Tales of The Whale  

~ Army & Navy on Shemya ~
Bill Crane

B. Crane

The aircraft above is a Navy EA-3B Skywarrior (Whale) attached to Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron 1 (VQ-1). Two of these models known as Sun-1 and Sun-2 operated out of Shemya in the early and late 60s. The elint / photo crew positions were manned by enlisted troops of the Army Security Agency (ASA), First Special Activities Detachment (1st SAD / SAD-1). Bill Crane was an Army Signal Analyst and crewed on the "Whale" during the summer of 1963 & 64. You can read his story below:

From about 1959 to 1972 the Army and Navy cooperated on an Electronic Reconnaissance project. As far as I can tell, there were only about 100 Army guys involved over the whole period. The project varied in application over those years. I was an E-3 PFC. when I joined the project in the winter of 1963 and left two years later as an E-4 Spec 4 to return to civilian life. My group was the First Special Activities Detachment (1st SAD) in the Army Security Agency which was similar to the Air Force Security Group. Our project required high altitude capabilities that the Army did not have. The Navy agreed to provide the flight crew and platform flown by Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron 1 (VQ1). The Army packed the back end of the plane with it's specialized gear. I found out a couple of years ago that shortly after I left the group, the photo equipment was removed and the ELINT equipment was enhanced. Our photo equipment provided the same type of pictures that yours did and we did get some good stuff. The Army didn't officially recognize that we flew so we got hazardous duty pay and no wings. Guys after me got wings and flight pay. That is the story of my life.

The EA3B Skywarrior was the Navy version of the Air Force B-66 Destroyer. The Navy version had a single pilot seat. Next to him was the "bombardier/navigator" (no bombs on ours so he was just a navigator) and behind the pilot facing backwards was the Navy enlisted "gunner/navigator" plane captain. No guns so he was the plane captain/camera operator. We had four Army positions in the "bomb bay". It was quite cozy (That means very tight). I sat in the far forward position as the Signal Analyst. We always flew in total radio silence so I also received the incoming signals using a one-time pad to figure out what to do next. That kept me busy the whole mission. I had to go to Navy Code School in Yokohama to learn the first ten letters of the alphabet in Morse Code. I also had the first airborne Loran C and had to go to the submarine base in Pearl Harbor to learn how to use it. The Air Force and Navy guys never could figure me out and actually, neither could I. Next to me were two Radio Intercept Operators and in the last seat was the Video Operator who ran the movie camera that recorded what the guy up front found on his TV camera. I had a huge real-to-real 16 channel video tape machine between my feet so I had to straddle it during the mission. We actually had two planes set up this way but one had better antenna arrays. For creature comfort there was a 'piss' tube but you really had to be in serious shape before you used it. The first guy to use it had to clean the outside of the plane when we got back and if one guy used it, EVERYONE else used it.

The A3 was a medium bomber with a range of 2080 miles. That meant that in-flight refuelings were very common. We used an A3 tanker with a hose and reel system. With all of the creature comforts plus the single pilot aboard, we never did more than two in-flight refuelings on any given mission. That was the pilot's call and I was always thankful.

Because we had TS Crypto clearance, we got to tour your plane. It left me with quite an impression. You guys just got in, started it up and drove away in style and comfort. (Your crew was shocked to find that we were enlisted because they were all officers.) We piled in with our case of C rations and the ground crew fired us up with external 'huffers'. At that time we flew in summer flight suits because if we went down there was no way anyone would be able to recover us anyway. I understand that the guys after I left, had to take the time to get into 'poopy' suits. We prided ourselves in being able to get both of our planes out on the runway before you guys could get yours out of the hanger.

We had some interesting times. One time we got back and realized that our two planes had taken off from opposite ends of the runway in the fog at about the same time. The tower couldn't see us! Then there was the time that we took one of your guys up on a training run because he needed hours. We had a cockpit electrical fire when the pilot put the gear up. The cabin filled with smoke and the Plane Captain started shutting down every breaker that we could fly without. The real problem was that an A3 takes off with about one hour's worth of fuel weight more than the thing can land with. All you can do is fly around and dump fuel. For some reason we never had another request for hours from the Air Force.

Cross winds caused us problems since the plane was designed to land into the wind. The Navy just turns their 'air field' into the wind when they land. With the gear coming out of the fuselage and a very large tail, the thing had really poor crosswind characteristics. The solution was to put a piece of destroyer anchor chain down each side of the runway and run a cable across between them. When we needed it, the ground crew would run out and prop the wire up on two half spare tires so that we could catch it with our tail hook. The sparks were really pretty at night but the tower guys never did  warm up to it. A Navy Commander always flew our planes and I always felt that they were the best in the business. These guys had loads of hours. They really enjoyed the duty with us partly because the flight plan we filed only covered the first 50 miles. From there, we could go wherever he wanted. If the mission got called off we often would make 'bombing' runs on the seals at Attu and Agattu.

While we were on Shemya we had to stay together as a crew all of the time. That meant we spent all of our time in the hanger. We always went to chow together in case there was a scramble. We became very close friends. We flew every time there was a possibility that we could get info. Your crews either had better info or were more selective because if they were still in the sack at sunrise when we returned, we just had to make a high speed run over your hanger at about 50 ft. Not too good for relations in hindsight.

After each mission, I had to take the tapes up to AAFJOG and do preliminary analysis, which often took many hours. The next day we would do it all over again. We flew bed check Charlie flights out to the track every other day when there wasn't a mission just to keep the Russians aware that we were there and so they wouldn't get too excited when we came to their show. We had two crews and alternated 6 or 12 weeks on Shemya and then 6 weeks in Atsugi, Japan south of Tachikawa.

The guys at AAFJOG always shook their heads when I came in. They were watching us on the big radar and knew about the other close encounters that we had. I am sure you had them too. As I look back over my life, I realize that those were the most exciting times I have ever had. I have gotten back in touch with some of the other guys from our crew and they all say the same thing. Your group and ours were doing real work and I am very proud to have been in the air doing it with you.

Bill Crane
January 9, 2004

B. Crane

Related Links:
1- Fleet Air Reconissaince Squadron 1 (VQ-1)
2- EA-3B Skywarrior
3- Sun-1, PR-9, A3D-2Q, BuNo 146449
(Fitted with a one-of-a-kind forward fuselage ensemble which included side-mounted COMINT antennas. Four blade antennas were also mounted above the upper left wing shouulder. This was the Army plane.)

~ Background ~

Prior to joining the Army, I worked for Litton Systems as a technician in their inertial guidance lab on the units to be installed on our ICBMs. I was in school working on my Electronic Engineering degree when the draft caught up with me so I joined for a better deal. I went to Army Security Agency Signal Analysis School in Fort Devins MA then to NSA at Fort Mead. I went to Andrews AFB for high altitude training / qualification and then to VQ-1 in Japan. After I got out, I worked for TRW Space technology labs on the Lunar Lander, Vela and Voyager spacecraft.

Aerospace was sort of flaky and I found that I really enjoyed business so I finally got my degree in Industrial Management. I worked for Kimberly Clark in management for 30 years worrying about Kleenex, Kotex and Huggies. I am now retired and am an avid sailor.

Bill Crane

B. Crane

Kingdon R. Hawes (Webmaster)

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