I was an employee of Baird Atomic, Inc., a company located near Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA. The company from about 1953 did special projects for the agency. Baird provided the sexton used on the U2. I arrived the area during the first week in 1963. As was probably common with others sent away, I knew nothing!
A couple of weeks before leaving the Boston area, the security people did permit me to tell my roommates and the landlady that I would be gone for up to 6 weeks ( I was away for 6 years). Dr. Baird had me over for supper the night before departure and told me I would enjoy the desert because others from the company had been there before (U2 program). So I then knew that somewhere in the desert would be home for awhile.
On the airplane to LA I met a former Baird employee who had been one of the leaders of the special projects group. He did not believe that I did not know where or what the job was. I did know that someone was meeting the airplane and that we were staying overnight in Santa Monica. My friend had just started a job with major corporation as a vice president and was living temporarily in Santa Monica. He asked if my contact might be willing to drop him off in Santa Monica. The plane arrived, we walked down the steps to the tarmac. At foot of the steps were 3 people, one from Baird. When asked if they could provide transportation for my friend, the answer was an immediate NO! Not a very pleasant beginning for me being forced to associate with such rude people.
I shared this friend's apartment in Santa Monica for several weeks until his family arrived from Winchester, MA. Each Friday I would make my way from the Burbank airport to SM via the city bus system, and early Monday morning back to Burbank. When I saw him that first weekend he asked me what the hell I was doing. The next morning after the abrupt negative response from my escorts, he arrived in his office only to find two security types waiting for him and wanting know just what he had been told.
After an overnight in SM, the Baird contact and I drove to Burbank and checked into a metal building that had an oily Constellation parked next to it. Still no idea why I was there. The plane started in a cloud of smoke, taxied to the end of the runway, started powering up on the turn and we were off. A few minutes before landing my escort pointed out the Sudan Crater which had been in the news recently. We deplaned, visited the security office (was told that I was a rep for Boyd Co., not Baird), stopped by the mess hall for breakfast before getting to the base ops building. Even after a filling breakfast, my feeling that a serious mistake had been made by agreeing to this assignment were with me more than ever. I was a civilian in the midst of military types. As an inductee in the Army, what could be worse than having to work with a bunch USAF personnel?
Major Sam Pizzo was introduced, he was the head of the Flight Planning group. My Baird escort and the Major gave an overview of the general task/goal. This was the first time I had learned about the existence of the Baird periscope/projector/sun compass system. Back in the company we had never heard of the sexton or that Baird was even involved with the U2 program.
That lost feeling was building because I would have the assemble the camera equipment, come up with a procedure that would permit the pilot to see the route via the film projector in the cockpit. We then made a visit to the hanger for a first viewing of the article and the first look at the Baird equipment from the pilot's position in the cockpit. Overwhelming! What a sad moment when my Baird escort disappeared into the Connie that first afternoon for his return to Burbank.
Supper was good, plenty of food and it did not taste at all like what I had experienced in the Army. After supper I went back to the office to get settled in. Probably around 1900 the noise of an aircraft engine shattered the desert quiet. Then the noise suddenly became so loud that it modulated ones voice when speaking was attempted. I looked out the back door of the ops building to see an engine mounted on a stand with a very long plume with standing striations. This was a common sound each night until the south area was established.
That first week passed relatively fast. The Baird camera system went together easily and tests were started. Since we were working with film, this film had to be developed after each test. This required getting friendly with the Kodak shop leader and getting introduced to his lab. This was the beginning of a nice friendship and invitation to be with his family on a few weekends in CA.
Meanwhile back in Flight Planning I was finding that USAF personnel are quite a bit different than what I had experienced in the Army when stationed at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland. Two enlisted photo techs arrived in the shop and the production of the film strips became routine. My task was narrowed to keeping the Baird equipment on the aircraft in operating condition. Some weekends, however, I would hear the last Connie depart while lying in the nose of the A-12 to assure that it was ready the first thing on Monday morning.
Early on in the project, the weather group and I traded vehicles. They preferred the early version of a minivan and I the 4-wheel drive International Harvester. Weekends were not that bad when such a vehicle was available to explore the area. The 6-week assignment
was extended without complaint. The Flight Planning personnel were great and being associated with the A-12 program was the highlight of my working years.
Association with Flight Planning added to the adventure, like obtaining a chamber card to permit riding in a fighter jet, going Mach 1.? with the man who had been the first go over Mach 1 in the F-101, a trip to Florida, planning trips to Kadena AFB, part of the search teams after a crash, watching a refueling operation from within the KC-135 and, very important, receiving permission from security to use the back door on occasion to visit newly acquired friends who lived in Vegas.
One week I was informed by Major Pizzo that the A-12 project was coming to an end soon, and we would not be deploying overseas. With that news, I told my SM friend that my dad I would buy his home in Winchester, MA. The first thing, the very next Monday morning, Major Pizzo came into the office saying that things had changed and we would be deploying to Kadena AFB in the near future. The Winchester house had to go back on the market, I did not return to the Boston area until 1969, after the last A-12 was flown to Palmdale.
Those early years of the project were particularly rewarding in witnessing the A-12 flying faster and higher with each week of test flights. The project pilots were very cooperative with the vendors and worked closely with the Flight Planning folks in getting the right information on the filmstrips.
The day for departure to Kadena interrupted our search for the cockpit cameras from #125 that had crashed in the nearby mountains of Nevada. The pilot, Walt Ray, died as the result of that accident.
Three A-12's were deployed to Kadena AFB and support teams were positioned at Hickham AFB until the flights were completed. One A-12 was diverted to Wake Island and the support team went there from Hickham via a KC-135 tanker. One forgets just how small an island is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Being on the ground at Wake gave the impression that you were lower than the nearby crashing surf. After the necessary repairs, the A-12 roared down a runway that I was told was too short. We then proceeded to Kadena AFB.
Our housing was on the other side of Kadena Circle from the base. We would pass the first karate school to and from work in this circle. The mess hall was nothing like the one in the area.
The layout of Flight Planning was similar to the area, large tables and a photo room for the filmstrip production. I elected to stay as permanent party. The pressure of our various tasks was more intense under operational conditions than when we were just working with training routes in the states. In spite of the increased pressure, there were some lighter moments like the weekly delivery of 25# of salted peanuts in the shell that were consumed during the work leading to the first briefing.
My first responsibility as a vendor was to insure that the Baird periscope/projector/sun compass were working properly. Fortunately there was little that could go wrong. I do not recall ever having to repair anything on the system while at Kadena. Other duties were the taping of the briefings associated with each mission, with the exception of those by intel. Another task was taking the loaded projector with the route film strip to the hangar, loading it in the A-12, checking that it was working and setting some preset frequencies for the mission pilot just before the pilot entered the cockpit. After a fogged windshield complicated the landing of an A-12 training flight, each take off and landing of the A-12 was recorded on a 16mm film movie camera. The final task, at the conclusion of a mission was to remove the projector, containing the mission route, before anyone was allowed in the cockpit after the mission pilot had exited.
Frustrating always when we would be required to work on more than one mission at a time and then have them cancelled due to WX, sometimes as late as the final briefing. The first operational mission will remain in memory because of the heavy rain at take-off. A group of us were standing under a shelter where the end of the runway could be seen. Someone had a receiver tuned to the tower. We heard the OK from the tower, the afterburner kick in, then suddenly this black object appeared in the haze/rain followed that the A-12 fiery plume and disappeared again in the haze/rain. What a sinister sight and no cameras running!
In between missions we had considerable free time for personal activities. Mine were watching a film at the base theater in the early evening, driving around the northern part of the island or practicing the organ at the family chapel. Col. Barrett, for the latter activity, called someone on the base, saying that someone from his group wanted access to an organ in the chapel. Permission was given, so the free evenings were taken care of. I stayed in the chapel during a couple of typhoons when we were prohibited from staying in our normal housing. For some reason civilian motorcycles were not restricted during a typhoon, all other vehicles were prohibited. If the wind had not been so steady, the motorcycle would have fallen over to windward.
As in the area, I took advantage of taking rides in the F-101 whenever possible. On one occasion I had been scheduled to go up with the head of our WX group. The A-12 training flight had been delayed, so the 101 went by the staff car where I was waiting to take movies of the A-12 take off. He waved and I saw him take off. During rotation the bolts in the tail sheared, the pilot separated from the 101 ok, but I was told that the plane landed on him when it crashed. The entire F-101 fleet, worldwide was grounded until the tail bolts were inspected.
A Honda 90 motorcycle, a bicycle and a small car we acquired while on the island. On a warm day it was quite an experience to cross down wind of a honey wagon pumping its contents onto a field. Their turnip-sized carrots were as tender as the baby carrots that we can buy in the super market.
My life as a civilian assigned to the A-12 program, was greatly enhanced especially by Col. Samuel Pizzo, M/Sgt. Harold F Mills, Maj. Alfred D. Rossetti, Sgt. James Hicks, Co. Burt Barrett, Lt. Col. Walter S. Smith, Maj. Frank Moon Maj. Darl Mc Cullough and Walter Ray.
Roadrunners Internationale is saddened to learn of the final flight of William A. Goodwin, a.k.a. WAG on December 13, 2013. Bill first arrived at Area 51 in 1963, an employee of Baird Atomic of Cambridge, MA, contracting on the CIA Oxcart Project under the pseudo name "Boyd Company." Bill, who maintained the view finder (Baird periscope/projector/sun compass system) of the A-12, worked closely with Col. Samuel Pizzo's Flight Planning group, M/Sgt. Harold F Mills, Maj. Alfred D. Rossetti, Sgt. James Hicks, Co. Burt Barrett, Lt. Col. Walter S. Smith, Maj. Frank Moon, Maj. Darl Mc Cullough and Walter Ray. Prior to assignment to the OXCART project, Goodwin served in the US Army at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland.