One of the recipients of this year’s Gintong Butil or Golden Grain Award, the highest and most prestigious award given to qualified Alumni of Central Luzon State University performs everything above and beyond average and always aim for possibly the best for any given circumstance. Through his strong leadership and problem solving skills, inventive and innovative character, Engr. Pablito B. Yra (PBY) reached his status as “Distinguished Engineer” at Space Systems Loral (SSL). He is one of the technical leaders in commercial space and a member of the elite space systems architects. He is recognized externally through his multiple inventions, patents, and articles he wrote and presented at International Technical Conferences and Cryptology Symposia. Through his work, he has contributed to the improvement of human experience.
Before he reached where he is today, he had faced seemingly insurmountable barriers. But with his “Can Do” mindset and help from good people, he conquered those barriers. He learned early in life that it is impossible to swallow a whole elephant, but you can take a piece at a time. And this has been his strategy throughout.
PBY considers his journey to be likened to the proverbial phrase: From the CLAC rice field to the infinite space. After High School, he was a homesteader in Oriental Mindoro, then a motorcycle assembler at Marvex Corporation because his parents cannot afford to send him to college. In 1967, he enlisted in the US Navy and was assign the Steward Rate although his “Classification Tests Scores” qualified him for most critical rates. Determined to change his rate, he studied on his own electronics technology and Ship’s Interior Communication (IC) and Electrical systems through the Navy’s training courses. On his second year, the Bureau of Naval Personnel, with his Commanding Officer (CO)’s recommendation, granted him one chance to change rate by passing the IC Electrician third class exam; which he did. Because “Security Clearance” is required for IC man on the ship, through his CO’s initiative, he was granted US citizenship and issued a “Security Clearance”; enabling him to complete 2 Advanced and 3 Specialty Navy Electrical-Electronics courses under the Navy’s STAR (Selective Training and Retention) program.
He decided to pursue a college degree through evening school when he was stationed aboard a repair ship. But his applications for admission at Old Dominion University and University of Virginia were denied for he only had a 10-year education. He met with the Dean of the Evening School, Norfolk State (a college primarily for black Americans), and pleaded for a chance to prove he can handle college courses. She admitted him on provision, pending his completion of the two courses she enrolled him in; which he did. His effort to pursue college education caught the attention of his Chief and CO; thus, they recommended him, and the Navy granted, to pursue his BS in Electrical Engineering at Old Dominion University as a Navy Enlisted Scientific Education Program (NESEP) grantee.
On his 8th year of service, he was promoted to “Chief Petty Officer” and selected for a commission as a Lt. Junior Grade. During his commission’s physical exam, it was discovered he has blood problems; which were diagnose later to be the effects of his exposure to Agent Orange when he fought in Vietnam. While undergoing treatment at the Portsmouth Naval Hospital; his wife gave birth to their second son, Kenneth, one month premature. Kenneth, lived for 12 days before he died. He was devastated by Kenneth’s death and felt going through hell; worse than he felt when he was seriously wounded in a battle on the Mekong river, and he considered giving up. He was glad his love for his wife, first son, and life prevailed for after going through hell, he discovered he has capabilities he never knew he has and he is stronger than he thought he was.
PBY was given medical retirement by the Navy after 10 years of service. His first civilian job was Electronics Engineer at NAVSEA Combat Engineering Station. His first project was to resolve long standing issues in the Navy’s Sonar Recorders. He hesitated taking the assignment for he has no prior knowledge of the system. After a year of focused research, he succeeded; earning 2 achievement awards, became the guru of sonar recorders, and recognition through the publication of his work in the Naval Electronics Bulletin. The development of his idea to automate the calibration process of electromagnetic logs used on submarines was his next project. The generalized algorithm was published in a book he wrote. After 3 years at NAVSEA, he accepted GE Nuclear Energy Division’s offer for Nuclear Controls and Instrumentation Engineering position and the opportunity to get his MSEE Degree as GE’s Thomas Edison program grantee. At GE, he learned “fail-safe and reliable” design techniques, which became very useful later in his career. He received multiple awards for solving design issues in critical nuclear plant controls and instrumentation systems and working successfully with Nuclear Regulators.
After completing his MSEE degree, the nuclear industry took a downturn and GE started downsizing. PBY then accepted the Research Scientist position offered by Dalmo Victor. This gave his family the chance to live for good in the Silicon Valley; where leading edge technologies are invented and opportunity to shine is limited only by human imagination. The two significant and successful programs he accomplished at Dalmo Victor were the ALR-62I, Radar Warning System for the F-111B fighter; APR 39A and XE-2, Threat Warning Systems for the US combat helicopters. He architected these systems and led the Hardware (HW) engineering design team. He understood that new technology insertion in an old system and being a minority leading a team of smart engineers with egos can be problematic. But with his proven track record of successes, clear vision of the system idiosyncrasies, fair but firm expectations, he inspired his engineers to follow. He was rewarded with 2 achievement awards and promoted to Senior Research Scientist. After 6 ½ years, he joined the Spacecraft Control Electronics Department of Space Systems/Loral (SSL).
SSL has the most positive impact on PBY’s career; and where he made the most impact to mankind. He architected SSL’s Digital Spacecraft Control Electronics, including the On-Board Computer, which were first deployed in NTT’s N-Star satellites and 24 other satellites SSL built, including the “Philippines Aquila”. The same computer powered NASA’s Spacecraft on Saturn Fly-By mission.
He also architected the Globalstar’s Digital Control Subsystem; and led the HW Implementation and Production team, which comprised of Deutsch Aerospace, Alcatel, Alenia, Laben, Melco, and Hyundai. Globalstar is the most exciting and challenging project in his engineering career for its subsystems and elements were not only original designs but also have to be closed to size, weight, power, and cost targets. With innovative approach, including his “patents for Command and Telemetry Signal Communication, and Payload Frequency Security” devices, the team meet the targets. Because of being a new system design, many doubts Globalstar will succeed, but failure was never an option for PBY. He worked 16/7 to secure success. But he also played hard to keep his sanity at even keel. Indeed, Globalstar turned out a technical marvel. In recognition of his contribution to Globalstar, he was awarded a crystal with “Recognition Caption designed-in”. For those who may not be familiar, Globalstar is a constellation of 68 Low Earth Orbiting satellites connecting people throughout the world, wherever they may be, through voice and data communication. Pablito was proud he had contributed to this improvement of human experience.
But PBY was shock when his Director told him he was certain in the beginning Globalstar will fail. Thus, he assigned PBY in Globalstar to use the failure as excuse to fire him. But then, he told PBY, “I cannot argue with success”.
PBY’s Globalstar triumph just started sinking in when his number 1 fan, his son Oliver, who looked up to him as his hero, suddenly passed away. So, when the President of SSL offered him to be the Technical Director of the new Broadband Sector, he declined. Instead, he focused on Technology for Space application research to fulfill, even just a fraction thereof, his son’s vision of improving human experience when he becomes a Doctor. And to keep his brain real busy, he also pursued his MBA at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, CA. He focused on fault tolerant designs and advanced cryptology for spacecraft resiliency, security, and protected communication. He invented and patented a fault tolerant spacecraft power source driver and System Serial Interface (SYSI); technologies his VP of engineering called “Pablito’s crazy ideas”. He architected the Generic Spacebourne Processor for SSL’s latest generation of spacecraft; same processor controlled the “Mars Pathfinder”. He developed an advanced encryption for SSL’s foreign customers such as Japan; received NSA certified crypto embedment designs for US Government programs. When he heard from the head of Japan’s Space Agency at the International Communication Satellite Systems Conference 2012 held in Nara, Japan, described how satellites were used in search and rescue operations on the aftermath of the Tsunami that hit the Fukushima area, he felt proud for he helped designed some of those satellites. In my small way, PBY said, “I contributed to the easing of human suffering and uplifting of human experience.”
In honor of Oliver, his name is included with Pablito and Shirley (Pablito’s wife)’s name in a disk of names carried on-board NASA’s spacecraft on the first mission to Mars. Pablito retired from SSL in November 2015. He is currently on retainer by Microsemi as consultant on space electronics products. His team just completed a Self-Resetting and Self-Healing Fuse, first of its kind. A patent disclosure listing him and his friend, Pierre Irissou, as inventors has been filed.
PBY’s next mission is to write a book of his journey, but he also wanted to give back to his mother land by teaching and sharing his knowledge and experience to the Pilipino youths. He is considering teaching at the college level in the Philippines, particularly at CLSU.