IMI and The Boeing 747 Entertainment System

The first Boeing 747 flew in February 1969. I remember driving up Skyline Blvd shortly afterward to watch the first one take off from SFO. Almost immediately, problems developed with the passenger service and entertainment system, which had been developed for Boing by Hughes Aircraft. The unique thing about that system, and others to follow, was that they were digital, using time-division multiplexing to handle the digitized data, rather than traditional analog methods. The result was eliminating a bundle of wires the size of a sewer pipe, running around the aircraft – replacing it with a single coax cable, the diameter of a pencil. That meant a huge increase in flight range due to weight savings. That was the first time such technology had been used on commercial aircraft.

A very popular movie at the time, called “Ice Station Zebra”, starring Rock Hudson, was the downfall of the system. Had it been a few years earlier, I suppose it could have been the howling wind that shipwrecked Gregory Peck in "The Guns of Navarone" or maybe the incessant whistling of “The Bridge On The River Kwai” that would have brought the system down, but either way, it was inevitable. The harmonics of that high-pitched audio coupled into the multiplexing and the entire system went into a random out-of-control mode, with seat lights blinking and a sort of popping sound in the speakers. This did not sit well with passengers.

Boing immediately went to Instrument Systems Corporation (ISC), in Huntington, NY to redesign and supply an improved system, and almost immediately, ISC came to Fairchild Semiconductor, where I was working. The seat-box , dozens of which were installed in each group of seats were required to be designed and built, using multiple hybrid circuits, using thick-film conductors and actively trimmed resistors, along with chip & wire semiconductors, which had recently become my field of expertise. At the time, Fairchild had much of its analog circuit engineering resources tied up in a government contract to produce the electronics for the McNamara Wall, so despite the fact that my group was imminently qualified, and had all the technology required to build hybrid Sallen-Key active filters, Fairchild turned down the opportunity to focus on TTL digital circuity, which was their main trust at the time.

At that point, Dick Bader (my boss at the time) and I looked at each other and said, “to hell with that”, and the next day was the beginning of Integrated Electronics Incorporated – later renamed Integrated Microsystems (IMI). ISC [i]None of us knew at the time that the three brothers running ISC were all crooks. Ed, the President, was later indicted for selling contraband electronic technology across the Iron Curtain . The other two, whom we worked with (Bernie & Irving), were equally sleazy and the whole thing eventually blew up, as described in this New York Times article. provided some seed financing and factorable purchase orders for the first 300 “ship-sets” (planes) of electronics. Ted Geiszler, the founder of Western Microwave Labs, provided temporary floor space in his building in Los Gatos, and we founders funded the bulk of the financing needed to launch the Company. We were joined by Paul Kemp[ii]Paul was the brother of Jack Kemp of NFL fame and later a Congressman from New York. as the Marketing/Sales VP and we quickly started developing a family of products using the same technology – among them, high power MOS Clock-Drivers , some very unique Bell-103 and Bell-202 modems using State-Variable active filters, and a series of resistor arrays for A/D converters.

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All this took place early in the history of the semiconductor industry – which was about to become the biggest revolution the technology world had seen to that point in time. Unfortunately, it was also very early in my understanding of the business world.

The Garrett brothers, being the sleazy characters they were, never intended for IMI to last. They had cleverly snuck a minority stockholder provision in the founding agreements that gave them voting control of the Board, even though they held a minority share of the Company stock, Such clauses were illegal in California at the time but we didn’t know that and even if we had, we didn’t have the financial resources to fight in court. Once ISC had their short-term (3 years) product needs satisfied, they took over our little Company and moved the entire thing to New York, leaving us holding the proverbial bag. They paid off Bader “under the table” to go along with the deal and that was the end of IMI.

Conveniently all this took place at a time when LCD wristwatches were just emerging from laboratories around the world. I had developed such a watch, with help from Bob Norman at Intel, using the same kind of technology we had used in the ISC system. I sold my design ideas to Intel , which had just acquired Microma a few months earlier. The resulting Intel Consumer Electronics division, with me in charge, ended up being acquired by Timex, whereupon I became an indentured servant for two years, commuting to Middlebury, CT.

Andy Grove, who was VP of operations for Intel at the time, had promised me a good job when the term was over, but I never went back to Intel – another story for another time.

By: Jim
Written: 2021
Published: April 2021
Revised:
Reader feedback always appreciated
footnotes
footnotes
i None of us knew at the time that the three brothers running ISC were all crooks. Ed, the President, was later indicted for selling contraband electronic technology across the Iron Curtain . The other two, whom we worked with (Bernie & Irving), were equally sleazy and the whole thing eventually blew up, as described in this New York Times article.
ii Paul was the brother of Jack Kemp of NFL fame and later a Congressman from New York.