Litchford: Aviation Inventor and Pioneer

Over the years, aviation has seen many pioneers and inventors influence the industry greatly. Paving the way forward with nothing more than a vision or a dream, these seemingly ordinary people set aviation on a path of improvement, develop new technology and create a safer industry. Just recently, aviation said good-bye to one of its more recent aviation legends, George B. Litchford Sr., who patented an invention in 1988 that would go on to save countless lives.

George Litchford started his career as an inventor and pioneer, at the Sperry Gyroscope Research Laboratories in 1941, as an engineer for the company. His passion and dedication to the industry eventually led to him establishing the Litchstreet Company of Northport and answering the call of the authorities to minimize mid air collisions. The Air Traffic Control System was already in place by the 1970’s, but it was not accurate enough to assist in ensuring that collisions of two aircraft did not take place. Litchford immediately set to work, using his knowledge of the aviation industry and his skill to develop a system that could be used by the transponder of an aircraft, to warn of other aircraft heading in their direction at the same altitude.

The system that George Litchford proposed, which would later become known as the Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System, used the signals that were being sent out by the transponders already installed on the aircraft, for the Air Traffic System, to collect data from the FAA transponder radar system, to pick up if any other aircraft with a transponder was in the area. The timing of the signal was also able to pin point the location of the aircraft. Although his ideas were refined and adjusted by other companies, Litchford was granted the patent in 1988, because he came up with the original idea, when the system was required by law after the tragic loss of life in a collision of a private plane with an Aeromexico DC-9, in 1986.

Litchford also went on to design a receiver that was capable of listening in on aircraft that were responding to the FAA radar. He assisted the Navy in developing systems for aircraft carriers and played a vital role in the invention of a system that could help all aircraft, including passenger jets, land safely during low visibility. His efforts as a pioneer and inventor were recognized by the aviation industry and he also received the IEE Lamme Medal in 1981 for “outstanding contributions in the development of electronic systems for air navigation and air traffic control” and the Pioneer Award in 1974. His visions and masterful solutions to aviation faults will be remembered and enjoyed, unknowingly, by every passenger who reaches their destination safely and every pilot who touches ground. George B. Litchford might have stopped living, but his legacy will forever be interlinked with aviation in the annals of its history.