RR Patch

ROADRUNNERS INTERNATIONALE


A-12
U2_SR

Recollections of Area 51

Even after 45 years I have many fond memories of my time with the A-12/SR-71 projects. I was hired by Magnavox Research Labs in January, 1966 as a Tech Rep on the ARC-50 UHF system. My previous experience had been as a heavy, ground radar (FPS-20/FPS-6) technician, a primary and secondary data collection tech on the Eglin Gulf Test Range and as an auto-track radar (FPS-16) tech/operator on the White Sands Missile Range. I recall that even though I had held a Secret clearance for over 8 years, I still had to wait in plant for six months while my project clearance was completed.

Once my project clearance came in, an interesting encounter happened on the way to Area 51. Our security officer took three of us newbies out to Lockheed Burbank for our project briefing by Lockheed security. Every thing went fine until we got to the part about vendor code names. The Lockheed man got our code name right (Vose Company), but kept telling us no one at the site was to know that Vose was actually Air Research! We kinda squirmed at that, but finally after the third time of hearing this our security officer informed the Lockheed security officer that we were in fact Magnavox, not Air Research. I really felt sorry for the Lockheed guy, as he turned 10 shades of red.

I have fond memories of Walt Ray. We were not buddies or anything like that. I doubt he even knew my name. But he was the only one of the pilot crew that I remember who really associated with us support troops. He would come over to the day room occasionally to play ping/pong or pool and hang out with the general population. We enjoyed his company, as Walt was a REAL guy. I was on site the day of Walt's crash - it was a very sad time.

Our radio shop was in the same hanger as the Collins Radio boys (HF system) and the Lockheed Test Equipment Calibration Lab. We had some pretty good test equipment available, so when Jack Weeks had a problem with a Heath Kit electronic dice project he brought it by the shop. For the life of me, I can't remember whether we were able to help him get it straightened out or not. Dave Adrain, do you remember this and the result?

I do remember we had some really great times in the shop after the workday was over. Hearts and Pinochle were the games of choice, and there were some hotly contested games. The players were mostly from the Collins, Magnavox or Lockheed calibration teams, but sometimes a "ringer" joined the game. It didn'+„+Ýt matter '+„+¬ we never played for money, anyhow.

When I read the book, Area 51, another question came to mind. The book stated that the MiG arrived at night via air transport, but I seem to recall it arrived by day on a flatbed trailer covered in tarps and was driven directly into the hanger where it was reassembled. I know a few days later a tube type VHF radio (with European nomenclature tubes and Cyrillic markings) was brought to our shop for check out. It wasn't until some time later when the MiG was rolled out for flight tests that we got a look at the merchandise. Can anyone verify my version or am I totally daft?

I believe one of the aircraft that was flown against the MiG in tests was a F-104. At least there was one at the ranch for a while. When all of the test flights were over, I believe it was Frank Murray that flew it off to Seattle, doing barrel rolls from takeoff until out-of sight to the north. I always wondered if he was still rolling when he reached Washington State.

Another tidbit about Frank: I'm pretty sure it was him on a weather scout flight that buzzed the field with a sonic boom while most of us were having breakfast. During the mission briefing, the briefing officer asked him if he was the one that buzzed the field. Frank answered, "Yeah, if I have to get up at 6AM, everybody is gonna get up at 6AM!" Now, does that sound like something he would say and do?

I notice some of the other non-pilots got to ride in the back seat on the F-101. I was fortunate enough to participate, as well. Of course, you had to have a flight crew ticket before you could go, and that meant you had to make a trip through the altitude chamber. My understanding is that requirement was because lack of oxygen affected people in different ways. Some get sick, others get a headache, etc. Well, when I went in they had me and a couple of others to take off our masks, with instructions to replace them when we started feeling any symptoms. After a minute or so the other two guys put their masks back on, but I'm feeling no pain. The operator keeps asking me how I feel, and I keep telling him, "I'm OK." Finally, he tells me to put my mask back on and I notice he and my two fellow testers are laughing big time. When we get out of the chamber I ask what was so funny. Even though I was feeling no affects, they said my speech slowed down to a major crawl. That's how I found out lack of oxygen could probably kill me before I knew it was a hazard.

The actual flight in the F-101 was really an experience. A regular AF Major (I don't remember his name) took me on a weather scout flight and after checking the refueling area we chased a few cows and got me above the speed of sound. I didn't think much of it at the time. Later I realized there weren't a whole bunch of people in this old world then that had traveled that fast, so I felt pretty good about it.

I haven't seen anything about Mele's crash at the end of the runway due to pitch and yaw problems. Maybe I just haven't read enough of the stories, yet. The main thing I remember is 1) he wasn't hurt! and 2) we gained a mock-up test set. After Mele had punched out, the article - hit the ground and the nose (where our gear was) broke off and came clear of the fireball. As the powers that be wouldn't let anything involved in a wreck fly again, we painted all our modules various psychedelic colors and used them in our screen room as a bench mark when testing flyable units. Speaking of screen rooms, ours at the ranch was a deluxe version made of solid copper and was a cube about 12" square. We could go in there, close the door and transmit to our hearts content without concern for the ash cans that might be overhead. There was a fellow in our shop nicknamed "Boomer" for obvious reasons that could really rattle the walls of that screen room. Enough said on that subject!

I enjoyed the deployment to Okinawa, even though I only had two full days off during the two months I was there. My time was mid October through mid December 1967. I went over on a commercial flight and came back on one of the KC-135s. On the return trip, I had my one and only experience in "pulling rank." When I boarded the 135 I noticed the 14 passenger style seats up front all had named notes pinned to them. On the seat next to the seat of one of my friends was the name of a Major so-in-so. My orders gave me equivalent rank of Lt. Col., so I just moved the Major's name to a seat that already had a Lieutenant's name on it. When the Major and Lieutenant arrived the Major informed the Lieutenant he would have to take a seat on the web seats in the rear. I didn't take a lot of pleasure in this action, but the airline style seat was surely a lot more comfortable than the web seat for the 10.5 hour flight back to Beale! The whole back end of the plane, even the boomer's area was filled with baggage everyone was bringing back home. Heck, I had over 450 lbs. of china, tape recorders, etc. myself. I think the old bird clipped some trees at the end of the 13,000' runway trying to get out of Kadena!

Everyone of course knows the secrecy attached to working at the ranch. If my wife needed me, she had to call Magnavox, they would contact me and I could call home to address the problem. Needless to say, no one else had any idea what we did or where we did it, not even family. Well, that was almost true. My step-father was in the USAF, and one of his duty stations was at Bolling AFB. Where ever he went, my Mom usually worked a civil service job. While he was at Bolling my Mom worked at the Pentagon. When the 1129th received its Presidential Unit Citation Award, we civilians received the award as well. Guess who typed the orders making the award! I got a call from my Mom letting me know she now, "knew the rest of the story." as Paul Harvey would say. She was cool about it though, not saying anything that was compromising and never mentioned it again.

I guess that's all the gas I can toss around. I retired as Chief Engineer, Data Network Design from Federal Express after 22 years in January 2002. Still have the same wife I had back then (53 years) and live on two acres just outside Memphis, TN. Please pass my info around should anyone wish to discuss the "good ole days."

Terry Cox, KB4KA

110 Fisherville Road

Collierville, TN 38017

coxterrya @bellsouth.net



back         Home         Email
See a broken link or error, have a story or photo to add - please email the webmaster  - -  Page last modified 04/14/2015