Belize 1990

For a short time after completing the MBA program at Stanford in 1990, Harrison continued working as a consulting engineer. One of his more interesting projects involved a trip to Belize in the Caribbean. At the time, one of the transmitter sites for the U.S. government’s Voice of America radio service was located near the town of Punta Gorda, Belize. The VOA compound consisted of 217 acres of land next to the ocean with a number of buildings and fuel tanks and twenty 200-foot broadcast towers. (It no longer exists — the site was decommissioned in 2002 — but you can still see the old perimeter of the facility on Google Maps.)

Harrison’s firm had recently developed technology to measure the signal strength of a broadcast antenna system from an airplane, and the firm was hired to measure the signal from the Belize facility. The technology involved the use of what was at the time a still experimental Global Positioning System. The measurement equipment included an antenna panel that replaced the baggage compartment door on a small Cessna airplane. The panel supported both a GPS antenna to track the precise location of the airplane and a receiving antenna to measure the signal strength from the VOA antenna system. An engineer sat in the rear seat of the airplane with a portable computer and other electronic equipment.

The airplane was flown around the antenna system at several different altitudes. With knowledge of both the instantaneous position and the signal strength at that location, an accurate three-dimensional antenna radiation pattern could be determined. Harrison was an active pilot in those years and loved small airplanes, so this was a particularly attractive project for him, even though for practical reasons a local pilot and airplane was used in Belize.

The trip took place in September 1990. Besides doing the engineering work required to complete the project, there was time to do some sightseeing in rural Belize.