Born in Wisconsin, USA, on 16 February 1935, Bradford Parkinson is often called the ‘father of GPS’. He gained a BS in engineering from the US Naval Academy (1957) and immediately joined the US Air Force, where he helped develop a modernised AC-130 Spectre Gunship and flew more than 170 combat hours. Parkinson was also an instructor at the US Air Force Test Pilot School and led USAF’s Department of Astronautics and Computer Science. During his time at USAF he gained an MS in aeronautics from MIT (1961) and a PhD from Stanford University (1966) in guidance control navigation. In 1972 he was asked to revive US Air Force programme, 621B, and create a global navigation system (GPS) with satellites. He became the first Director of the NAVSTAR GPS Joint Program Office in 1973, which led to the development of the GPS spacecraft, Master Control Station, and eight types of user equipment.
After retiring from USAF in 1978, he taught mechanical engineering at Colorado State University for a year and became Vice President of the Space Systems Group at Rockwell International, Inc., where he helped develop the Space Shuttle. He spent six years in industry before becoming a professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford University (1984).
He developed GPS applications such as the first automatic landing of a commercial aircraft and the first fully automatic control of farm tractors on a field to an accuracy of two inches (5 cms). Parkinson was the programme manager (and continues as the associate programme manager and co-principal investigator) for NASA’s Gravity Probe-B mission. His numerous awards include the Draper Prize of the National Academy of Engineering (2003), the Marconi Award (2016) and the IEEE Medal of Honour (2018).