Navy Typhoon Hunter: 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 throughout the Vietnam Struggle.

In August 1966, with the Vietnam Struggle raging, I enlisted within the U.S. Navy. I didn’t know the place this is able to lead me, but it surely was an opportunity to discover my capabilities and a chance to study a talent. My first cease was boot camp at Naval Station Nice Lakes in Illinois. I keep in mind utilizing items of rope to hang around my laundry, standing inspection each morning, competing in group actions and studying to be an unbiased, accountable particular person. After boot camp concluded in late October, I turned 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 every week surviving within the rugged outside throughout a very popular 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 a giant 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.

I departed Travis Air Power 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, due to this fact 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 responsibility officer woke me and instructed me to get to the hangar as rapidly as attainable. 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 moderately effectively as I guided the plane to its designated spot between two different Tremendous Connies, with room to spare on all sides.

As a member of the flightline crew, I obtained all the mandatory 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)

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 might take away the wing escape hatch and stroll out roughly 15 ft 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 heart, my predominant accountability. As CIC crew members, our accountability was to observe radar returns and establish any climate and plane that have been in our neighborhood, retaining 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 observe 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 after 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 may think about. On our airplane many of the digital tools backlighting was pink and a few mild blue. (I’ve a Subaru Outback that has pink backlighting for all of the sprint instrumentation and door controls. It’s so harking back to the radar consoles that it brings again reminiscences.)

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 via 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 circumstances 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 via 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 facet 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” turned 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 measurement 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 just under 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 by way of instrument flight guidelines (IFR), because the autopilot was not an possibility. Cockpit windshield wipers did their finest to offer visibility, however the wind and rain overwhelmed them.

The important thing personnel throughout the storm penetration have been the pilots, CIC officer and the CIC/LPO. With IFR instituted, the radar return was of utmost significance for figuring out the entry flight path. The CIC officer repeatedly communicated with the pilots by way of intercom throughout 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 often from 30 to 45 minutes. As soon as we entered the storm’s eye, there was all the time a way of aid.

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)

This specific mission began out as traditional 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 file its preliminary climate traits. It was customary 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 one of the 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 one of the best flight path to reduce turbulence and threat 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 ft altitude, which saved us under the storm’s extra lethal climate situations. Sadly, the spiraling feeder bands turned too tightly wound, creating an more and more bigger wall cloud for us to penetrate. The penetration path rapidly turned a high-risk scenario.

After we have been a few mile from the storm’s eye wall, we flew via a really turbulent cell cloud with a downdraft that just about pushed us into the ocean. The plane dropped a number of hundred ft in seconds earlier than we stabilized, ending up roughly 300 ft 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 injury 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 ft 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 injury to the airplane thankfully 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)

Because of the plane injury, a Captain’s Mast was held for this incident. Because the CIC/LPO backing up the CIC officer, I testified throughout 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 Power bases as our replenishment factors. NAS Sangley Level was sometimes our first cease. Sangley’s runway was so quick that upon touchdown the propellers needed to be reversed at full throttle and brakes aggressively utilized. A storm’s velocity dictated after we needed to depart so we may keep forward of it.

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

On certainly 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 Nineteen Fifties. After we had been airborne a pair hours, he known as me as much as the cockpit and requested if I wished to sit down 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 wished 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 really 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 ft till I pulled the yoke as much as get it again on the right altitude. Initially it took me a number of minutes to discover ways to keep altitude and trim. It was a terrific 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 a giant chuckle.

Kadena AFB had many retailers simply outdoors the bottom that served navy personnel. Certainly one of them made hang-up luggage, so I purchased one and had a few of my squadron patches sewn on it. I added one other patch that stated “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 do 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)

When the typhoons continued on a northward path (an rare prevalence), our subsequent deployment location was NAS Atsugi. Whereas visiting the bottom, a few of us made a prepare 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 realized Atsugi-based EC-121 Warning Stars routinely flew recon­naissance missions gathering electronics intelligence emanating from the North Korean peninsula. This had been happening 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 whole flight hours, of which 803 have been fight flight hours over the Gulf of Tonkin. I used to be awarded three Air Medals. On daily basis was a brand new day and there was by no means a uninteresting second.

I had roughly 15 months remaining on my enlistment after I acquired orders to hitch a alternative air group, or RAG, at NAS Alameda in California. I used to be pleasantly stunned to get extra shore responsibility 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 provider was returning to the mainland after having simply accomplished a deployment to the Gulf of Tonkin, so personnel stated 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 getting 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 responsibility. 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 tools) 2nd class, I familiarized myself with the A-4F plane electronics suite in preparation for deployment to Vietnam on the provider Hancock. Throughout our deployment I used to be liable for the evening shift electronics assist of the VA-55 plane. I can say that there’s nothing higher than nighttime launch and restoration operations aboard an plane provider. 


Upon being honorably discharged in June 1970, Mick Roy enrolled at Purdue College and earned his B.S. in electrical engineering know-how 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 Expertise within the Vietnam Struggle, 1967-1972, by Sergio Santana; and Lockheed Constellation, by Curtis Ok. Stringfellow and Peter M. Bowers.

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


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