Occasionally, Air Force Captains are thrust into situations that are well above their head and their pay grade. This happened when I was drafted into a position created for a Technical Director to manage programs such as NANCY RAE and the follow on COBRA BALL and LISA ANN (RIVET AMBER).
NANCY RAE (NR) was an Intelligence Collection Program stemming from a need expressed by Dr. Killian, the President Eisenhower's Scientific Advisor. A related Optical Data collector was underway at the Eastern Test Range employing a Range Instrumentation, Project DAMP to collect against US missile reentries. CIA, in conjunction with elements of the US Air Force, formulated a concept for construction of an airborne collection system. From this concept an optical suite was designed and built along with multi-electronic sensors that were then integrated into a KC-135 Jet Aircraft. The overall objective, to design, build, equip and then train a crew for operation was completed within 8 months. NANCY RAE was ready for testing against our ICBM reentry events in October 1961.
Like most development programs NR had growing pains. This condition was not recognized until after the system was deployed to Shemya. Data reduction and analysis did produce data but from instruments which lacked qualitative performance parameters. Foremost problem was the "Window Box" calibration device that gave misleading intensity information to the optical sensors and resulted in corrupted data values.
Most affected by this situation was the Foreign Technology Division (FTD) analysis of data at the outset of the project. In January 1963, CIA called on FTD to brief on the data collected by NR including their analysis.
In CIA's Science and Technology Division Director's opinion FTD's work was deficient in content and lacked convincing evidence of Soviet ICBM reentry vehicle performance. As a consequence of this meeting, CIA called on a special Civilian Scientific Panel to judge the entire system, collection and analysis. FTD was interviewed by the Panel. This resulted in the submission of the "Ad Hoc Panel Report on Project NANCY RAE" which contained a strong recommendation for the institution of " A Technical Director similar to the Director now assigned to the Air Force Technical Applications Center (AFTAC)".
Headquarters USAF responded to this recommendation by first assigning the overall effort to AFRDA Special Program Office. Second, creating an Office for the Technical Director and authorized a PL-313 rating for this vacancy. From February thru August 1963 AFRDA 's Director interviewed 22 personal with PH d status in Reentry Physics without success. By happenchance it was suggested that a Project Officer for NANCY RAE might be able to "fill in" until a new hire was found.
I reported TDY to AFRDA for this purpose. One week later a Major Gen Curtain literally yanked me from my desk and we proceeded in lock-step with Lt. Gen Ferguson to the Office of the Vice Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen McGee. We three were ushered immediately into General McKee's Office where I heard the last portion of his heated conversation with CIA Director, Mr. McChone. At issue were the unresolved NR issues spelled out in the AD HOC Report for NANCY RAE.
General McKee slammed the phone into it's cradle and before he turned to General Ferguson for an explanation, He commented that " I am tired of being called by Mr. McChone concerning NANCY RAE" and "Right now I don't know whether or not TO LET HIM HAVE THE DAMMED PROGRAM?" He then directed the question to General Ferguson for a response and "Jim" immediately pointed to General Curtain and told him to elucidate.
General Curtain did not respond to the question but rather explained my presence saying that I was the FTD Project Officer for NANCY RAE and had first hand knowledge concerning the problems and solutions. With a rapid explanation of the current conditions I offered my own opinion that We did understand our problems and that work was underway to correct them by my fellow Officers at FTD. General McGee seemed pleased with my explanation and decided to "keep NANCY RAE in the Air Force".
General McKee concluded our meeting with these words "I don't care if we must change regulations, whatever, I want you (Captain) to fix the Problem, NOW" Just write the words and bring them to me for signature. I replied with the expected Yes Sir! Then while following my Generals out the door, General McKee called to me, I stopped and turned toward him and he said with a smile "Go Get'em Captain". (Unbelievable)
In the messages to CINC'S, AFSC and SAC I wrote a plan requiring AFSC to man the "back end" of NR and for SAC to operate and maintain the aircraft platform. While SAC responded affirmatively. AFLC finessed and later assigned Major Joseph Derie from AFSC to the new SAC crew. Major Derie had spent one year with the "back end" crew at Shemya and was told to transfer his knowledge of the instrumentation/operation to the new crew.
In two more weeks I was seated in the Technical Directors office with the charge from General Curtain to act with the authority of the Director.
For the next four years I had technical responsibility for both the BALL and LISA ANN programs.