K. Hawes
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This is "Rivet Amber" (#62-4137). Her original name was Lisa Ann (Named after Lisa Ann O'Rear, daughter ofBig Safariprogram director Mr. F. E. O'Rear) prior to changes in 1967. She is a model RC-135E and the only one of her kind. Rivet Amber and Rivet Ball operated together as a team from Shemya. With the two of them we really kept a close eye on the Russians.

Rivet Amber was relatively new to Shemya back then. Her configuration was also new and experimental. She was equipped with the most powerful and sophisticated airborne radar that ever flew.... even to this day.Click Herefor "An Empirical View" provided by Budd Rice (Hughes Engineer - Project 863). Click Herefor several photos of the radar components that made up Rivet Amber's huge phased-array radar. One thing for sure.... the Hughes engineers deserve a lot of credit for creating the worlds most complex and powerful radar that ever went airborne. The total weight of the radar topped out at 35,413 Lbs.making Rivet Amber the heaviest 135 in the entire fleet. There were no other aircraft in the Air Force like Rivet Amber. She was very special and very expensive. In 1960 dollars ($35 Million +) it was the most expensive single aircraft in the Air Force.

Rivet Amber and Rivet Ball were not only very expensive but they were very important. In the mid 1960s the Air Force had a Precedence Rating System that was divided into four categories ( I-IV ). Each category had space for about 100 projects. Every project of importance to the Air Force was included. Rivet Amber and Rivet Ball were in Category I. Their Precedence Rating was I-17 and I-18 respectively. That meant that out of all the projects of importance, there were only 16 more important to the Air Force.

The aircrews and maintenance troops assigned to Rivet Amber and Rivet Ball were also the best of the best. They were highly qualified, motivated and professional. Everyone worked long and hard to bring home the bacon. We didn't think of it as work though. We thought of it as a rare opportunity and privilege to be involved with such a special program. We loved what we were doing in spite of the difficulties and risks involved. It was an all consuming passion for many of us and will be remembered as the best assignment of our career.

K. Hawes
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Here's an X-Ray view of Rivet Amber showing her crew positions and seven megawatt phased-array radar that was capable of tracking an object the size of a soccer ball from a range of 300 nautical miles.Click Herefor a high resolution photo of Rivet Amber's cockpit provided by Don Earlywine.

The electrical load of the tracking radar was very high and required a separate engine driven generator which was located under the left wing between engine #2 and the fuselage. The heat generated by the radar was also very high and required a special heat exchanger (radiator) which was mounted under the right wing between engine #3 and the fuselage.

Rivet Amber's radar was very powerful and dangerous if you got to close. It proved powerful enough that Soviet fighter interceptors kept a respectable distance for fear they might be roasted and toasted.

R. Strong
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Standing L-R:
Capt. Charles A. Levis
Taps: 2 April 1972

Capt. George Reagan

Capt. Peter M. Hurd
Taps: 16 December 2015

Capt. Duncan Wilmore

Capt. Ronald D. Strong

Capt. Richard P. Reeves
Taps: 19 June 2001

Kneeling L-R:
MSgt. Herbert C. Gregory
Taps: 5 June 1969

MSgt. Ernest B. Farley

TSgt. Maynard C. Chaney

MSgt. Clarence R. Wine

TSgt. James C. McMillan

Nick Taylor

This photo was taken on Shemya in either October 1968 or May 1969 (?). The names are (L-R): SSgt. Robert C. Jones, MSgt. Clarence R. Wine, TSgt. Connie C. Curtis Jr., MSgt. Herbert C. Gregory, TSgt. Donald F. Wonders and TSgt. Lester J. Schatz. They were all TDY to Shemya from the 55th SRW at Offutt AFB. Those not included in this photo that also went TDY to Shemya from the 55th were TSgt. Hervey Hebert, TSgt. Charles F. Dreher and SSgt. Robert W. Fox.

R. Strong
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The witch symbol shown above was created by Rivet Amber's maintenance team. When Rivet Amber returned from a successful mission the crew chief stenciled a witch on the fuselage directly above the entrance hatch. The Crescent Moon above the Witch represents a Reentry Vehicle (RV).Click Herefor Rivet Amber's, Mission Accomplished, page of Witches.

B. Armentrout
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This is one of my favorite photos of Rivet Amber. I like it because it shows the auxiliary generator (Lycoming T55-L5 Turbine) for the tracking radar on the left (Port) wing between engine #2 and the fuselage and the heat exchanger for the radar on the right (Starboard) wing between the fuselage and engine #3.

Logan Delp
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The men in the photo above are civilian "Tech Reps" that helped maintain aircraft systems, tracking radar and navigation equipment. They represented Hughes Aircraft, LTV and Litton. Without them, Rivet Amber would never be sucessful in her mission. They deserve a lot of credit for their contribution. In fact, they deserve a Medal.

In the beginning Rivet Amber struggled to become a reality. The learning curve was steep and difficult for all concerned. Eventually Rivet Amber and crew got their act together and began to hit the ball out of the park. She was a winner and on a roll. The loss of Rivet Ball put Amber on center stage and made her successes all the more important to our country and the Air Force. Unfortunately, the victories of 1969 came with a heavy price for many.

~ Timeline ~

- 1 January 1969 - Boozer is laid to rest.

- 13 January 1969 - Rivet Ball returns from an operational mission and hydroplanes off the end of runway 28 at 12:30 AM. The aircraft was destroyed but everyone survived.

- 15 April 1969 - North Korea shoots down an unarmed Navy EC-121M reconnaissance plane over the Sea of Japan. All 31 crewmembers were killed.

- 4 June 1969 - Col. Leslie W. Brockwell takes command of the 6th SW.

- 5 June 1969 - On the morning of 5 June 1969 Rivet Amber (Call Sign - Irene 92) departed Shemya for a direct flight (Non Operational) to Eielson AFB with 19 souls onboard. About 40 minutes after departing Shemya, Irene 92 transmitted the following message to Elmendorf AFB at 9:36 AM Local / 1736z on HF:

~"Elmendorf Airways, Elmendorf Airways, Irene 92, Irene 92, over."

~"Irene 92, Elmendorf, Go Ahead."

~"Elmendorf Airways, Irene 92 experiencing vibration In flight. Not certain of the emergency. We have the aircraft under control, Irene 92."

~"This is Elmendorf. You say you're not declaring an emergency. Is that Charlie ?"

~(Keying-Xmtr) ......(Very Heavy / Hard Breathing)

~"Roger...Ahh..." (Keying-Xmtr) ... "Ahh..." (Keying-Xmtr .... silence) ....

~"Crew, go to oxygen."

~"This is Elmendorf. Say again ? Irene 92, Elmendorf ?"

~(Keying-Xmtr) ... (Keying-Xmtr)

~"Irene 92, Elmendorf ?"


~"Irene 92, Irene 92, Elmendorf, Elmendorf."




(1822z .......)

What happened to Rivet Amber ???
Where did she go down ???

So many questions with so few answers. The only thing we know for certain is that Rivet Amber and crew werelost over the Bering Seaon 5 June 1969 while flying enroute from Shemya to Eielson and her last words ended with a key click. The last positive contact with Rivet Amber (Irene 92) was at 1737z. HF transmitter key clicks continued until 1822z.

Over all the years there have been many different theories, rumors and stories about what happened to Rivet Amber. Unfortunately, most of them are either false, misleading or inaccurate. One sorry example is that the Soviets shot down Rivet Amber and captured her crew. This is not true. I can site other examples but refuse to give them light.

Most professionals in the know, including myself, are convinced that Rivet Amber suffered catastrophic failure of the vertical stabilizer attachment fitting due to metal fatigue. In a word, she lost her tail. I speak as one of those professionals with the following qualifications:

- FAA licensed mechanic (A&P) since 1959
- Veteran of Shemya operations (1966-69)
- Acting commander of the 24th SRS on 5 June 1969
- HQ SAC IG Reconnaissance Inspector (1971-75)

Unable to establish radio contact with Rivet Amber, Col. Leslie W. Brockwell (6th SW Cmdr.) initiated a search and rescue operation. The Coast Guard was alerted immediately. We then followed with aircraft and crews from the 6th SW. I was on one of the very first aircraft from Eielson and helped set up a coordinated pattern of coverage designed to cover every square foot of water from Shemya to the Alaskan mainland. The search area was divided into squares and each incoming aircraft was assigned a "Box" to patrol. Our aircraft served as an airborne command post directing traffic. Search aircraft flew low and slow most of the time. Flying 300 ft. above the water was routine. Everyone strained to see anything that resembled crewmembers, aircraft remains, oil slicks, life rafts, parachutes.... ANYTHING ! We searched for our friends and fellow Airmen with desperation for almost two weeks. Everyone available helped in our search effort including cooks, truck drivers and bottle washers. We were desperate for information. Confusion along with conflicting reports came from all directions. We all wanted good news. Unfortunately, desperation turned to frustration and then to sadness.

Click on the following links,1, 2, 3, 4, for event logs provided to me in 2008 by "Project 863" Hughes engineer, Budd Rice.

Click Herefor a draft report on the loss of Rivet Amber prepared in 2002 by Richard L. Gray (Consultant Riverside Research Institute).

Draft Report

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When all was said and done, we found nothing.
It was Heartbreaking.

Ed Steffen

On4 June 1969I received notice of a two year below-the-zone promotion to Major and was asked by my squadron commander, Lt. Col. Myron A. Bowen, to stand in for him while he attended his son's wedding in the lower 48. My first day on the job as acting commander of the 24th SRS started at 08:00 local on5 June 1969. Our new wing commander,Col. Leslie W. Brockwell, took command of the 6th SW the same day I received notice of my promotion. The 4th of June 1969 was a great day for both of us. Neither one of us would have imagined the events that were to unfold 24 hours later. My first assignment on that terrible day,5 June 1969, was to inform seven families of the 24th SRS that Rivet Amber was reported missing while flying enroute from Shemya to Eielson. After talking to everyone in person about what we knew at the time and explained our search and rescue efforts, I returned home and wept in grief.

"What A Difference A Day Makes"

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