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One lesser known fact about the R.A.F. is that computer maintenance was carried out by radar tradesmen, so I am grateful to my colleague Jim Colville for bringing the following article from the Spring 1966 edition of the "Locking Review" to my attention.

Locking's Computer Laboratory

"If you can compute it, it exists!" Descartes

On 5th January 1964, it was decided that Locking should have a computing laboratory. For various reasons, it was agreed that one electronic computer would be insufficient, and a detailed study of the task to be performed by the laboratory showed that three machines would be needed. After many months of negotiation with MOD and HMSO, an order was placed with Elliott Automation Ltd for three 803 computers, and the first one was delivered on 15th August, 1965. The third machine was installed on 5th January, 1966, exactly two years to the day after the original conception of the laboratory.

Basically, the three computers are identical. However, one has a larger store than the other two and various additional facilities which simplify the testing of programmes. They are called Faith, Hope and Charity, "and the greatest of these is Charity". (1 Cor XIII 13). All three can be programmed in a variety of language, and Charity will read Algol which is the universal programming language for scientific computations. This means that programmes written for a very large number of other computers can be translated and run on the big machines.

The primary purpose of the laboratory is to teach servicing techniques for computing systems, and for student use an entirely new programming language called 'lntercode' has been designed by the staff. Not only can any computer programme be written in this language, but it will also simulate any machine fault which could arise in practice. In this way, the computer can be made to misbehave without actually disturbing its hardware. It is an extremely easy language to learn, and incidentally teaches programming principles without having to introduce advanced techniques.

It is hoped ultimately to link all three computers together, possibly through the intermediate stage of a magnetic tape station. If this can be achieved, the composite system will be capable of simulating many advanced data systems which, at present, can be studied only on very expensive equipment. Even if this project cannot be achieved, the laboratory remains the largest and most versatile at any training establishment in the country.


Cover picture from the Spring 1966 edition of the "Locking Review"

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Updated 06/11/2001

Constructed by Dick Barrett

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ęCopyright 2000 - 2002 Dick Barrett

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