, 1 foot service chop if that, but just enough to hit the first brick and send up a small splash, like a rock skipping over the water. That's all that it took, down went the first brick, followed by the second and third. The flight ended 200 feet off shore in about 20 feet of water.
At first, the kite tried to stay aloft but as the cord tightened, it spun around and settled in the water. After about 5 minutes, one of the bricks must have moved, and down went the kite underwater except for its tail. Even from where we were standing up on the cliff, you could see the red shadow of the wings as the light blue swells went by.
It was at the next "girl's night" that evening when Paula Horns first started the conversation that got everyone laughing so hard, they had to stopped playing bridge. Paula or Ms. Horns was my 6th grade teacher and she had come up with the kite contest idea. As each of kids got up to discuss their kite design during "show and tell", I was "volunteered" to explain what happened to our kite.
Paula said, "He showed the drawing of the wings, explained how the structure of the wings created lift, drew on the chalk board what the tail assembly look like and how it gave stability. However, as he went thru describing the weight tests and results, the kids in the class first started to giggle and finally they were laughing so hard as he described how it just landed and vanished. It was Clifford Hanson who first cried out loud, 'bull shit'. Then more and more of the kids said 'BS'. As Bobby tried to explain, the more 'bull' came out. Both Paul and Chris tried to help but to 6th graders, 'a kite that could lift 75 pounds' equals 'Bull Shit'."
Of course, that day at lunch, the two 6th grade classes had flown their kites for the rest of the school. Clifford won first prize for his Delta design kite based on his father's hang gliding concept. It was Clifford's father Norm with designer engineer Charles Richard and Paul Bikle who showed how to build the delta wing that would affect two decades of kited-hang glider constructions. This included their client, the American space agency NASA who began testing various flexible and semi-rigid configurations in order to use it as a recovery system for the Gemini space capsules. As Richard and Bikle moved into an advanced NASA project, Hanson left and took the technology into commercial use as one of the founders of the Hand Gliding industry.
After school Paula and boyfriend Don Henderson, our Principal of Aliso Elementary school had decided to walk down to the beach to see if this giant kite was real. As they crossed over the PCH overpass, the red shimmer was clearly visible including three boys on surfboards. You see, we had a major maritime salvage operation was underway. As the kite surfaced, Don stated, "Good God, it's bigger than I thought."
"You know Don, everyone thinks Bobby is Pinocchio, but I've been watching what he does. This is a really a gifted kid. You ask if something is doable, most kids think about it and then say Yes or No. With him, he just starts doing or designing it. Look at that damn thing, its 14 feet wide for God sake. They wanted to see if it could lift them off of the ground."
"What? Do you know what our liability would have been if they did? Ok... look, the next time you talk with him; see how they were planning to get down if they did it? If it makes sense, I will go to Jenkins with his name for that advanced computer programming program that's starting."
Normally when you see three boys carrying a kite, you would not make anything out of it, but when it is 14 feet wide, one boy holding a wing, another holding the other and the third holding the tail, you must take pause. Watching them navigate the kite around the "fire trail" hairpin turn made Old Man Larson himself stop and smile. Having watched the morning's show of kite flying, the disaster, and the faces of the boys showing such disappointment, he was very proud of them for not quitting.
Chris was the first to see him, "Oh shit, it's Old Man Larson."
"Good afternoon boys, nice kite. Looks like you need a little help though" he said.
"No sir we got it covered" Chris said.
"Ok, but when it dries, the wings will warp and make it unstable."
"Well what do you suggest sir" I asked?
"Well, bring it over here and let's take a look at it. Hum... let's put it in the garage for now, the winds picking up and it will make it easier to work on." As the old man opened his garage doors, we were amazed with the pictures, his tools, and the big blond looking propeller.
"Is that yours" I asked?
"Yes, that's me in the Big War. That one was my brother. We flew over France and Southern Germany together. He didn't make it." For a second, you could see he went back there.
"Now let's get started. Go get those blocks over there..." and for the next 2 hours, we patched the holes, re-glued the wood and listened to some real "Great War" stories.
His name was Herman Chester Larson, 69 years old and married to his lovely bride for 45 years. Maria Beth Summers met Herman in a field hospital in France where she was stationed. Herman had been shot down for the third time and was burned severely over both legs. Later in the hospital, he finally lost his toes on his left foot. There was a fever, depression over the loss of his brother and finally his order to be shipped home in the spring of 1918. They continued to write each other monthly, sometimes sooner, but finally in late September 1918, Maria Beth came home to her parent's farm just outside Springfield MO. Two weeks later, Maria Beth heard the familiar sound of an airplane doing a flyby of her home. It did a steep bank to the left, headed for the ground, landed with a small bounce, and taxied right up to the front of the house. She already knew it was Herman before she saw him. As he walked up and knocked on the front door, Maria Beth's dad opened the door.
"Mr. Summers, sir, my name is Herman Chester Larson and I would like your blessing to marry your daughter."
"First, get your aero-plane off my front lawn. Yes you may. Wash up. Dinner is in 30 minutes." As he turned and closed the door, he yelled, "Ma, set another place at the table."
It wasn't until after dinner, after the dishes, after a smoke and after some small talk, that Herman was finally able to be alone with Maria Beth. There was a full moon just rising when Herman knelled down and proposed. Of course, Maria Beth said yes. She had been in love with him since the day he first came into the hospital.
See, there were five of them then. All severely injured and Herman kept telling the doctors to take the others first. They needed their medical attention more than he did. Finally, his time came and as he was being carted off, he took her hand and with a big smile ask; "Will you marry me?" After all that had happened to him, he still had a sense of humor. As she said "I'll think about it", he slid into the start of a 3 week coma. That was over 45 years ago and they still were in love. That's just the way it is supposed to be. Right!
As with all moms came the "Herman, it's a school night and the boys need to get home."
"Yes Maria Beth. You guys get along now and we will finish this up tomorrow."
"But nobody at school believes we did it and we need to take it there to show them" I said defensively.
"What! Do you know you did it?"
"Well, yea" I said.
"Then that's all that really matters. No matter what, people will bitch about what you do. Get used to it. Don't worry we'll work something out in the morning."
As we went home, Herman started to work. How many times had he needed to dry a wing? How many times did he have to fly with warped wings? Oh does this bring back memories. "Maria Beth would you put more coffee on. Thank you my love."
Morning came and for the past three years, Joann and I walked down the fire trail, across Aliso Creek, and up the Dawson backyard trail to school. However today, as we walked past Old Man Larson house, the garage doors were already open and empty.
I said to Joann, "Oh is there going to be a lot of shit at school today." What's worse, there was no reason in cutting school, the waves sucked.
As Joann made the turn onto the playground, high above us was the kite. As I saw it, I said, "Yea, Chris must have picked it up earlier."
Not wanting to bring attention to their relationship, Paula and Don drove separate cars to school. Paula was usually 15 to 20 minutes early. Today, she was late and as she entered the school's parking lot, she saw it. It was red. It was flying. It was "the Kite."
Don had started a fight last night over the liability of her "creative teaching methods" and she promised she would ask for his advice when she did anything like that again. Well... maybe, when he was a sleep she would.
However today, she had three little butts to bust for flying the damn kite without permission or supervision. As she walked up to the group of kids, there he was right in the middle of them. He smiled at her and said "Good morning to you Paula."
She just lowered her head and said, "Dad, what are you doing?"
"Oh just flying a kite. Nice day for it, don't you think."
Not 5 minutes behind her, Don walked up and just smiled. As he looked at his watch he said, "Herman, you can do 'show and tell' for 11 more minutes, but have the kids in class before the bell."
You see, Herman was the best teacher in the Aliso Elementary School District. He could capture and hold any kid's attention but he was order to retire at age 65 and what a shame.
As Don looked at Paula, he smiled at her and said, "I'm sorry about last night. I can really see where you get it from. If you gave him to lunch, he would have half of these kids flying off carriers and the rest at the Air Force Academy. Oh God do I need a cup of coffee this morning."
Although it took me over 2 hours that afternoon to find them, the three missing bricks were put back on Mr. Larson's wall. It was two weeks later when he asked me to help fix the wall. He even let me mix the cement and put them in place myself.
Although I never told him, he became my "Grand Pa" that day. He also became my first live role model.
Two years later, he abandoned me... he died.