Prior to 1970, when fiber optics was still in its infancy, an elaborate instrumentation system had already logged hundreds of hours of field operation using fiber optics for all command, control and data collection, as well as for some sensing. It seems highly improbable, when the best solid-state light sources of that period were not intended for communication purposes, fiber optic connectors were not commercially available, and the best fibers had losses measured in deciBels per meter (not kilometer). To totally eliminate all electrical wiring, the whole system was designed to run on nothing but compressed air, delivered by hoses composed only of dielectric material. This paper tells the unpublished story of some very early, very novel, fiber optic systems which were designed, built and operated by Boeing during the 1969 to 1974 time period to solve some extremely difficult instrumentation problems.
A brief review of the early history of fiber optics is included to help the reader better understand the problems of those early days, as well as appreciate the vast improvements which have been made during the past 20 years.