Drawing Inspiration: FIDO Brings THAAD Successes To Life

Drawing Inspiration: FIDO Brings THAAD Successes To Life

This man’s best friend can take down missiles.

Looking around the Lockheed Martin Huntsville, Alabama, and Sunnyvale, California, sites, wall displays feature a pooch alongside the many stages and success of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense program. They all feature FIDO, a hand-drawn dog who has become a mascot of sorts for the program and makes an appearance for every milestone and flight test.

The artist behind the drawings and concept is Gary Vonderlinden, who worked on the program in its early days as an engineer on several assignments.

The THAAD program is a resilient culture, and it was a great Lockheed Martin win. It’s a culture that doesn’t quit and pull from adversity, can look failure in the face and deal with it, pick themselves up and look to the objective. It’s like dogs are; they don’t complain, are willing to serve, look for affection sometimes but always give affection.” - Gary Vonderlinden

Back in the ‘90s, the dog concept was conceived as a way to relieve stress during a challenging time. He said the team faced the challenges of developing an entirely new system on top of a very tight schedule.

“A way to relieve stress is cartoons and drawing funny things. My boss encouraged that, and once the segment manager kept motivating us by comparing our design with a dog that doesn’t know how to hunt, or as he called it ‘that dog don’t hunt,’” he said.

That old adage inspired the team to create a likeness of the THAAD missile that can hunt and perform during tests.

“That was a catalyst to do something with a dog, show our personality with the dog, jumping through hoops, finding the bone and satisfying the mission,” he said. “It’s really a way to get people to crack a smile in the hallway or have something to talk about with the constant pressure at the time and relieve some of the stress.”

Eleven years later, the “dog” got an official name thanks to an employee’s child during a Young Minds At Work Contest. Judges selected “FIDO,” which stands for Fight, Intercept, Destroy and Overcome.

With a 100% mission success rate of 16 for 16 successful intercepts during flight tests, this dog definitely hunts now.


And more than 15 years since the first successful flight test, the display walls are full of successes and milestones. A recent one captures taking the first step toward integrating PAC-3 MSE capabilities with the THAAD Weapons System during a flight test in October.

FIDO has also made appearances in many Lockheed Martin employee retirement cartoons, on team T-shirts, people’s workstations and even kids’ coloring pages. The customer has also even taken a liking to FIDO.

“I’ve been in a meeting with the customer at the range and we’re having a nerve-wracking go/no-go discussion and the customer finally said, ‘Get the dog ready’ to launch the missile,” Gary said. “It was a telling moment in the early days of the program the customer bought into the dog idea.”

Each drawing takes about three to five hours to produce, from deciding on a particular concept to drawing with pencil, black ink and eventually adding color, which comes from a Lockheed Martin graphic artist. FIDO’s look is not targeted to any particular breed of dog, but Gary originally drew FIDO as a short-hair breed to make it easier to sketch.

Growing up, Gary said he was an early admirer of MAD Magazine artists, and he would spend many hours sketching famous ships. One of his favorites was the Titanic, which he drew more than a hundred times.

Though he now works on a different program, Gary still draws FIDO for every THAAD milestone, a project he works in alongside any other graphics requests from other programs.

Despite branching out to other graphical subjects, he returns to FIDO and THAAD, an enduring image for 25 years.

With many more successes and milestones ahead for THAAD, Gary will have his pen and paper ready to see what other adventures FIDO gets into.