By: AJ Staff
When Si Robin started tinkering around with electronics in college, little did he know that he would end up inventing products that are used on nearly every aircraft around the world.
Today, the 77-year-old inventor and engineer holds over 80 patents on items that he has invented for the antenna business. His company, Sensor Systems Inc. in Chatsworth, Calif., provides antennas for commercial, business and military airborne applications. Sensor Systems’ products are standard equipment on everything from Cessnas to Boeing’s E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System planes to Airbus’ 380 commercial airliners.
Seymour “Si” Robin went to college in Montreal and then moved to California in 1948 to start a small electronics shop. He found work with the Douglas Aircraft Company fixing antennas and other military items, struggling to make his $61 a month in rent. He later went to work for Bendix in North Hollywood but decided he wasn’t really cut out for big corporations.
He consequently ended up working for Sensor Systems, a small California company that was just getting into the antenna business, where he met his current wife, Betty. Taking over the business in 1970, Robin quickly got a contract to supply the military with specialized high-power antennae for its AWACS and KC-135 aircraft.
“I didn’t know it couldn’t be done,” Robin laughed, remembering. “No one told me that it was supposed to be impossible to make a 10,000-watt UHF antenna, but I figured it out. Boeing appointed us as outstanding vendor. We began to realize that we were doing something pretty good for the airplane business.”
Since then, he has built Sensor Systems into an international provider that today supplies most of the modern aviation antenna available. The company offers 250 different kinds of products and produces 11,200 antennae per day at its factory facilities. Its customers include Boeing, Airbus, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and Honeywell, as well as many other general aviation and aerospace companies around the world.
Robin has 300 employees at the Chatsworth facility. The company is still privately owned and many of the employees are family; his daughter is general manager, his son works in design, and his grandchildren do the accounting.
Although he’s still in the office most of the time, he finds time to enjoy flying and auto racing. Robin is friends with other luminaries like Clay Lacy, Joe Clark and Bruce McCaw and has joined them for adventures like breaking a round-the-world record in a 747 in 1988, and flying out to Midway over the millennium to play around with time travel.
He’s also into vintage machines. This year, he donated his 1930 Stinson SM-8A Junior to the San Diego Aerospace Museum and flew on film in a new documentary, “One Six Right,” about Van Nuys Airport. He still flies a J-3 Cub and a newly purchased 1944 Beechcraft Staggerwing. He competes in vintage automobile racing with two Formula Fords, a classic Alfa Romeo and the 1961 champion Lotus 23 driven by the legendary Jimmy Clark.