Remembrances of a Radio Scientist
by John S. Belrose
2002 is the 33rd Anniversary of the renaming of the Defence Research Telecommunications Establishment (DRTE) as the Communications Research Centre (CRC). I have been here for these 33 first years, and I was with, or associated with, the establishment for almost two decades before. I joined the Defence Research Board's Radio Propagation Laboratory (RPL) in September 1951, when it was a small laboratory located on the Prescott Highway. The research for my MASc degree in EE (in 1950) was supported by RPL. RPL became the Radio Physics Laboratory when we moved to Shirleys Bay in 1952, the first of the three laboratories forming the newly created Defence Research Telecommunications Establishment. Later, the Communications Laboratory was created, and after the completion of the third wing of the building, the Electronic Laboratory moved from Montreal Road in June 1961. CRC came into being in April 1969.
The Early History of DRTE
Like nearly all of the Laboratories of the Defence Research Board, DRTE had its origins during WW II. DRTE in the 1950s comprised three laboratories, the Radio Physics Laboratory (RPL), the Communications Laboratory (CL) and the Electronics Laboratory (EL). In 1969 DRTE was transferred to the newly created Department of Communications and renamed Communications Research Centre (CRC). CRC is now under the auspices of Industry Canada.
The Radio Propagation Laboratory evolved from Section 6 of the Operational Intelligence Centre (OIC/6) of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) during WW II. It originally occupied small huts on the Prescott Highway, which, in the years 1944-47 housed a naval HF radio station, operating under the call sign CFF. The station received and transmitted messages between Naval Service Headquarters, Allied Authorities, ships at sea, and frequently intercepted enemy transmissions. A name plate now marks the site, which is located south of the Experimental Farm's arboretum, between the Rideau Canal and the Prescott Highway.
During the war, the work of OIC/6 was very directly applied to anti-submarine monitoring and detection problems. Early work was concerned with the application of ionospheric data to communications, detection and direction finding in the HF band. From the outset it was realized that little was known about radio propagation via the ionosphere, and that in the Canadian and North Atlantic latitudes the ionosphere was much more complex and more disturbed than at lowerlatitudes. Studies of the high latitude ionosphere dominated the research of RPL for more than three decades.
OIC/6 was at first entirely RCN. When the Defence Research Board was created, it became inter-service in scope with the addition of S/L J.C.W. (Jim) Scott (RCAF) and Lt. L.H. (Lew) Wylie (Canadian Army Signals), joining a small RCN group of Lt. J.H. (Jack) Meek, Lt. Dorthy Bruce (RCN), and WREN Louise Macaulay (RCN). F.T.(Frank) Davies and Miss Rita Richard (later Mrs. R.C. (Bob) Langille) were seconded from NRC to head the Section.
With NRC assistance from C.W. (Bill) McLeish and R.E. Freeman, ionospheric equipment was built and installed in 1942 at the first Canadian ionospheric station at Chelsea, Quebec. It was manned by RCN signallers trained by OIC/6. This station was moved to a small building on the Experimental Farm which was released by the RCN. In 1943, a second RCN ionospheric station was set up at Churchill, Manitoba, in a hut belonging to the Harbour Board. This station was again manned by RCN signalers and directed for two years by R.E. Freeman of NRC. In 1944, the Department of Magnetism of the Carnegie Institution of Washington established an ionospheric station at Clyde River on Baffin Island. This station was taken over by the Department of Transport two years later, and extra stations were established by DOT at Chimo, Quebec, Baker Lake, NWT and Resolute, NWT. The RCAF established ionospheric stations at Torbay, Newfoundland and Portage La Prairie, Manitoba, while the Canadian Army set up similar stations on Signal Hill, Prince Rupert, B.C.
Particularly worth noting in the early history is the story of the RPL Mobile Ionospheric Observatory, mounted in a railroad car, and operated along the railroad between Portage and Churchill for two years (1946/1948). Jack Meek, Del Hansen, Len Hagg, Harold Serson and several others shared in this.
During the latter years of WW II and for a short time afterwards (it came into being in April 1944) a joint committee of the Canadian Armed Services, CBC, NRC and DOT, supervised the policy of ionospheric research in Canada in cooperation with the Central US Committee, on which there were members from allied countries. This Canadian Committee was named Canadian Radio Wave Propagation Committee (CRWPC). Scientific support for the CRWPC consisted of three scientists, Frank Davies, S/L Jim Scott, and Jack Meek, RCNVR.
In 1945, the RCN asked NRC to take over the ionospheric network, but NRC declined. DOT agreed to man the network if OIC/6 continued responsibility for equipment, training and use of the data. This arrangement continued until the Section was transferred to DRB in 1946 together with other Service support as a basis for DRB, itself instituted in April 1947 under the Chairmanship of Dr. Omond Solandt.
Bob Langille was transferred to the growing ionospheric section in 1946 from Army Research and he expanded the activities to continue the Army "Stormy Weather" Radar Project. Both ionospheric and radar research developed to a point at which DRB created the Radio Physics Laboratory in 1948. This grew considerably and was relocated on the present Shirleys Bay Site in completely new and much larger quarters in 1952.
RPL was officially opened on 17 February 1953 by C.M. Drury, Deputy Minister of National Defence.
The Communications Laboratory was formed from the expanding RPL in a new wing in 1958, and was officially opened on 25 November 1958 by Dr. E.W.R. Steacie, President of NRC.
Quite separately DRB created the Electronics Laboratory in January 1950. EL began in three small rooms in the then Army's Canadian Signals Research and Development Establishment (CSRDE) in the NRC engineering area east of Ottawa. The unit was later located into an RCAF H-hut in the Rockcliffe RCAF housing area. In 1951 EL moved into a new and much larger building adjoining the Army's CSRDE, and Frank Davies was appointed Superintendant of EL as well as RPL. In 1961, DRB released the EL facilities to NRC, and extended the RPL/CL building at Shirleys Bay to include an EL Wing, naming the considerable laboratory and field area the Defence Research Telecommunications Establishment (DRTE). EL was officially opened on 10 July 1961 by Dr. H.H. Zimmerman, Chairman DRB.
Now, let us return again to the early period. Miss Rita Richard served as secretary, trouble shooter and confident to all women employees in OIC/6 and RPL for seven years, when she became Mrs. R.C. Langille.
Miss Edna Salter and J.W. (Jim) Cox, who joined RPL from the Marconi Company, UK in 1948, were joined by Armour Warwick, C.A. (Clare) McKerrow, D.H. (Del) Hansen, R. (Bob) Stevens from DOT; Len Hagg from Army Signals and Jim Bennett and Jack Bateson from the UK. P.A. (Percy) Field joined from the CBC and contributed more than anybody to the early publication "The Monthly Median", which served to keep staffs of ionospheric stations and RPL in fairly close communion.
J.H. (John) Chapman, a summer student in 1947/48, joined RPL after obtaining his Ph.D.. Bob Thain was also a summer student in this time period. For much of the history of DRTE summer students joined every summer, and some worked for a period after graduation. Among these students were C.O. (Colin) Hines, P.A. (Peter) Forsyth, A. Cowan, D. Frood, N.H. Moody, Don Hay, Eric Vogan, Ray Montalbetti, R. Daters and P. Eastman.
T.W. (Tom) Straker joined RPL from Cambridge, UK in 1950. I joined Tom's LF Section in September 1951.
My Formative Years
These early years had a strong influence on my career-to-be in the field of radio science. Tom Straker a New Zealander and Johanian (a member of St. John's College, Cambridge, and a PhD graduate of Cambridge University), joined RPL in 1950 to become head of the Low Frequency Group. I met him in early spring 1950 on his return trip through Vancouver from Prince George. I was just completing my BASc degree in Electrical Engineering at the University of BC. The ionosonde at Prince George was recording, during evening/nighttime hours, extraordinarily low vertical incidence penetration frequencies, which was of interest to Tom. Very much later we learned that Prince George was located in the "trough region", an evening phenomenon of the nighttime ionosphere at a geomagnetic latitude of 60°.
Tom was instrumental in the research I did at UBC for my MASc degree, since my study program was sponsored by RPL. The title of my thesis was "The Fine Structure of the E-Region." The equipment we used (Peter Niblock and I) was very primitive. virtual height (h) versus frequency recordings were made using a manual ionosonde. But one advantage in taking manual frequency sweeps is that we could make observations between broadcast stations during nighttime hours. Upon completion of my MASc degree I joined Tom Straker's Group, in September 1951, conducting LF antenna and communications research (1951-1953).
Antenna research (study of umbrella top loaded vertical radiators and loop antennas) was carried out in the Bee Hive Area (Area 2). Concerning communications research, trips were made into the north, to Goose Bay, Labrador, and Churchill, Manitoba).
A short story about two amusing incidents follows: The trip to Goose Bay was to assess performance of Canadian Military LF communication systems. The receiving stations employed long wire Beverage antennas, located on the plateau, near to Canadian and US LF transmitters. The problem was to receive LF signals. The Navy Station call sign CFH, located in New Port Corners, NS, had never been received at Goose Bay.
I had a low frequency receiver (an HRO) and a Laboratory constructed loop antenna. I set up my receiving system outside the Receiver Building, and tuned to the frequency of CFH (115 kHz). I told the Military Communication officer: theres the signal, reception is perfectly clear. He said, that sounds exactly like what I hear on my equipment, it is a spurious intermodulation product. I said let us see, it sounds to me like a clear FSK signal. Connect my receiver to your teleprinter. So he connected his teleprinter, which immediately started printing: "CHF Halifax Testing, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. 10 --- CHF Halifax Testing ---". You should have seen the astonishment on his face.
On the Churchill trip we were carrying out communications tests, employing a transportable LF transmitter (built by Del Hansen), for various receive distances between The Pas and Fort Churchill, MB. The LF transmitter was set up at La Pas. Communication back was via HF. Clare McKerrow was at The Pas site. Armour Warrick and I were at the remote sites. Tests between The Pas and Wabowden, and Gillam went well. But while we were in Churchill a polar storm resulted in a black out --- impossibi
lity to communicate on HF between Churchill and The Pas. After 2-days of trying to hear the LF signal, I said to Armour, something is wrong, get on the plane, go to The Pas and find out what the problem is, we should hear the LF signal. When Armour got off the plane, and out to the field site Clare had already started to take down the station. Armour said, put it back on the air. When they made a check on the antenna, Clare found that the alligator clip connecting the antenna to the tuning helix had fallen off!! When connected signals were received at Churchill loud and clear.
Tom was also responsible for my going to Cambridge. I remember one morning Tom telling me: "Belrose (normally he called me Jack, but later I learned that this formality was the method of address that Jack Ratcliffe used), I think you should learn more about the propagation of LF radio waves. I have recommended you for an Athlone Fellowship, and I have written to Jack Ratcliffe, Head of the Radio Group, Cavendish Laboratories, Cambridge, and The Master of St. John's College, Cambridge, telling them that you are coming." That was the way Tom worked. Concerning writing The Master of St. John's College, one had to be accepted by a college to study at Cambridge. And, of course I had to be accepted by Ratcliffe as a research student in (his) The Radio Group. So it all fell in place, and I left for Cambridge in September 1953, to return in April 1957.
My period of study at Cambridge was fortuitous. On the 30 June 1954 a solar eclipse swept over Norway which was total on a number of the propagation paths I was monitoring. On 23 February 1956, the first ever observed solar proton event occurred. Solar protons were detected at ground level. The effects were marked on the VLF/LF propagation links I was monitoring. My paper in Nature (with Kenneth Weeks) was perhaps a first. Solar proton events were studied for more than two solar cycles (22-years) following, by Doris Jelly, Ted Hartz, George Reid, myself and others at DRTE, and by radio scientists all over the world. Solar minimum occurred in the summer of 1954. And (fortuitously) the change from minimum solar activity to maximum activity occurred abruptly within the one year 1956/57. All this provided very interesting observational data for my thesis, the title of which is "Some Investigations of the Propagation of Long and Very Long Radio Waves".
I met my wife Denise (nee Fenal) is 1953 in Cambridge, and we were married (in Paris) in December 1956.
Follow on Research Studies
For almost two decades my colleagues and I (Ian Bourne, Tim Coyne, Max Burke, Ted Montbriand, Len Bode, Tom Ohno, Lew Hewitt, and Ron Bunker) conducted studies of the D-region of the ionosphere (the ionosphere that lies below a height of about 90 kilometers) by the method of partial reflection of MF waves from the ionosphere; and by LF/VLF propagation (Don Ross, Ben Segal, Tom Ohno, Wilf Lauber, Jean Bertrand and Don Muldrew).
During the latter years of this research we had perhaps the best facilities in the world to conduct such studies. We had 100 kW partial reflection sounders (available power at 2.66 MHz at Ottawa 1000 kW) at Ottawa, Churchill and Resolute Bay. The two sounders at Ottawa employed extensive large antenna arrays, each covering about 12 acres on the ground. The 2.66 MHz 40-dipole array was installed at Area 5 (Ashton transmitter site), supported by twenty 30 metre BC cedar poles. The 6.275 MHz 128-dipole array was installed in Area 2 (the Bee Hive Area).
There were a number of amusing incidents associate with high power transmission, such as finding ones hair standing on end when walking beneath the transmission line feeding the 40-dipole array when the transmitter power was high (1000 kW). But two amusing stories follow: Len Bode had built the 100 kW transmitters. Tom Ohno built the 1000 kW power amplifier. Termans Radio Engineering Handbook told us that when you construct a tuned grid tuned plate high power amplifier one can anticipate problems, due to parasitic (very high frequency) oscillations. We did have problems, initially. Our transmitter was drive pulsed. When the amplifier went into a parasitic oscillation, it operated in a CW mode. Vividly bright arcs through 30 cm of air could be observed --- and occasionally the main circuit breaker in the building would trip before the circuit breaker in the 20 kV power supply. It would go off with a very loud bang. And besides hearing the bang, Tom and I would be sitting in the dark --- there were no windows in the transmitter building.
On another occasion Chalmers Sechrist, with Sidney Bowhills (at that time) Group, University of Urbana, Illinois, was visiting us. The Group was attempting to do the partial reflection experiment at their field site. Chalmers was looking at an A-scan (our transmitter power about 350 kW). You certainly have strong E-region echoes Chalmers commented. Chalmers, I said, you are looking at echoes from a height of 50 km, wait, the automatic attenuator will sequentially insert attenuation --- when we have about 50 dB attenuation, you will see the E-region (110 km) echo. He could not believe it. He had never seen an echo from a height of 50 km.
The low frequency transmitter at Ottawa, with receiving stations in Moosonee, Churchill, Resolute Bay and Dartmouth, was a broadband power amplifier with an atomic frequency controlled synthesizer, and so phase and amplitude could be recorded, and experiments were conducted at several frequencies in the 16 135 kHz band.
We had a particular interest in solar eclipses, which for the D-region simulated a sudden transition from day-to-night. Three total eclipses occurred during the course of my studies. For the eclipse of 20 July 1953, I had LF propagation observations only; but we had detailed observational data for the following two eclipses, 7 March 1970 and 10 July 1972. Both of these eclipses were total over East Quoddy, NS. CRC (Len Bode and I) in collaboration with NRC (A.G. (Al) McNamara), and contractual support by Bristol Aerospace, installed a partial reflection sounder, and a rocket launch site at East Quoddy, NS. We launched successfully four rockets into each eclipse, carrying experiments to measure in situ electron density and solar radiation. For the latter eclipse we had, what seems incredible even now, three rockets in the air at the same time, to study the rapid changes that occur right at the time of the total eclipse in the ionosphere.
Our antenna system for the partial reflection experiment was a 4-dipole array, horizontal dipoles phased to provide a circularly polarization signal, directed vertically. But depending on sea state we found we had problems, observed echo signals out to about 70 km range were dominantly sea echoes. We found out years later what the problem was: re-radiated signals by the metal towers supporting out dipole array, which gave a ground wave signal directed out and over the sea. For an experiment near the ocean, we should have used wooden poles to support our dipole array.
In the mid-sixties Canadian scientists were in the forefront of those working on high latitude propagation. With the launch of the Alouette 1 and 2, and ISIS 1 and 2 satellites, hundreds of scientists all over the world have written hundreds of papers on the ionosphere, on propagation in the ionosphere, and propagation on satellite to ground paths. The total of all Alouette-ISIS papers was almost 700 in 1985.
The VLF receiver which flew on all of these satellites provided a wealth of knowledge about the ionosphere, about ion composition and about high energy particles in the ionosphere. Alouette 1 design engineers were very reluctant at first to even consider the VLF receiver, a receiver which would be connected to the same antenna used by the sounder, the main experiment. But I managed to convince them to fly the experiment by showing (circuit diagram sketched on the back of Keith Browns cigarette pack) that no switching was required, since the VLF receiver and the sounder could share the same antenna, without interference to the sounder experiment. So finally, almost too late, but in time, Colin Franklin designed the VLF receiver, and it flew.
I have written scores of research papers on my early studies of the lower ionosphere by the propagation of low and very low frequency radio waves over long paths in Europe and in Canada, particularly in Arctic Canada. And, to support interpretation of these data, we carried out extensive studies by the partial reflection of MF radio waves from the lower ionosphere, for which he had major experimental installations at Ottawa, Churchill and Resolute Bay.
We also carried out in situ MF differential absorption experiments employing a ground based transmitter (the same transmitter used for the partial reflection experiment) and receivers aboard high altitude research rockets. I was a principal experimenter, with Dr. A.G. McNamara, NRCC for two successful NRCC rocket campaigns (eight rockets launched), conducted from East Quoddy, NS to study the effect of solar eclipses on the ionospheric D- and E-regions, the ionosphere below 150 km (1970 and 1972).
He is co-author of a book on Physics of the Earth's Upper Atmosphere (editors Colin Hines, Irvine Paghis, Ted Hartz and Jules Fejer), published in 1965. He is co-author of an IEE Antenna Design Handbook, published in 1983.
I am a space pioneer, since I was the scientist responsible for the inclusion of a VLF receiver aboard the Alouette 1 satellite (launched on 29 September, 1962). This experiment was so successful that similar receivers were included in the payloads of the Alouette 2, and the ISIS 1 and 2 satellites, and many scientists in Canada (Ron Barrington, Gordon James, Bill Mather, Leroy Nelms and I), the US and Japan have analyzed data and written research papers based on results from this experiment. The VLF receiver aboard the ISIS 1 satellite, now shut down, was still working, after more than twenty years in orbit.
I always had a particular interest in the Arctic, where over a period of more 20-years we carried out several extensive propagation research and vertical incidence ground based research programmes. During more recent years I have been concerned with practical aspects of radio communication technologies. I was largely responsible for the very successful MF AM re-radiation project, a research programme (1978-1986) that involved researchers at CRC, the NRC, the CBC, two universities (U. of Toronto and Concordia), three power utility companies (Ontario Hydro, Hydro Quebec and late in the program, Maritime Power), and two broadcast consulting companies (DEM Allen and Elder Engineering).
Trail radio which provided communications from the land back to the community. Trail radio was needed for economic and safety purposes. If the hunter or fisherman had a breakdown, or were lost on a winter day, when the few hills to be seen looked like the ones he had previously seen (above photograph), he could, using his HF radio (lower photograph) contact someone in the community. Here the antenna for the HF radio is only 2m above the ground. If signals were to weak, the 3-legged tripod could be raised to a height of 4m or 6m. The legs were broken down into twelve 2-meter lengths of aluminum tubing which fitted together. For the first field trials in Quartak, QC, in the late 70s, there were no telephones in the community, so the HF signal was received and relayed via a local VHF repeater, to telephone size VHF transceivers in peoples houses. Later, in the 80s, on the Labrador North Coast, the person on the trail, with his HF radio could directly dial into the public switched telephone system. The concepts were automation, no radio operator in the community was required.
For more than a decade my colleagues and I (Len Bode and Peter Bouliane) were concerned with development of trail-, remote-area radio communications technologies, and with the conduct of field trials employing VHF and HF systems in collaboration with native groups: initially with the Inuit in Arctic Quebec; later with the Okâlalatigêt Society, a communications affiliate of the Labrador Inuit Association. I also provided technical advice to the WaWaTay, a communications affiliate of the Nishnawabi Aski Nation of North West Ontario, and presented a workshop on trail radio to that native communications society, in Sioux Lookout, ON. An overview of work to date (published as distributed Lecture Notes) was presented at a Workshop on Scientific Aspects of Rural Communications in Developing Countries, held at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics, Miramare-Trieste, Italy, 1-5 March 1993, entitled: "HF/VHF Radio Systems for Rural-Remote Area Communications".
In latter years I have been concerned with research in the field of computational electromagnetics (antenna problems), and has published several papers on controversial antenna systems: compact loops (folded dipole or small loop?), and on the crossed field antenna. And (since 1992) researching the history of radio, I have written a number of papers promoting the recognition of the contributions of Canadian born Reginald Aubrey Fessenden (1866-1932) to the development of radio (pointing out that Marconi is not the inventor of the technology). I am largely responsible for the setting up and management of the CRC Fessenden Post Graduate Scholarship program. Two new candidates receive a scholarship each year (a $5000 supplement to the NSERCC Scholarship Program), to promote public awareness and recognition of the life and heritage of RAF, and University research in the fields of radio science and radio communications.
During the period 1976-1993 I was Canadian Panel Co-ordinator for the AGARD (Advisory Group for Aerospace Research and Development) Electromagnetic Propagation Panel of NATO. I was Deputy and then Chairman of that Panel from 1979-1983. I was Technical Program Chairman/co-chairman of several AGARD/EPP symposiums and specialists meetings, and Lecture Series Director for two AGARD LS on antennas (one on performance of antennas in their operational environments and one on modern antenna design using computers and measurement). My lecture notes entitled "HF Communications and Remote Sensing in the High Latitude Region", AGARD LS Media Effects on Electronic Systems in the High Latitude Region, is particularly worth noting, since it summarizes three decades of research at CRC by the myself, and particularly by my colleagues.
I was Chairman of a CCIR Interim Working Party on sky-wave propagation at frequencies below about 500 kHz, in which capacity I was largely responsible for writing two major CCIR reports. I was responsible for the rewriting of a CCIR report on antennas.
I am Technical Advisor to the American Radio Relay League in the areas of radio communications technology, antennas and propagation (since 1981), and I have published many articles in QST, QEX, Ham Radio, Communications Quarterly, and in several articles in The ARRL Antenna Compendium series publications (my latest article is to be published in Volume 7) . I am a Fellow of The Radio Club of America, and a Senior Life Member of the IEEE (Antennas and Propagation Society). I have been a licensed radio amateur since 1947 (present call sign VE2CV). The station license for the CRC amateur radio station (such as it is nowadays) VY9CRC is held in my name.
I am presently engaged in conducting personal research at CRC (part time since 1997) in the field of computational electromagnetics (antenna and near field problems). Left out of the story, concerning my background in the field of electromagnetics and antennas, is my association and collaboration with Ed Jordan, Keith Balmain, Stan Kubina and Chris Trueman --- and with Jim Wait, Don Watt, Bev Beverage, Bill Tilston, Ed Miller, Jerry Burke and many others. In my undergraduate studies I never had a course in EM. The only university course I had in this field was the course work for my MASc (EE), and the book we used for this course was authored by Ed Jordan , later updated by Ed and Keith.
John S. (Jack) Belrose, PhD (Cantab), VE2CV
15 January 2002