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James M . Van Damme

Jim went to the University of Detroit's 5 year engineering program and graduated in 1970. During that time he spent two semesters as a coop student at Bulldog Electric as the plant manager's assistant and in the lab testing circuit breakers. He came to Rome Air Development Center (now the Air Force Research Lab) for his last two coop terms and helped design, build and operate the Nanosecond Radar Laboratory, which was an attempt at high resolution space-tracking radar by brute force. It used a 6 megawatt tube as a driver for an even larger tube, which used a 500,000 volt beam was generated in a 2500 gallon oil tank and fired with a spark gap. Lower peak power techniques for high resolution radar came along and made the high power unnecessary, but the lab was used for other experiments for several years thereafter.

Jim joined the Air Force in 1970 and spent 4 years assigned to his civilian job at RADC. When he was discharged he returned the next day to his civilian slot.

From there he worked at the High Power Laboratory at RADC, building test systems for high power microwave and modulator tubes. He served as transmitter technical advisor on the Cobra Dane radar at the end of the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. He helped the Warner Roberts AFB logistic people improve their airborne ECM pod reliability, and advised several other large DOD transmitter programs (kilowatt to megawatt levels), and managed development of component upgrades such as klystrons, pulse modulators, and RF components.

Much of his career has been devoted to developing components for the Air Force's long range surveillance radars such as the ground-based AN/TPQ-75 and the AWACS (E-3) aircraft. In 1968 he derived the requirements for and managed the acquisition of an S band transmitter in support of validation testing of the Digital Coded Radar, an early high-bandwidth phase-code modulated system. After participating in the year-long testing phase at the Verona test site, he modified the transmitter to power the S Band radar in the Surveillance Facility at RADC. He continued upgrading and maintaining the transmitter where it continued in service until it was moved to AFRL at Wright-Patterson AFB in May 2010. Here Jim and Russ Brown run a test with an airborne target about 20 years ago:

In response to technical risks to the performance of the Advanced Tactical Surveillance Radar (another attempt at replacing the TPS-75), he developed requirements for a C band transmitter to demonstrate high stability under varying waveform parameters, and managed its successful development. It replaced an in-house transmitter, which he helped build, in the lab's C Band phased array radar. Here he points out the TWT in the older transmitter, which was actually more reliable despite being made out of mostly scrounged parts.

His education continued with six courses at Syracuse University, but he found a better variety from the distance learning courses at National Technological University where he got a certificate in Management of Technology and went on to get a MSEE in 1996, concentrating on microwaves, radar, and power conversion.

He also did a lot of work on designing, building, and maintaining antennas of all sizes. Here's the AFRL S band tracking radar antenna:

And an early spiral GPR antenna:

And some circular-polarized VHF conicals:

And a aircraft VHF antenna at a bombing range in Ontario, using a trash can for a counterpoise:

Back in the '70's, he designed and built a 150 KW L band TWT transmitter for use at the Surveillance Facility, mostly out of scrounged parts from the High Power Lab. It served for 20 years until it was replaced by a surplus solid state TPS-63 transmitter, which he modified for use. Here he poses with the traveling wave tube, grid pulser, depression power supply, and circulator of the old transmitter:

At the 1997 GOMAC (Government Microcircuits Application Conference), he proposed a high-availability, multi-TWT amplifier architecture in response to existing low reliability transmitters in the AN/TPS-75 fleet and the near-term unavailability of solid state solutions. He initiated development of a breadboard model, which became the basis of an upgrade to the Army's AN/TPQ-37 mortar locator, now being fielded.

He has designed, built, and operated portions of numerous airborne, vehicle-mounted, and ground-based proof-of-concept, test, and simulation systems to evaluate R&D objectives, and participated in test programs in various places, some in the middle of nowhere.

Somewhere in the early 80's he started managing development of solid state radar transmitters and phased array T/R modules for long range surveillance applications, including early GaAs MMIC's.

Jim spent ten years experimenting with ground penetrating radar technologies, designing and building different antennas and radars, and participating in field testing inside mines. Here's a bow tie antenna (tape on a tarp) 180 feet underground in a zinc mine in Gouverneur, NY:

Most of the GPR work was outdoors, of course.

In September 2005 he retired from civil service and went to Stiefvater Consultants. He helped design, build, and test 5 low-powered C band radars which tracked a moving ground vehicle at short range (1 mile) to show the performance enhancement of multiple distributed radars.

The BRAC 2005 directed that the Surveillance Facility radars and all the other Sensors functions be moved to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base by September 2011. Jim directed an effort to refurbish and upgrade the radars prior to the move. 

In May 2010 the S Band was used one last time to track the Space Station using a wideband receiver in Boston. Jim scrounged a surplus Army TPQ-37 transmitter and spent the 2010 winter converting it to run as a transmitter for the Boston site, but both the Rome and Boston sites were shut down early. 

Lately, he has worked on a short-range vehicle mounted wideband radar, and spent a lot of time out in the bad weather testing it. Here's Jim and Russ Brown firing it up on a nice day.

Jim has a lot of disparate interests that take up his spare time.

  • With his wife of 37 years, Mary Margaret, he has 4 children and two grandchildren to keep track of.
  • He helps work a large garden, and has sold Christmas trees from it.
  • He designed and built a solar heater and has gotten 20 years' use out of it so far.
  • He played guitar in church for many years.
  • He has taught natural family planning with the Couple to Couple League since 1981.
  • He tends several websites for fun. 
  • And, since he has a degree in microwave engineering, he frequently puts it to good use by cooking in a microwave oven.

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