Into the Eye of Raging Storms During the Vietnam War

An aviation electronics technician describes his experiences aboard Lockheed Warning Stars that flew into the guts of typhoons in the course of the Vietnam Conflict.

In August 1966, with the Vietnam Conflict raging, I enlisted within the U.S. Navy. I didn’t know the place this could lead me, however it was an opportunity to discover my capabilities and a possibility to study a ability. My first cease was boot camp at Naval Station Nice Lakes in Illinois. I bear in mind utilizing items of rope to hang around my laundry, standing inspection each morning, competing in group actions and studying to be an impartial, accountable particular person. After boot camp concluded in late October, I grew to become an “Airdale” (aka brownshoe), with my first set of orders sending me to the Naval Air Tech­nical Coaching Middle at Naval Air Station (NAS) Memphis, Tenn., for a 26-week electronics technician curriculum. Following completion of the course in June 1967, I took a pair weeks of depart after which departed on July 18 for 3 weeks of counterinsurgency coaching in Little Creek, Va.

As a part of the Little Creek coaching, we endured per week surviving within the rugged outdoor throughout a highly regarded August. We ate no matter we may discover (snapping turtle soup and smoked copperhead snake) whereas being hunted by an enemy (group of Marines) who ultimately “captured” us (smoking the copperhead was an enormous mistake) and put our squad in a focus camp for interrogation. On the finish of focus camp we got some C-rations, which by no means tasted so good. After that I acquired my orders to report back to Airborne Early Warning Squadron 1 (VW-1) in Agana, Guam. That is the place my story actually begins.

The writer stands exterior a bunker at VW-1’s barracks in Chu Lai. (Courtesy of Michael A. Roy through Hank Caruso)

I departed Travis Air Drive Base, northeast of San Francisco, in August 1967 on a chartered Boe­ing 707 jam-packed with navy personnel for a 17-hour flight to Andersen AFB on Guam. It was like a can of sardines. Air flow was not nice and by the point I arrived at Andersen my legs felt like I used to be simply studying to stroll once more. I used to be bused all the way down to NAS Agana, the place I checked in and was assigned to a barracks a few quarter-mile from the VW-1 hangar and airstrip.

Once I arrived on Guam, I used to be an E-3 Airdale, subsequently I began out as a part of the flightline crew. We towed the Lockheed WC-121N Warning Stars that VW-1 flew and in addition directed the plane to a parking space upon their return from a mission. My first expertise at nighttime was memorable. It was about 2 a.m. and the barracks obligation officer woke me and instructed me to get to the hangar as shortly as potential. Two different Airdales and I met the “Tremendous Connie” because it taxied off the touchdown strip towards the parking pad. My two buddies had the chocks for the wheels and I had the sunshine wands to direct the pilot’s taxiing strikes. Happily it was a transparent evening, so I may see fairly properly as I guided the plane to its designated spot between two different Tremendous Connies, with room to spare on either side.

As a member of the flightline crew, I obtained all the required signoffs for the “sensible elements” required earlier than taking the E-4 Airdale examination. I used to be profitable on my first E-4 examination, which put me on the ready listing to hitch an aircrew. A short while later, in December 1967, I used to be initially assigned to flight crew no. 7 as an aviation electronics technician (AT) petty officer third class. Flight crew 7’s Warning Star had a roadrunner as its plane brand and our name signal was “Rainproof 7.”

Rainproof 7 awaits servicing at the Detachment Charlie duty station in Chu Lai. (Courtesy of Michael A. Roy via Hank Caruso)
Rainproof 7 awaits servicing on the Detachment Charlie obligation station in Chu Lai. (Courtesy of Michael A. Roy through Hank Caruso)

As a part of my coaching on the plane we flew many missions to trace typhoons. As an AT, I supported, however was not restricted to, avionics repairs. Since I used to be a junior aircrew member I additionally helped gas the plane. We’d take away the wing escape hatch and stroll out roughly 15 toes or so from the tip tank, open up the gas port, use a dipstick to measure the gas degree after which connect the gas hose to the gas port. Contained in the plane, I maintained the radar consoles (4 particular person and one on the radar station) within the fight data middle, my principal duty. As CIC crew members, our duty was to watch radar returns and establish any climate and plane that have been in our neighborhood, protecting our pilot conscious of the small print. This was again within the day when there have been massive cathode ray tube radar consoles and we used coloured grease pencils to mark places and objects on the CRT face. We additionally communicated with different plane and monitored their VHF radio transmissions, which got here throughout as a high-pitched, echoing sort of dialog. Fairly cool sounding.

Every VW-1 squadron plane had a major search radar, the APS-20 (decrease radome, vary roughly 150-180 miles, relying on altitude); an digital countermeasures station to watch exterior radio frequency alerts; and a height-finding APS-45 radar (higher radome). Each time the plane’s radial engines fired up, you’ll see a puff of bluish smoke after which they only purred like kittens. Seeing the smoke, smelling the fumes and listening to the engines roar simply gave me goose bumps. It was thrilling and received my adrenaline flowing!

VW-1 had a complete of 10 Warning Stars. About half have been at Agana and the rest have been both on deployment or again on the mainland for periodic scheduled upkeep and refurbishment. The APS-20 was an actual workhorse and barely had upkeep points. I do recall one time once we needed to take away the upkeep cowl over the magnetron for troubleshooting and a visible examination. The magnetron was a big glass vacuum tube and when that child lit off it hummed and glowed the prettiest iridescent purple coloration you possibly can think about. On our airplane a lot of the digital gear backlighting was crimson and a few mild blue. (I’ve a Subaru Outback that has crimson backlighting for all of the sprint instrumentation and door controls. It’s so paying homage to the radar consoles that it brings again recollections.)

Our squadron’s 10- to 18-hour storm reconnaissance missions encompassed the areas surrounding Guam, the Phil­ippines, Taiwan, Okinawa and Japan. It was primarily a big triangular sample, because the typhoons sometimes transfer westward over or round Guam and towards the Philippines, after which both straight into Vietnam or, later within the storm season, flip northward by Taiwan, Okinawa and Japan. Our deployment air bases have been Naval Station Sangley Level within the Philippines (throughout the bay from Manila), Kadena AFB in Okinawa and NAS Atsugi in Japan.

Our crew sometimes consisted of six officers and 16 enlisted males, and in some instances there have been people on board for varied score coaching. As soon as assigned to trace a storm, we adopted its westward course throughout the Pacific Ocean, gathering climate traits information utilizing a dropsonde. The dropsonde was ejected from the plane’s climate station by a chute, then deployed a parachute to stabilize its descent and transmitted information to the plane climate station till it splashed down. The climate station was on the rear port aspect of the fuselage subsequent to one of many “bubble” home windows.

Within the fall of 1968, I handed my E-5 examination, acquired my aircrew wings and have become the CIC lead petty officer (LPO) for aircrew no. 4—a extra pivotal function. Our storm reconnaissance missions in “Rainproof 4” grew to become extra frequent in the midst of the storm season. One mission, on October 3, concerned a storm that originated about 1,000 miles east of Guam. Because the storm headed towards Guam we have been despatched to guage its climate traits. It was simply beginning to develop in dimension and we didn’t know what was in retailer for us that day.

Our storm penetrations have been sometimes “fasten your seat belt” bumpy rides that started with us flying slightly below the cloud cowl to reduce turbulence. As we entered the storm’s climate bands, visibility began to degrade considerably, so pilot Lieutenant Melvin Thompson and copilot Lt. (j.g.) John Crossman resorted to flying through instrument flight guidelines (IFR), because the autopilot was now not an possibility. Cockpit windshield wipers did their finest to offer visibility, however the wind and rain overwhelmed them.

The important thing personnel in the course of the storm penetration have been the pilots, CIC officer and the CIC/LPO. With IFR instituted, the radar return was of maximum significance for figuring out the entry flight path. The CIC officer constantly communicated with the pilots through intercom in the course of the penetration, with the CIC/LPO serving as his backup. The scale of the storm decided the time wanted to enter its eye, which was normally from 30 to 45 minutes. As soon as we entered the storm’s eye, there was at all times a way of reduction.

On a typical typhoon penetration mission the aircraft passes through the storm's circular eye wall and into the calm eye of the storm. (Courtesy of Michael A. Roy via Hank Caruso)
On a typical storm penetration mission the plane passes by the storm’s round eye wall and into the calm eye of the storm. (Courtesy of Michael A. Roy through Hank Caruso)

This explicit mission began out as normal however went downhill from there. We have been on station about 600 miles east-northeast of Guam, cruising at roughly 220 knots. When the storm was inside vary, we deployed a dropsonde to document its preliminary climate traits. It was normal process to deploy a number of drop­sondes as we penetrated the storm. The CIC officer manned the primary radar station whereas I backed him up on one of many CIC radar consoles. It was nearing nightfall, which added some complexity to the mission because it was not the very best time of day to penetrate a storm. Everybody was buckled in for what promised to be a really turbulent experience.

As we began our penetration, the storm’s outer bands have been evaluated for the very best flight path to reduce turbulence and danger to aircrew and plane. By viewing the radar picture of the counter­clockwise-moving outer bands, the CIC officer chosen a path between two of the bands as our greatest path to enter the storm eye and gave the pilot a heading. We began our penetration nominally at 1,000 toes altitude, which stored us beneath the storm’s extra lethal climate circumstances. Sadly, the spiraling feeder bands grew to become too tightly wound, creating an more and more bigger wall cloud for us to penetrate. The penetration path shortly grew to become a high-risk state of affairs.

Once we have been a few mile from the storm’s eye wall, we flew by a really turbulent cell cloud with a downdraft that nearly pushed us into the ocean. The plane dropped a number of hundred toes in seconds earlier than we stabilized, ending up roughly 300 toes above the water. As quickly as we hit that cell cloud the pilots instinctively firewalled the throttles, which saved us. With the assistance of the first flight engineer, Chief Petty Officer Leroy White, they managed to stabilize our altitude in order that we may enter the storm’s eye and circle up and out.

There was no seen harm throughout the plane, however White famous the devices indicated the starboard gas tip tank was empty. When the wing floodlights have been turned on, he found the tip tank and roughly 5 toes of the starboard wing have been gone! Lieutenant Thompson instantly declared a “mayday” and Andersen AFB despatched out a Lockheed C-130 to escort us again to Guam. The bodily harm to the airplane fortuitously didn’t handicap our pilots’ capacity to get us dwelling safely.

Rainproof 4 lost its starboard tip tank and five feet of wing during a rough typhoon penetration on October 3, 1968. (Courtesy of Michael A. Roy via Hank Caruso)
Rainproof 4 misplaced its starboard tip tank and 5 toes of wing throughout a tough storm penetration on October 3, 1968. (Courtesy of Michael A. Roy through Hank Caruso)

On account of the plane harm, a Captain’s Mast was held for this incident. Because the CIC/LPO backing up the CIC officer, I testified in the course of the Captain’s Mast and defined what I noticed and my ideas concerning the collection of occasions. Nobody was punished on account of the investigation, although I heard afterward that the CIC officer had a tough time of it.

In monitoring a storm’s westward motion, we used varied naval air stations and Air Drive bases as our replenishment factors. NAS Sangley Level was sometimes our first cease. Sangley’s runway was so brief that upon touchdown the propellers needed to be reversed at full throttle and brakes aggressively utilized. A storm’s velocity dictated once we needed to depart so we may keep forward of it.

Later within the season, storm paths curved northward fairly than hitting the Philippines after which Vietnam. We’d then use Okinawa’s Kadena AFB as our subsequent deployment location. It was at all times fairly a view as a result of the B-52s have been primarily based there and occasionally we glimpsed an SR-71 Blackbird taking off. The Air Drive had a climate command middle at Kadena for monitoring all of the typhoons within the western Pacific.

On considered one of our missions in Rainproof 7, we flew on to Kadena from Guam. I discussed to our plane commander about having flown with my father when he piloted a Piper Cub again within the Fifties. After we had been airborne a pair hours, he referred to as me as much as the cockpit and requested if I needed to take a seat within the copilot seat as we flew to Okinawa. I didn’t hesitate to say “sure.”

We chatted a bit after which he requested if I needed to take the stick for some time. I used to be flabbergasted. He took the airplane out of autopilot and instructed me to seize the yoke. He coached me a bit after which I truly piloted (steered and maintained altitude) this beast for about 45 minutes. As quickly as he let go of the yoke, the plane dropped a pair hundred toes till I pulled the yoke as much as get it again on the right altitude. Initially it took me a number of minutes to learn to keep altitude and trim. It was an ideal officer-to-enlisted-man gesture. After the copilot relieved me, I walked aft to the CIC space and everybody requested me if I used to be the one who gave them the curler coaster experience. That received an enormous chuckle.

Kadena AFB had many retailers simply exterior the bottom that served navy personnel. Considered one of them made hang-up baggage, so I purchased one and had a few of my squadron patches sewn on it. I added one other patch that mentioned “4th P,” which meant I used to be the crew’s “fourth pilot.” When the junior lieutenant who was our third pilot noticed it and complained to our plane commander that I shouldn’t be allowed to have that patch, he simply laughed it off. I suppose the lieutenant felt slighted that an enlisted man was allowed to try this, however my 4th P patch stayed on my hang-up bag!

Rainproof 7 is prepped for its next mission: a "barrier run" on station 50 miles southeast of Hanoi. Note the F-4 Phantom "farm area" in the background. (Courtesy of Michael A. Roy via Hank Caruso)
Rainproof 7 is prepped for its subsequent mission: a “barrier run” on station 50 miles southeast of Hanoi. Notice the F-4 Phantom “farm space” within the background. (Courtesy of Michael A. Roy through Hank Caruso)

When the typhoons continued on a northward path (an rare incidence), our subsequent deployment location was NAS Atsugi. Whereas visiting the bottom, a few of us made a practice journey into Tokyo, which was fairly an expertise since we didn’t know any Japanese. We simply knew what number of stops we needed to make earlier than getting off. In Tokyo I purchased an Asahi Pentax 35mm digicam that I used to shoot all my photos.

It was not till years later that I discovered Atsugi-based EC-121 Warning Stars routinely flew recon­naissance missions gathering electronics intelligence emanating from the North Korean peninsula. This had been occurring for a few years with out incident. However in 1969 a MiG-21 intercepted a Warning Star over worldwide waters and shot it down.

Throughout my time with VW-1 I logged 1,451 complete flight hours, of which 803 have been fight flight hours over the Gulf of Tonkin. I used to be awarded three Air Medals. Every single day was a brand new day and there was by no means a boring second.

I had roughly 15 months remaining on my enlistment after I acquired orders to hitch a substitute air group, or RAG, at NAS Alameda in California. I used to be pleasantly shocked to get extra shore obligation with a coaching squadron, however then my orders have been modified. The following set of orders instructed me to report back to a Douglas A-4 assault squadron on USS Kitty Hawk. However that plane service was returning to the mainland after having simply accomplished a deployment to the Gulf of Tonkin, so personnel mentioned my orders have been going to be modified a 3rd time. Then I used to be despatched to A-4 squadron VA-55 in Lemoore, Calif. The “Warhorses” have been making ready for deployment to the Gulf of Tonkin.

Come to seek out out the commanding officer of NAS Agana had a coverage that whenever you left VW-1 you’ll positively have some sea obligation. He was a agency believer that that was why you joined the Navy. I took some depart and in late April 1969 reported to NAS Lemoore.

As an aviation electronics technician (radar & radar navigation gear) 2nd class, I familiarized myself with the A-4F plane electronics suite in preparation for deployment to Vietnam on the service Hancock. Throughout our deployment I used to be chargeable for the evening shift electronics help of the VA-55 plane. I can say that there’s nothing higher than nighttime launch and restoration operations aboard an plane service. 


Upon being honorably discharged in June 1970, Mick Roy enrolled at Purdue College and earned his B.S. in electrical engineering expertise in 1974. He labored for 40 years at Westinghouse (now a part of Northrop Grumman) earlier than retiring in 2014. Further studying: Faculty Eye: Lockheed EC-121 Warning Star and Associated Know-how within the Vietnam Conflict, 1967-1972, by Sergio Santana; and Lockheed Constellation, by Curtis Ok. Stringfellow and Peter M. Bowers.

This characteristic initially appeared within the March 2022 situation of Aviation Historical past. Don’t miss a problem, subscribe!


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