Part 1. The Early Days
The original crew of Nancy Rae, later to be known as Wanda Belle and Rivet Ball, was assembled from many bases and assigned to Wright-Patterson AFB, OH, in the spring of 1961. We had no idea as to what our duties would be but a few months after our arrival and getting our families settled, we were sent on TDY to General Dynamics (GD), Fort Worth, TX. Unbeknownst to many in the Air Force, GD at that time was the prime contractor dealing with many classified projects, known as "black programs", under the auspices of the Big Safari Office (BSO) located at Wright-Patterson AFB. The BSO was headed by a no-nonsense colonel by the name of Patrick O'Malley. His office symbol originally was AFLC/MAZ. Because protocol dictated that MAZ go through MA (general officer) prior to involving CC (four-star general), sometimes caused unnecessary delays. Colonel O'Malley managed to get his office symbol changed to AZ so that he had an open door direct to the CC.
While TDY to GD, we were briefed as to what our mission would be -- tracking and observing long range Soviet missiles during their re-entry phases, taking pictures and recording radiometric and photometric information. After a short orientation of the GD plant, we were sent home with instructions to get our personal business in order as we would be facing extended TDYs for the next year or so. A few weeks later, we returned to GD to begin training. We were not to wear our uniforms so that we would not draw unwanted attention. Some of us decided to take our wives and children with us to Fort Worth and set up a second home at our own expense. During this training phase, some of our training required TDYs to other cities. Again, some of us took our families with us. Finally, when training was completed, we were told to get our families back to Wright-Patterson and return to GD to begin flight training. This eventually resulted in month-long TDYs, first to Hickam AFB, then to Nouasser AB, Morocco. From Nouasser, we would "deploy" to Dakar (Senegal) International Airport and fly our missions over the Atlantic from the airport. We were not allowed off the airport proper so we lived in our aircraft. We only used the bathroom/shower facilities in the terminal. As for food, we would stock up on canned goods from the commissary at Nouasser prior to our many trips to Dakar. Since Nancy Rae was equipped with a small galley, we heated and ate our meals on the aircraft. We even slept in the plane.
It was during these deployments to Dakar that we witnessed our very first re-entry of a missile launched from Cape Kennedy. We were each given small voice recorders with directions to describe the re-entry. I was so flabbergasted by the beauty of the re-entry that I completely forgot to describe anything except with the words, "Wow!", repeated over and over. The re-entry was even more brilliant than fireworks during the Fourth of July. Flying over the Atlantic at 40,000 feet, the reenty seemed to be just a few miles from the aircraft; yet, it occured some 200 miles away.
We finally returned home after several months of flight testing our systems, but only for a short time. Although we were to spend Christmas of 1961 at home, we had our orders to deploy to Shemya on New Year's Eve.