TAL: The First Aviation Conglomerate

Madsen Lights and Other TAL Inventions

Another of TAL's accomplishments was an extensive research project in 1955 which resulted in the development of a revolutionary system of aircraft collision avoidance equipment. Although the famed scientist and inventor, Harold Edgerton, had developed the strobe light, Transocean was the first airline to apply this technology.


One of Transocean's flight captains, Andrew Madsen, had thought of the idea for such a system when he viewed a strobe light demonstration in a display window of a photography shop in Frankfurt, Germany, during a layover on a military flight to that city. Upon his return home and over the following months, he began to draw plans for his system and acquired the equipment necessary for his first installation. Madsen's garage was turned into an assembly shop for his project.


Several months later, the first aircraft avoidance system was installed on TAL's 756 by Ray Babb and his crew at Hangar 28. It consisted of seven white strobe lights with a combined candlepower of four million. Each light was placed at a particular point along the top or bottom of the fuselage. Forty times a minute these lights would flash in sequence, one at a time, moving from the tail toward the nose of the plane. This would display the motion, direction, and attitude of the aircraft to any other aircraft within line of sight.


After extensive testing by Transocean, the Civil Air Administration ordered the Madsen Lights, as the system was referred to, so that it could be tested at its center in Indianapolis, Indiana. After an inspection and evaluation was completed in the laboratory, more tests were conducted on a CAA plane under flying conditions. The system was approved and immediately began to attract attention throughout civil and military aviation.

Night test of the Madsen Lights, Oakland, California

As the news spread throughout the aviation industry, Transocean began receiving orders for the Madsen Light System. United States Steel Corporation was the first to have it installed on one of its corporate aircraft, a Lodestar, and soon the flagships from industry giants such as Signal Oil Company, Morrison-Knudsen, and United Air Lines were seen taxiing up to Hangar 28 for similar installations.


These intensely bright, pulsating lights are now used in other systems in aviation. Frequently they can be seen flashing in sequence as runway approach lights. They have been installed along the Panama Canal to facilitate night passage of ships, and they have even been installed on satellites to flash while they circle the earth.


Another innovation by Transocean's maintenance and engineering division was the development of the first auxiliary ferry-fuel tanks. These tanks could extend the range of an airplane between refueling stops. They could be installed and removed quickly and were primarily used for delivering aircraft across the Pacific Ocean. The first to receive this modification was a Martin 202.