Welcome Aboard "Rivet Ball II"

Ray Damerell
Hi Res

In October 1969, Rivet Ball II (#61-2663) entered service with equipment salvaged from Rivet Ball (RC-135S, #59-1491). The most famous piece of equipment was the gyro stabilized Ballistic Streak Camera (BSC) that recorded the very first Soviet ICBM test armed with Multiple Reentry Vehicles (MRVs) on 4 October 1968 (BSC Photo).

Click on the following links (1, 2, 3, 4) for Rivet Ball (491) salvage photos taken by Ray Damerell in 1969 when he was a USAFSS Russian linguist, aka "Spook", on "The Ball".

Click on the following links (1, 2, 3, 4) for photos of Rivet Ball II not long after it arrived on station in October 1969 when Col. Jack Gatewood was Commander of Det-1, 6th SW, SAC. Notice the single BSC window and dipole antennas inherited from the original Rivet Ball in photo #1. Photos provided by Sgt. Howie Appel. In 1969, Sgt. Appel was NCOIC of Operations in Hangar #2 with 663.

Not long after Rivet Ball II (#61-2663) became operational the name was changed to Cobra Ball I (Minimum). All follow-on RC-135S model aircraft are named "Cobra Ball" and have the right wing painted black as a tribute to Rivet Ball (491) and a mark of distinction even though it is no longer an operational necessity as it was on 491. There are currently three operational RC-135S aircraft named "Cobra Ball": #61-2663, #61-2662, #62-4128. Cobra Ball II, #61-2664, crash landed on Shemya in 1981 killing six crewmembers.

K. Hawes
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The original Cobra Ball patch, as shown above, was designed by Capt. Bob Davis when he was a Raven Three (R-3) on Cobra Ball I (#61-2663) in 1970. It is one of my most treasured patches. Thank you Bob Davis. You do good work. Click Here for a modern version of the 24th SRS, Cobra Ball patch.

Click on the following links (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8) for high resolution photos of 663 responding to an alert, "gronking out of the hangar", in December 1981 (Photos by Steven Williams). Click on the following links (1, 2) for high resolution photos of 663 taken at Offutt AFB in October 2008 by USAF photographer Josh Plueger. Click on the following links (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) for high resolution photos of 663 taken in August 2008 at RAF Mildenhall by Roger Whitcomb.

On 2 October 1969, a 1.2 megaton nuclear weapon was detonated underground (Project Milrow) on the island of Amchitka.

On 3 October 1969, the 6th SW held a dining-In at the Eielson, AFB Officer's Club to celebrate its 50th Anniversary (1919-1969). Visit "Raven's Nest" on Page #16 under "Related Stories" for the entire program.

On 20 November 1970 Colonel Jack Gatewood handed over command of Det-1, 6th SW, SAC to Lt Col Donald M. Griffin. Click Here for historical photos provided by Colonel Griffin, USAF (Ret.), that include the change of command ceremony and a visit to Det-1, 6th SW by General Bruce K. Holloway (CINCSAC) in 1971.

Col. Griffin retired in 1981 with 38 years of military service (Active & Inactive) and more than 10,000 flying hours. He is currently serving as an elected board member with the 55th Wing Association.

On 13 June 1971, a modified C-135B (#61-0331) of "Burning Light" Task Force (USAF "Project III"), disappeared while returning to Hawaii after observing the French Encelade atmospheric nuclear test at Moruroa Atol. The aircraft was enroute from Pago Pago to Hickam AFB. Debri was found 70.6 miles SSW of Hawaii. All 24 crewmembers aboard perished including my good friend, Jack Tumas (Rivet Ball, LTV Tech. Rep.).

In September 1971, I was assigned to the HQ SAC Inspector General staff as an Operations Inspector. My primary area of responsibility was Reconnaissance Operations and Electronic Warfare. I served in this capacity for 4-1/2 years.

On 6 November 1971, a five megaton nuclear weapon was detonated underground (Project Cannikin) on the island of Amchitka. It is the largest underground nuclear test in US history. Click Here for video.

In March 1972, the "Big Safari" program delivered Cobra Ball II (RC-135S, #61-2664) to Det-1, 6th SW, SAC. Cobra Ball II (664), like Cobra Ball I (663), was equipped to monitor and record the terminal phase of Soviet ICBM testing.

On 2 April 1972, an EB-66C, call sign "BAT-21", was shot down south of the DMZ in Vietnam while flying a B-52 support mission. The navigator, LTC Iceal "Gene" Hambleton (BAT-21 Bravo), was the only survivor. After avoiding capture for almost 12 days, Gene was rescued by U.S. Navy Seal LTJG Thomas R. Norris and Petty Officer Third Class Nguyen Van Kiet. The rescue of Col. Hambleton was "the longest and most costly search and rescue mission during the Vietnam War."

Trivia: My good friend and fellow Raven / EWO, Col. Charles A. Levis, was killed on this mission along with four other crewmembers. Charlie was the lead Raven / EWO on Rivet Amber when we were flying reconnaissance missions with the 24th SRS, 6th SW out of Shemya in 1967-69. I also got to welcome him aboard when he reported for duty with the 42nd TEWS, 388th TFW at Korat, RTAFB in Thailand. When I asked him why he volunteered for a combat assignment he told me...... "I wanted to pull my oar before the war was over". Charlie was more than a professional warrior, he was a good friend and one of the nicest men I've ever known. I wear his POW / MIA bracelet to this day.

On 18-29 December 1972, Operation Linebacker II, a.k.a the "Christmas Bombings", ran its course against North and South Vietnam targets that resulted in final negotiations to end the war in Vietnam and release our POWs. The B-52 stood tall and ruled the day. It's time to go home. Click Here for "Records of U.S. Military Casualties, Missing in Action and Prisoners of War from the Era of the Vietnam War." Click Here for "Vietnam Prisoners of War Escapes and Attempts."

Trivia: On 21 December 1972 my good friend and fellow ACSC classmate Col. Bill Conlee was shot down over North Vietnam while flying a Linebacker II mission in a B-52G. He and the rest of the crew were captured and held in the famous Hanoi Hilton POW camp. The entire crew survived and were released at the end of the war during "Operation Homecoming".

Linebacker II - Vietnam

On 3 April 1973 at 0900 GMT, the first Soviet manned "Almaz Space / Spy Station", Salyut-2, was placed in orbit. Click Here for "NOVA | Inside a Soviet Spy Station"

On 1 February 1975, a severe earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale damaged the runway and hangars on Shemya. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt. The patch below was designed by an Airman stationed on Shemya.

In 1976-77, I attended Air War College (AWC) at Maxwell, AFB and published a research paper titled "Airborne Optical Tracking (U)" . It was submitted to Aviation Week and Space Technology for review and publication

On 1 August 1977, the AN/FPS-108 Cobra Dane phased array radar became operational and replaced the AN/FPS-17 detection radar and AN/FPS-80 tracking radar on Shemya. The AN/FPS-17 Detection Radar at the Shemya AFB became operational in May 1960, and the AN/FPS-80 Tracking Radar became operational on April 1, 1962.

On 26 October 1978, a US Navy P-3C Orion, "Alfa Foxtrot 586", flying from Adak in the Aleutians ditched at sea west of Shemya with fifteen men aboard. Cobra Ball II (RC-135S, #61-2664), Call Sign: "Scone 92", from Shemya was the first aircraft to arrive on scene and spot survival rafts. Ten of the fifteen men aboard "Alpha Foxtrot 586" survived. Five perished including the Aircraft Commander, LCDR Jerry Grigsby, who was "Lost at Sea". Cobra Ball crewmembers aboard "Scone 92" received an Air Medal for their rescue effort.

On 3 June 1980, I was on "Airborne Alert" with the 2ACCS from Offutt, AFB. As a key member of the "Battle Staff" (EC-135C / Looking Glass) my primary responsibility was to brief and advise the "Looking Glass" commander, a general officer, regarding war plans (SIOP). At 02:25 a.m. (MST) NORAD Headquarters contacted us via secure phone (KY-3) and reported.... "Eleven ICBMs Inbound !" I briefed and advised the commanding general on duty of the situation as we prepared for the worst. Fortunately, it was a false alarm. It was my most memorable mission as a war planner aboard "Looking Glass".

On 15 March 1981, Cobra Ball II (# 61-2664) departed Eielson for Shemya with 24 souls onboard. While attempting to land on The Rock they encountered a rapid decline in weather that resulted in a crash landing. Six men lost their lives and several Medals were awarded for bravery. See "The Ides of March" by Dr. Kerry A. Crooks on Page #15 under "Related Stories" for details and "Cobra Ball II Memorial" on Page #16 under "Memorial Tributes".

Cobra Ball II (664)

R. I. P.

6th SW
Maj. William R. Bennett
Capt. Larry A. Mayfield
1/Lt. Loren O. Ginter
MSgt. Stephen L. Kish

SSgt. Steven C. Balcer
SSgt. Harry L. Parsons III

On 30 March 1981, John Hinckley, Jr. tried to assassinate President Reagan. After recovering from surgery, President Reagan's first order of business was to authorize a replacement (RC-135S, #61-2662) for the loss of Cobra Ball II.

On 1 December 1981, I retired from the Air Force with 25 years for pay as a Lieutenant Colonel.

On 8 March 1983, President Reagan delivered his famous "Evil Empire" speech to the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando, Florida.

On 23 March 1983, President Reagan made a landmark speech announcing a ballistic missile defense program called "Strategic Defense Initiative" (SDI) aka "Star Wars". SDI's objective was to protect the United States from Soviet ICBMs by intercepting and destroying them while enroute.

On 31 July 1983, a C-5A Galaxy (#70-0446) crash landed on Shemya. The aircraft approached below the glideslope, hit an embankment short of the runway and bounced back into the air before coming to rest on the runway. There were no fatalities but structural damage was extensive. It was christened "Phoenix II" after departing for extensive repairs.

On 1 September 1983, a Soviet Su-15 Flagon interceptor shot down Korean Air lines Flight 007 just west of Sakhalin island over prohibited Soviet airspace. All 269 passengers and crew aboard were killed.

On 2 November 1983, a ten-day NATO command post exercise named "Able Archer 83", began. The realistic nature of this exercise, coupled with deteriorating relations between the United States and the Soviet Union led some members of the Soviet Politburo to believe that it was a ruse of war. In response, the Soviets readied their nuclear forces and placed air units in East Germany and Poland on alert. This relatively obscure incident is considered by many historians to be the closest the world has come to nuclear war since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

Able Archer 83

On 11 November 1983, Cobra Ball III, #61-2662 was delivered to the 6th SW. Click Here for a high resolution photo of Cobra Ball III taken in April 2003 at RAF Mildenhall by Mike Freer of Touchdown Aviation.

On 25 February 1985, Rivet Dandy (RC-135T, #55-3121), used for Cobra Ball training, crashed into a mountain top near Valdez, Alaska while on a training mission. All three crewmembers perished. The wreckage was not located until 2 August 1985. Click Here for more details. Click Here for a summary of 6th SW aircraft losses and fatalities between 13 January 1969 and 25 February 1985. Fatalities include members of the 6th SW, 55th SRW and USAF Security Service (USAFSS). Click Here for a crew photo with #55-3121 when she was a unique KC-135T named "Cobra Jaw" (Circa 1970s).

Rivet Dandy & Valdez Mts

R. I. P.

6th SW
Maj. Michael L. Manning
Maj. John R. Davis
Capt. Jonathan K. Seckman

On 28 January 1986, at 11:39am EDT the Space Shuttle Challenger explodes 73 seconds after liftoff during mission STS-51-L.

On 26 April 1986, reactor number four at the Chernobyl nuclear powerplant, near the town of Pripyat in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, exploded. The resulting plume of radioactivity drifted over large parts of western Soviet Union and much of Europe. It was the worst nuclear accident in history.

On 12 June 1987, President Reagan delivered his famous "Tear Down This Wall" speech from the Brandenburg Gate (Berlin Wall) in West Germany.

On 1 April 1988, the 6th SW was renamed the 6th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing (6th SRW).

On 16 July 1989, an RC-135X (#62-4128) named "Cobra Eye" was delivered to the 6th SRW after six years of development and construction by E-Systems under the Big Safari Program. It flew its first operational mission on 15 August 1989.

On 9 November 1989, the "Berlin Wall" came down. This paved the way for German reunification and started the end of the "Cold War" and Soviet Union (USSR).

In April 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was carried into orbit by the space shuttle.

On 27 September 1991, President George H. Bush ordered the termination of Strategic Air Command's full time B-52 bomber alert which began in October 1957 following the Soviet launching of Sputnik.

On 25 December 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev resigns as President of the USSR and the flag of the Soviet Union is lowered for the last time over the Kremlin, thereby ending the "Cold War". IMO, President Reagan, more than anyone else, deserves a hearty salute for his leadership role in ending the "Cold War". Click Here for his legacy.

President Reagan

On 1 June 1992, the Strategic Air Command passed into the history books after the fall of the Soviet Union and end of the "Cold War". SAC aircraft, personnel and missions were shuffled into two new commands: United States Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) and Air Combat Command (ACC).

On 7 July 1992, the 24th SRS was redesignated the 24th RS and realigned under the 55th Wing of Air Combat Command.

On 1 September 1992, the 6th SRW was inactivated.

On 6 April 1993, Shemya AFB was renamed Eareckson Air Station.

On 30 June 1994, the 24th RS was inactivated by Air Force Chief of Staff, General McPeak. This was one of many regrettable "Fighter-Centric" decisions by General McPeak in my opinion. Especially when considering the unique nature of Cobra Ball operations and history of the 24th SRS / RS. The 24th was home for "The Ball" and her flight crews since 25 March 1967, more than 27 years. During this time, four aircraft and 28 souls perished in the line of duty. The list shown below is a summary of aircraft and crew losses.


K. Hawes
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On 1 July 1994, the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron was reactivated and replaced the 24th Reconnaissance Squadron (24th RS) under the 55th Wing at Offutt AFB. This act, ordered by General McPeak, ended 27 proud years of RC-135S (Rivet Ball / Cobra Ball) operation with the 24th SRS / RS (1967-1994). These actions, along with many others, close another chapter in the history of the "Cold War". Rivet Ball and Rivet Amber are now history but the mission continues with Cobra Ball. I'm confident that the legacy of the 24th SRS / RS is in good hands with the staff and crews of the 45th RS. You have my best wishes and prayers for success in everything you do.

King Hawes

K. Hawes
Hi Res

In 1995, Cobra Eye (#62-4128) was converted from an RC-135X to an RC-135S, Cobra Ball. Click Here for a high resolution photo of #62-4128 taken in August 2007 at RAF Mildenhall by Neil Jones of Angels-20. Click Here for an unclassified view of the back-end compartment that I took on 16 November 2007. The first seat on the left is the Tactical Coordinator (TC) position.

On 26 September 2001, SrA Jeremy Smith, USAF, captured a rare photo of Cobra Ball aircraft parked on the ramp at Offutt AFB. Click Here for Jeremy's high resolution photo (Source).

On 1 February 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Palestine, Texas during reentry into the Earth's atmosphere. All seven crew members perished.

On 1 March 2003, four North Korean fighters intercepted an unarmed Cobra Ball aircraft (RC-135S) 150 miles off the coast of North Korea in international airspace. Click Here for source and more details.

On 20 March 2007, the Sea-Based X-Band Radar (SBX-1) successfully tracked an inert ICBM warhead fired from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California to Kwajalein Atoll. The SBX-1's home port is Adak, Alaska.

On 13 September 2007, the 45th RS had a formal dedication ceremony in the Dennis Haun briefing/conference room for Rivet Amber. A large 1/72 scale model of Rivet Amber, now located in the 45th RS entrance foyer as shown below, was donated to the squadron by Col. Ray "Jumbo" O'Neal (Det-1/CC - 1969). Standing in for Col. O'Neal, I gave a first hand account and briefing on the loss of Rivet Amber to members of the 45th RS and
55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing Association (55th SRWA).

NOTE: The model of Rivet Amber was built by FBF Charles Fleming of Collector's Airmodel Company in Fort Worth, Texas.

Rivet Amber

K. Bauer & K. Hawes 1/10/08
More Photos (Hi Res): 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

On 16 November 2007, I gave a briefing on Rivet Ball, Cobra Ball's predecessor, and Shemya to members of the 45th RS and 55th SRWA. I also gave the squadron a 2'x3' photo of Rivet Ball for their Heritage Room. The photo was printed from an original 4/5 negative given to me in 1968 by MSgt. Earl Gwathney (Team-1 Photog). The photo was taken in front of Hangar #2 on Shemya in 1967. The print and frame were donated by Dave Hamilton of Hamilton Color Lab in Omaha, NE. Click Here for a related article in the Offutt AFB, "Air Pulse" newspaper. Click Here for an edited version of my presentation recorded by Capt. Juftin Hall (45th RS, TC).

After the briefing and photo presentation my wife and I were given a tour of Cobra Ball, #62-4128. I was surprised at the small number of cameras and tiny optical ports compared to Rivet Ball, the long lineup of crew positions and HUGE engines. The best feature of all, IMO, is the ability to track RVs from both sides of the aircraft. The Cobra Ball aircraft and program of today is different in many ways from what it was more than forty years ago. The one thing that hasn't changed, and I hope never does, is the black painted starboard wing and model number RC-135S. Other than that, It's a whole new ball game.

Ltc. Ken Bauer (45th RS CC), Maj. Bill Sargent (45th RS Historian), Capt. Juftin Hall (45th RS TC) and members of 45th RS were a pleasure to meet, brief and work with. I want to thank everyone for their hospitality and support. I'll do all I can to help preserve the history and legacy of Rivet Ball, Rivet Amber and Cobra Ball.

King Hawes

Rivet Ball

K. Hawes & K. Bauer 11/16/07
Hi Res / VHi Res Ball Photo

On 5 December 2007, 19 year old Robert A. Hawkins from Bellevue, Nebraska killed nine people (including himself) at the Von Maur department store of Westroads Mall located in Omaha, Nebraska. "It was the deadliest mass murder in Nebraska since the rampage of Charles Starkweather in 1958." My son, Kingdon J. Hawes, received a citation from the Omaha Fire Department for "Exceptional Performance" as acting Emergency Medical Service (EMS) shift supervisor during the Westroads Mall shooting. Click Here for WOWT News broadcast.

On 4 April 2008, I gave a briefing on Rivet Ball, Rivet Amber and Shemya at the annual "Tales of The 55th" event held in the Airman Leadership School at Offutt AFB. This event is tri-sponsored by the 55th SRW Association, the Strategic Roost of the Association of Old Crows and the Order of Daedalians. I also set up a presentation table with memorabilia, photos, movie clips and a slide show. Click Here for my presentation table and briefing.

On 27 March 2009, I participated in the tenth annual "Tales of The 55th" program at Offutt. The entire event lasted for three hours with several hundred people attending. My focus this year was the history and heritage of Cobra Ball and the 24th SRS / RS. Click on the following links (1, 2, 3) for a view of my presentation table that included photos, home movies and memorabilia. Click Here for video recordings of the event area and display tables.

On 3 June 2009, my youngest daughter, Karen Hawes, arrived in North Pole, Alaska after driving more than 3,000 miles from Omaha, NE in her Honda Element. While in North Pole she visited the area where our family lived on "Mile 14 Badger Road" when I was first assigned to the 4157th SW at Eielson AFB in 1966. Karen was born in Alaska about two months before Rivet Amber vanished on 5 June 1969. After touring Badger Road she made a video recording of her excursion down "Lisa Ann Drive" in memory of Rivet Amber, aka Lisa Ann. Click Here for Karen's recording of "Lisa Ann Drive" in North Pole, Alaska.

On 4 June 2009, I briefed members of the 45th RS at Offutt, AFB on the loss of Rivet Amber (RC-135E, #62-4137) and her crew of 19 that happened 40 years ago on 5 June 1969 when she vanished over the Bering Sea while enroute from Shemya to Eielson, AFB. After the briefing I showed the troops a home movie titled "A Place Called Shemya" that was made in 1969 and dedicated to Rivet Amber crewmembers lost at sea. It contains the last image ever recorded of Rivet Amber as she departs Shemya about two weeks before the accident. When the movie ended I gave the squadron commander, Ltc. Jeffery Compton, a commemorative plaque along with a framed photo version for their heritage room and entrance foyer where a model of Rivet Amber is on permanent display. If you are related to anyone lost on Rivet Amber and would like an 8"x10" photo version of the plaque suitable for framing please contact me via KingdonAviation@gmail.com and I will send you a copy free of charge.

Memorial Plaque

K. Hawes
Hi Res

5 June 2009, A time to remember and a time to reflect about the loss of Rivet Amber (Call Sign - Irene 92) and her crew of 19 that occurred 40 years ago on the morning of 5 June 1969 when she vanished over the Bering Sea while enroute from the remote island of Shemya in the Aleutians to Eielson AFB in central Alaska. No one knows for sure what happened to Rivet Amber and her crew shortly after they departed Shemya. All we have to go on is her last few transmissions to Elmendorf AFB before all contact was lost. We never found any remains of the crew or the airplane after searching for almost two weeks. It was heartbraking for everyone. Those of us in the know, including myself, are certain that there was never any foul play by the Soviet Union or crew error that brought Rivet Amber down. The most likely cause was mechanical failure of the vertical stabilizer attachment fittings. In a word, she lost her tail. Maintenance records show that Rivet Amber had not yet received the forthcoming "Pacer Fin Mod" by Boeing that was designed to strengthen her vertical stabilizer. Unfortunately, we will never know exactly what happened without recovering any aircraft remains. All I can do for now is keep this story alive and hope for the best. Maybe someday we will know more about what happened and where our friends and fellow Airmen rest. Until then, all I can say is..... "May They Rest in Peace"

King Hawes

On 10 September 2009, I briefed about 30 members of the "Gretna Optimist Club" in Gretna, Nebraska on my personal story about Rivet Ball, Rivet Amber and Shemya. It was very enjoyable meeting everyone and sharing my experiences with the folks of Gretna. I especially want to thank Jeremy Reineke (President) and Jon Gross (Past President) for the invitation and opportunity to speak. The Gretna Optimists provide a great service to the community and help shape the youth of tomorrow. My grandson, Ryan Cook, of Gretna is a fine example. Thank you for all you have done and keep up the good work.

King Hawes

On 14 February 2010, this website celebrates its 10th Anniversary on the internet. For me personally, its been a heartfelt experience and labor of love. I very much appreciate everyone's contibutions, supportive comments and guestbook entries. I intend to keep this site active as long as possible and pray that someday we will find Rivet Amber and her crew.

"A Tale of Two Airplanes"

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