Letter from Chip Northrup
Cooperstown is famous as the birthplace of the Morse Code, the invention of organ transplants, and now, the invention of the Army’s new method of training soldiers to hit moving targets.
About ten years ago, Chip Northrup, a Texan that summers in Cooperstown, went to the Cooperstown Sportsmen’s Association to learn skeet shooting. In order to hit the clay pigeon, you have to know how far in front to point the shotgun, called the “lead.” No one could tell him exactly how far ahead to point, so, in a brainstorm, he came up with an idea to show the amount of exact lead on any clay pigeon, or any moving object, by displaying it in a virtual reality (VR) headset, as a holographic image in front of the target. Northrup explained how it works. “By practicing with this aim point on in VR, the user can see how far in front to aim. They shoot at the aim point with an electronic trigger, and hit the virtual clay pigeon. Once they have learned that in VR, they can go to the skeet range and hit real targets.” He grinned. “Maybe.”
Not content with shooting clay pigeons, Northrup has applied this concept to simulators for military targets for the Marines and Army. Ten years and seven patents later, the military is going to use Northrup’s invention to train troops to hit moving targets.
Northrup said, “Until this year, neither the Army nor the Marines have trained on moving targets. The first time they see a moving target is in combat — where all targets move. They literally have to learn under fire. The Marines have just started to train on robotic targets that move. They discovered that, unless the recruit was a skeet shooter, they couldn’t hit a moving target for love nor money. Even the snipers can’t hit moving targets. They aim at the target and by the time the bullet gets there, the target is gone with the wind.”
After demonstrating his solution remotely to the Army a year ago during Covid, they are adding moving target simulators to their training programs. The Army has commissioned two prototype moving target simulators to test. Both simulators will have Northrup’s inventions in them.
Northrup comes from a family of inventors. His great-grandfather invented and patented the modern western saddle. One of his sons invented and patented an algorithm for computer-illustrating hair in animated movies at PIXAR. His father held 14 key patents for solar energy systems that became the basis of ARCO Solar, BP Solar and Siemens Solar.
“Cooperstown has a remarkable history of inventions. Samuel F. B. Morse and Amos Swan invented the Morse Code in Cherry Valley in the 1830s. In Morse’s painting ‘Otsego Lake From Apple Hill,’ the yellow house is 15 River Street, next door to the garage that I invented the shooting simulator in,” Northrup said. “In the 1950s and 1960s, Drs. E. Donnall Thomas, Joseph Ferrebee, and David Blumenstock pioneered bone marrow transplants, performing the world’s first human organ transplant at Bassett in 1956. Dr. Ferrebee’s daughter Anne Keith still lives here. In my own dinky way, I am fortunate to have actually invented something in Cooperstown, the one place on earth where baseball was most assuredly not invented.“