Jeffrey Dukes’ home at Ocean Shores neatly displays tokens of him and his wife, Diane’s, interests from books, classical music, movies, art, marionettes, needlework and computer equipment.
Visitors can easily overlook awards and certifications lauding his outstanding work in developing the power microelectronics unit for the Mars Microprobe and other achievements.
Currently on Mars are six integrated circuits with Dukes’ name inscribed on them, an honor produced by his ingenuity as part of the Boeing Company’s contribution to the program.
With the recent accomplishments of the Mars rover Curiosity — including finding evidence of liquid water and traveling long distances to analyze soil and rock samples — Mars is once again in the national focus. And one person who helped develop technology to work on the Red Planet is right here lending his expertise and creativity to Ocean Shores, volunteering to teach computer skills to teens, help with the local radio station and more.
Dukes retired from Boeing after 32 years of eclectic service on July 1, 1998, to eventually make his home in Ocean Shores. Dukes modestly explained his work “did not come with no fancy, dancy recognition. For me it was just all in a day’s work.”
Some of his day’s work was spent finding a way to literally put his and Boeing’s names on Mars.
“We were working with NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory on three, small identical missiles that were meant to impact on the South Pole of Mars. Boeing’s part was to design two integrated chips,” Dukes explained. But the design requirements for the Austrian company making the chips didn’t include inscribing the names.
“I developed the methodology and software for putting not only the engineers’ names but also the Boeing logo. My name is on the chips as I laid out one design and assisted with the other designs,” Dukes said.
According to the company, Dukes distinguished himself over his 32 years with Boeing as an innovative and highly competitive employee, co-worker and friend. Among his commendations are: “His work history is filled with examples of his creativity and originality. He worked mechanical, materials, optics, human engineering, computer hardware and software, integration and test, electronics, Multichip Module (MCM) design, and ASIC design (application specific integrated circuits) and verification. He is primarily self-educated in these fields and developed the expertise to excel with each new assignment.”
Boeing got a bargain when they hired Dukes in 1966 for a draftsman’s salary of $5,200 a year. He started out working on designs for then-new materials boron, graphite fibers and titanium. Because it was so new and scarce, nearly all titanium was owned by the government, and one of Dukes’ first job evolutions was to track every scrap of the metal. Aside from airplane parts, he also helped create an adjustable titanium thigh bone for a young girl at the Seattle Children’s Orthopedic Hospital, now Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Part of his ability to branch out within the company came from one of his early managers, who Dukes described as “very forward thinking for his day. He told me I would be treated just like the engineers in his group and that I was expected to be one.”
Dukes’ work ranged from floor beams, flight spoilers, rudders and seats to the first graphite fly-casting fishing rod.
He went to Langley, Va., looking for a new challenge, discovering he liked the area after running a courier errand. He taught himself computer programming to save time on analyzing flight data on what was essentially a programmable calculator. As a reward for his ingenuity, Dukes was allowed to work on an early Mars lander simulator.
Dukes returned to Seattle and worked on the 757 flight deck staff in Renton. He went to flight school to help determine where the instruments in that jet should be, studying ergonomics, interviewing pilots and even measuring people. At that time, it was required to have three people in the cockpit, and Boeing wanted to show two could do the job.
“I worked out the method of combining a video picture of where the pilot’s head was pointing along with a reflected infrared light off the pupil of the eye to show where the pilot was looking and for how long,” Dukes explained. The resulting database would be sent to the Boeing Computer Services and they would return a plot from their big flatbed plotter overnight, allowing Dukes to write a program giving a rough sketch of what the pilot was able to see.
At the same time, Dukes was also teaching a class on machine language programming at Boeing and the University of Washington.
When Dukes was let go in a round of downsizing at Boeing, his students recommended him for management in the Electrical division at Boeing. His work evolved again, this time branching out into fuel indication systems, windshield defoggers and defrosters, and proximity sensors.
A nearly four-inch thick notebook in Dukes’ home testifies to the many firsts and achievements he took part in during his career. Over the years, he received more than a dozen cash awards totalling more than $10,000, and nearly 100 awards of gift certificates and commendations, including a few this year for community work in the area.
He has consistently provided the community of Ocean Shores with donated labor, equipment, skills and knowledge.
Some of those who have benefited include: the local all-volunteer TV station; the Ocean Shores Convention Center; the KOSW community radio station, which he helped with formation, construction and equipping; the Coastal Interpretive Center, where he has worked for more than 10 years; and the annual Beachcomber’s Fun Fair, where he has volunteered for more than a decade.
Dukes also works at the North Beach High School with students interested in computers. Recently he constructed a palm-sized radiation detector and a cigarette-package-sized working computer to show and share the technology with Hyak students.
Dukes comes with a bonus: his wife, Diane, a self-trained artist, craftswoman and yarn artist. She is an integral part of the thousands of hours they have donated to the city. Their 50-year marriage has produced two children, deep companionship and support for others’ projects and a lot of good humor.
How did Dukes achieve and learn so much? His credo is: Read and study, read and study, and read and study some more. The wider your background, the wider your possibilities. Invest in yourself; don’t hesitate to buy a book, a piece of hardware or software or whatever.
The approach has taken Dukes to Mars and back.
Gene Woodwick, an Ocean Shores resident and free-lance writer, is available at email@example.com or (360) 289-2805.