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Centennial of Naval Aviation

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 15, 2011 12:34 pm    Post subject: Centennial of Naval Aviation  Reply with quote

For Navy, aviation and "spook" buffs:

FRCSE applies "Bat" paint to P-3 Orion, harkens bygone era

Photos here:
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Fleet Readiness Center Southeast (FRCSE) has completed a heritage paint scheme on a second P-3C Orion Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance aircraft painted at the facility to honor a bygone military era for the 2011 Centennial of Naval Aviation (CoNA) celebration.

The Orion*s vintage white over black paint scheme honors the EP-3B, an electronic variant known as a "Bat Rack."...

Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron One (VQ-1) "World Watchers" home based at NAS Whidbey Island, Wash... will fly the unique aircraft to commemorate their bond with the covert Black Bat Squadron....

The top-secret squadron was officially named the 34th Squadron of the Republic of China Air Force [and] flew U.S. Central Intelligence Agency spy missions from Taiwan over mainland Communist China during the Cold War.

A museum in Hsinchu City that opened November 2009 in northern Taiwan commemorates the Black Bat Squadron and its secret history, concealed for more than half a century.

In 1967, Lockheed Martin converted two of the P-3A aircraft equipped with signals intelligence capabilities to EP-3B models.... The EP-3Bs operated from DaNang air base in Vietnam gathering intelligence and conducting aerial reconnaissance.

The highly decorated squadrons [VQ-1/2] played a vital electronic warfare role that saved countless American lives of U.S. tactical pilots and aircrew members serving in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War....

The Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance community will honor [the Centennial of Naval Aviation] CoNA with a heritage celebration at NAS Jacksonville, Fla. April 4-6.

Events run from Monday through Wednesday and include a golf tournament, a Flight Suit Dinner, aircraft fly-in and static display, PBY monument restoration/rededication and more.

For more information, visit www.mprfcona.org.

Source: Richard R. Burgess
Managing Editor, Seapower,
Navy League of the United States

I was a mission planner/intel analyst with Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron Two (VQ-2), home-based in Spain in the early 1960s. My MEMORIAL PAGE:
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 02, 2011 1:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

100th anniversary of flight at beach - On this day in 1911, daring pilots put on a special show

By David Nolan
April 2, 2011
St. Augustine Record

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the first airplane flight in St. Augustine.

Pioneer aviators John Alexander Douglass McCurdy and James J. Ward of the Curtiss Exhibition Co. came to St. Augustine on April 2, 1911, to provide an added attraction to the Southern Championship Speedboat Races hosted here by the local Power Boat Club.

In those early days of flight, daring "birdmen" working with the Wright brothers and Glenn Curtiss would risk their lives to put on displays at public events around the country.

The first flight in Florida had taken place just a year earlier at the Orange County Fair in Orlando, with the famous daredevil Lincoln Beachey as pilot. Orville Wright described Beachey as "the most wonderful flier I ever saw -- the greatest aviator of all."...

Public excitement grew as the names of McCurdy and Ward -- already well-known for their aerial exploits -- were announced. McCurdy was born in Canada in 1886. His father was a private secretary to Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone and a pioneer in aviation research.

When just 21, McCurdy had joined with Bell and Glenn Curtiss in the Aerial Experiment Association, which stood second only to the Wright Brothers in contributions to the early days of flight.

On Feb. 23, 1909, McCurdy in the "Silver Dart" made the first flight in Canada, which was also the first flight in the British Empire. He became the fifth person in the United States to fly a plane, and held several world records.

On Jan. 30, 1911, McCurdy flew 90 miles from Key West to Havana and won an $8,000 prize. It was the longest over-water flight that had been attempted at the time and was only slightly marred by the fact that his plane fell into the sea 10 miles short of his goal because of a broken oil line. Nevertheless, he had flown almost four times as far as the previous over-water record holder.

In February and March 1911 McCurdy put on exhibitions in Palm Beach and pioneered the use of a wireless receiver in the air. Continuing up the coast, he flew in Daytona Beach at the end off March. With those successes, he was guaranteed a rousing welcome in St. Augustine.

The aviators arrived in St Augustine the usual way: by train with their planes disassembled. Those early machines were quite fragile.

April 2, 1911, a Sunday, boasted fine weather and crowds of thousands gathered at South Beach to welcome the air age.

The St. Augustine Evening Record reported: "Mr. Ward made several flights in the 'Shooting Star' and in his most daring effort he carried McCurdy as a passenger. Besides straight flying, the spiral glide was given and several daring feats with the big flying machine were successfully accomplished."...

There was one more event. On April 5 crowds lined the bayfront to witness a race between speedboat and airplane. Aviator Ward handily won and carried off a prize of $100. He left St. Augustine in search of even greater rewards....

Rest of the story: http://staugustine.com/news/local...01/100th-anniversary-flight-beach

Anniversaries like this remind me of just how quickly the scientific revolution has changed the world.  

My dad was a boy when the Wright brothers flew the first successful engine-powered aircraft; my mom was a girl by the time of these "first" flights around the nation and the world. My uncle was flying in USN flying boats 80 years ago.  

My own first flight 70 years ago was in a barnstormer's plane sitting on my mom's lap - taking off from and landing on an alfalfa field.
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 07, 2011 4:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Naval Auxiliary Air Station/Naval Air Station (NAAS/NAS) Sanford, Florida All Squadrons 1942 - 1968 43rd Reunion June 23 -26 2011 

Click here:

And here: 

Supplemental to the above and the WWII squadrons.

Official history from the Sanford Memorial website:

"After the Korean War began in 1951 the Navy once again acquired the airport as a Naval Auxilliary Air Station to provide a training facility for the Navy's carrier based pilots."

The actual history was a then-Top Secret one.

A number of squadrons were home-based at Sanford, with various cover stories spread throughout the civilian population to disguise their true missions.

- Photographic Squadron Sixty-One (VJ-61) which was tasked with providing aerial photographic reconnaissance and cartographic mapping throughout the world, as part of the effort to create the "target folders" for the USN carrier-based atom bombers of the Heavy Attack Composite Squadrons, also highly secret in those early Cold War days.
VJ-61 arrived and homeported at then-Naval Air Auxiliary Station (NAAS) Sanford in April 1952, and flew P4Y-1P (modified B-24 Intruders), AJ-2P Savages, A3D-1P Skywarriors and A3D-2P Skywarriors.

- Heavy Attack Composite Squadron Five (VC-5) arrived at NAAS Sanford in January 1953, and was the first aircraft carrier launchable nuclear bombing squadron (that's what "heavy" attack denotes, i.e., "heavy" = nuclear Mk-6 weapons of Hiroshima and Nagasaki yields). It was accompanied by Fleet Aircraft Support Squadron Fifty-One (FASRON-51).
VC-5 flew (specially outfitted with tailhooks) P2V-3C Neptunes, which could carry a Mk-6, and launch from an aircraft carrier with RATO/JATO bottles. It also flew the AJ-1 Savage and AJ-2 Savage (two reciprocating engines with a jet in the tail) which was the only aircraft ever built solely for its role as an aircraft carrier launched heavy nuclear bomb delivery system. (The only remaining AJ Savage is in the Naval Air Museum at Pensacola FL).

- Heavy Attack Composite Squadron Nine (VC-9) was commissioned at NAAS Sanford, also in January 1953, and its primary role was to fly its modified AJ-2 Savages as aerial tankers for inflight refueling of the nuclear bombers and other aircraft. The first ever operational carrier-based inflight refueling was accomplished in 1953 by VC-9.

- Heavy Attack Composite Squadrons Seven and Eight (VC-7 and VC-8) relocated to the redesignated Naval Air Station (NAS) Sanford in 1955. They were also nuclear bomber squadrons flying the AJ-1/2 Savages.

All the Sanford-based VC squadrons deployed aircraft and crews to Port Lyautey, French Morocco and to aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean Sea U.S. 6th Fleet. (In the Pacific theatre, squadron VC-6 held the same role on aircraft carriers in the China Sea, deployed from their home base at NAS North Island).

This highly secret carrier-based nuclear bombing fleet of aircraft and their supporting squadrons were all home-based at NAAS/NAS Sanford prior to the shifting of the U.S. aerial nuclear attack role to the USAF and its Strategic Air Command.
This period of the Cold War when the balance of power and avoidance of a nuclear holocaust was mainly established by USN carrier-based atom bombers deployed in the Mediterranean Sea within range of Moscow, home-ported at Sanford, is a very important part of NAS/NAAS Sanford history.

In 1955 the VC squadrons were re-designated VAH and the "official" history resumes:

"In June 0f 1955 the Sanford base became home to Reconnaissance Attack Wing One, with VAH-1 (re-designated from VC-8) established at NAS Jacksonville, where the squadron received the first A3D Skywarriors, the Navy's largest carrier based nuclear bombers.
"In January 1957 the NAS Sanford squadrons saw the arrival of the A3D Skywarriors to replace their AJ Savage aircraft.
"They were followed in 1960 by the North American A-3J know as the Vigilante.The first RA-5C Vigilante arrived in Sanford in December of 1963. This aircraft was designed as a nuclear bomber but was later converted to a reconnaissance aircraft and played a major role in the Vietnam conflict."

My website dedicated to the days of "heavy" attack and Sanford NAS:

(PS: I was initially the computer expert in squadron VC-8 dedicated to maintaining the "black box" descendant of the WWII Norden bombsight, the CP-66 electric/analog computer which was the heart of the AN/ASB-1a Bomb
Director System.
I then seguéd into radar simulations and nuclear target planning, and an instructor in a Norfolk VA Navy Air Intelligence school devoted to "heavy" attack planning and crew training.
When the USAF took over the aerial nuclear attack role, and the A3D aircraft converted to electronic intelligence gathering platforms, I became a mission planner and intel analyst with squadron VQ-2, home based in Spain.
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 19, 2011 8:31 pm    Post subject: Last flight home Reply with quote

The end of a magnificent era in U.S. Naval Aviation - the last flight of an A-3 Skywarrior, four months shy of 60 years after the first flight - returning home to Florida from where the first operational missions were launched.

Designed and entering the fleet as a strategic nuclear bomber, the 2nd of 3 USN aircraft so designed before the USAF took over that strategic role, but also outfitted for special operations such as photographic reconnaissance, electronic warfare, tactical air control, electronic intelligence reconnaissance, and aerial refueling, the "whale" was operational from 1956 - flying in the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Cold War, Vietnam, and the First Gulf War in 1991 - and since then until June 30, 2011 flown as test beds by Raytheon and General Electric under contract.

I was present on March 31, 1956 when the first operational nuke bombers landed at Naval Air Station Jacksonville FL to join my new squadron Heavy Attack Squadron One (VAH-1), the "Smokin' Tigers."  Guess I'll never hear those distinctive J-57s rumble again.

Watch the last flight here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yr7CJibs4hc

And for the 1st strategic nuclear attack USN aircraft built solely for that role at the beginning of the Cold War, and my first squadron, VC-8:

VAH-1's Smokin' Tiger:
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 08, 2011 9:40 pm    Post subject: A Story in Three Parts Reply with quote

(1) 28 MAY 66 - EA-3B Skywarrior Buno 142257 (R-3). Squadron VQ-2, staging out of Cubi Point, Philippines. Encountered typhoon, and four ECM crew bailed out - flight crew successfully returned to base.
Lt. Walter A. Linzy,
ATC Joseph W. Aubin,
ATR3 Richard Hunt,
ATR3 Rich Stocker.
Rich Stocker's body was found on 31 May - apparently died 8 hours prior to recovery, based upon forensic evidence; Lt. Linzy's Mae West was found with note: "We are in the water and OK."
Source: My memorial page at http://www.navycthistory.com/chuckhuber.txt

(2) The rest of the story "Lost Back End Crew":
Final paragraph: "After 45 years, these Sailors deserve to be remembered as they should have been all along, as Rangers, as combat veterans, as heroes." ~ Rudy Gonzalez, Navy Casualty Assistance Division
© 2011 Scripps Newspaper Group Online

(3) The final chapter will be written on Memorial Day 2012 when the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund will coordinate a name unveiling ceremony, and the names of our four shipmates will finally be inscribed on the Wall.  

Source: Today's For Official Use Only (FOUO) msg from:
Navy Casualty Assistance Division, (OPNAV N135C)
POW / MIA Branch

Bravo Zulu to all who have spent their time and effort through the years to obtain our shipmates' recognition and their names on the Wall.

(s) bieramar/Chuck Huber - former Ranger, backender, mission planner, and intelligence analyst "behind the Green Door" in VQ-2.
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 22, 2011 9:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Cool video of Piranha USV (Unmanned Surface Vehicle): http://www.military.com/video/log...906139587001/?ESRC=soldiertech.nl

100 years and a long way from "Ships of Wood, Men of Steel."

PS: Some other cool stuff at the link also, like the VTOL (Vertical Take Off & Landing) C-130!
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 06, 2012 4:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

We [have reached] the end of the yearlong celebration of the 100th Anniversary of US Naval Aviation - and what a year it has been.

Between the Heritage paint schemes, celebratory conventions, special programming and dedicated ceremonies, much ground has been covered.

The outside observer may be forgiven, however, if they are led to believe carrier aviation is the whole sum of Naval Aviation - based on a casual review of said observances.

They would be missing out on how Naval Aviation set cargo records during the Berlin Airlift. Flew and fought hardscrabble, close quarters battles with Hueys staged from LSTs in the Mekong Delta.

How, in concert with small DERs, it formed a critical piece of our long-range, early warning barrier prior to the ballistic missile age with WVs and specially configured blimps. Patrolled vast, hostile reaches of the northern Atlantic and Pacific oceans searching for Soviet attack and ballistic missile subs.

They would also miss how it was part of the mission to probe deep into hostile territory with a battery of electronic gear that at times was a cross between Radio Shack and Star Wars, searching for the ever elusive signals that would indicate a new threat or change in defenses for targets on hidden lists for a war no one wanted to go hot.

It is perhaps this group, shore and carrier-based, that has at once remained the most obscure subset of Naval Aviation while performing one of the most critical missions of the Cold War - intelligence collection.

The gap between what we know with certainty and what we conjecture (guess) is in constant flux and through time immemorial, efforts have been expended on almost infinite means to close that gap.

Indeed, the driving impetus for bringing the airplane (which itself was more of a curiosity than accomplished fact in its early days) into the military were the possibilities implicit in gaining the ultimate "high ground" for scouting and reconnaissance supporting ground and naval forces.
Indeed, Naval Aviation was born with the patrol/scout mission in mind.
Information collected was binned as actionable (useful in an immediate or near term sense - i.e., troop movements along the trenches, battleships seeking their opposite numbers for decisive engagements, etc.) or cataloged for longer-range/big picture use - "strategic" information if you will (and yes, we know this is a vast oversimplification). In the beginning, most of the information collected was visual - recorded observations by pilots passed at post-mission debriefs that evolved into still photography with either handheld or airframe mounted cameras.

Early Efforts

The latter part of WW2 raised the curtain on entirely new forms of warfare that dealt with the invisible portions of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Radar, ground-based surveillance or shorter-range airborne intercept, became a decisive factor - first during the Battle of Britain and later in the Pacific as the enormous task forces organized around fast carriers and fleet amphibs came under relentless air attack. A shadowy, lethal game of cat-and-mouse evolved in the Battle of the Atlantic between German submarines and the Allied convoys they sought to send to the bottom before reaching destinations in Russia and England.

Coded communications, encrypted by cipher machines floated through the ether, providing intelligence on convoy locations and directing coordinated attacks. Intercepted and de-encrypted, those same messages provided intelligence for the hunters, armed with radar and electronic surveillance equipment to sweep the spectrum, looking for telltale signs of the enemy subs still relying on the dark of night; jaeger and gejagt reversed.

The Navy in particular had evolved a number of capabilities in this new field of electronic warfare.

The American Navys efforts at employing radar more fully in warfighting, whether in surface engagements or through land- and carrier-based aircraft was bearing fruit after the first, halting failures. As that effectiveness grew, the inevitable drive to counter-measures by the hunted came into play. Subs became equipped with radar to acquire convoys and avoid air attack - patrol aircraft added ESM equipment to locate the subs by the radar they were using; invasion forces added signals and communications intelligence (today we call this ELINT and COMINT which together today we call SIGINT) collection to aerial photography (again, part of what we call imagery intelligence, or IMINT today) as part of the preparation of the battle space.

The aircraft used in SIGINT were almost the reverse of the photo birds. The latter, because they often had to overfly the target directly, relied on speed and altitude to stave off defenders and as such, tended to be fighters stripped of armor and guns in an effort to lighten the airframe. SIGINT birds, on the other hand, could position themselves at a distance from defenses while collecting their intel.

In an age of vacuum tubes though, this meant the necessary gear was bulky and when combined with the need for long dwell times (think of it as staring at an object waiting for something to happen), a premium was placed on size and endurance, hence patrol bombers like the PB4Y Privateer (the Navy's version of the venerable Consolidated B-24 Liberator) and the carrier-based TBF/TBM Avenger were the preferred assets.

The aircraft,  mission and personnel involved, while deployed imbedded in "vanilla" patrol squadrons, were nonetheless rolled up in what at first was called (by Navy) the Special Electronic Search Program (SESP) and later came to be known as the Peacetime Aerial Reconnaissance PROgram or PARPRO.

Like many other aspects of the armed forces post-WW2, the intelligence collection mission languished through fits and starts in the period leading up to two seminal events - the Soviet's first atomic bomb in 1949 and the invasion of South Korea by North Korea in 1950.

These successive events (accompanied by the fall of China and the appearance of MiG-15 fighters in the skies over Korea) subjected the US to a number of strategic shocks that drove changes across the spectrum of acquisition, operations and strategic planning.

At the nexus of the ongoing gap analysis over just what it was we didn*t know were the shadow warriors from naval aviation and the newly independent air force and each would have an important part of the solution set.

The First Trials by Fire

For the first few years after the war, Navy aircraft flying off the coast of China and the Manchurian region of the Soviet Union in the far east, and the Baltic in the west (areas of interest owing to location of Soviet subs and access to monitoring Soviet air defense radars and fighters) were generally left unmolested unless by accident or intent they overflew Russian or communist Chinese airspace. That ended on 8 April 1950:

Soviet La-11 Fangs, shot down a VP-26 PB4Y-2 Privateer (BuNo 59645 - "Turbulent Turtle"). Based at Port Lyautey, French Morocco, the Privateer was on a patrol mission launched from Wiesbaden, West Germany. According the to the American account, this incident happened over the Baltic Sea off the coast of Lepija Latvia. The Soviets claimed the aircraft was intercepted over Latvia and fired on the Soviet fighters during the interception. After the fighters engaged the Privateer, the Soviets report that it descended sharply before crashing into the sea 5-10 kilometers off the coast. Wreckage was recovered, and although the Soviet pilots noted 10 parachutes, and the US mounted a search effort that eventually counted over 25 aircraft, the crew went missing and were presumed lost at sea.

Not long after, A VP-6 P2V was downed over the Sea of Japan, near Vladivostok while conducting a SIGINT mission (later claimed to be a "weather reconnaissance mission" - which became the operating cover for a wide range of recce activities over and around "denied territory"). P2V-3W (BuNo 124283) was intercepted by a flight of La-11s about 7-8 nm off the coast in the area of Cape Ostrvnoy and shot down around 18 miles off the coast. The crew of 10 was reported missing.

Towards the end of the 1940s, US concern over the size of the Soviet bomber force grew, especially over possible deployments in the Arctic and Pacific regions of Siberia.

Built around the Tu-4 Bull, a reverse-engineered copy of the B-29, Soviet bomber forces deployed on the Chukotskiy Peninsula (for example) placed the Tu-4 closer to the US, offering opportunities for deeper penetration of the continental landmass on one-way missions. Similar concerns were in place for Murmansk on the Kola Peninsula, Dikson Island in the Karla Sea in western Siberia, and even the Franz Josef Islands archipelago.

In an attempt to baseline the real status of forces, President Truman authorized a very limited number of overflights using camera-equipped B-47Es and RB-50s, but the territory to be covered was vast, overflight opportunities limited and weather dependent and target location questionable at best. Additionally, since our bombers would be flying over the pole and entering Soviet airspace through the Arctic, it was reasonable to believe that the Soviets were building air defenses in that region.

These bases and their supporting networks of radar and communications needed to be ferreted out, plotted and monitored for operational patterns that might provide insight for penetration by SACs bombers.

Beginning in 1952, the Air Force and Navy undertook a series of joint flights along the Siberian coast with these missions in mind.

The Navy deployed specially configured P2V-3W Neptunes with ESM gear that would act as pathfinders for camera equipped Air Force RB-50s which would photograph installations and capture radarscope imagery. The latter was especially important for aircrew who in an age without the benefit of modern simulations supported by satellite imagery, were forced to imagine what the approach to the target might look like from interpretation of charts and topographic maps - of questionable veracity.

Flying ahead of and below the pressurized RB-50s, the SIGINT-equipped Neptunes would scan wide swaths of the electromagnetic spectrum looking for the telltale signs of surveillance and GCI radars, pinpoint their location and give a steer to the higher flying RB-50. These flights ranged the Pacific coast of the Soviet Union, from below Vladivostok to the Bering Sea and included penetration as far as 15-20 miles from the coast. The Navy aircraft were intercepted twice by MiG-15s, including one instance overland.

Surprisingly, given the earlier shootdowns in the Baltic and Sea of Japan, the MiGs broke off the intercept leaving the Neptunes unmolested. These flights continued for a total of 9 missions before being terminated in June 1952.

While Navy SIGINT aircraft were probing the Pacific and Baltic approaches to the Soviet Union, there was still a war ("police action") underway in Korea, which by mid-1952 had stalemated between UN forces and those of North Korea/Communist China. Navy airborne recce missions continued apace off the coast of China in the Yellow Sea and Formosa Straits with a variety of platforms that included Privateers (gradually being replaced by Neptunes and Mercators) and Marlin seaplanes.

The latter were particularly useful for collecting on coastal traffic - but not without consequence. From mid-1952 through the 27 July 1953 ceasefire, 9 Navy recce missions in those areas were attacked with various effect by PLA(AF) fighters:

31 July 1952: While conducting a patrol mission, a US Navy PBM-5S2 Mariner (BuNo 59277), of VP-731, based from Iwakuni Japan, was attacked by two People's Republic of China MiG-15 Fagots over the Yellow Sea. Two crewmembers were killed and two were seriously wounded. The PBM suffered extensive damage, but was able to make it safely to Paengyong-do Korea.

20 September 1952: Two PLA(AF) MiG-15s attack a VP-28 PB4Y-2S Privateer off the coast of the People's Republic of China. The Privateer was able to safely return to Naha, Okinawa.

23 November 1952: A VP-28 PB4Y-2S Privateer, was attacked, but not damaged, by a PLA(AF) MiG-15 off of Shanghai, People's Republic of China.

18 January 1953: A VP-22 P2V-5 Neptune (BuNo 127744), based out of Atsugi Japan, was damaged by Chinese anti-aircraft fire near Swatow People's Republic of China, but was able to ditch in the Formosa Strait. Eleven of thirteen crewmen were rescued by a USCG PBM-5 Mariner while under fire from Chinese shore batteries on Nan Ao Tao island, but it crashed while attempting to takeoff in 8-12 foot swells. USS Halsey Powell (DD-686) managed to rescue 10 of the combined crash survivors - 6 of the original P2V crew were lost.
Another PBM-5 from VP-40 and USS Gregory (DD-802) were fired upon by Chinese batteries during the rescue effort.

23 April 1953: A US Navy P4M-1Q Mercator (BuNo 124369) piloted by Dick Renner and Mel Davidow, was attacked by two PLA(AF) MiG-15s off the coast near Shanghai. The MiGs made several firing runs with the Mercator crew returning fire. The P4M wasn't damaged nor could the crew determine if the MiGs were hit.

19 June 1953: A VP-46 PBM-5S2 Mariner was fired on by Chinese ships in the Formosa Strait. No damage was inflicted.

28 June 1953: A VP-1 P2V-5 Neptune was fired on by Chinese ships in the Formosa Strait. No damage was inflicted.

8 July 1953: A VP-1 P2V-5 Neptune was fired on by antiaircraft artillery near Amoy Island in the Formosa Strait. No damage inflicted.

21 July 1953: A VP-1 P2V-5 Neptune was fired on by antiaircraft artillery near Amoy Island in the Formosa Strait. No damage inflicted.

As this part of the Cold War began to heat up and both sides got increasingly aggressive in their pursuit, the casualties began to mount for Air Force and Navy recce missions. Sometimes, aircraft not on a PARPRO mission, but rather on a standard maritime patrol ended up being attacked and shot down given their visual similarities to their recce counterparts (oft times deployed with the same squadron).

Consider the case of a VP-9 P2V-5 Neptune (BuNo 131515):
On 22 Jun 55, CB 3 was patrolling the Bering Strait, about 40 miles southwest of St. Lawrence island. Operating at 8,000 ft., it was roughly 100 ft. above the cloud layer on a heading of 160 degrees, when a Soviet MiG swept in from the northwest and fired on the P2V, striking the aircraft in the port engine, port wing and fuselage. The port engine caught fire and three of the crew were also hit and injured.

The pilot, LT R. H. Fischer, turned the Neptune towards St. Lawrence and dove into the undercast. Left wing on fire and with the fuselage having sustained heavy damage, the plane broke out at 1500, headed for the beach. With wounded crewmembers and unable to extinguish the fire, the pilot elected a wheels-up landing on St. Lawrence. During the landing, the bomb bay fuel tank exploded, consuming the center section of the aircraft in fire.

The crew exited the aircraft, some sustaining additional injuries in the process and sought nearby refuge while CB 3 burned. Nearby natives saw the smoke from the fire and launched a rescue effort that brought CB 3's crew back to the village for first aid treatment. An Air Force C-47 arrived a short time later to complete the evacuation of the crew to Anchorage. Seven crewmembers ended up being hospitalized in Anchorage for a variety of burn and fracture injuries.

As the 1950s passed, the toll mounted - quietly, known only to a handful of briefed-in uniformed and civilian personnel in Washington and SAC HQ.

For all the families knew, their father, son or brother was lost in any one of a number of "training" accidents in the Far North, or were claimed by some mechanical failure over the vast ocean deep. Given the mishap rates in the Air Force and Navy at the time, the losses were not particularly noteworthy in numbers and on the opposition's side, there was just as much interest in keeping things quiet so as not to highlight their shortcomings - or identify potential intelligence coups from recovered wreckage or POWs who may have been "disappeared" into the Gulag.

One thing though was changing, and that was that as the overflight missions became more dangerous, specialized aircraft (e.g., the U-2) were evolved to take the place of the converted bombers, transports and patrol aircraft previously used. On the Navy's side, the P2V Neptune and to a lesser extent, the P4M Mercator would serve for the remainder of the decade as the primary strategic SIGINT reconnaissance platforms.

Entering the 1960s, they would be replaced by variants of the WV/EC-121 Warning Star and later, the P-3 Orion. On the tactical side, the advent of the Forrestal-class CVA and improved Midway-class CVA offered additional opportunities with variants of the A3D Whale. Tactical photo reconnaissance continued however, to evolve along original lines with the use of specially configured fighters or attack aircraft, reaching its zenith with the RF-8 Crusader which gained fame during the Cuban Missile crisis (with VFP-62) and later, the RA5C Vigilante, both of which saw extensive service (and sustained significant losses - 21 alone for the RA5C) over Vietnam.

"Modern" Times

On 28 October 1952, a dark-blue, swept wing aircraft took to the air on its first flight. Stemming from a 1948 CNO requirement for a long-range, carrier-based attack plane capable of delivering a 10,000lb bomb load of conventional or nuclear weapons, the A3D Skywarrior dramatically expanded the Navy's carrier-based strike capability and was at once, the largest, heaviest aircraft designed for carrier operations. Significant problems with its engines delayed fleet introduction until 1956 though, and by 1961, barely five years later, the SIOP-directed nuclear strike/retaliation mission was assigned to the new Polaris-equipped fleet ballistic missile submarines.

As combat action in Vietnam heated up and carrier aviation became heavily involved in strikes on both sides of the DMZ, the Whale did provide some conventional bombing and minelaying missions, but was soon supplanted by more modern attack aircraft that were able to operate in the hostile skies over North Vietnam. Still, the Whale's (as it came to be called with widely varying degrees of fondness by air- and flightdeck crews) sheer volume offered a number of possibilities - one of which was to modify the bomb bay to add three crew positions to operate a variety of ELINT and COMINT equipment.  

Configured this way (or, with a refueling/ECM package) the Whale provided vital intelligence and countermeasures capabilities to commanders afloat and ashore. The EKA-3B was particularly useful, providing escort recce and jamming of the North Vietnamese radar stations for carrier-based strike packages and then serving as a "wet-wing" tanker for battle damaged aircraft returning to the carrier.

Again, specialized aircraft came to replace the Whale in some mission areas (tanker configured A-4s, A-6s and A-7s, and ECM configured A-6s for the strike escort missions), but for the dedicated ELINT/COMINT mission launching form the carrier, the EA-3B was still favored.

Assigned to two fleet reconnaissance squadrons - VQ-1 (Pacific) and VQ-2 (Atlantic/Mediterranean) the Whale would deploy in dets of 1 or 2 aircraft with embarked CVWs or operate ashore.

Assigned as an "ESM" mission on the airplan, the Whale would be one of the first launched (along with the E-2 - handlers and Air Bosses have a natural bias against big planes clogging their decks). Disappearing over the horizon, they would fly long patrols off Libya, Syria, China, Iran, North Korea and other areas labeled "denied territory."

Little contact was made except with the ship on special, secure circuits and occasionally with the airborne E-2 or an EP-3 (also assigned to VQ-1 or VQ-2) if there was something of immediate, tactical importance. At the end of the double cycle, it would show up in the overhead and along with the rest of the "cats and dogs" (i.e., all of the non-pointy nose aircraft that included the E-2, S-3 and recovery tanker) trap towards the end of the cycle.

With the advent of satellite reconnaissance, much of the impetus for overflight of denied territory was removed and with notable exceptions, the practice of shooting down recce aircraft operating off shore and in international waters pretty much abated during the 1960s. The notable exception is that of North Korea.

Following its earlier piracy of the USS Pueblo, North Korean fighters shot down a VQ-1 EC-121 over the Sea of Japan on 15 Apr 1969 with the loss of all 31 crew onboard. No explanation, much less apology or reparation has ever been offered by North Korea.

Still, even though hostile action against PARPRO aircraft dropped, losses continued, especially in the VQ community owing in no small part to the challenges presented by continued operation of the EA-3B from the ship. A quick survey of the list of A-3 losses found at Skywarrior Association's site post Vietnam shows 13 losses - some mechanical, others during CV ops while some just never returned and the cause is listed as "unknown."

Among those losses is that of Ranger 12 (VQ-2 EA-3B BuNo 144850) on 25 Jan 1987:

During a night recovery, Ranger 12, a VQ-2 EA-3B was attempting to land on USS Nimitz (CVN-68), which was underway conducting bluewater operations in support of National Week '87. A "varsity night" (no moon/visible horizon) led to 5 passes, each being a bolter, during one of which, Ranger 12 dropped out of sight below flightdeck level.

After regaining altitude and determining refueling was required (less than 800lbs remained) the aircraft was vectored to the recovery tanker, an A-7 with a buddy store. On join-up, they determined the tanker package was no good. A bingo to the beach was not in order because of the distance and low fuel state. A backup tanker, a KA-6D, was positioned on the bow, but was blocked by another aircraft and could not be launched in time.

Given the conditions (night & winter temps), a controlled bailout by the ship was ruled out and a decision was made to barricade the aircraft. While rigging the barricade, it was discovered that a big wrench used to tighten up the barricade was missing, leaving the barricade with an 8-foot catenary (drop from vertical).

A high approach and the sag at the top of the barricade proved to be a fatal combination as Ranger 12 caught the top of the barricade on its nose gear, slammed into the deck and slid off the angle deck in a shower sparks into the dark water below. Although the rescue helo was quickly on the scene, noting a lack of movement inside the aircraft and the threat of its imminent sinking, the SAR swimmers were not permitted to enter the aircraft. After 13 minutes of floating the EA-3B sank with its 7 men crew to the bottom of the sea.

The EA-3B was removed from CVOPS shortly thereafter, but even then; the Whale still contributed by flying missions from shore bases and was part of Operation Desert Storm, its last combat operations. In 1993, the EA-3B was replaced by a highly modified version of the S-3, the ES-3A Shadow.

The ES-3A was intended to provide a CVBG-organic "Indications and Warning" mission using its extensive SIGINT suite, but owing to speed limitations (the aircraft was a flying nest of antennas and sensor bulges, drawing unflattering comparisons to porcupines and hedgehogs) it would not accompany strike packages but remain in a stand-off role. Like the EKA-3B, it would reprise the role of airborne tanker eventually earning a preferred place as  the recovery tanker given the stability of the platform. The downside was that the time placed on the airframes (themselves conversions of extant S-3As) put the aircraft in jeopardy when the post-Cold War budget cuts came and "quick and easy" targets had to be found. In an era of "jointness" and the availability of "national technical means" the necessity for organic ISR was discounted (mostly for fiscal needs) and several platforms whose operations or replacement were very costly were instead, marked for the axe (included in this group were the SR-71 and ES-3A - the U-2 almost got caught up as well).

The Navy was left with the aging EP-3 platform that, with the equally aged RC-135 variants and a re-engined U-2, provided the brunt of SIGINT missions in the post-Cold War environment.

Today and for the foreseeable future, airborne recce will be provided by a mix of manned and unmanned platforms operating to fill the gaps that overhead systems are unable to meet. In company with the aforementioned EP-3 and the upcoming P-8, there will be UAVs ranging from U-2 sized Global Hawks to miniature aircraft whose form factor replicates a hummingbird, and eventually carrier-based UCAV-Ns to combine the reconnaissance with attack.

The means may change, but airborne reconnaissance very much figures in the modern battlefield and in the esoteric world of non-kinetic operations to disrupt kill-chains.

It is indeed, a long ways removed from the lumbering blue bombers carrying their payload of vacuum tube-based receivers and aircrew alternately freezing and sweating in unpressurized ops over and off hostile territory. But without those early pioneers and those who followed, in the shadows providing the raw intelligence to be parsed, analyzed, debated and considered by national security decision makers, history may well have played out over a very different, and unfavorable plot.

Unheralded - yes, but not immaterial. And Naval Aviation was there from the start - and still is today.

<delete Epilogue>

As the incident with the EP-3 off Hainan in 2001 demonstrated the Cold War may be over, but there remain risks just the same. Nations with secrets to hide will continue to push, shove and otherwise frustrate legitimate reconnaissance operations undertaken in international airspace over international waters.

Those who fly these missions will always have my deepest respect and admiration - for what they do and the long line of those who went before - In the shadows.

[author]: SJS


Schindler, John R. "A Dangerous Business: The U.S. Navy and National Reconnaissance During the Cold War," Center for Cryptologic History, National Security Agency

"Appendix 34: Cold War Incidents Involving U.S. Navy Aircraft" in United States Naval Aviation: 1911-1995, Naval History and Heritage Command

A-3 Skywarrior Association http://a3skywarrior.com

U.S. Naval Air Station, Port Lyautey, Kenitra, Morocco

The Cold War Museum: "Postscript to the U.S. Navy Electronic Reconnaissance Squadrons Histories"

Georgetown University: The National Security Archive

Civilians, Spies, and Blue Suits: The Bureaucratic War for Control of
Overhead Reconnaissance, 1961-1965  

U.S. Intelligence and the Detection of the First Soviet Nuclear Test,
September 1949

Silent Warriors http://www.silent-warriors.com/

Patriot's Point: Home of the USS Yorktown

Cold War Shootdowns "The Peacetime Airborne Reconnaissance Program (PARPRO)" Rose, David.
Contributing Editor, Barnstormers.com
U.S. Navy Patrol Squadrons http://www.vpnavy.com

"Cold War Air Shoot Down" at Mikoyan Gurevitch

Personal logs, records and archives ----
Crossposted at Steeljawscribe.com


Some of my connections - previously posted on this thread - with this period of Naval History:
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 22, 2012 8:32 pm    Post subject: Last Flight of the Super Connie Reply with quote

As the 101st year of Naval Aviation begins, another airframe soars for the last time.

Excerpts from an e-mail:

Saturday January 14, 2012 was the last fly-away for the last airworthy Warning Star Constellation [USN designation EC-121].

The flight was from Camarillo, California airport (Old Oxnard Air Base) to Chino, California.

Some in the big crowd along with Marcia and I Held our breath as they turned up first #3 engine followed by numbers 4, 2, and 1. The start was normal. Lots of exhaust and some fire ball from the PRTs. I felt my heart beat a little faster and looking around saw many with a tear or two.

Marcia gave my hand a squeeze and I'll admit that I had a few tears, also, as we both remembered the many times we had experienced this, but this was the last Radar Connie....

Marcia handed out free pop-corn and I was the docent up in the plane.

As they started to taxi I know that some of the younger on-lookers who had never seen a Connie before Saturday thought she sort of waddled down the taxi-way.

But to us who knew her and her... sisters , she strode down that taxi-way like a queen.

We watched and heard the run-up of the 3350's as the mag were checked. Then rolled on to the active and took to the blue again. It was the first flight in 15 years.

For safety sake the pilots made two climbing turns over the field and then headed for Chino. We watched as she completed her climb to altitude and was lost in the clouds.

The old girl "Did us proud."
--- end e-mail ---

One of the four SIGINT/ELINT sister ships - EC-121Ms - from my days in the skies: http://www.wherndon.com/vq2sandeman/21.jpg

On a day long ago
In a far-away land,
You rose to the skies
To obey a command.

While we who were here
In our safe, secure place,
Never knew of the danger,
Never knew what you'd face.

We live in a land
That today is still free,
Who can measure the gift
To mankind and to me?

Our "Eyes in the Sky",
Looking down from above,
We hope you can see
What you gave us in love.

On a day long ago,
In a far-away land,
When you rose to the skies
To obey a command.

~ Chrystal Krueger Sinn, June, 1997
One of the four sisters, tail code PR-21 (photo linked above) was shot down over North Korea 14 APR 1962; 30 Navy and 1 Marine Corps KIA.
Another sister, tail code JQ-15, down on the West/East German border 22 MAY 1960; 22 Navy and 4 Army KIA.
The third sister, tail code PR-26, down in Vietnam 16 MAR 1970; 23 Navy KIA.

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 12, 2012 5:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Two Weeks in October - Fifty Year Anniversary

• Oct 14, 1962 - US Air Force U-2 found photo evidence of medium-range ballistic missiles in Cuba. 

• Oct 15 - US Navy Aviation Air Intelligence Reconnaissance Squadron VQ-2 stages A3D-2Q (EA-3B "Skywarrior") and WV-2Q (EC-121M "Willie Victor" a/k/a "Super Constellation" a/k/a "Warning Star") from Rota, Spain to Florida; and begins Electronic and Signals Intelligence reconnaissance flights, recording voice and electronic radio and radar signals and plotting their emission sites.

• Oct 16 - President J.F.Kennedy was shown the U-2 photos.

• Oct 22 - JFK addresses the nation and world on TV, announcing the presence of missiles, his determination to have them removed, and the "quarantine" (Naval blockade) to begin on Oct 24. 

• Oct 22 - US military went to DEFCON 3, the first time ever (DEFCON 5 is normal).

• Oct 23 - US Navy Aviation Photo Reconnaissance Squadron VFP-62 (RF-8 "Crusaders") flew the first 6 missions of Operation Blue Moon, low-level photo reconnaissance over Cuban missile sites. 

• Oct 24 - US Air Force Photo Reconnaissance Squadron joined Blue Moon but failed to obtain usable photos.

• Oct 25 - US Marine Corps Photo Reconnaissance Squadron VMCJ-2 successfully joined Blue Moon (including a photo of a Russian Colonel with his pants down standing up from an outdoor latrine as the Marine Corps jet popped over the horizon at 30' altitude. JFK kept the photo on his desk in the Oval Office).

• Oct 26 - US Air Force again joins Blue Moon, successfully obtaining photos.

• Oct 27 - US Air Force U-2, piloted by Major Rudolf Anderson, was shot down by a Russian Surface To Air Missile (SAM-2)[¹]; U-2 was still flyable but a freak shrapnel pierced the pilot's high altitude suit and he died from oxygen starvation.

* Oct 27 - US Navy VQ-2 for the first time records the SAM-2 acquisition and guidance radar signals and parameters (which led to the creation of a US counter-measure jamming device).

• Oct 27 - US Air Force Strategic Air Command (SAC) goes to DEFCON 2, the first time in history, and B-52s are armed and ready to strike the USSR.

• Oct 28 - USSR Chairman Khrushchev accepted Kennedy's compromise proposal, i.e., USSR withdraws tactical nuke missiles from Cuba, and US withdraws tactical nuke missiles from Turkey[²].

CBS "Sunday Morning" will air a segment this Sunday, October 14, 9:00 - 10:30 A.M.  ET, including an interview with USN Captain (ret.) Jerry Coffee, who flew one of the six sorties on October 23, and who also photographed the first known tactical nuclear weapons (other than the US's) in the Western Hemisphere in Cuba. 

Capt. Coffee later joined U.S. Navy Photographic Squadron RVAH-13, flying the RA-53 "Vigilante," and launched from the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk on 3 February 1966; he and his Radar/Navigation officer (RAN Lt. Hanson) commenced road reconnaissance over North Vietnam.

After completing the mission, they experienced AAA exiting the coast, suffered complete hydraulic failure, and ejected a mile over the sea. Hanson died and his body and Coffee were recovered by the North Vietnamese, who buried Hanson onshore. Coffee spent 7 years as a POW in North Vietnam.

I served briefly in VAH-13 when it was still a "heavy attack" (big nukes) squadron, re-designated from VC-8 in 1955 in NAS Sanford FL.

I was a mission planner and intel analyst in VQ-2, Rota Spain during the "Two Weeks in October" 1962.

[¹] Another USAF U-2 was shot down by a Soviet fighter at the northern Russian border. The Russian pilot acted on his own fervent patriotic political agenda and against orders - and quick diplomatic apologies were rendered by the Soviets.

[²] Kennedy - at the time of the then-secret agreement to remove U.S. missiles, launchers and nukes from Turkey - had not been informed by Khrushchev, or by U.S. intelligence, that not only were Soviet missile launchers in Cuba, but also tactical nuke warheads were there (which Castro vainly tried to retain - also not known by JFK).
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 28, 2013 4:06 pm    Post subject: Son of The Sled - SR-72 Reply with quote


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