Rocket science

Moog IncToday’s astronauts and pilots depend on technology a young and ambitious engineer invented more than 50 years ago.

Moog Inc. can trace its origins to the clos­ing days of World War II, when Bill Moog was involved in a U.S. government pro­ject to develop missiles capable of knock­ing down Japanese kamikaze planes. A former research engineer at Cornell Univer­sity, Moog’s contribution was the invention of the servovalve, a device to help improve the performance of motion control systems aboard aircraft or missiles.

“We still consider ourselves a specialist in very high-performance motion control systems,” says Bob Brady, Moog chairman and CEO. “Most people are able to say, ‘Our business isn’t rocket science.’ Our business is rocket science.”

The servovalve or servoactuator remains the crux of what Moog does. Brady explains that when a pilot moves the aircraft’s control stick from side to side, the position of the stick is electronically measured. This information is sent to the flight control computer, which analyzes the data and sends a command signal to the servovalve.

Next, the servovalve alters the flow of high-pressure oil to a piston that controls the craft’s aileron, a moving wing part that helps the plane bank for turns. Then, the aileron’s position is meas­ured, and this new piece of data is compared with the pilot’s command signal. When the two signals agree, the servovalve reduces the flow of oil to the aileron, holding it in position until the pilot sends another signal.

Servovalves help control jetliners, space shuttles and other big things, but they do their work on a micro-scale, moving the aircraft or missile’s parts a mere thousandths of an inch in only milliseconds. “We’re the folks to call with a really challenging applic­ation,” Brady says.

Recently, Moog has been work­ing with Lockheed Martin Corp. on the military’s next-gener­ation Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35. But from its be­ginnings 51 years ago, the com­pany has been intimately in­vol­ved with the creation of many mili­tary and civilian aerospace technol­ogies.

Along with his brother, Art, and Lou Geyer, Bill Moog co-founded the company in 1951. As young and am­bitious engineers, Art and Bill often talked about creating their own busi­ness, and “Bill’s servovalve design pro­vided that opportunity,” Brady explains. “The two brothers set aside their careers, pooled their limited funds and persuaded Geyer to join them.”

Last year, at a celebration for Moog’s 50th anniversary, Art Moog and Geyer “described the harrowing experiences of working in the rented corner of an unheated airplane hangar, where plumbing facilities were in the gas station across the road,” Brady relates. Even in those humble surroundings, he says, Moog Inc. already was “premised on innovative engineering, an intense focus on product performance and reliability, and the tireless efforts of a dedicated work force.”

Moog’s first servovalves were employed on guided missiles, but the new company soon picked up aviation customers. Over time, Moog supplied technology to the F-4 Phantom, SR-71 Blackbird, F-15 Eagle and B-2 Spirit programs. Moog supplied the first fly-by-wire flight control systems to the Air Force, which used it in the F-16 fighter, as well as to civilian programs such as Boeing Co.’s 777 airliner.

Control systems for aircraft remain Moog’s largest market. In 2002, the company projects sales of $362 million in this sector, an increase of 6 percent despite some softness in commercial aviation production. “The drivers are the vibrant activity in the military aftermarket, and the startup of the F-35,” Brady says.

When the United States entered the space and missile races at the height of the Cold War, so did Moog. Early contributions to Cold War defense technologies included steering controls for Boeing’s Bomarc missile in 1955, and servoactuation equipment for the Titan II intercontinental ballistic missile in 1961. Today, Moog technology helps modern missiles such as the Patriot and Hellfire home in on their military targets.

Moog’s Space Controls division also supplies technology for NASA. Moog equipment is used both aboard the space shuttle fleet and on the rocket boosters that propel the shuttles out of the earth’s atmosphere. In June 2001, Moog announced it won a contract worth $48.2 million to refurbish the shuttle fleet’s flight control equipment. “Moog’s actuators steer the main engines on the orbiter,” Brady explains. “We also have 11 actuators on the wings and a hydraulic valve module that controls the rudder and speed brake.

“This is a big job and good business for us – as was the original program. The award establishes us as a major subcontractor to United Space Alliance [USA] LLC.” USA is the prime contractor to the space shuttle program. It is owned jointly by Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

In 2002, Moog forecasts sales of $113 million in its space segment. Brady attributes expected growth to the space shuttle refurbishment contract, as well as the company’s recent acquisitions of PerkinElmer Fluid Science’s space valve product line and the space products segment of the Electro Systems Division of Tecstar Inc. At the time of the October 2001 purchase, Moog General Manager Jay Hennig described the newly acquired Tecstar business as a “very positive step in consolidating our position as the premier supplier of mechanisms for satellites and spacecraft.”

Aircraft and space controls dominate Moog’s business, but a significant portion of its work is earth-bound. Not long after the company’s founding, Moog technologies were applied in the steel industry. Initially, hydraulic servosystems were used to accurately space rolling sheets of steel, but today Moog technology is used throughout the steel making process, including in minimills. Other industrial applications include carpet tufting, injection and blow molding and assembly robotics. Moog projects industrial sales will reach $252 million this fiscal year.