White Sands Missile Range has elected Ms. Jean Simpkins and Mr. William Rice to its Hall of Fame for 2023. After a review of nominations by a committee of personnel from White Sands and the White Sands Historical Foundation, Brig. Gen. Eric Little, WSMR commander, made the selection in June. Simpkins and Rice will be the 57th and 58th members of the elite group that includes Clyde Tombaugh and Wernher von Braun.
Simpkins worked at White Sands from 1952 until her retirement in 1984. She is being recognized for her outstanding work as the missile range’s real estate specialist where she managed the complicated world of land leases, purchases, payments, and court judgements. She was the authorizing officer for all payments due landowners for land use, damage claims and evacuations. She initiated and justified real estate acquisition actions for congressional approval, assisted in negotiations with the property owners and worked directly with the Rancher’s Committee. She was responsible for budgeting for on-and-off range payments under the leases, condemnations, restorations, permits and evacuations in the many real estate arenas. She had a lot of irons in the fire.
While being incredibly efficient and inventive in accomplishing these tasks, she was often praised for her diplomacy in dealing with landowners. She felt ranchers deserved to be treated with respect and she made sure other officials at White Sands followed her example. Her nomination package states that her efforts helped create a much more positive relationship with White Sands ranchers after years of combative interactions with the Army Corps of Engineers.
The map she created to help explain the complicated land ownership at White Sands has been recreated by the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum and is the introduction to their exhibit “Home on the Range: From Ranches to Rockets.” The exhibit details how ranch lands became a state-of-the-art technology testing facility because of World War II.
Simpkins died in May 2023.
Rice started work at White Sands in 1960 while finishing his degree in computer science at NMSU. He retired in Las Cruces in 1995. Rice is being inducted for his work perfecting some of the latest cutting-edge technology used to test missile systems at White Sands.
Initially Rice worked in “real-time computing.” This means that computer-data systems can collect, process and display information in the blink of an eye. To the observer, there is no perceptible lag time between when an event takes place and when they are made aware of it. For missiles, it means being able to track a missile and display its flight instantaneously to a safety officer who can destroy the vehicle if it malfunctions and threatens populated areas. Eventually, Rice was known as “Mr. Real-Time.”
Rice helped develop the Drone Formation Control System which used computers and data systems to remotely fly real aircraft in formation as targets for missile systems like Patriot. In fact, with Rice’s assistance, the system was able to fly three jets to be fired upon by three Patriot missiles. As chief of the system, his team adapted it to remotely control Army tanks over 60 miles away on the north end of White Sands.
Other significant assignments for Rice included being chief of telemetry and the “executing agent” for developing global positioning for use in the missile range’s instrumentation systems. “Telemetry” is the ability to collect data from tests by radioing it to recording devices.
Rice lives in Las Cruces.
The Hall of Fame induction ceremony will be part of a luncheon at the Missile Range’s Frontier Club on Wednesday, Sept. 13. The event will begin at 11:30 a.m. Reservations are required and can be made by calling the White Sands Protocol Office at 575-678-1028. The deadline for making reservations is Tuesday, Sept. 5. The cost of lunch is $18, and you can choose Mesilla chicken or the Southwest Cobb Salad. For more information, contact Miriam Rodriguez in Public Affairs at 575-678-1134.
Jim Eckles worked in public affairs for 30 years and is in the White Sands Missile Range Hall of Fame. He is now secretary for the Doña Ana County Historical Society.