Ukrainian boy was catching sweets from American planes during the Berlin Airlift in 1948. Inspired by those huge planes, he became an airspace engineer, worked for NASA on Apollo program. As Chief Scientist of US Airforce, he was credited with initiation of GPS: Michael Yarymovych

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One of the engineers laying the foundation of the Apollo systems in 1962 was Michael Yarymovych, born Mikhail Yarymovych in pre-WWII Ukraine. In his brief interview in 2014 with the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) after receiving the Distinguished Service award for “60 years of dedicated service to IAS, ARS, AIAA, and IAF, and for outstanding leadership for the aerospace profession in government, industry and the international community”, Dr. Yarymovych recalled: “I joined the NASA Apollo team in Washington as Assistant Director of Flight Systems, defining the requirements for all the internal systems, such as power, navigation, and altitude control. At that time I was 29 years old, and so were most of my colleagues. Joe Shea was the “old man” at the age of 35″. The moment when Joe Shea asked him to join his Systems Engineering team, Michael Yarymovych described as his absolute favorite in his entire long and eventful career. The Yarymovych family had to move to the United States because their native city of Ternopil was ruined in WWII. It was young Mikhail’s experience during the Berlin Airlift in 1948 that shaped his inspiration to become an airspace engineer: “I was growing up in post-war Berlin, Germany. During the Soviet blockade of the city, we were supplied food and fuel by the so-called Berlin Airlift. The DC-3s that were coming in four-minute intervals to Tempelhof airport were quite a sight for a 14-year-old boy, and especially the chocolates and candy that the U.S. Air Force pilots were dropping on approach and takeoff. Right then I decided to be an aeronautical engineer to design and build these flying machines. (Reference: American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics – the world’s largest technical society). Also, an old high school teacher gave me a book on astronomy, so I got excited about exploration of the stars.” There was his father’s influence also, because, as Yarymovych described in the same interview, his father was a mechanical engineer, so it must have been in the genes as well. 

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International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) presented Yarymovych with an award for his outstanding contributions to human space flight programs, such as Apollo and the Space Shuttle; for his role in the initiation of the global positioning system (GPS); and in the development of space launch vehicles.

Here is how “initiation of the GPS” looked in reality. In 1973, Michael Yarymovych was appointed Chief Scientist of the US Air Force and was given the task to promote Defense Navigation Satellite System (DNSS). The problem was that there was a Navy system, Transit, but it provided accuracy within 83 feet and the vessel had to be almost stationary to use it. Because of some misunderstandings between Air Force and the Navy over certain issues, the same year DNSS was canceled, and it is only because of Yarymovych’s persistence the program was given the second chance. For this to happen, Yarymovych said he had to go on bended knees and plead – all because he had faith in the system and was confident it could benefit US Military tremendously.

Apart from finding compromises between Air Force, Navy, and Army, Michael Yarymovych managed to remove a psychological barrier in his audience by replacing the turnoff word “Satellite” with the word “Global.” (Reference: SmithsonianMag)

That is how the GPS term was coined. It will become fully operational only in 1994 but will exceed all the brightest expectations almost immediately. The fact that in less than 10 years during 2003 Operation Iraqi Freedom 70 percent of munitions dropped were guided mainly by GPS, speaks for itself. Even air refuelings were conducted with the help of GPS.

Actually, Yarymovych envisioned that in a short while almost all military systems would be dependent on GPS guidance, but even he was amazed by the ways and speed it spread in the civilian world. Agriculture, cars, phones, cartography, sport, and even tectonics are some of the areas where GPS is used nowadays.

As for the ties with his historic homeland, Yarymovych became one of the creators of the Ukrainian Engineers’ Society, helped found Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard, and supported other Ukrainian communities in the United States. After Ukraine received Independence in 1991, Dr. Yarymovych became a foreign member of the Academy of Science of Ukraine.

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