Newsome Drive

The company was originally founded by Marty Wilcox as Applied Sonics Corporation (ASC) in Fountain Hills, AZ. He rented a 1250 sq. ft. building in a small industrial park and hired his brother to help with mechanical design and machining. The name of the company was changed to MSTL when he moved to Virginia and merged ASC with a small marine product sales company named Marine Sonic Technology, Ltd.

Marty had just sold a medical ultrasound business that his business partner, Ted Diethrich, MD, and he had built over a 10 year period. He had gained extensive experience in the electronic design of medical ultrasonic instruments, but was constrained by his sale of his successful business from competing in any way in the medical ultrasound field. After looking into what was available in underwater sonar systems, it was evident that the technology of the highly competitive medical ultrasound world could be leveraged to greatly improve the performance of underwater sonar systems.


His rule in the medical ultrasound company was simple--apply “The Golden Rule” to our business: treat your customers as you would want to be treated yourself. This ethos worked in his medical ultrasound business and was adopted as a motto in the underwater imaging world.

Towed Sonar

Our first product was not an imaging sonar, but an underwater three-dimensional ultrasonic measuring stick for underwater archaeologists to use for mapping shipwrecks. Using a “pitch-catch” approach and very short ultrasonic pulses at 300 kHz, we built a system that could establish the position of a movable “transceiver”, used as a pen, to within 2 cm over a 90 m radius. The diver-archaeologist could map a shipwreck in a tenth of the time it took to do it with tape measure and grids. The system was called SHARPS for “Sonic High Accuracy Ranging and Positioning System”. We licensed this system for production and sales to Marine Telepresence, Inc., a Bob Ballard company.

Our next product was our first towed side-scan system, the Sea Scan 1000. This was the first known side scan system to use a personal computer for control and image display. We were granted two (2) U.S. patents for its invention. It used an Apple II GS computer for control and display, and a towfish with embedded, potted electronics in a PVC body. We sold the first one of these in 1989.

The next version of the towed sonar, introduced in 1992, was the Sea Scan PC. This system used a Microsoft-powered PC. It had improved software and much better screen resolution than the Sea Scan 1000. Higher frequencies were added over time to further enhance image resolution.

The fourth version of the towed system was called the Sea Scan HDS. The communication system from the towfish to the computer and back was changed to a digital communication scheme, rather than one using analog signals, which the previous systems used. This was introduced in 2005.

Autonomous Undersea Vehicle (AUV) Sonar

Our first embedded sonar for AUV’s used the PC-104 packaging format and was based on the Sea Scan PC’s sonar design. With software modifications the AUV computer operated the sonar on its own under program control. This system was introduced in 1998, followed by the Sea Scan HDS Embedded in 2005.

Company Highlights:

Created the first digital map of a shipwreck using SHARPS on the YO88 Revolutionary War wreck in the York River.

Introduced the “Brown Scale” color palette used in medical ultrasound to the sonar imaging fraternity.

Built the first freestanding self-contained side scan sonar system for underwater use on the Navy’s Swimmer Delivery Vehicle (SDV).

Replaced an EDO side scan system with an MSTL Sea Scan PC on the Navy’s NR-1 research nuclear submarine. It was used to make sonar images of the USS Monitor.

Installed a Sea Scan PC on the Navy’s ASDS mini-submarine.

Was the first search unit on the scene (operated by the New York Harbor Patrol) with a side scan sonar to respond to the TWA Flight 800 disaster site off Long Island.

Searched for debris in the water at the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster.

Was the first side scan sonar company to demonstrate that underwater objects attached to boat hulls could be found with side scan sonar when the competition told officials that it couldn’t be done.

The first side scan sonar to show that drowning victims could be consistently located with side scan sonar. Demonstrated the advantages of side scan sonar search to the public safety dive community in the face of a high US government official’s insistence on national TV that “finding bodies with sonar was impossible”.