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Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Out There Having Fun in the Warm California Sun: Aeronutronic Systems

January 13, 2022 Archive Insight

Looking out the window at snowy Michigan probably had any Ford Motor Company engineer, researcher, or scientist thinking that developing and researching space systems, air cushioned vehicles, and computer components in sunny Newport Beach, California, was the way to go.

Aeronutronic Systems, Inc. was formed as a subsidiary of Ford in 1956 under the leadership of G.J. Lynch. The group was originally organized to develop and manufacture products for military purposes in the fields of Complete Weapons Systems, Aeronautics, Electronics, Computers, and Nucleonics and Physics. By 1959, the group was a made a division of Ford and had expanded into research and development beyond military purposes.

Low, modern glass and concrete building with patio, columns, and pool outside, pictured at dusk
Lobby, computer products building. / THF627413

The division was headquartered in Newport Beach, California. Brochures for the division flaunted its cutting-edge research facilities, testing laboratories, research library, and proximity to deep-sea fishing, sailing, skiing, and the fact that the temperature rarely dropped below 44 or rose above 75.

Page with text and aerial map drawing
Aeronutronic campus map. / THF627410

The groups within the division worked on a variety of projects. The Space Systems group completed projects including the Blue Scout vehicle, which tested equipment in space; a lunar capsule, designed to land on the moon with scientific testing equipment to gather data on the lunar environment; and a design for a space station.

Black-and-white photo of four women with large, round component with wiring; also contains text
Group of women who worked on the Blue Scout project. / THF627401

Satellite or other spacecraft among the stars with a planet in the background
Artist's rendering of lunar capsule built by Ford Motor Company Aeronutronic Division, 1960. / THF141214

Space stations/vehicles, including one capsule-shaped with "breakaway" to show interior with rooms and person, one smaller and triangular, and one top-shaped with tubing around it
Space station concept drawing. / THF627416

In Weapons Systems, they worked on several missile projects, including the Shillelagh Guided Missile for the Army Missile Command, and ARTOC (Army Tactical Operations Central), which was a mobile command post for the Army Signal Corp.

Silhouette of person holding pointer to topographic map with pink, blue, and white projected notations on it
ARTOC command board. / THF627406, detail

The Electronics and Computers division worked on BIAX computer components, as well as MIND (Magnetic Integration Neuron Duplication), an electronic neuron that duplicated the function of live nerve cells, among other things.

Metal panels covered in complex, multicolored wiring
Computer elements. / THF627414

Research projects included surface tension tests; developing thin films solid state components; manufacturing the FLIDEN Flight Data Entry Unit, which was used as part of the FAA air traffic control system; and developing an air cushioned vehicle.

Black-and-white photo of woman working at boxy console with keyboard; also contains text
FLIDEN unit, demonstrated by Ellen Arthur. / THF627397

Two men in suits sit at a table, looking at a model of a truck-like vehicle with white fringe below body
Air-cushioned vehicle concept. / THF627420

The employees at the Aeronutronic division had fun too, with an employee newsletter to keep them up to date on company happenings as well as their many recreation leagues, which included bowling, basketball, and baseball among other sports, as well as chess and bridge clubs.

Man in bowling shirt and shoes and black pants rolls a bowling ball toward the camera; also contains text caption
Fred Ju, team captain, bowling in the Men’s Bowling League. / THF627399

Black-and-white photo of four people sitting around a table playing cards; other similar tables of people visible in background
Members of the Bridge Club / THF627395

Aeronutronic continued to change with the times. In 1962, it became a division of the Ford subsidiary Philco, and in 1976 became Ford Aerospace and Communication Corporation, before being sold by Ford in 1990.


Kathy Makas is Reference Archivist at The Henry Ford. This post is based on a December 2021 presentation of History Outside the Box on The Henry Ford’s Instagram channel. Follow us there for new presentations on the first Friday of each month.

space, technology, computers, Ford workers, Ford Motor Company, History Outside the Box, archives, by Kathy Makas

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