In-Flight Maintenance  

F. Campfield

Frank Campfield (IMT)

"My connection to Rivet Amber was at Eielson AFB where I was an inflight maintenance technician. I was stationed there from 1964 to 1967. I flew on the 3 hogs at Eielson and via many TDY's to Shemya, flew on both Rivet Amber and Rivet Ball.

My first exposure to Amber was at Greenville, TX when I was sent down from Eielson to ops check some specific equipment. I'll never forget the first time I set foot inside. The transmitter room consisted of four large phased array magnetrons in a lead sealed room. The computer was even more intriguing as it was in those days rather advanced. I remember the up to date technology said that for correct high speed timing, wires were not run via cables and printed circuit boards but rather than by running a specific wire the shortest way possible from point a to point b. It appeared as a massive spider web with no apparent logical function other that being a total mess.

I remember being told about the power of the radar and that LTV had to ground all the wire fences in the area because they turned on the radar and started many grassfires because of the sparks created by the RF energy. Before transmitting they had to clear the area of any close by aircraft. I was told the capabilities of this radar and was overwhelmed by its abilities. The radar came from the Navy who supposedly told the AF they would never get it installed on an aircraft.

I met many of the original crew but I don't remember meeting any EWO's at that time. I do remember one civilian who seemed to be one of the team leaders and was very sharp. He was a small person but seemed to be very aware of what he was trying to do with the hardware. He would be sitting at the radar console spinning the track ball, making statements about what was and what wasn't working correctly while everyone else on his crew just stood there watching. I don't remember his name but he sure seemed to know what he was doing.

I didn't spend a lot of time there on that trip as our equipment located within our little curtained area was standard equipment we'd been using on the Eielson birds. It was just a matter of making sure everything was working and my job was done. I never could figure out why our equipment was curtained off. It was for security but damn, here we were on one of the most secret birds yet to be bought by the Air Force and someone was worried about our equipment?

My next exposure to Rivet Amber was in Hawaii. This time I went as part of a team, consisting of another inflight tech, and three or four operators. Now we were supposed to wring out our equipment during the test flights from Hickam. That entire trip was a disaster. We caught a hop on a KC-135 tanker from Eielson to Spokane. Then we had to fly from Spokane to San Francisco on a C-119. When we went to board this hop, we were issued parachutes with the explanation that because of the age of the aircraft, it was mandatory that all personnel have parachutes. This did not give us lot of confidence.

As there was no other military hop available from California to Hawaii, we had to fly commercial to Hawaii. During this trip we were carrying a piece of classified gear for use on the bird. It was mandatory that the gear be escorted with an armed guard. The highest ranking person wore the mandatory sidearm.

When we checked into the civilian terminal, we were told that because of an airline pilot's strike creating a shortage of flights, the only seats available were in first class and of course we didn't complain. We were queried about carrying the weapon onboard and after much discussion with the pilot, it was agreed that the pistol had to be worn. The stipulation was that because we were going first class, the person who was wearing the weapon could not drink any Champaign. I still remember this scene. That pistol was passed from the highest ranking guy down through the ranks to the lowest ranking guy. This poor little low ranking operator had to wear the weapon and watch us drink Champaign. He bitched about it the entire flight. The stewardess's were excited and kept asking us what was in the sealed bag that needed an armed escort. It was a very fun flight and one I'll never forget.

We finally arrived at Hickham and checked in. We were told that the bird was down for an engine and the replacement would arrive within a couple of days. This gave us ample time to check out the scenery down on the beaches. Away we went, movie camera in hand as we wanted something to show the guys back at Eielson what they missed. The other inflight tech and I hit the beach early one morning and stayed on the beach all day filming the 'sites'. When we got back to the base everyone told us we were sunburned very badly. Remember we had been in Alaska for quite a while and were as white as snow. Now we were pink as pink could be. No problem. We went to the BX and bought some non-prescription medicine to help sun burn and that night we lathered up and hit the sack. We woke up the next morning and when we got out of bed (two to a room) we both collapsed as our ankles were so swollen they wouldn't hold our weight. At was at this time we both realized we were both severely sunburned and couldn't even put our shoes on much less walk on our feet. Hell, we couldn't even go to the chow hall to eat. The other guys would bring us food to eat in bed. Luckily, we weren't reported because the engine was lost in shipping and they didn't have the foggiest idea when the next flight would be.

So here's Herb and I laying in our beds for days, unable to get up, eating teriyaki burgers from the local hamburger joint on base and scared to death we'd be in deep trouble if the engine arrived and we couldn't make it to the bird because of our sunburns.

Finally they located the engine in New Jersey and scrubbed the test flights for us so it was time to return to Alaska. By now we'd been in bed at least five days, still unable to get on our feet with any success. Then the bad news came. We were flying home the next day. I could get my shoes on but couldn't stand more that three or four minutes before I had to get off my feet. With Herb it was even worse. He couldn't even tie his shoes. Boy, was that trip to the flight line painful. When we got back to Alaska, we got to take a couple of days off and by then we at least could walk. We ducked a speeding bullet for sure as it was a court martial offense to let yourself get in the condition we were in. Our Commander never heard of the incident.

The Air Force, after special approval of Congress, bought the bird and sent it to Shemya. As I had the most exposure to it, I got to be the first inflight tech at Eielson to go out to 'the rock' and fly some missions.

I enjoyed my trips to Shemya both on duty and off. As we were TDY only for three weeks at a time, it wasn't so bad. There was the infamous 'bridge to Seattle' that was started but never completed, Boozer the island mascot, the caves on the north end of the island, a Japanese soldiers grave from WWII and the 'Million Dollar' dump. I spent quite a bit of time at this dump as it was scavenger's dreams come true. So much good stuff, so few of ways to get it off the rock. This fantastic dump was loaded with items that were not cost efficient to ship back up to the mainland. Another great time consumer was searching the beach for glass floats used by the Japanese fishermen to float their nets.

We had an unwritten agreement with the mess hall; we bring out fresh milk (they couldn't get it) and they give us any food they had including meats, pies, etc. We ate quite a few meals in the hanger and we ate pretty well. I don't think the officers were in on this deal.

I vividly remember the 'never a dull moment' landings made exciting by low ceilings and high cross winds. I recall one incident where we went out to watch one of our rotation birds land. The pilot was one we had flown with many times up at Eielson and he didn't have a reputation for being the greatest of pilots. He was a short red headed Captain. During this particular flight he tried to force the bird down on the runway and the nose gear hit first. He porpoised down the runway and everyone was wondering if he could stop in time. He did, but the crew was sure upset.

And then there was the infamous bump in the runway that you'd hit prior to rotating. It was quite a ride.

I remember one of the two birds hitting a telephone pole as it taxied back to the hanger after a mission. That poor pilot sure took a lot of ribbing over that. How could you not forget the sharks teeth taped to the nose of the aircraft? And then there was the lazy AC maintenance man that was too lazy to go the chow hall and he'd ask someone to bring him back some chow, which they'd do. Finally, everyone got tired of this game so one night they brought him a Jell-O and green bean sandwich. That solved that problem.

I remember the very first Rivet Amber mission flow on Shemya. I was standing behind our operators just watching all the action. One of the EWO's called over and excitedly asked if he had picked up a Russian transmission. He had and our operators told him it was and that they knew the guy was there. It seemed like every 5 or 10 minutes the same EWO would ask the same question with the same answer and the radio operators were starting to get annoyed. The poor EWO was so excited to be hearing the Russian transmissions and he wanted to be sure our guys were getting them. I kind of felt sorry for him. Obviously he was the new kid on the block.

One time the radar maintenance guys were having problems getting the four magnetrons to fire up so we took the plane down to the end of the runway, aimed the radar out over the ocean and turned on the radar. It wasn't 10 minutes later when the Shemya Commander came down and asked what we were doing. Seems like the power in just the radar back lobes had totally blasted all the receivers on the rock. It literally wiped them out. This guy was very upset.

We went out on a mission one time and they discovered the radar wouldn't fire up so the inflight tech's started working on it while we orbited waiting for the target. Without checking the AC position, they fired up the radar with success. Unfortunately the radar was pointed right at the mainland of the bad guys; a no-no. It had to of literally blown out half of their receivers when the main lobe hit them. The very next day, the island of Shemya was over flown by a Russian Badger recon bird. This was probably their first introduction to the fact that something new was on the rock.

I had recently left Alaska to go fly on the C130 bird down at Homestead AFB when I heard the tragic news. Words cannot describe the feeling of the loss. At first my thoughts were what story would come out when the crew was recovered. It was devastating when the search was given up and all were lost. When I was an instructor at Keesler AFB prior to Eielson, I had a student named Richard Steen. I was somewhat surprised when he arrived at Eielson and was glad to work with him. He was an outstanding technician and very dedicated to the mission.

Richard was on Rivet Ball when it crashed on the rock and then on Amber when it went down.

This is a great site thanks to King and I hope to see more inputs from the maintenance guys. Everyone was proud of and to be associated with River Amber."

Frank Campfield
Jun 26, 2003

Each Spook position was named after a Peanuts character and everyone wore a character patch on their flight suit. "Lucy" was the Airborne Mission Supervisor (AMS) and manned position #1. He was the man in charge and authorized to change orbit locations if necessary. Position #2 was "Charlie Brown". He was second in command. Position #12 was called "Boxcar" a non Peanuts character. I don't remember the position named "Linus" . The Inflight Maintenance Technician (IMT) was nicknamed "Pigpen".

The Polar Bear patch was worn by all members of the "Spook" Squadron.

Clay Jones

Kingdon R. Hawes (Webmaster)

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