HP People Stories - Ross Snyder

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Ross Snyder

One of the true gentlemen who ever worked at HP had to be Ross Snyder, who was responsible for our Technical PR and the trade press relations.

In the 60's, the product division's marketing staffs worked through central groups in the corporate offices to accomplish our product advertising and technical publicity objectives. All of our new product and technical applications output was funneled through a professional PR wordsmith, Ross Snyder. As divisional contacts, Dean Abramson and myself had a long working experience with Ross, and we always found him the consummate professional PR man.

Ross had previously worked at Ampex Corp in Redwood City during its post WWII days of great product innovation. Those were the years of the early video recorders that created a huge new paradigm shift in broadcast television. I recall that one of our technical seminar lectures during my 1957 Stanford master's program was given by the project manager from Ampex whose group had just introduced the new video recording machine, using cross-scan technology and 2-inch wide tape.

At HP, Ross was a workhorse of publicity output. His demeanor was self-effacing, almost to a fault. We who knew him well, always thought that he never took enough credit for superb word-smithing of our PR output. The procedure was that the divisions would write the product or application release, then Ross would edit or re-write as needed. His abilities for professional composition were legend. And in his personal presentation, he was the gentlemen's gentleman. His relations with the global trade magazine editors were the highest, and you could tell it when watching such interactions at places like trade shows or conferences. The editors all respected him, and in turn, gave HP better space, and further in turn, helped our divisions and products.

Ross made us all proud of our connections with HP. When editors visited the HP factory in Palo Alto, in the 1970s, since there were only a couple of manufacturing divisions left in town, we in the Microwave Division would often get called to give a factory tour for the visitor. In all the 25 years that I knew Ross professionally at HP, I never knew his real background, until long after he retired from HP in about 1985.

Ross did talk occasionally of his technical contributions while at Ampex. Although his main work at HP was technical PR, his work at Ampex was in engineering. The Ampex product line of those years was comprised of the very best audio reproduction equipment. Ross was responsible for custom modifications of their audio tape recorders. His proudest accomplishment was the engineering of a special 8-track audio recorder that allowed musician Les Paul to record his special multi-pass recordings of some exceptionally distinct music.

The obituary following contains some Internet references to Ross' work at Ampex as well with his later historical archival work with the IEEE Audio Society.

He revealed his military history to me about 2004, when I contacted him to report on the medical condition of an old associate of his, Harry Lewenstein. Harry had worked with all of us at HP, but had ended paraplegic due to a bike accident in Portugal in the early 2000s. In the process I visited Ross at his home in Woodside, where he was aging gracefully, with the usual medical infirmities. It should be noted that in his prime, Ross enjoyed gourmet food, fine restaurants, and boasted a huge wine cellar. It was said that his wine cellar contained 2000+ bottles, and I believe it, although he never showed me. In fact, he made annual treks to the wine region of France each Spring to re-stock his cellar. By the time we talked at his home, his health did not permit him to enjoy wine as he had in his prime.

In long conversations with Ross at his home, out came the stories of his military service in WWII. This mild-mannered man, in all those decades I knew him, had never told anyone at HP that I was aware of, that he was an aircraft commander of a B-29 during WWII. He flew out of Guam on missions over Japan, and told stories that curled my hair. He accomplished 35 missions, earned 7 air medals, including 2 Distinguished Flying Crosses. What an amazing revelation! Most of those missions took place before the U.S. captured Okinawa at great human cost. That operation ensured close-in airstrips for the swarms of B-29s that were clobbering Japan's industry night and day.

Missions from Guam were a grueling 14 hours long. If you lost one of your 4 engines, your return to base was problematical. And losing 2 was most likely to cause a personal disaster ditching into the Pacific. Bomb loads and fuel calculations were tricky. Ross bragged about his flight engineer who could nurse those 4 Wright 3350 engines at full power when needed or be miserly on fuel when that was low. They were not very reliable. Hundreds of aircraft took part in those daily raids. And then you often flew again the next day.

One interesting sidelight was a story Ross told of requesting a gallon of silver polish from one of his friends in the states. He put his ground crew to work on polishing the aluminum of the whole fuselage and wing's structures. The upshot was that he thought his aircraft flew about 10 knots faster, which apparently made just enough of a speed difference in their bomb runs that it upset the mechanical calculations of the anti-aircraft gunners in Japan. He thinks it had something to do with their better survivability. It also gave them increased margin in fuel management for those long flight times. In those bombing raids apparently they flew randomly and not in formation, so the fastest would be favored by less flak.

As you can guess, I was just stunned to find out that untold history of Ross. Never in a thousand years would I have guessed this mild-mannered, genteel man's contributions to WWII. Even Dave Kirby, who was Ross's direct supervisor for a decade told me that HE didn't know of Ross's WWII history. The website for the USAF B-29 groups that flew over Japan show all these young men, under their crushed officer hats, grouped under their aircraft. So many never came home. It was a statistical thing, you flew knowing the odds, each mission and each day.

In the immediate post WWII, I can recall flying the 4-engine Lockheed Constellations or the DC-4s or DC-6s for cross-country trips before jets. They roared and vibrated and at the end of an 8 hour cross-country flight, you were just as fatigued as if you ran 20 miles. Imagine doing that day after day, with the very real danger of dying in the ocean, with no possibility of rescue.

I salute all those intrepid airmen of WWII, who were mostly like Ross, silent about their accomplishments in the face of personal danger.

About 2006, I asked Ross to join me on a day trip to Castle AFB in Merced, CA, because I wanted him to walk with me around the aircraft museum and share some of his experiences. The base is closed now, but there are still about 50 of those old warbirds on display, from WWII bombers, freighters and fighters to the B-36, B-47 and B-52. There is even a nasty looking SR-71, displayed out front. We started with the B-17 which he had trained in, it had engines made by one of the two major manufacturers, Pratt-Whitney I think, but those engines were "bulletproof" and never stopped running.

As he stood by the B-29, he recalled their continuous problems with those 3800 hp Curtiss-Wright R-3350 engines, 2 ranks of cylinders, and a lot of parts made of magnesium, not the best material for fire. The superchargers were unreliable yet they had to be used for high altitude. The B-29 featured a new K-band radar which allowed them to fly high and bomb with modestly good precision through bad weather.

It was a day I will never forget.
Ross died on New Years Day, 2008.

Ross Snyder Obituary, 2008

HP Oldtimers will be saddened to hear that Ross Snyder passed away on New Year's Day, 2008. I don't think a memorial service was planned. During his more than 20 years with HP, Ross was the consummate PR professional and high-tech wordsmith. He retired about 1985. He was a fine food gourmet and wine connoisseur person with a legendary wine cellar. I seem to recall talk of several thousand bottles, with an annual trip to France to resupply.

In the last couple of years I had visited Ross at his house in Woodside about 3 times as his health deteriorated. Ross was a quiet man, and it is hard to imagine that during WWII he was a B-29 aircraft commander. In all his years at HP, he never told me or even his direct manager, Dave Kirby, about his dangerous service. He flew 35 missions over Japan, out of Guam, a grueling, 3000 mile, 14 hour round trip mission all over water. Later, the Marines took Okinawa which became an emergency base. He said if you lost one engine, return was problematical, two engines and you were going to ditch, hopefully near one of the picket ships. He earned 7 air medals and 2 Distinguished Flying Crosses.

In the immediate post WWII, I can recall flying the 4-engine Lockheed Constellations or the DC-4s or DC-6s for cross-country trips before jets. They roared and vibrated and at the end of an 8 hour cross-country flight, you were just as fatigued as if you ran 20 miles. Imagine doing that day after day, with the very real danger of dying in the ocean, with little possibility of rescue.

About a year ago, I asked Ross to join me on a day trip to Castle AFB in Merced, because I wanted him to walk with me around the aircraft museum and share some of his experiences. The base is closed now, but there are still about 50 of those old warbirds on display, from WWII bombers, freighters and fighters to the B-36, 47 and 52. There is even a nasty looking SR-71 displayed out front. It was a day for me to remember. We started with the B-17 which he had trained in, it had engines made by one of the two major manufacturers, Pratt-Whitney I think, but those engines were "bulletproof" and never stopped running.

As he stood by the B-29, he recalled their continuous problems with those 3800 hp Curtiss-Wright R-3350 engines, 2 ranks of cylinders, and a lot of parts made of magnesium, not the best material for fire. The superchargers were unreliable yet they had to be used at high altitude. The B-29 featured a new K-band radar which allowed them to fly high and bomb with modestly good precision through bad weather.

Several interesting anecdotes. Ross bragged about his flight engineer who could nurse those Wright engines at full power when needed or be miserly on fuel when cruising to and from. Hundreds of aircraft took part in those daily raids. Ross told of requesting a gallon of silver polish from one of his friends in the states. He put his ground crew to work on polishing the aluminum of the whole fuselage and wing’s structures. The upshot was that his aircraft flew about 10 knots faster, which apparently made just enough of a speed difference in their bomb runs that he felt it upset the mechanical calculations of the anti-aircraft gunners in Japan. He thinks it had something to do with their better survivability. It also gave them increased margin in fuel management for those long flight times.

On another occasion due to serious headwinds they were very low on fuel, so he requested an emergency direct approach and landing. In his final they waved him off, so he aborted, up landing gear and went around. On the next pass, as he touched down, the landing gear collapsed and the B-29 belly-landed and ruined one airplane, but all the crew were safe. He faced a court martial, since it was considered pilot error. Luckily, a technical investigation discovered that the design wiring of the B-29 had a fatal flaw, if you aborted a landing, pulled up the gear in that condition, upon re-landing the gear wouldn't lock. So his near fatality resulted in a needed modification of all aircraft.

Several other excellent tribute websites which include some of Ross' memoirs while at Ampex

A very good biography within a tribute is

http://psacot.typepad.com/snyder

Another one deals with Ross's involvement in a major invention he made while working at Ampex (before HP).

http://recordist.com/ampex/mp3/index.html

 

 

-- John Minck

 

 

 

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