Today we visit with Dr.Walter S. McAfee, whose technical expertise allowed radar signals to be bounced off the surface of the moon for the first time.
The technical literature gives little note to the outstanding accomplishment of Dr. Walter S. McAfee and his contribution to man’s first contact with an extraterrestrial body. On 10 Jan 1946, LTC John DeWitt, Jr., directed the efforts of a team of engineers to send radar signals to the moon. However, without Dr. McAfee’s theoretical calculations concerning radar cross section, Doppler shift, and minimum detectable signals at the receiver, the success of this venture would have been doubtful.
Later, his significant theoretical talents were officially recognized by his receipt of the prestigious Army Research and Development Achievement Award in 1961. He was cited for studies, vital to the national defense in connection with missile guidance systems and communication links. Dr. McAfee developed a mathematical formula that relates raw data from high altitude nuclear detonations with time varying phenomena.
Dr. McAfee is Scientific Advisor to the US Army Electronics Research and Development Command (ERADCOM), Fort Monmouth, NJ. He was born in Ore City, Texas, 2 September 1914 and attended the public schools of Marshall, Texas. He graduated from Marshall’s “Central High School” with honors in 1930. He received his BS degree in Mathematics (Magna Cum Laude) at Wiley College in 1934; his MS degree in Physics at the Ohio State University in 1937 and his Ph.D. in Physics at Cornell University (where he studied under Hans Bethe) in 1949. He received support of his studies at Cornell. He served as a teacher of General Science and Mathematics in Columbus, Ohio secondary schools from 1937 to 1942 and joined USAECOM (then called the Army Signal Corps Radar Laboratory) in 1942. He has served in a variety of positions since joining this command, e.g., member, then leader of the Theoretical Studies Group (General Engineering Branch), Unit Chief, then Chief of the Radiation Physics Section Nucleonics Branch), Chief of the Electromagnetic Wave Propagation Section (Applied Physics Branch), Senior Scientist (Applied Physics Division), Director, Passive Sensing Technical Area, and Senior Specialist in the Electro-Optics Technical Area. He received a Secretary of the Army Fellowship in October 1956 presented by President Eisenhower (at a White House ceremony) and spent the year February 1957 – March 1958 studying Radio Astronomy at Harvard University and at various laboratories abroad.
In addition to the Rosenwald and Secretary of the Army Fellowships, he has received the following honors: Elected to Sigma Xi (1948),recipient of the Army R&D Achievement Award (1961), listed in the American Men and Women of Science (since about 1949), and in “Who’s Who in the East” (14th and later editions). He is also listed in Who’s Who among Black Americans. Citations for Scientific and Technical achievements: NJ Council of Mayors (1971), Delta Sigma Theta Sorority (1970), and Negro Business and Professional Women (1971). He is a Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and a member of the following: Eta Kappa Nu (honorary engineering society), the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Astronomical Society, The American Physical Society, The American Association of Physics Teachers, and Sigma Pi Sigma (Physics Honorary Society).
Dr. McAfee is a member of the Board of Directors of the First Jersey National Bank and Corporation.
In 1941, he married Miss Viola Winston of Columbus, Ohio. Dr. and Mrs. McAfee are the parents of two daughters: Mrs. Diane McAfee who teaches English at San Jose City College, and Mrs. Marshe Morris who is employed as an actuary in the Washington D.C. area.