551 AEW & CON WG
1955 - 1969

And other units

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In January 1955, a huge plane somewhat resembling an airborne: shark flew across the
United States from McClellan Air Force Base, California to Otis Air Force Base, Massachusetts.

At the controls of the huge radar surveillance aircraft was Colonel Oliver G. Cellini, the first commander of the newly formed 551st Airborne Early Warning and Control Wing at Otis. The plane was an RC-121D Super Constellation of the Air Defense Command and the first of many to be assigned to patrol the eastern seaboard.

Today, Otis is the largest Air Defense Command Base in the World with a year-round population of more than 7,000 officers and airmen. Its dependents increase the total to over
12,000 and in the summer months Air National Guard, reserve units and AFROTC Cadets who train at Otis add several thousand to the number.

Otis also the only Air Defense Command base with units performing three of ADC's prime missions: radar picket plane surveillance, fighter-interception, and ground-to-air missile operations.

In the early 1930s, the land comprising Otis was originally set aside as a campsite for the
26th Yankee Division or the National Guard. in 1933, an area was cleared for use as a grass runway. In February 1938, C. F. Hurley, the governor of Massachusetts, proclaimed the name of the camp as Camp Edwards in honor of Major General Clarence P. L. Edwards the first commander of the 26th Yankee Division. With the same proclamation, the airfield portion was named Otis Field in memory or Lt. Frank Jesse Otis, a Massachusetts National Guard pilot Who was killed on January 11, 1937 when the observation aircraft he was flying crashed into the Illinois River near Hannepen, Illinois. Lieutenant Otis was one of the first flight surgeons to attend the U. S. Air Corps School' of Aviation Medicine, which he completed in 1935.

During World War II, Camp Edwards and Otis Field were very active, as a training base and an anti-submarine patrol aircraft station, respectively. Only a few of the hundreds of wooden barracks buildings still stand which once housed more than 100,000 combat ready members of he Yankee Division.

With the completion of the Distant Early Warning (DEW Line) in 1958 the northern areas of the United States and Canada were well protected but both the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts were still vulnerable. Consequently, our radar warning networks were extended seaward at Otis AFB on the east coast and McClellan AFB on the west coast by using the 551st and 552nd Airborne Early Warning and Control Wings respectively. Today, these wings supplement our radar detection system along the entire coastal lengths of the United States.

The 551st Wing at Otis is the only Air Force organization flying the E C-121H "Warning
Star" Super Constellation known as Airborne long Range Input (ALRI) aircraft. This new integrated station on wings provides instantaneous automated relay of air defense surveillance and early warning information by data-link direct to ground based communication facilities. Then it is passed to high speed SAGE Air Defense Command and Control computers in East Coast SAGE Direction Centers and to the NORAD Combat Operations Center in Colorado Springs for air defense evaluation and action. ALRI permits more versatile airborne control of interceptor missile and aircraft weapons systems. This new ALRI system supplants the slower voice and manual Teletype data relay system previously employed by the RC-121D model of radar aircraft based at Otis.

The 551st Wing is composed of the 960th, 961st and 962nd Airborne Early Warning and Control Squadrons, who fly their continuous missions over the Atlantic Ocean 24 hours a day. The Wing has flown thousands of missions totaling more than 300.000 flying hours since January 1955 without a single accident involving personal injury or a fatality.

During the last nine years, the Base has been commanded by such distinguished Air Force Officers as Colonel Oliver G. Cellini, December 1955 -- June 1957; Colonel Arthur A. McCartan, July 1957—August 1959; Colonel Ernest J. White, September 1959—July 1962; Colonel Rudolph B. Walters, July 1962—July 1964, and Colonel Raymond K. Gallagher, who assumed command of the 551st Wing in August 1964. (Other Commanders include, B. Gen Wright Sherrard 14 Feb. 1966 -- 1 Aug. 1966 Colonel James Lyle, Colonel Konosky, Colonel Max Rogers and Colonel Gus Weiser.)

For those who enjoy hunting, Otis has ample small game with deer, pheasant, grouse and rabbit. In the winter season, duck and geese are plentiful. The Base also has a 10-lane bowling alley, and heated swimming pool.

The 551st and the 966th were deactivated Dec. 31 1969. Otis was turned into an ANGB
in  1973. It is now the home of the 102nd Fighter Wg.


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Base Headquarters

Map of Otis

Otis Memorial Park

Unit Patches



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960 AEW & CON SQ
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 961 AEW & CON  SQ

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962 AEW & COM  SQ

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551st EMS SQ

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26th Missile Sq

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19th ARS
19th Air Refueling Sq Part of 19th Bomb Wing (B-47)
19th arefs KC-97G Homestead AFB, Florida 19th Bombardment Wing (Medium)
01 Feb 1956-01 Apr 1960
Otis AFB, Massachusetts 1960-1966
KC-97G refueling B-47
19th AREF

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60th FIS
F-101B of the 60th FIS. Shot was taken at Bradley Field, Ct in 1964
Photo by Tom Hildreth



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Tail #53-533

Notice the extra radome


USAF Photo taken in 1955

 Notice the absence of tip tanks

Fly Over Celebrating the Wings Tenth Anniversary


From the Otis Notice Feb 1965:

Wing Marks 10th Anniversary At Otis Mar.2

Base Airborne Early Warning Rounds Out Decade of Service


At 10:30 A.M., on March 2, 1955, a strange-looking airplane, a radar version of the famed C-121 Lockheed Constellation, piloted by Col. Oliver G. Cellini, landed here on a cross country flight from McClellan AFB, Calif.

That was 10 years and more than 350,000 flying hours ago for the 551st Airborne Early Warning and Control Wing here.

Since then, the 551st Wing has progressed though many changes -- some involving electronic equipment and other gear. There have been many assignments, reassignments and, in some cases re-reassignments here. Still the mission continues to be an effective -- although more sophisticated -- form of radar surveillance against the enemy.

Colonel Cellini, by the way, is still in the Air Defense business: he is now Chief of Staff of the 28 Air Div., at McClellan AFB.

Perhaps the greatest advance in the wing operation was effected by the conversion , in the fall of 1963, of the RC-121 Warning Star aircraft to an EC-121 Version, using a high-speed computer communication system known as ALRI -- Airborne long-range Input. ALRI gear -- more than 6 tons of which is carried on board each EC_121 at Otis -- transmits radar surveillance information to SAGE centers along the eastern seaboard in fractions of seconds.

Base officials indicated this week that an anniversary celebration for Otis based AEW&C Wing is in the planning stage. Included in the observances, spokesmen said, would be a get together for many of the former Wing Commanders here, along with a number of Lockheed Aircraft Corp. officials and ranking local civilian and military dignitaries.

Aerial Revolution--During the 10 year that the 551st Airborne Early Warning Wing has operated out of Otis, the unit's primary mission aircraft -- a radar version of the Lockheed Constellation -- has evolved from a single humped RC-121C radar plane to the double-bulged-back EC-121H version which carries more than six tons of complex radar and computer communications equipment on each flight.


Recollections of Col. Cellini and RC-121D, F-94 pictures




The 553rd Recon wing (Batcat) formed at Otis in 1967

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After testing at Eglin AFB they left for SEA where I ran into them again at Korat while I was over there with College Eye

The EC-121R was used to relay transmissions from the Air-Delivered Seismic Intrusion Devices (ADSID) dropped behind enemy lines to detect clandestine personnel and to direct air attacks against them. The outfit was know by several nicknames with Batcat and Igloo-White being the most popular. The EC-121Rs were obtained by converting 30 ex-navy EC-121ks and EC-121Ps. They were cleared for a one time flight with gear down to Lockheed plant from Davis-Montham AFB. They completely worked over and given Serial Numbers 67-xxxxx.

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553rd Commanders

Larry Westin's 553rd (Batcat) page


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Texas Tower Model in the Air Force Museum

Three Texas Towers such as this model were located in the Atlantic Ocean about 75 from shore to extend radar coverage seaward. When one collapsed in January 1961 the other two were decommissioned. The towers rose sixty five feet above the sea and were serviced by helicopter and boat. Texas Tower 1 was not built.

Texas Tower

Texas Association 

U.S.  Navy radar picket ship

Falmouth Amateur Radio Association

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This page under construction anyone with anything to add please contact me.

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