Ron Strong

The recon B-47s at Forbes were the EB-, RB-, and ERB- models that had already been flying reconnaissance missions for a number of years. These planes had two- or three-man Raven crews that also flew facing backwards. Some were also in capsules, and others were in compartments entirely internal to the bomb bay. Their mission was to intercept, analyze, and locate Sino-Soviet radars and to record the parameters on audio and video tapes, and film. They were also under PARPRO dictates.

Formal classes were conducted in some of the LTV buildings, mainly by Hughes Aircraft Corporation personnel. These old wooden buildings appeared to be leftovers from World War II (WW II), or earlier. At least, they were air-conditioned. The only instructors that I can remember are "Bud" Rice and Jack Rainaldi, but there were several others. Dunc remembers Norm Anderson, Jim Trott, and one whose last name was Pugh. His first name may have been Ken, but I'm not sure. Some of the faces I can still picture, but the names are long gone.

The instructors were very sharp but they thought we were the dumbest folks on the planet. Jim Trott, after about an hour of blank stares during his introductory block of instruction, asked Bruce Bailey, one of the Forbes EWOs, "Do any of you people know anything about antennas?" Bruce nodded glumly with "Yeah, we got some on our planes." That was an understatement! The RB-47s had many, but not the type they had in mind!

Our first class day was interesting. The instructor began by explaining the syllabus and course expectations. After a few minutes he stopped and left the room. After a few more minutes he came back with another instructor and asked how many were electrical engineers. I was the only one. With my response they looked a little surprised and both left for about 15 minutes. When they came back they explained that the course had been set up for electrical engineers and that is what SAC was supposed to have sent to Greenville. Some of the Forbes folks did not have a degree of any kind. The whole course had to be rebuilt to teach some basic electronics to most of the class.

I think Rex Taylor was the LTV primary point-of-contact. Wade Whitaker comes to mind, also, as an LTV foreman. As I remember, he had a fondness for Red Man, or maybe Beechnut chewing tobacco. Then again, that might have been Bill Caldwell or W.D. Smith. When he was on Shemya a few years later W.D. was reported to be an old grouch, but he must have been competent or he wouldn't have been there. The LTV plant had a cafeteria where we sometimes ate lunch and a "company store" where excess/surplus items were for sale at greatly reduced prices. I'm still using a huge spool of a special, high-temperature solder and a large reel of 4-conductor cable (The trash cans outside the various labs also provided some prime scrounging!).

Initially, classes were held during the day and ran from about 8 in the morning to maybe 5 in the afternoon. I don't remember that we had anything on weekends. Later, when there was hands-on equipment operation on the airplane, we were there from about 8 at night until 8 in the morning, when the aircraft modification folks were not working on the plane on the other two shifts. It seemed that we had about four hours of classes followed by about another eight hours on the plane. This was a difficult time of trying to sleep during the day and work all night. This schedule lasted several weeks, possibly almost to the end of the stay. Going to class at night was almost a blessing, however, because the days were very hot and humid, especially after a rain. At least, the night temperatures were a little more bearable but still humid.

Course material included computer theory, operation, and maintenance, in addition to aircraft equipment operation and troubleshooting, data collection and computer data processing. One computer class segment was digital circuit study and analysis that included tracing a datum bit through a series of logic gates. This was probably more busy work than valuable. We learned a little bit of the programming language, enough to be able to analyze the computer programs and add patches when malfunctions developed. We also learned just enough assembly language to program the computer to print "Lisa Ann" every 30 seconds (plus or minus a millisecond)! All this was necessary during the training and the operational flight testing from Hickam AFB, Hawaii and the real thing at Shemya. More than once the computer program had to have instructions inserted manually in the air during a high- stress data collection run.

The computer and electronics terminology used were alien to most of us. I have a degree in electrical engineering, but when the term "integrated video" was used, it was as foreign to me as everyone else. The instructor termed the video from a radar return as "black and white" to designate, I supposed, the fact that it was either on or off. But, when you consider that the Greenville, Texas watertower, at that time, had the slogan "The Blackest Dirt and the Whitest People in Texas," the almost slang term "black and white" video is no real wonder. Actually, "integrated video" meant that the returned radar pulse was averaged to eliminate background noise and provide a sharper target return. This I found in a set of notes that I had stuffed inside the computer manual that I'd rat-holed all these years!

The computer that I remember we learned to operate was a Hughes 863, designated 863 because of the month and year of development; however, the manual that we were given, dated March 1, 1965, had listed it as the H-3118. The designator of 863 was actually for the entire system, radar and all, not just the computer. Hughes developed the radar itself in only 17 months: an amazing effort! The computer had a bank of 18 toggle switches for manual data entry and address access, and power meters and switches. These were accessible only when the cabinet was opened. A "Battle Short" safety switch allowed the cabinet to be opened for maintenance and trouble shooting without shutting down the system. There was also a number of other push-button and toggle switches for program testing, diagnostics, system and memory testing, and numerous other computer functions.

The computer had all of 32K of magnetic core memory (3 wires through a toroid) in 8K chunks, had banks of plug-in circuit cards, used three-phase power, and was housed in 750-pound cabinets complete with large screw- eye lifting bolts on top. Its processing was done by eight, independent, bidirectional, 18-bit, parallel processors. This afforded great processing speed, even for today. However, storing data in the core memory took a lot of power. One amp of current was necessary to set a bit high or reset it to low. This is a far cry from today's microamp and less requirements to operate digital circuits. The Diagnostics software consisted of a complete set of test programs for test and maintenance. Data transfer was possible using punched paper tape, punch cards, or magnetic tape at rates up to 550,000 computer words per second. These are antiquated by today's standards, but were the very best available then. During the training, and operational testing, the toggle switches were given more than their fair share of use. These switches were set to represent a one or zero, i.e., on or off data input. Just one switch set wrong made the data address or information completely wrong and caused numerous problems, even for the instructors. The need for complete accuracy obviously continued throughout the life of the Lisa Ann project. A single one or zero in either the data or address caused an error, sometimes requiring the computer to be rebooted. The difference between a one and a zero could mean the difference between an ADD and a SUBtract command.

The computer was mounted in an equipment rack that went from floor to ceiling and was positioned just about on the centerline of the fuselage and parallel to it. Data storage used magnetic tape on reels about 12 inches in diameter and maybe an inch or so wide. Tape was pulled at 75 inches/second, and it had 800 data bits/inch which equated to a data transfer rate of 60,000 bits per second per track. This is indeed very slow by today's standards, especially when considering the current multi-gig hard drives available. It looked like the old science fiction movies with computers that had tape paths running all over a console. When operating the decks did not run continuously as hard drives do today, but seemed to start and stop almost instantaneously. The three large Ampex tape decks, serial numbers 1, 2, and 4, used tapes that probably had at least nine tracks, possibly one for each parallel processor and one for housekeeping functions. There could well have been more tracks for target returns and other functions. The computer manufacturer boasted of using all-silicon transistors, and having a roaring 2.22 MHz clock speed. This is exceedingly slow compared to today's home computer clock speeds that are routinely well above the three- gigahertz range. Compared to today's multi-gigabyte hard-drives available for home use, storage was absolutely minimal and required a great volume of physical space, but in 1963 when it was designed, it was state-of-the-art! However, the wiring was unusual, especially compared with what would be expected today. Wires were not run via cables and printed-circuit boards but rather by running each wire the shortest way possible between given points. It looked like a massive spider's web but with no master design pattern. Data in and out could be via an IBM Selectric typewriter at the console, or paper tape, punch cards, or magnetic tape.

Greenville was hot and humid, even in an air-conditioned hotel. My wife, Molly, joined me June 8 shortly after school was out. I drove to either Love Field at Dallas or DFW between Dallas and Ft. Worth to get her. It was probably Love Field because I'm not sure that DFW was completed yet. She had taught English and Spanish at a Catholic high school in Columbus, Ohio only a few blocks from our apartment. That was her first and only year as a teacher, even though she has the triple majors of English, Spanish, and Education. Our Siamese cats, Su Chai and Omar, were shipped to Cape May, New Jersey to Molly's parents. Su Chai did not like it! Omar ran away once he arrived at Cape May and we never did find him. We had an efficiency apartment in the hotel that was not much bigger than a very large bedroom. It had a small kitchen on an end perpendicular to the windows and opposite the entry door. As I remember, Dave had similar accomodations on another floor.

Being close to the main street in town had the advantage of having all the stores and facilities within easy walking distance. Molly kept busy during the day using a rented sewing machine when there were day classes, but it was harder when classes were at night and she had to be quiet during the day. One of the highlights of the TDY was the Colt Frontier Scout revolver that Molly bought me, probably for Fathers' Day. It had two cylinders, one for .22 Long Rifle, and the other for .22 Magnum. Fondling and handling it helped pass the time in the evenings while watching the television westerns that were so popular in the mid-60s. There was little homework assigned and not much else to do at night in Greenville, although there was a movie theater. (However, our first child was conceived in Greenville in that very apartment!) The hotel was originally named the Hotel Washington because it was on Washington Street at 2612. Now it is in poor condition and no longer serves as a hotel but some Dallas developers are considering renovating it. I was able to park my car in a sheltered area provided by the hotel in the next block south. The shelter afforded nice shade from the Texas heat and a good place to tinker on the car.

The night Pete arrived, his family and he were supposed to be on leave and checking into a Greenville, South Carolina Holiday Inn instead of the one in Greenville, Texas. How many times could something like that happen? He had made a reservation many weeks before for the motel in South Carolina as the first planned stop en route to Maine on a two-week leave. His family, with four children, ended up in a motel that had been converted into apartments in Garland, Texas on the east side of Dallas. The rest of the class members were scattered all over Greenville and the surrounding towns. Some were even as far away as the east edge of Dallas because apartments were in such short supply in Greenville. The distance added an hour driving time to get from their apartments to the E-Systems plant. For the night classes it meant leaving home at 7 p.m. and not getting back until 7 a.m. That made a really long night and a short day to be with families.

Captains Gus Gutzat and Dick Wallace, Forbes folk and good friends, and their families, initially stayed in Greenville at a Holiday Inn while looking for short-term apartments. They also ended up in Garland, in side-by-side apartments. Two other families joined them and they shared the tiresome commuting to and from Greenville.

Roy Fair, another of the Forbes Ravens, remembers that several of the 55th folks stayed at a motel right beside the Sabine River that ran along the east edge of Greenville. His family and he fished often and caught many bluegills. At first they had no Texas fishing license but quickly bought some when their child, Kim, told a passing game warden that "Mama doesn't have a license!" The cook at their motel, Frenchy, teased Roy's 3-year old, Sam, that he was going to cook Sam's pet goldfish for his supper!

Not too much time passed before Dave's wife, Lucia, arrived. Before our wives were on the scene, Dave and I tried to find things to do in the evenings. There was a VFW post somewhere in town that might have offered some diversion. One night Dave and I asked the Black elevator operator where it was located. He was an elderly gentleman and had a very thick East Texas accent. His directions, I'm sure, were complete and accurate; however, we hardly understand a word he said. We nodded knowingly, thanked him appreciatively, and wondered off into the night, never to find the establishment!

As one weekend's diversion, Molly and I drove southwest and revisited Waco. While we were there, we saw a number of familiar places and friends. Molly graduated from Baylor in May of 1962, and I graduated from navigator school at James Connally AFB, near Waco, the following December. One such familiar place was Lake Waco, a few miles from town. We had spent many pleasant evenings there before being married in November of 1962. Judicial and prudent restraint was exercised before marriage. Now, however, we could put a blanket down and enjoy nuptial bliss! That was fine, but when we returned to the motel for the night we discovered, much to our great dismay, that we had scores of chigger bites in the most inopportune places, all demanding to be scratched at the same time! None of the standard remedies helped despite a visit to a late-night drug store. The only thing that brought relief was standing in the shower and running water as hot as we could stand over the spots. We've never returned to Lake Waco, and probably never will.

While we were TDY at Greenville, according to Air Force regulations, all the fliers still had to fly in some sort of aircraft to continue to qualify for flight pay, which was not an insignificant amount. About half way through, Dave, probably several others, and I flew in an old C-47B, that was made in 1944 during WW II, off to somewhere and back for 43/4 hours. We flew right there from Majors Field but I'm sure the plane came from another base just for us. Anything four hours or longer counted, and if a month had to be missed, it could be made up in the following month. Time could also be "banked" for the next month. The flight seems to have been made late on a Thursday afternoon, June 16, 1965, and was probably after the regular class time. We undoubtedly did little more than sit around, look out the windows at the dry, central Texas landscape, speculate on what was coming next, eat a little sack lunch, and drink coffee, but it still counted as "flying time" for pay purposes. After all, we were in the air! While we were at Greenville Dunc went to visit the F-102 fighter training school at Perrin AFB, Texas, which was 43 miles northwest at Sherman. During his visits he flew in the F-102B and T-33 trainer aircraft to also log flying time. It sounded like a whole lot more fun than an old C-47!

Our first trip to tour the airplane came after several weeks of classes. For "those that cared" it was quite a thrill because we had never seen anything even remotely resembling a reconnaissance vehicle. Of course, the 55thRavens had been flying B-47 recon for years, and they were not nearly so impressed, or at least pretended not to be. The fact was that none of us had seen an RC-135 before that memorable day. When we entered through the cargo door, only 6'6" x 9'9", there was a hole even larger than the cargo door, 12' x 20', on the other side because the antenna had not yet been installed. Gus remembers that as a real surprise! Just about everyone was a little leery about such a large hole in an airplane that was supposed to fly under the normal conditions of occasional turbulence and high altitude. However, the hole was filled with a structurally sound radome before long. The fuselage was also reinforced to ensure structural integrity.

At that time the plane did not yet have the characteristic smell of long-range military aircraft. It is unique and is often a stale mixture of fuel, lubricants, insulation, paint, sealants, electrical equipment, and tobacco smoke. During those days, smoking on military aircraft was allowed, and many did. Today it may not be the same, but I'm sure there is still a unique smell. On long flights there was also the smell of cooking in the galley, and the disinfectants used in the latrine's flush toilet.

The RC-135s have so much more interior space than the B-47s, even to the point of a person being able to stand upright and walk around easily with head-room to spare. By contrast, the B-47 Raven compartment was cramped. Access to the compartment was via a narrow tunnel from the cockpit area. Movement was restricted: the two or three Ravens were strapped into ejection seats except when tending to equipment. Standing upright was completely impossible.

The single most significant external feature of the E model, other than the extended nose, was probably the large (12x20 feet), gray-green, laminated fiberglass radome, supposedly made by Goodyear, on the right side of the fuselage. The radome was thick - about three inches. A picture in the collection of Robert Hopkins, who wrote Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker More than just a Tanker, shows a forklift with its tines stuck in the side of the plane where the radome would go. One report was that it was intentional and done as a joke because the section had to be removed anyway. Roy said his most compelling memory was the day he first walked into the hangar and saw the WHOLE FRONT RIGHT SIDE of the plane sawed out of that Lisa Ann airplane. It was at that moment he vowed to himself that he would NEVER fly that aircraft because it was going to kill someone because of structural failure in flight.

During flight testing for structural integrity strain gauges were placed on various parts of the fuselage and radome. The radome was determined to have no flight restrictions other than the original airframe restrictions. An early airborne picture taken from the plane's lower right shows the strain gauge in the middle of the radome and running about half way down it. The radome was opposite the cargo door, about 20 feet long and 12 feet high, nearly as high as the fuselage diameter which was about 14 feet. Also outside half way between the number 2 engine and the fuselage was the supplementary external power pod (SEPP): a 350KVA, three-phase, 240/416-volt, 400Hz alternator powered by a Lycoming LTC4P-1 helicopter jet engine. (Engine numbering started with number one being on the far left.) It could even provide a little extra thrust for takeoff. Fuel for it came from the #2 main tank which is the inboard-most tank in the left wing. Several extra power distribution panels were added to accommodate the increased electrical loads. Supplementary 115-volt, 60Hz power was supplied by three DC-driven inverters. Three engine-driven generators provided 115-volt, 400Hz power and charged the aircraft 28-volt DC battery power system. On the other side, half way between the number 3 engine and the fuselage, was a one-million BTU heat exchanger for the vapor-cycle (freon) cooling system that was used by the radar. Power to drive the compressors for the cooling system came from both the left and right hydraulic systems. The heat exchanger system used a water-glycol mix at 200 gallons per minute with pressures up to 250 psi. Both external pods were about three feet in diameter and 12 feet long. The most significant feature of the airplane, however, was inside: the highest powered airborne radar ever at eight million watts! A big home microwave oven might consume one kilowatt. It generated a great deal of excess heat while operating. For operation on the ground a large chiller unit had to be substituted for the heat exchanger pod because there was no air flow through it. Without the heat exchanger the radar would destroy itself within seconds. That is what the power pod and heat exchanger were for: power and cooling. A key-turn at the radar operator's position was required to transmit while on the ground. This was to preclude inadvertent activation which could prove to be disastrous.

The radar was a phased-array system not unlike what was used on ships years later for fire control and target tracking. Its radome housed an antenna composed of 5,180 apertures fed by four separate, serpentine waveguides. The waveguides looked like ribbon candy that loops back on itself. Slots on a common edge of the waveguides formed the actual radar energy exit points. These slots were all the same height, but were narrowest right after the final amplifier where energy levels were higher and widest at the other end. This was to minimize radar beam side lobes, which are spurious energy patterns around the main beam. The antenna was installed pointing down by 10 degrees because the space of greatest concern was from acquisition to impact(s). Small frequency changes shifted the beam in elevation, and four ferrite phase shifting drums (one per final amplifier) that fed the waveguides changed the phasing (wave-front emission) of the beam segments for azimuth changes. An 80-microsecond outgoing pulse started as a half-microsecond pulse being fed through a pulse compression delay line and a series of filters and amplifiers to come out as the full length, full power pulse. The returning pulse was processed to again look like only a half-microsecond for target resolution. Thus tremendous transmitted power was achieved with very precise resolution capability, down to about 120 feet. Roy remembers object-to-object accuracy of only 48 feet. Up to about 250 pulses per second could be transmitted for shorter range accuracy. For longer ranges the pulse rate could be lowered to only a few pulses per second. The entire 90 degrees each of horizontal and vertical coverage could be scanned in only a few milliseconds. I thought I remembered that the center frequency of the radar was in the VHF range somewhere between about 150 and 200 MHz because it seemed like I could pick it up on the G-175C used as a telemetry signal receiver. However, I think it had to be another strong radar on Shemya, probably the FPS-17. Other reports list the frequency in the "S" band range of 2000-4000 MHz. Dunc remembers that the center frequency was 3000 MHz. However, the 863 radar was based on the SPS-32 phased-array radar used on the aircraft carrier Enterprise and according to some reports its frequency was about 200 MHz. Dunc is correct about the higher frequency because the waveguides and antenna would be much smaller; this is something an airborne unit would have to have. This was verified by Mert Canady who was a Hughes tech rep at Shemya. He said the frequency could be shifted to as much as 3200 MHz for maximum elevation steering. There were 128 frequencies possible that were derived from two banks of oscillators with 16 in one and eight in the other. Also, I'm sure that there was no blanking system on the plane to block out the transmitter pulses to make the telemetry receivers useable. Otherwise, the receiver would have been completely saturated and most likely burned out from the very high radiated power.

The radar's waveguides were pressurized with a freon and nitrogen mixture to prevent arcing because of the high power that flowed while transmitting. These gases were in large bottles about five feet tall and were located on the left side of the fuselage directly opposite the amplitrons and a just forward of the overwing hatch. Also incorporated into the pressurization system was a dehumidifier to remove any moisture that might have seeped into the waveguides and cause arcing. Arcing could destroy the transmitter final amplifier stages very quickly.

Although the radar was based on the one used on the Enterprise it had to be miniaturized to make it fit in an airplane. This was a very difficult task because many of the parts simply did not function when made much smaller. A lot of the work was trial-and-error. If it worked, move on. If not, then redesign, retest, and then finally install it. This procedure took many months and almost killed the project.

Kingdon R. Hawes (Webmaster)
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