MMAC Celebrates 75 Years; Remembering 1977 - 1980
Vol.8 Issue 1
MMAC in History 1977 - 1980
Late 1970’s memorabilia

The period of time between 1977 and 1980 were magical years for young, wide-eyed children who were fortunate to possess an Atari 2600 console. There was no need for quarters, as the arcade was brought right into the home, and kids could play several games like Pong, Space Invaders, and Defender, to name a few. Other developments like the introduction of home computers changed the way we live. In 1977, the Commodore PET (Personal Electronic Transactor) was made available to retail customers, complete with monitor, keyboard and… cassette tape drive. It is hard to imagine how useful the system could be with only 8 kilobytes of memory, but people enjoyed the new fascinating technology that was made available to them.

Star Wars was released in movie theaters, becoming the 2nd highest grossing film of all time. Saturday Night Fever was also a movie that premiered in 1977, which created a huge disco craze. The first Garfield comic strip debuted in U.S. newspapers, Sony introduced the Walkman, and the Rubik’s Cube hit the toy market, and quickly became a competitive sensation. The first-ever Cellular Mobile Phone was introduced in 1977, and the Susan B. Anthony dollar was minted.

In 1979, NASA revealed the first group of women astronauts, including: Shannon Lucid, Margaret Rhea Seddon, Kathryn Sullivan, Judith Resnik, Anna Fisher, and Sally Ride. Sally Ride would later become the first American woman in space, Kathryn Sullivan became the first American woman to perform a spacewalk, and Shannon Lucid became the first American woman to visit the Mir space station.

Female NASA astronauts (pictured from left to right) are Shannon W. Lucid, Margaret Rhea Seddon, Kathryn D. Sullivan, Judith A. Resnik, Anna L. Fisher, and Sally K. Ride
Voyager I spacecraft flew by Jupiter, providing new, fascinating information about the planet

On March 5th of 1979 the Voyager 1 spacecraft made its closest approach to Jupiter and made observations about the planet’s moons, rings, radiation, and magnetic fields. Voyager 1 is still exploring space and has been in interstellar space since 2012, and will continue exploring indefinitely. 1979 also brought an end to the U.S. Skylab space station, which orbited in space for 2,249 days before its orbit decayed, causing it to plummet back to Earth.

Skylab infographic, and the astronauts’ point of view as they departed the space station for the last time
Benjamin Demps, Jr., MMAC Director (1979 – 1985)

At the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center (MMAC) in 1979, Thomas Creswell retired as Director, making way for Benjamin Demps, Jr. to become the first black Director of the MMAC. Following are some more significant events in aviation history from between 1977 through 1980.

On May 16, 1977, Regulations regarding airline transportation of disabled passengers went into effect after several years of discussion and debate. Guided by research and tests by the Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI), FAA adopted a more flexible approach in its March 1977 rule. The agency ordered each air carrier to develop its own set of procedures, appropriate to its particular aircraft and operations. FAA would then review these procedures and direct any changes needed for safety or the public interest.

Airlines were prohibited from denying passage to anyone who met the criteria in its FAA-approved plan. In addition, the new rule specifically prohibited airlines from barring a passenger because of his or her inability to sit up in an airline seat, and required individual briefings on evacuation procedures for all disabled persons before takeoff.

Jet flying at night during adverse weather

In May of 1977, FAA issued a rule requiring each air carrier to obtain approval for its system of gathering and disseminating information on adverse weather that might affect safety. Current rules already required airlines to supply flight crews with pertinent weather data, but contained no provision for FAA approval of these weather information systems.

Later that year, FAA gave uninterrupted air traffic control service during a massive electric power failure that left approximately 9 million people in the New York City area without electricity for periods ranging from 5 to 25 hours. The uninterrupted service was possible because of the continuous power airport program that FAA had begun after an earlier massive blackout, in 1965, initially selecting 50 key airports to be equipped with standby engine generators.

In the first month of 1978, a conflict alert system designed to warn air traffic controllers of potential midair collisions in busy terminal areas became operational at Houston International Airport, the first Automated Terminal Radar System (ARTS III) to be so equipped.

By March of 1978, the first Automated Radar Terminal System III (ARTS-IIIA) became operational at the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City. Features of the new model included the capacity to track and identify planes not equipped with transponder beacons, and a backup system to maintain alphanumeric tags on controllers’ screens in case of a computer failure in the primary circuits.

On October 13, 1978, Mary Ellen Monroney (wife of Mike Monroney) and FAA Administrator Langhorne Bond participate in an unveiling ceremony honoring the late Senator Monroney, officially re-naming the Aeronautical Center after him.

Of significant importance, (on June 19, 1978) President Jimmy Carter signed a law renaming the FAA Aeronautical Center at Oklahoma City the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center. A. S. ("Mike") Monroney represented Oklahoma in both houses of Congress for 30 years, and served as chairman of the Senate Aviation Subcommittee from 1955 until his retirement in 1969. He was a principal sponsor of many pieces of aviation legislation. The Aeronautical Center, located in Oklahoma City through Monroney’s efforts, was then the largest FAA facility, incorporating the FAA Academy, the central records center for aircraft and airmen’s certificates, a major FAA supply depot, and the Civil Aeromedical Institute. On October 13, 1978, FAA Administrator Bond presided over ceremonies rededicating the facility.

On August 10th, 1978, a five-year, FAA-funded study of the health problems of air traffic controllers challenged the generally held view that unusually high incidences of ulcers, psychiatric problems, and other serious stress-related diseases were found among controllers. A team of researchers, led by Robert Rose from the University of Texas, found higher-than-normal rates of hypertension, social drinking, and minor psychological problems among controllers. They concluded, however, that these did not lead to incapacitating conditions. The most common psychological problem they discovered was "impulse control difficulties"-- i.e., dealing with sudden emotions like anger. The researchers found that a more serious mental problem, controller burnout, was mostly limited to those controllers who expected it to occur. Despite the abnormal rates of social drinking, controllers had lower rates of alcoholism than the national average. As for hypertension, researchers cautioned against the conclusion that it was directly related to the work of controlling air traffic, since other "risk factors" were also important. The findings of the Rose Report, or officially the Air Traffic Controller Health Change Study, confirmed similar findings in studies by the FAA’s Civil Aeromedical Institute.

In March of 1979, the FAA required the removal of lithium sulfur dioxide batteries from U.S. civil aircraft. The batteries were used primarily to power emergency locator transmitters, known as ELTs. The agency acted because of incidents in which the batteries exploded, burned, or leaked gas that formed corrosive acid. The order affected approximately 60,000 aircraft, most of them privately owned. In September, FAA issued new standards for the batteries, including requirements that they be hermetically sealed and be replaced every two years.

Air Route Surveillance Radar (ARSR-3)

The first of a new generation of air route surveillance radars (ARSR-3s) went into operation on June 25, 1979. The solid-state ARSR-3 was the first new Enroute radar system acquired in 20 years. It improved radar tracking range by 25 percent, to 200 nautical miles, and could track aircraft flying as high as 61,000 feet. The new radar could also display weather formations without interference with aircraft targets, providing a much clearer picture for controllers. The FAA eventually deployed twenty-two ARSR-3s along high density segments of the Enroute system, commissioning the last in January of 1983. An additional unit, delivered in February, 1978, was installed at the MMAC for training purposes. The FAA also purchased four mobile units. With an antenna capable of operating from a flat-bed truck, the radars could be rushed to any location where the existing equipment had failed.

The eruption of Mt. St. Helens volcano in Washington state affected air traffic

At the beginning of the new decade, the FAA required a triennial aircraft registration report (as of April 30th, 1980). Aircraft certificate holders were required to submit the report whenever three years elapsed since the Registry received information indicating continued registration eligibility. The procedure was less burdensome to the public than an earlier annual report requirement.

On May 18th, 1980, Washington state’s Mt. St. Helens volcano erupted, destroying over 100 square miles of timber and leaving at least 61 people dead or missing. Ash from the volcano caused widespread air traffic disruption, but did not close FAA facilities in the area. The agency informed airmen of the location of the volcanic cloud, which damaged several aircraft, and issued a maintenance checklist for planes that had entered suspected areas. FAA also set up a mobile air traffic control tower to assist military missions of reconnaissance, and search & rescue.

QR Code for 1977 – 1980 Trivia

In celebration of the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center’s 75th Anniversary, we have prepared some trivia questions that will be featured monthly in each newsletter. Click here to participate in the next session.

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