Big Red One

“No Mission Too Difficult, No Sacrifice Too Great—Duty First”



Donald Dotson passed away in 2006 at the age of 92.  He always described himself as “a radio man” or a “tinkerer”.  The stories of what the “radio man” did from Africa, up through Italy and in to Europe were sketchy at best.  It took the above film to learn more.

In his old age, as part of the team working to recreate the Wright Flyer, he wrote this autobiographical piece.  It still makes no mention of his brilliance, insatiable curiosity about all things new and as with many of his generation the consummate bravery, but it makes good reading.


In January of 1941, I joined the National Guard and was inducted into Federal Service in March of that same year. Now a member of the United States Army, my assignment was as a Medic. Due to a change in my Division, I was left in limbo. I learned of an opening in Radar Maintenance and volunteered. I was assigned to the Coast Artillery Searchlight Company as a Radar Maintenance Specialist. I served as a Radar Tech Sergeant in North Africa and Italy during World War II. In Italy, I was transferred to the Air Corps to set up and operate a ground controlled bombing range for radar equipped bombers.

I received an Honorable Discharge from the Army at Fort MacArthur, California in 1945, and began a career as an Instrumentation Technician for AiResearch Manufacturing Company in January, 1946. I spent approximately 20 years working for AiResearch on three different tours. I worked in Electronics, Flight Instruments, Ground Support and Total Energy (on-site power generation). My first departure from AiResearch was to work for Hughes Aircraft designing test panels for the Falcon Missile series. I returned to AiResearch to work on flight instruments specializing in Cabin Pressure Controls. My second departure from AiResearch was to design a machine for producing precision cams for use in air data computers. As has been the thread of my career, I enjoy challenges that involve new and different ideas.

I went to the University of California, Los Angeles ( UCLA) and became involved in the designing and construction of the cooling system for the Cyclotron they were building. UCLA was in need of this technology as they were advancing in the field of accelerating particles for research.

In both instances, after having left AiResearch, I was enticed to return to AiResearch by different department heads. One department head for Flight Instruments and the other for Commercial Aircraft Ground Support. AiResearch gas turbines were used to supply compressed air and 400 cycles-per-second power to support the aircraft on the ground at the terminal and to start the jet engines. They wanted my expertise, and knew I could not resist a challenge! I returned and was responsible for the design of packaging of the turbines and associated equipment into vehicles as specified by the airlines. The expansion of this program put AiResearch into the field of “Total Energy Systems.” Total energy is the concept of on-site power generation, the utilization of heat generated for processing or air conditioning.

In 1965, with some associates from AiResearch, a Total Energy Systems Company was formed. I spent a few years designing power generation systems for on-site companies for Total Energy Systems. This company allowed greater latitude of equipment to be used for power generation. This company dissolved in 1972.

I then went to work for Monogram Industries – designing toilets for boats and/or trains! This project led to the idea of developing a sewer-less house in areas around lakes, etc. After a couple of years at Monogram Industries, I became owner/manager of two apartment buildings. During this time, I worked as a consultant to Monogram Industries as well as performing maintenance for my properties.

My Hobbies

As in my youth, I continue to “tinker” and think of new ideas to make things better. Upon retirement, I continued to design personal projects of interest, which eventually lead to my ultimate contact with the Wright Flyer Project. Since 1994, I have been involved as a General Support worker, assisting with the re-work of the present Wright Flyer Project aircraft. As a team, we continue to strive towards our efforts to put the aircraft in the wind tunnel to gain data on flight characteristics for use in building a modified plane, which is capable of safe flight.

Over the years I have been interested in many things. I can remember in 1947, I came across an article of interest regarding a control wing aircraft. This article inspired my thinking that this would be an ideal design for an ultra-light aircraft. Finding the crew at the Wright Flyer Project has stimulated my interests in this field, and I enjoy the camaraderie. I look forward to each get together, as the challenges keep me young. In my spare time, I continue to work on special interest projects such as a Radio Controlled (R/C) model of the control wing concept.


About Jamie

Retired Writer Editor - Loves Books, Musical Theater, politics for a good argument, genealogy, Scotland and owls
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