A Quiet Genius Ferdinand Rohe Ohnsorg

Few aviators are likely to know the name of Ferdinand Rohe Ohnsorg; but fewer still have not used a piece of aviation electronics equipment that wasn’t based on the invention of Mr. Ohnsorg.

Ferdinand Rohe Ohnsorg was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on August 13, 1922. He attended St. Thomas College in St. Paul, Minnesota, but interrupted his studies to enlist in the Army Air Corps during World War II. He eventually was positioned with the Allied Central Intelligence Agency in England, achieving the rank of “captain.”

After the war, Ohnsorg resumed his studies at St. Thomas, receiving a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mathematics, with a Physics minor in 1947. He went on to receive a Master of Arts Degree in Mathematics with a minor degree in Physics at the University of Minnesota in 1951. Ohnsorg also taught physics at the College of St. Thomas during this time.

Ohnsorg was a research fellow at the University of Minnesota from 1952 to 1956, and then worked as a research scientist for Honeywell for the next 30 years. In January 1971, Ohnsorg was awarded a patent for his algorithm that is still used in navigation by most aircraft today.

Simply put, this quiet and humble scientist developed the algorithm and basic electronic circuitry that analyzed complex sensor (analog) signals and converted them into digital (binary) “bits.” This made it possible for the data to be processed by computers.

Ohnsorg was laid to rest May 6, 2011, but his work and aviation legacy will live on for a very long time.

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