Monday, July 16, 2012


In another lifetime I spent 22 years in the Navy: two years in school; two years in Military Police; eight years in the SERE program and ten years in Navy aviation as an electronic tec and radio operator. 

I often view SARGE’s blog, and he regularly posts pictures of aircraft.  It occurred to me that I might post pics of aircraft I have flown on as a Combat Air Crewman – probably not interesting to most folks but it is cathartic for me and in someway a part of whom I am. 

My first year in the Navy was spent in aviation electronic school.  Upon completion of school we filled out ‘dream sheets’ requesting our first duty station.  Everyone wanted a nice stateside assignment and was fearful of being sent to ‘the rock’ (Argentia, Newfoundland.)    I requested Argentia – and got it.

I had been a ham radio operator as a teen so I was selected for airborne radio operator’s school in Pax River, Maryland.   There I trained in C-131 Supper Constellations, known as Supper Connies.   These were huge aircraft that had been successfully used by TWA and other commercial aviation companies.  These aircraft were outfitted to train pilots, flight engineers, radar and radio operators.  I had never flown before and though many of my fellow students suffered air sickness, I took to flying immediately. 

After radio school I was flown to ‘the rock’ on a World War II vintage R4D – a tail dragger. 

Arriving in Newfoundland, at the ripe old age of 20,  I was assigned to the airborne early warning squadron VW-11.    This was in 1960, a time of paranoia - a time when American children we still being taught to crawl under their desk to protect themselves from an atom bomb attack from Russia

There were a string of radar stations, known as the DEW Line, strategically located across northern Canada to give early warning if Russian bombers should fly across the North Pole for a sneak attack on the US.   However, out in the North Atlantic Ocean there were holes in the radar coverage.  These holes were filled by two early warning configured aircraft that were on station 24 hours a day 365 days a year.   We were, in fact, an extension of the DEW Line.  We flew with two crews (approximately 24 men) and our flights lasted from 12 to 16 hours.   We flew in one hundred mile an hour winds, in snow storms, hail storms or hurricanes.   We filled the radar gap between Newfoundland and Iceland

The ‘smoke stack’ on top of the aircraft was a height reading radar antenna and the big belly dome was a powerful air to air radar antenna. 

After leaving Newfoundland, my next assignment was VP-26: an anti-submarine patrol bomber squadron stationed in Brunswick, Maine.   We flew P2V-5 Neptune bombers tracking surface shipping and hunting and tracking submarines.   Nothing floated or traveled submerged in the Atlantic Ocean that we did not track.  

These P2V's were great aircraft.  They had two reciprocating engines and two jet pods for short field takeoffs.   The nose of the aircraft was Plexiglas and when you sat forward in the nose the view was spectacular. 

 We carried seven crew members. This aircraft was not air-conditioned so in hot climates we often flew with the windows open.  The wing spar of this aircraft went through the cabin and you had to crawl on your belly to get from the front of the aircraft to the rear.   We had a bomb bay that could accommodate 500 pounders, we could carry rockets and bombs under the wings and we had a hatch in the floor where we could manually drop ordinance.   We also threw mini-bombs out the side windows for echo sounding. 

After my first tour in SERE I was picked up by a Special Projects squadron, VXN-8, that deployed to Vietnam.   When I arrived in country I was shocked to find that we were flying the same Supper Connies that I had flown in VW-11. 

On the ramp at Da Nang

Most of Connie aircraft had been mothballed but these had been re-commissioned for our mission because of their extended flight capabilities.   These were great aircraft.  Twice my plane was rattled with grown fire but these old birds would still get us back to base.   It was almost a common site to see our planes landing being chased by fire trucks and emergency crews. 

The last military aircraft I was crew on was a P-3 Electra, a replacement for the P2V-5.  I was again stationed in Brunswick, Maine with Anti-Submarine Squadron 11 (VP-11)  

I didn’t like this aircraft – it reminded me of the generic automobiles that we have been driving since the 1980’s.   It seemed like a cold and impersonal piece of machinery with no character. 


When I left the Navy I made the statement that if I ever got on another aircraft I hoped it would crash and burn.   Sine then, I have flown hundreds of hours in small bush planes (often at 500 feet or below) into and out of the villages in the Alaska bush.  

The Ol’Buzzard


  1. Awesome post. More More.
    The R4D looks like a DC3. DC3s and Connies were still flying passengers and freight in the Arctic when I was there 72 through 73. The DEW line at Cambridge Bay was still operational then. My friend Jimmy Darcy ran the CAT house. 20 CAT generators.

  2. The Super Connies were C-121s, EC or RC-121s. I worked on them at Otis AFB, MA in '69. Learned to do fiberglas repairs working on those big-ass radomes. Flew up to Iceland in a C-121 for a TDY. Overnighted at Goose Bay, Labrador on the way up to Iceland.

    I did some pictures of some aircraft I worked on on my other blog quite awhile ago.

  3. There was a joke about the Super Connies. That all the pilots of Super Connies were old because it took a man with a lot of experience to handle three pieces of tail at a time!!

  4. The ground crew yanked the entire tail section off one in Newfoundland. They put it back together and flew it out - I was glad I wasn't the radioman on that flight: minimum crew of pilot, co-pilot and radioman.


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