Ron Strong

There were four amplitrons in the final transmitter stage. Each of the four fed 19 antenna segments for a total of 76. Another name for the amplitron is the Traveling Wave Amplifier Tube, usually found abbreviated to only TWT for obvious reasons. A fifth, identical amplitron was used as a driver for the four outputs. Several times when the final outputs were not operating, the radar actually operated successfully using only the driver but the range was reduced somewhat. Power was thus reduced to "only" a single megawatt.

Mert Canady said "you could tell the radar transmitter folks because they spoke in decibels and volts and such. Also, the backs of their right hands usually were scraped or scabbed over. It seems that when adjusting the sensor on the TWT with your right hand (the only way to reach the adjustment and read output while adjusting) the pinkie finger got near the 1000-volt power supply, then got bit. The natural reaction for self-preservation caused a very rapid withdrawal of the hand from the cabinet. Unfortunately, the top of the cabinet was above the hand and the metal edge of the cabinet usually captured some skin as the hand left the area." John Fader, another Hughes tech rep added: "What he didn't mention is that as you were scraping the skin off your hand you were also being driven back into the cabinets on the other side of the aisle."

Getting into the plane was by one of three ways. When an RC was on the flightline, the crew entry door ladder was used. The ladder was stowed on the cargo door of Lisa Ann. Also stowed just inside the cargo door were the tow bar extension and tail stand. The extension was added to the regular tow bar when the plane was to be towed because of the extra length of the RC-135E's nose. The tail stand was used during ground refueling to keep the tail from touching the ground if the tanks were not filled in the proper sequence. A plane with its tail on the ramp and its nose high in the air would be highly embarrassing for all concerned, to say the least! While we were at Greenville and Shemya, and the plane was inside a hangar, the cargo door was also open and an "air stairs," on wheels and with a platform at the top, was the main access point. The third way in was by a "B-1 stand" at the aft entry hatch that was on the right side. The B-1 stairs was similar to the air stairs but it was much steeper and had to be used with more than a little caution.

Unlike today's Air Force aircraft the plane's exterior was unpainted, except for part of the engine nacelles and the standard Air Force and US national markings. The fuselage appeared shiny, but I'm quite sure that it was not actually polished and buffed. Since the late 1960s all of the RC-135s have been painted white on top with aircraft grey on the bottom surfaces. The white tops help keep the interior cooler during the summer when the planes are on the ground. Paint does, however, add many hundreds of pounds to the weight of each airplane and actually reduces range but it helps control corrosion, particularly in an oceanic environment like Shemya.

Like all other RC-135s the E model could also be refueled while inflight. The air refueling doors are in the top of the fuselage just behind the pilots' seats. Maximum fuel tank capacity, according to the Air Force tech manual, was 23,305 gallons (151,476 pounds) of JP-4 jet fuel. Other RC models can hold more because the forward body tanks weren't removed. The usual fuel load was about 110 or 120,000 pounds for takeoff from longer runways, but Shemya's load was limited to about 100,000 because of the relatively short runway. The plane was heavy and weighed about 150,000 pounds even without any fuel. The radar and other added equipment and features added more than 20 tons. Maximum takeoff weight for most RC-135s was 297,000 pounds back then. Fuel loads were always in pounds and not gallons because weight had to be considered when computing takeoff and landing roll distances. JP-4 weighs about 6.5 pounds/gallon. Also, like the other RCs, the E had a fuel-dump tube of about four inches in diameter that exited at the bottom tip of the tail. Dumping fuel, at about 3100 pounds per minute, allowed an airplane to reduce landing weight, and hence landing roll distance, should an unusual circumstance dictate. The circumstances varied from early mission completion to equipment failures that would preclude flying the mission as required. At Shemya there was a fine line between dumping fuel to land and having enough left to divert to another base, usually Eielson, if the weather should suddenly deteriorate.

Lisa Ann's interior was somewhat like many of the other RC-135s, yet had a number of interesting differences. Aft of the flight crew area, with its standard equipment, were two compartments with separate doors. A different feature of the flight crew area, however, was the retention of the flight engineer's console. This was actually a holdover from the days when the E had been designed to be a C-135B cargo plane. (Lisa Ann never flew as a MATS cargo plane, although it certainly caught the attention of the MATS aircrews, being the first TF33-P-5- engined C-135B that was delivered to the command. General Curtis LeMay, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, personally oversaw its transfer to Air Force Systems Command (AFSC) control for the "Lisa Ann" mission. MATS senior officers objected loudly to its transfer, but they were never told where it went or why. It was picked up by a Big Safari Detachment 2 aircrew and flown to Greenville, Texas where it was de-fueled and placed in a secure maintenance hangar for the extensive modification. The aircraft was not seen again by uncleared personnel until almost three years later when functional ground checks began in preparation for its first flight as "LISA ANN." The Big Safari Program Office (BSPO) is a USAF organization that has performed special modifications to aircraft for U.S. Government agencies since 1952. One of its major contractor modification sites is located at Majors Field, Greenville, Texas where the RC-135E modifications were done. This facility specialized in modifications for the USAF C-135 fleet, including the U.S. presidential fleet of aircraft and several foreign governments. The BSPO is directed and funded by the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force and 'housed' at the Air Force Materiel Command, based at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. Its overall mission and functions remain about the same 50+ years later.

At any rate, the flight engineer operated the external power pod from the console. The forward-most of the three aft compartments housed the radar transmitting equipment. This section held the radar antenna and its waveguides. The transmitting equipment and the three-axis gyro-stabilized ballistic streak camera (BSC) were in the middle compartment. The BSC looked out of the about 27-inch diameter window that was about three feet aft of the leading edge of the right wing and just inside the door of the middle compartment. Rather than looking straight out the camera was pointed up 24 degrees and forward 30 degrees. It had a 60 degree square field of view. Blowers circulated heated air across the window to prevent fogging. The blower shut off automatically when the camera was activated to prevent heat distortion of the air during an exposure.

Another door separated the center section from the rest of the back-end to block equipment noise and to possibly shield the crew from any radar emissions. Internal radar energy leakage did not appear to have been a consideration, as I remember, because maintenance folks worked in the area when the radar was transmitting. When the radar and its cooling equipment were operating they were quite noisy.

The longest and aft-most compartment had an aisle down the left side of the fuselage with crew positions and the bulk of the electronic equipment on the right side. More equipment items were in shallow racks on the left side of the aisle.

In the rear section were the recon crew stations and the crew rest area. Located on the left side as far back as possible, the crew rest area had a table with two seats on each side, fore and aft. On the right side, aft of the aft entry hatch, were the Raven 3 position (station 4, telemetry), maintenance console, a galley with a dry-ice-cooled refrigerator and the latrine. The galley had two convection ovens, receptacles for two beverage heaters, two water containers, storage, and a coffee brewer. Later RC models had conventional electric refrigerators. The latrine even had a flush toilet and other features not too unlike those in current airliners. The most notable difference between military aircraft and commercial airplanes is the urinal which was a white metal cylinder about 8 inches in diameter and 28 inches tall with a spring-loaded lid. Just forward of the galley, and just aft of the aft hatch, was the telemetry receiver station. The telemetry station and the other recon consoles were about 4 feet wide and 68 inches high.

My position, Station 4, telemetry, had the controls for the 12 crystal-controlled, fixed-frequency G-472 telemetry receivers and a G-175C, the single tuneable receiver. It also had the controls for the " audio tape and 1" video tape decks used to record telemetry signals. Seven were preset in the 60 to 85MHz range and four were 160 to 195MHz. One of the 12's recorder tracks was used for the G-175. The -175 was used to manually scan a range of most likely frequencies for possible missile telemetry beacons. Telemetry is the transmission of information back to ground sites about missile altitude, attitude, fuel status, temperature, direction of flight, location, and a whole host of other things relevant to accuracy and a successful firing. The telemetry was always at a precise, predetermined frequency that did not vary. Identification of a received signal was made using an APA-144A pulse analyzer to check its characteristics. Some signals were easy to identify. In reality, if a signal came up at the proper frequency it was recorded and left for the analysts to sort out. When in doubt - record!

A number of modulation systems could be used to convey the desired data. These include frequency shifting, pulse-position modulation in both AM and FM, and pulse duration modulation of the carrier frequency. One of the original systems used an electric motor and a rotary switch that had multiple contacts, one for each of the parameters to be sampled. Every turn of the rotor provided a fresh update of the data. Some data values, such as altitude during the reentry descent, change rapidly but others, perhaps like heading, change slowly. A later system, pulse-position modulation, used a start pulse for the beginning of the series and a reference pulse followed by the data pulse for each parameter. The time delay, in microseconds, from the reference pulse to the data represented the parameter value.

Data was encrypted on some systems and could not be decoded easily while others were not. Encryption was intended to hide the true types and characteristics of the missile and the reentry vehicles. Not all missiles fired had telemetry transmitters fitted on them, only the developmental ones. Operational missiles came in with no telemetry or beacons for tracking. Using a manually intercepted frequency, a crystal was selected from a bank for one of the several fixed-frequency receivers for more stable and accurate reception. Four multi-track, six or eight-inch diameter reel-to-reel, tape recorders were used to record intercepted signals. On the wall on the opposite side of the fuselage were the receivers and their spare crystals. I bought a small, almost miniature, pair of pliers to change crystals because they were small, hard to grasp, and had to be inserted into sockets in a very cramped space inside the receiver. After we were finally at Shemya the pliers were stolen right off out the airplane! Even after several pleadings the tool was never returned.

Between the galley and telemetry station was the maintenance and test console for any equipment repairs that might be needed, and possible, during flight. Forward of the aft hatch on the right side of the plane were the Raven 1 and 2 crew stations with the radar controls, and the computer terminal. The radar control station used a trackball about three inches in diameter for beam positioning and control. An impressive number of targets could be tracked simultaneously. If the 863 system were like the SPS-32/33, from which it evolved, more than 65 targets could be handled. Trackballs didn't come into home computer use until decades later. (Once you've used a trackball, you'll never go back to a mouse!) There was a large round 'scope maybe 16 inches in diameter to display targets and target information that was not unlike what an air traffic controller might use today. A keyboard was also at the console for computer program access. As I remember, there were two crew positions at the console: one for the Raven that operated the tracking equipment and one for the computer hardware terminal operator. Forward of the radar station were three Security Service positions. The operators of these stations were often called "Spooks," "Beeps,"or "Secret Squirrels." They were in their own semi-enclosed (curtained) compartment. The curtained area was a holdover from when the front-end crew, unlike the Ravens, did not have SCI clearances. Because the latrine was in the aft end of the plane the pilots and navigators had to have the SIGINT area blocked from their view as they traversed almost the full length of the fuselage.

Most, if not all, of the other RCs had a small latrine just aft of the cockpit. It had a sink, chemical toilet, and urinal. (The aircraft battery was also in there!) The front ones had only a curtain across the door, but the one in the rear had a real, lockable door much like an airliner. Having a curtain for a door does not pose a problem for an all- male crew but now, with women possible in all crew positions, privacy is essential. I certainly hope the forward latrines also have doors now.

Unlike most of the other RC-135s, the E model did not have an aft escape chute for emergency bailout. On other RCs the about 2x3' escape chute was about six feet aft of the aft hatch and to the right of the fuselage centerline. After a large grating was lifted the hatch was activated by pulling down a long, safety-clipped handle the escape chute hatch was blown off and a spoiler about three feet wide was extended about four feet out from the bottom of the fuselage. The spoiler was to keep those bailing out from tumbling along the bottom of the fuselage in the slipstream. Like all C-135s there was an escape chute in the cockpit area. Again, after a large grating covering the entry chute was lifted a long handle was pulled that extended a spoiler and also blew the crew entry hatch off.

Another unusual aspect of the E model was its several tons of lead ballast placed in what would have been part of the baggage compartment of a C-135B, almost in the tail of the plane. This was to balance the weight of the radar equipment located right above the area that would have contained the forward body tank, which had been removed. Another reason for removing the tank was to accommodate the very large radar antenna, as was part of the flooring opposite the cargo door. As part of the radar and radome installation, the fuselage was cut in two just aft of the cockpit, using a Skil Saw with a carbide blade but only after all the control cables, fuel lines, and electrical lines were disconnected. Supposedly, lead shielding covered the bulkhead aft of the flight crew compartment, the bulkhead at the aft end of the radar compartment, and possibly the floor of the radar compartment. Also, the right overwing hatch was unusable because it was blocked by equipment. The overwing and aft hatches measured the same, 21x50 inches, but were not interchangeable because of the differences in fuselage curvature. Virtually all other RC-135s had a 7x10.5-inch window in the aft hatch, but the E did not for some unknown reason. Some of the RCs had as many as eight bunks, but the E model had none. The only windows, other than the one in the left over-wing hatch, were two small ones, about eight inches square, one on each side of the fuselage, about six feet forward of the aft hatch and about three feet above the floor level. These were almost blocked by equipment and were essentially unusable. From what I can determine, there were 15 real seats onboard, at least there were 15 oxygen regulators, according to the flight manual. However, Pete remembers sitting on the floor more than once with a shopping basket in his lap and secured by a lashed-up seatbelt of sorts to get more people onboard. Anything in a pinch. The configuration was, indeed, most unusual.

Every seat, even those in the crew rest area, had a minimum of a seat belt, oxygen regulator, an oxygen walk- around bottle, and an interphone cord. There was even a walk-around bottle in the latrine; you never know when you might need some oxygen! Walk-around bottles were about 20" long and 6" in diameter with a strong clip to attach it to a flight suit. The two bottle-recharger hoses were located in the crew rest and cockpit areas. Headsets were almost always worn during flight because the engine and equipment noises are so much louder than on commercial airliners. If needed, oxygen for the regulators came from a 25-liter liquid-oxygen converter located under the cockpit area. The converter was small, a little larger than a basketball, but it had enough oxygen to supply the entire crew for as long as nine hours, depending on flight altitude. To breathe oxygen the helmet and mask had to be worn. Also stowed throughout the plane were first aid kits, hand axes, anti-exposure suits, flashlights, fire extinguishers, emergency exit lights that could be armed to come on in the event of a crash, and a large life raft and its accessory kit. This kit contained a wide variety of survival items including a long-range radio transmitter. Anti-exposure suits were not unlike loose-fitting SCUBA outfits that were insulated and to be worn if ditching were ever necessary in the cold waters. These were a bright orange color for easy visibility in blue water. They were also called "poopie suits" for a reason I have yet to remember. Water in the Bering Sea was called "3-minute water" because its temperature was so cold that three minutes was about as long as a person could survive unprotected. Emergency alarm bells were in all compartments. They were used to alert the crew to both inflight and ground emergencies such as a fire, bailout, or crash landing. These bells were loud enough to be heard over all other noises.

Normally, the plane was started using a cart that supplied 40 psi air to the engines. If the airplane needed to be started on the ground when an air starter cart was not available there were four eight-pound-charge black-powder starter cartridges stored on the plane. These cartridges were used in the #3 engine and were about six inches in diameter and maybe 15 inches long. None of the other engines of the E model had the capability. The cartridges were fired electrically from the cockpit. Once the #3 was started the other three could be started separately or gang-started simultaneously using high pressure gasses from one of #3's compressor stages. When the starter cartridge was fired, a great cloud of black smoke came out of the bottom of the engine. Asbestos gloves were supplied to remove a hot, spent cartridge. The plane's interior was lighted by 24 dome lights, individual console lights, and equipment rack lights. We even had five hand-cranked pencil sharpeners scattered throughout the plane.

Lunch, or the midnight meal, while we were in class was usually had in the LTV cafeteria. The food was acceptable but was the typical mass-produced fare of a large industrial facility. Now and then we would go in to Greenville to a barbecue place, that was really a hole-in-the-wall, known as Fitzpatrick's The Spare Rib. But they had the best ribs, beans, potato salad, and cole slaw ever! I've never found any better, or even equal! Everyone raved about how good everything was. They served a BBQ sandwich on sliced white bread rather than in a bun. Because the meat was so juicy the bread soon went soggy and fell apart. A goodly portion of the meat often fell out, only to land on floor or pants, but it was great anyway! Business was very good. The wooden building was old, run-down, set apart at the edge of the business district, and had a huge, ancient smoker made from old 55-gallon oil drums at one end of the lot. The aroma of the cooking meats and the smoke pouring out and filling the air smelled so good! Years later the owner opened a larger, brick-construction branch at the edge of town, but the food wasn't nearly as good, even though the building and everything else were new. Newer doesn't always mean better.

Somewhere at or near the end of the course we had a final, going-away barbecue, probably at Lake Tawakoni a few miles southeast of Greenville. It was most likely sponsored by either Hughes or E-Systems or both. Everyone was there and thoroughly enjoyed it. There was a lot of good food and drink, and it lasted into the evening. I'd bet that Fitzpatrick's probably catered it.

In July after the TDY, Hughes Aircraft sent everyone's home unit a report on their participation and achievements while at the course. The four areas included were Classroom Participation, Laboratory Participation, Study Effort, Attitude, and overall grade. Mine came back as Superior, and grades were 89% overall. There were also two nice certificates of course completion for the Hughes Radar and Equipment Operators Courses. Both were suitable for framing.

Dunc's recollection of the training was that the Hughes and LTV instructors didn't know the specifics of how their systems were supposed to be applied, and we, as students were not 100% checked out on the systems. It was a case of the (partially) blind leading the (partially) blind. He remembers that the initial concept of three Ravens being trained and able to operate and maintain the system was different from how it really eventually worked. The resulting compromise worked and it gave us officers renewed respect for the NCO corps. They really were our heros. It was a team effort - everyone was important.

When the course was over Molly and I left Greenville at 6 p.m. and drove to Sterling, Kansas where my folks lived on a farm. We arrived at 3 a.m. and were not a little tuckered out. After a few days we went back to Columbus.

After the training TDY ended, we all went back to our home stations. Within 10 days Dunc, Dave, and I received orders to report to Stead AFB, Nevada, near Reno, to attend Course 140003, Class 66B, later Course SV83A. We left August the 4th and returned on the 12th. According to set of Special Orders dated 1 Feb 65 we had been scheduled to go May 20-26 but for some reason it was canceled. The cancellation may have been because the Greenville TDY came at the same time. Also, the earlier class number was 65L-A. No one else can remember anything about the 65L-A class or its unusual number. Possibly the L-A suffix had some special relevance for us? More than likely the 65L-A designation meant the first half of the "Lth" or 12th in the sequence of classes for 1965.

Course 140003 was a classified school for those who were to have the SCI clearances required for flying reconnaissance or working in special intelligence organizations. Having the clearance granted access to more information but it also came with duty and travel restrictions. We weren't allowed to travel to communist countries or have assignments that potentially put us in harm's way. The course lasted about a week and included both classroom instruction and a "laboratory." The lab lasted more than a day and dealt with resistance to interrogation by a foreign power. We were all searched thoroughly before entering the simulated captivity and interrogation phase. Anything that might have benefitted us was taken away, even including watches. We knew before attending the school that this would happen, and I tried hard to find a way to smuggle something in, just for the satisfaction of beating the system. To that end I cut open the epaulet of the flight jacket I would be allowed to wear during the interrogation and confinement portions of the course. In the small space under the epaulet I hid one of Molly's tiny watches, minus the band, and lightly stitched the opening shut. During the solitary confinement segments of the simulated captivity I was able to retrieve the watch and have the great satisfaction of knowing what the time was. The interrogators didn't search us again and never found it. This was only a minor achievement but a tremendous boost to my spirit because I knew beforehand when the interrogation was scheduled to end and could pace myself.

Kingdon R. Hawes (Webmaster)
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