BIG EYE
COLLEGE EYE
TWELVE YEAR COMBAT ERA ENDS

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On August 15, 1973, the College Eye Task Force flew its last active combat mission in Southeast Asia. The Super Connie has had a distinguished career of combat participation in support of air operations in the combat zone. The College Eye Task Force(CEMF), whose Lockheed EC-121D Warning Stars have provided daily airborne radar coverage and surveillance in support of other aircraft flying combat missions in Southeast Asia (SEA), is a unit of the 552nd AEW&C Wing here at McClellan, AFB.

In April 1965, the Joint Chiefs of Staff directed the Aerospace Defense Command (ADC) to provide an airborne radar platform employing standard configured EC-121D aircraft plus VHF voice capability for use in SEA. The mission was to extend ground based radar coverage for early warning and to missions in Vietnam and adjacent areas. The 552nd Wing was selected to activate a Task Force under the project name Big Eye, with the main support base located at Tainan AB, Taiwan, and the forward operating base located at Tan Son Nhut. Airdrome, Republic of Vietnam. In February 1967,the forward operating base was relocated at Ubon RTAFB, Thailand. In July 1967,Big Eye, now redesignated College Eye, again transferred its forward operating base to Udorn RTAFB, Thailand. In October 1967, College Eye forward operating base was relocated at its [then] present site at Korat RTAFB, Thailand.

The 552nd AEW&C Wing has been honored four times by being named a recipient of the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award (AFOUA), including one V Device.

In more recent years the Connie, now the EC-121T, has been modified to include a multi-million dollar alteration that includes highly sophisticated and complex automatic gear that has significantly improved the operation and successful completion of the assigned mission.

The flight crew designated for the last combat mission was a mix of experienced and newly assigned personnel from the following units:

Col. Harold P. Knutty - Aircraft Commander - HQ 552nd AEW&C
Capt. John N. Lyke - First Pilot - 963rd AEW&C Squadron
1st Lt. Merril W. Tank - Copilot - 964th AEW&C Squadron
MSGT Ray H. Williams - Flight Engineer - 963rd AEW&C Squadron
TSGT. Marlin L. Stewart - Flight Engineer - 964th AEW&C Squadron
Maj. Ronald A. Heggen - Navigator - 964th AEW&C Squadron
1st Lt. Paul A. Bolissonneault - Weapons Controller - 964th AEW&C
Capt. John H. Dailey - Weapons Controller - 963rd AEW&C Sqdn.
CMSGT. David A. Austin - Radar Supv. - Det 1, 552nd AEW&C Wg. SGT.
Robert B. Cabral - Scope Operator - 963rd AEW&C Squadron
MSGT. Paul T. McDaniel - Scope Operator - 963rd AEW&C Sqdn.
TSGT. Willie Woods Jr. - Radar Technician - 552nd AM Squadron
MSGT. John E. Kissee - Radar Technician - Det 1, 552nd AEW&C CMSGT.
Loren C. Bates - Radio Operator - 963rd AEW&C Squadron
SGT. Edward R. Johnson - Crew Chief - 552nd OM Squadron
SSGT. Floyd R. Olonia - Engine Repairman - Det 1, 552nd AEW&C SSGT.
Claude V. Morin - Scope Operator - 964th AEW&C Squadron
SGT. Irvin G. Chatoff - Engine Repairman - 552nd FM Squadron

General Seth J. McKee, Aerospace Defense Command commander, sent a personal message to the detachment which stated, On the eve of the last College Eye Task Force combat mission in Southeast Asia, I extend my sincerest congratulations to the men of Detachment 1, 552ndAEW&C Wing for their personal dedication, airmanship and professionalism. The Connies of College Eye, in spite of overwhelming odds, have provided a vial command and control link in SEA over the past eight years. Although the CETF role could not be detailed and heralded publicly, each member, past and present, of College Eye can take pride in his significant contribution to the Air Force mission. Regrettably, there will be no ADC General Officer available to actively participate in your historic last mission. Nonetheless, the entire command salutes the outstanding performance of your Detachment and the men of the 552nd AEW&C Wing.

It is significant to point out that the Connies still a fine machine and has served her country well. The men of College Eye Task Force can stand proud that they were a part of her history.

Note: The above article appeared in the Sentinel ,a publication of the 552nd Airborne Early Warning and Control Wing at McClellan AFB, CA., and was contributed by Dean Boys.

 

552ND ENDS NINE YEARS IN SOUTH EAST ASIA

Colorado Springs, Colo. - More than nine years of service supporting the AF mission in Southeast Asia came to an end recently as Det 1, 552nd Airborne Early Warning and Control Wing left Korat RTAFB, Thailand, en route to the Wings home station at McClellan AFB, Calif.

The last of ADC's eight EC-121 Warning Star radar aircraft was slated to touch down at the northern California AF installation June 2. Some 300 permanently and temporarily assigned officers and airmen and the eight EC-121s were involved in the move, along with necessary support equipment.

The 552nd's mission in Southeast Asia has been to provide radar control of tactical air operations, warn strike forces of enemy fighter aircraft, prevent unauthorized entry into buffer zones and assist in search and rescue operations for downed aircrews.

THE 552nd, EQUIPPED with specially modified four-engine EC-121 aircraft adapted from the civilian Lockheed Constellation airliner, is the only active duty organization of its kind in USAF.

In April 1965, the wing deployed a force of aircraft and personnel to SEA to assist in tactical operations against North Vietnam. A milestone was reached three months later when a Warning Star aircrew brought F-4C Phantom fighters in for their first EC-121- controlled MIG kill.

During their nine years in SEA, 552nd aircrews flew 13,921 combat missions, logging over 98,000 combat hours.

THE DETACHMENT provided airborne station coverage 24 hours per day, seven days per week. Their weapons directors provided radar assistance to more than 135,000 tactical fighters and bombers to and from their assigned targets. The unit has also been credited with 25 MIG kill assists.

The 552nd Southeast Asia task force, nicknamed College Eye, also assisted in rescue operations for downed pilots. During these missions, the unarmed and unescorted EC-121s and their crews, flying low and slow, were vulnerable to heavy ground fire and possible enemy air attacks. Flyers of the 552nd were involved in the successful recovery of more than 80 downed aircrews during their tour.

Despite the combat environment, the detachment flew over 98,699 accident-free hours.

Note: Source of the above article is unknown but was contributed by Dean Boys

 

 

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THE PERSONIFICATION OF COLLEGE EYE

 It was really a rather unique ceremony. After all, its not every day the wing closes a detachment. And, its not every day Gen L. D. Clay, Jr., commander of the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD)shows up here.

By 11 a.m. that day June 3 [1974]   base and civilian dignitaries had assembled on the reviewing stand and cameramen from Sacramento television stations were searching the northern horizon for the dot that would become an EC-121 Warning Star as it approached, providing the subject for their film coverage.

What made this particular EC-121 special was that it was one of the last two Connies to return from the 552ndAirborne Early Warning and Control Wings Detachment 1, based at Korat Royal Thai AFB, Thailand.

The emotions of the participants were decidedly mixed as the Wing officially recognized the closing of its College Eye. As General Clay pointed out in his remarks, the culmination of our involvement in Southeast Asia is certainly not an occasion for regret. But still, the melancholy associated with the retirement of a gallant hero was reflected in more than one face that morning.

Overtly, though, the spirit of celebration was the more infectious of the two emotions. As the crew members emerged from the aircraft, with the Wing Honor Guard flanking the red carpet stretching toward the reviewing stand, the scene was reminiscent of the return of our prisoners of war. At the end of the red carpet, General Clay and Wing Commander Col. Robert P. Halpenny waited to greet each crew member with a smile, a handshake and a Welcome Home. And of course, a toast for a job well done.

The families of the crew were the next to occupy the spotlight as the flight-suited men were assaulted with hugs, smooches and arms-full of eight-year-olds.

At that point, the pomp and order of the occasion had permanently dissolved and the spectators began to envelop the spectatees.

That this particular detachment should merit a gathering of the proportions that assembled June 3 becomes evident in light of the units achievements since its inception nine years ago.

Detachment 1 was ordered into existence in April, 1965 by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to provide airborne warning and control capabilities in support of our forces in Southeast Asia. It was christened the Big Eye Task Force, but that name later gave way to the more astute  College Eye Task Force.

The Warning Star drivers and radar men lost no time in forging their thumb print in the Air Forces operations in Southeast Asia. By July, a College Eye aircrew controlling F-4C Phantom fighters recorded a MIG kill. This was to be the first of 25 such achievements for Detachment 1.

It wasn't an easy nine years for College Eye, by any means. All of their missions involved low-level flying at slow speeds both day and night, over rugged, mountainous terrain and in a hostile environment. College Eye crews logged some 13,900 of these combat missions, accumulating in excess of 98,000 combat hours. A lot of those hours were spent orbiting (unarmed and unescorted) at low level over heavily defended enemy positions in order to maintain radio contact and attempt to make visual sightings of downed aircrews. In this category, the EC-121 men were credited with the successful recovery of more than 80 such aircrews. In fact, as a result of radio communications with pilots in trouble, 552ndcontrollers were able to place rescue units over aircrews before they reached the ground on several occasions.

A large part of their job was to let friendly aircrews know when the enemy was approaching and where it was. By strategically positioning the radar platform, the EC-121 crews were able to watch hostile aircraft movements. When they detected enemy aircraft, the weapons controllers quickly vectored friendly strike forces to safe areas to avoid confrontation. In this way, the College Eye men helped prevent many potentially disastrous situations, allowing our strike aircraft to accomplish their missions.

Similarly, Detachment 1 controllers issued nearly 3,300 border warnings during those nine years which prevented friendly forces from violating People's Republic of China airspace.

552nd members have picked up an impressive array of tangible distinctions since Detachment 1 was born. Some of these include two Legions of Merit, 63 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 59 Bronze Stars, more than 3,350 Air Medals, 11 Purple Hearts, 4 Airman Medals and Air Force Commendations Medals in excess of 230. The Air Force Outstanding Unit Award has been conferred up on the Wing six times, with the most recent two including a V Device for valor in Southeast Asia. These two honors are especially cherished by the Wing, since no other Aerospace Defense Command unit has earned multiple awards for participation in a combat theater. An era officially ended June 3, but for those who helped embody the hero who retired that day, a story retold, a chat with a friend made over there or a glance at a goodie acquired in Thailand is all it takes to breathe new life into the personification of College Eye.

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Note: The above article first appeared in the Sentinel, a publication of the 552nd Airborne Early Warning and Control Wing at McClellan AFB, CA. The article, written by Sgt. Doug Roffmann, was contributed by Dean Boys.

 

BIG EYE

BY

George Merryman

I ferried an EC-121 to Taiwan Formosa in 1965. Taiwan was our primary base of operations. The routine was: a week in Vietnam and a week in Taiwan. At Tan Son Nhut. Air Base in Saigon, we had three EC-121aircraft and a small building as our forward operations. Our mission was named, Project"Big Eye." We were a Detachment of the 552nd Airborne Early Warning and Control Wing which was located at McClellan AFB, CA.

A normal mission would be to take off from Tan Son Nhut., climb to 6,000 to 8,000 feet (to clear the mountains) and proceed on an easterly course. At the South Vietnam coastline, we would drop down to 100 feet and fly north off the coast, far enough to be out of the enemy (North Vietnamese) artillery range. We then flew up to Da Nang Air Base, land and re-fuel. After re-fueling we would take-off, climb on a heading northeast to clear Monkey Mountain which was right off the airstrip at Da Nang. After we were over the ocean, we would drop down to our operating altitude which was 50 feet above the water. The reason for this was to stay out of sight of North Vietnamese radar. Our job was to provide radar/fighter protection for our bombers heading north to their targets. We had a set of F-104 fighters on Combat Air Patrol that held in a holding pattern. If our radar started tracking an enemy aircraft heading toward the bombers, our radar crew would direct the fighters to intercept enemy aircraft . We would stay on station for approximately 5 hours until we had minimum fuel to get back to Da Nang. At Da Nang we would gas up, take off and fly back to Tan Son Nhut. I set up the initial procedures for flying Big Eye [See Note]

An interesting note: Early one morning we flew from Saigon to Da Nang. We landed and It was about 3 a.m. Everyone was sleepy including me. As I walked down the aisle, the navigator handed me a piece of paper that had a heading of about 045 degrees written on it. He said this is the heading out to station. I took the piece of paper and said yes. There was no sense in climbing to altitude because after take-off we'll be over water. He agreed. The engineer applied max power and we began our take off roll. Almost immediately we are at fifty feet altitude and I turned to 045 degrees. I called for cruise power and it was done. Then also immediately, this voice inside my head said "George, there is a mountain ahead of you." The voice was as if someone was standing in back of me shouting. But no one was allowed in the cockpit during takeoff and climb. So if it was God, he saved me and 18 other souls on that aircraft. I called for max power and pulled back on the yoke and into a left turn. Because by this time, I was awake and knew in my mind where Monkey Mountain was. Then almost immediately I could see lights reflecting off the clouds. I'm in a steep left turn and on the verge of a stall (as the aircraft was heavy with its fuel load).The right wing of the aircraft was so high that I couldn't see what caused the reflection of lights over there I asked the co-pilot what he saw. He said "I see a lot of parked cars and a large radar site." I next saw the trees passing underneath me while looking ahead. We continued onto station and performed our Big Eye mission as planned. But Thank God that he warned me of the impending danger. I often think about this experience and wonder how I could live with myself if the aircraft had crashed and I had survived and my crew did not.

George Merryman
4103 Pratt Drive
New Iberia, LA 70563

[Note] George Merryman flew approximately 160 combat missions during 1965 - 1966 in support of Big Eye, accumulating 875.5 hours flying time for which he was awarded the Air Medal with three Oak Leaf clusters. He also flew the Air Force C-123 in Vietnam during 1967 on combat missions, accumulating 547 hours, where he often received ground fire. On one such flight when he was getting a check ride a 50 caliber round entered the aircraft and passed between his legs. He just climbed to a higher altitude and passed the check ride.

George Merryman's Crew Photos