“Predator” by Richard Whittle


I really enjoyed this book.  I might be biased though: 1) I’m an engineer in the defense industry, 2) I worked in a UAV lab during grad school, 3) I live virtually down the street from General Atomics ASI.  So I felt pretty familiar with the background landscape, so to speak, surrounding the story of Predator – from inception until being integrated with a laser seeker and Hellfire missiles.

My overall impression was that this is a product made by many hands, with many who have championed it along the way.  It’s kind of sad that it took so much backroom finagling and overrides from top leadership to get new, novel technology like this past multiple levels of Pentagon and military bureaucracy.  But it was an idea who’s time had come.  Even skeptics of the whole idea were hooked on “Predator porn” when live video started being pumped into command centers and bigwig offices around the world.

Some of the heroes of the story:

  • Abe Karem, virtuoso aircraft designer.  He seemed frustrated with the slow pace of getting his designs accepted and used by the military, so left that work to others and moved on.  He’s still in the aircraft business.
  • Neal and Linden Blue, owners of General Atomics.  On summer break from Yale in the 1950’s, they and a few friends dreamed up an ultimate road trip, from France to India.  Dreams are a dime a dozen, though — they actually did it.  For funding, they first went to the New York Times, pitched the idea and got publishing agreement for stories they would write along the way.  Next, they went down to Chrysler (I think?) and told them about the great publicity the company would get via their news stories if they would donate a ruggedized, late model car and supplies.  They did, and the trip was a success.  The next year, they did a similar stunt only by plane and through South America, ultimately schmoozing with the Somoza family of Nicaragua and starting a banana plantation.
  • “Werner,” the anonymous satellite engineer who time and again came through with novel solutions with culminated in today’s operations where Predators in Afghanistan and elsewhere are remotely piloted from the Nevada desert.  That’s pretty amazing.

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