Significant achievements in electronic components reliability have already been recorded as a result of a new program launched late last year for the Minuteman missile system. This program, directed by North American Aviation Inc.'s Autonetics Div., could lead to a complete revamping of reliability specifications for military weapons systems. The program's exacting procedures should pinpoint weaknesses in present quality-control methods and direct manufacturers to corrections to improve reliability. Levels about 100 times over present reliability are sought.
The special nature of the inertial guidance and flight-control systems for the Minuteman led to the program. Solid-fuel missiles, stored in underground "hard" sites, must be ready to launch with the first signs of enemy attack. Since components such as gyros require hours to warm up, many portions of the electronic systems must be operating continuously in the storage vaults. This could mean years of constant operation.
To meet the severe conditions, Autonetics' proposal to the Air Force outlined an improvement program, during which Autonetics specialists will be stationed at each component manufacturer's plant to observe procedures. (Electronic Design, Sept. 14, 1960, p. 4)
This photo shows parts-storage racks at Autonetics. Each component was assigned a serial number, and records of its manufacturing history were kept. Though it involved a massive amount of paperwork, the Minuteman program marked a milestone in improved reliability.