Naval Air Development Unit (NADU) History
A BIT OF HISTORY: "...Neptunes Probe Arctic Basin - Page 23 to 25 - Naval Aviation News - November 1961..." WebSite: http://www.history.navy.mil/nan/backissues/1960s/1961/nov61.pdf [21AUG2004]
A BIT OF HISTORY: "...How to fly into a P2V from a raft at sea, I call it a superman (James Bond) project. Project Sky Hook: This project required to drop helium canisters with a a baby blimp attached to a 2,500 foot line to a man in a raft. He would then setup and fill the baby blimp so a P2v flying at low speed and specially modified to catch the line pulling a person out of a raft into the bombay of the P2V..." Contributed by Allen Robbins firstname.lastname@example.org [29JUN2010]
A BIT OF HISTORY: "...Tests Today For Equipment Tomorrow - Page 32 to 33 - Naval Aviation News - February 1960..." WebSite: http://www.history.navy.mil/nan/backissues/1950s/1960/feb60.pdf [17AUG2004]
A BIT OF HISTORY: ZPG History "...Another tragic loss at NADU. I believe I had just transferred to VS-36 when this hugh airship went down. I'm not sure if someone sent me this clipping or if I found it in a newspaper at Norfolk. As far as I know, there were no injuries..." COBANE, ATN2 B. C. email@example.com [31DEC2003]
A BIT OF HISTORY: "...In August 1960, Capt. Edward A. Rodgers, commander of the Naval Air Development Unit, flew a Skyhook-equipped P2V to Point Barrow, Alaska, to conduct pickup tests under the direction of Dr. Max Brewer, head of the Navy's Arctic Research Laboratory. With Fulton on board to monitor the equipment, the P2V picked up mail from Floating Ice Island T-3, retrieved artifacts, including mastodon tusks, from an archeological party on the tundra, and secured geological samples from Peters Lake Camp. The high point of the trials came when the P2V dropped a rescue package near the icebreaker USS Burton Island. Retrieved by a ship's boat, the package was brought on deck, the balloon inflated, and the pickup accomplished.(..." http://www.cia.gov/csi/studies/95unclass/Leary.html [07DEC2002]
A BIT OF HISTORY: NADU History "...'Mission of Naval Air Development Unit'..." Contributed by Frank Maxymillian firstname.lastname@example.org [06MAY2004]
A BIT OF HISTORY: ZPG-2W "...The information on the small square says that PL-12 NADU ZPG-2W crashed. If my memory serves me right - it collapsed from hitting either the hangar or the mooring mast..." COBANE, ATN2 B. C. email@example.com [31DEC2003]
NADU History "...Newspaper picture of the collapse of the USN ZPG-3W BuNo 144243 gondola, possibly NADU's..." Contributed by COBANE, ATN2 B. C. firstname.lastname@example.org [23OCT2004]
A BIT OF HISTORY: NADU WV2E "...Naval Air Development Unit Unveils WV2E - Navy's Latest Contribution to Airborne Early Warning - The Weymouth Warrior - Volume 1, Number 2 NAS South Weymouth, Massachusetts April 1958..." COBANE, ATN2 B. C. email@example.com [02FEB2007]
A BIT OF HISTORY: NADU History "...This photo shows one of NADU's F4D's, one of their Willie Victor 2's and one of the ZPG-2s with the LTA hanger there on the right. This photo appears to have been taken at NAS South Weymouth, Massachusetts sometime in the late fifties. Photo is courtesy of Richard Van Treuren..." Contributed by MAXYMILLIAN, AT2 Frank firstname.lastname@example.org [17JUN2004]
A BIT OF HISTORY: "...Pages 3, 4, and 5 of the NAS South Weymouth, Massachusetts 1959 Year Book. Thse are the NADU personnel that were in the squadron while I was there (1958-1959)..." Contributed by COBANE, ATN2 B. C. email@example.com [27JUN2004]
A BIT OF HISTORY: NAS South Weymouth History "...This is an aerial view of the air station at NAS South Weymouth, Massachusetts taken sometime in late 1958 or early 1959. That's one of NADU's ZPG-2 airships tethered on the mat to the left of the hanger. If you look closely you can see one of NADU's WV-2's taxiing down the runway on the left and two others parked on the mat at the far side of the hanger. This photo is from the files of Mr. John Yaney who is the author of the NADU history that appears on the NADU page..." Contributed by MAXYMILLIAN, AT2 Frank firstname.lastname@example.org [17JUN2004]
A BIT OF HISTORY: NADU History "...This Photo is from the scrapbook of Burnie Cobane ATN-2. NADU 1958-1959..." Contributed by MAXYMILLIAN, AT2 Frank email@example.com [24APR2004]
A BIT OF HISTORY: ZPG-2W "...NADU ZPG-2 BUNO: 126718 collapsed as we were standing inspection at the east end of the hangar. What a shame it was to see one of our airships go down..." COBANE, ATN2 B. C. firstname.lastname@example.org [31DEC2003]
A BIT OF HISTORY: "...NADU History..." Forwarded by MAXYMILLIAN, AT2 Frank email@example.com [30NOV2005]FLIGHT OF THE SNOWBIRD
March 4-15, 1957
Frank Maxymillian November 17, 2005
I need to preface this article with the statement that these comments are in no way to be construed as a factual history of events as they occurred. Instead, they are simply the memories of one of the Snowbird crewmembers on this historic flight some forty-eight years after the event.
Maxymillian, Frank AT2. USN. I enlisted in North Adams Massachusetts in April of 1953 on a Kiddie cruise. A Kiddie Cruise is defined as an enlistment that expires the day before the enlistee's 21st birthday. At the time, this type of enlistment was applicable to those who enlisted before their 18th birthday. I did boot training at Bainbridge MD, then to Airman Prep School at NATTC NAS Norman, Oklahoma. I was determined to go to Aviation Machinist School and work on aircraft engines but it was determined by "Higher Authority" that I would "volunteer" for and accept Aviation Electronics Tech "A" school at NATTC NAS Memphis, Tennessee. Subsequent to this encouragement by higher authority I was very happy that I had done it. Aviation electronics was interesting, opened a lot of doors and was a wide-open rate. I was assigned to 2 months mess cook duty before starting school. That was choice duty. No duty sections, we kept our liberty cards in our pockets and as long as we showed up on time and did our work no one cared where we went or what we did. On completion of "A" school in the summer of 1954 I was assigned to the Naval Air Development Unit (NADU) at the NAS South Weymouth, Massachusetts and remained there until my release from active duty in the spring of 1957.
Within a year and a half of being assigned to NADU I was married, had a son, had taken and passed the exams for Aviation Electronics Technician 3rd and 2nd and was flying, as part of my job, on a full set of crew member flight orders. I had taken the exam for 1st class and due to my arrogance had failed by a small margin. I had extended my enlistment for a year to try and make 1st before re-enlisting. The NADU organization had determined that it would not order another 1st class exam for me until I had completed an impossible list of tasks. A request for captain's mast was unsupported by my division officer and was dropped at that level. It's my belief that I had gotten caught up in an unofficial policy of no first class promotions during the first four-year enlistment, invoked because conflict in Korea was over and the military was attempting to reduce ranks. I had already made the decision to get out of the Navy at the end of my one-year extension at the time that the Snowbird flight was being planned. I include this to explain my reluctance to participate joyfully in putting together a mission that promised to be fun, interesting and exciting.
NADU had a large variety of aircraft and I was fortunate enough to fly on all of them except the single seat fighters. I was part of the crew on the Super Constellation "Big Dipper" when she crashed in Johnsville PA and had been assigned as the PO in Charge of Electronic Maintenance for fighter aircraft. It needs to be pointed out here, in order to explain some of what's included tn the Preparation section below, that I was a damned good technician but, at best, a marginal radio operator.
Preparation:Photo of "Snowbird" in flight
One afternoon a couple of months before the flight, probably in January 1957, I was approached by our Electronics Shop Chief Lee Stephen, Aviation Radioman Chief (at the time an E7 chief, or CPO, was the highest rank attainable by an enlisted man) and invited to go for a walk on the hanger deck. He told me about the Snowbird trip being in the planning stages and asked if I'd like to go along as 2nd radio. He explained that he had been assigned to fly 1st radio and would be the senior enlisted man aboard and was responsible for nominating the enlisted crew. He said he needed a good technician who could perform in-flight repairs and who was also an acceptable radio operator. He also explained that the flight would be publicly touted as simply to prove the all weather capability of the airship but once that part of the flight was over it would turn into an attempt at the Graf Zeppelin's record and we'd probably all wind up with Air Medals. I told him, without rancor, that I was not interested in the flight and that there were other guys, career sailors, who would love to do it and would benefit career wise from it. I suggested a couple of guys who I thought could do the job. We left it with him asking me to think it over and get back to him in a couple of days.
Chief Steffen approached me again a week or so later and I gave him the same type of response. Sometime in the next few days I was summoned to the Leading Chief's office where I got another friendly invitation to go along, to which I responded in the same way I had with Chief Steffen. The Leading Chief suggested I think it over and maybe change my mind. He said he would be available to discuss any concerns I might have. Next in line was my Division Officer who suggested I might want to just join the team and do it because it was the right thing to do. I remember thinking at the time "this from the man who wouldn't support my request for mast over the promotions issue". Some time in the next week or so I was summoned "Topside" to our administrative offices. I don't remember at this point who it was that I met with, but I think it was the Executive Officer. In any event, after a less than minute of discussion he demonstrated why he was the "Exec". With a terse "OK Max, let's knock of the bulllshit. Pack your ditty bag and climb aboard. And remember! We're all volunteers on this flight. Right?" To which I snapped to attention and responded smartly "Eye Eye Sir" and got my 2nd class ass out of there and let Chief Steffen know that I had been persuaded to "volunteer" and climb aboard.
The next couple of weeks were spent in a confusion of preparations, making a spares list, gathering materials, checking and tuning equipment, a short TAD (Temporary Duty) assignment at Sanders Asc. in Nashua NH to pick up and learn how to use a new drift meter system. This equipment worked on a Doppler radar scheme, picking up motion in four axes and summarizing it in an audible signal and a meter readout that showed drift velocity and direction. I quickly learned that it would let out a very loud squeal if I fired a paper clip from a rubber band through the radar field, which I did routinely while at Sanders to signal coffee breaks etc.
Back at NADU the engineering group, to make sure we'd be able to get off the ground, continuously monitored preparations. If we had been allowed to take along everything we wanted we'd have never made it. My wish list alone included a cache of something in the neighborhood of a hundred vacuum tubes (a spare for every tube on the aircraft), an oscilloscope for troubleshooting, two different sized soldering irons, a spare transmitter/receiver for both HF and UHF communications, a spare radio direction finder and a myriad of other items that I can't remember. The word finally came down that we were ready to go and as soon as we hit the right weather conditions we'd load the frozen foods and launch.
One interesting thing at this point was that the flight crew had to go out and purchase electric shavers. The feeling was that they would be lighter and more practical for the expected duration of our flight than providing water with which to shave on a daily basis. It seems that no one gave any thought to simply not shaving.
The word was passed one day that "It looks like we'll be going the day after tomorrow". In order to take advantage of the colder, denser air, which would provide more lift, we had been scheduled for an after dark launch. The flight crew was given some time off to get organized with family commitments. I took my wife and son out to Logan Airport and put them on a flight to Florida where they would vacation with her parents on the gulf coast.
With the aircraft moored in the hanger, last minute preparations were made. I recall that I couldn't believe that there was that much frozen food in existence. Remember, this was 1957 and frozen foods were considered tasteless, overpriced and by some, to be dangerous. A big supermarket of the day might have a 30 cubic foot freezer section. We were loading enough frozen dinners etc to get the crew of 14 men through 4 days. Canned goods, including things like ham and turkey were loaded by the case. The flight crew's "carry on" luggage was weighed and checked for contents. With no way to bathe on board deodorant was a required item. Lightweight jackets and new ball caps were loaded. We were all required to have a pair of flight shoes, which were confirmed before boarding. The crew had also packed parachute bags with dress uniforms, work clothes, skivvies etc to be placed on the Super Constellation Planner 3, which would precede us carrying a portable mooring mast in case we got in trouble and had to make an unexpected landing somewhere. Finally, all set for flight and still attached to our mooring mast we were towed out of the hanger. It had begun to snow lightly but was cold enough that the snow was not sticking to the bag. We launched into the dark sky at about 6:30 PM experiencing some difficulty with cross winds and were on our way.
The word was passed one day that "It looks like we'll be going the day after tomorrow". In order to take advantage of the colder, denser air, which would provide more lift, we had been scheduled for an after dark launch. The flight crew was given some time off to get organized with family commitments. I took my wife and son out to Logan Airport and put them on a flight to Florida where they would vacation with her parents on the gulf coast.
This section will be a collection of random thoughts. As the flight wore on things seemed to run together and at this point in time I can recall incidents but would not have a prayer of putting them into any kind of chronological order except where the geographical location is known.
A decision was made in the planning stages that we would not change our clocks at all during the flight. I don't recall whether we went to Greenwich Mean Time or stayed on Eastern Standard Time. Whatever it was it made it a lot easier to maintain watch schedules, meal times etc once you got past the idea of the sun coming up at midnight or setting at noon or whatever.
Our radio call sign for routine voice communication was "Planner 12." For CW (Continuous wave transmission using Morse code) reports it was 12D (dog) 48, which was a real pain. It represents 23 strokes on the telegraph key.
An hour or so after we launched Chief Steffen and I tossed a coin to see who would have the pleasure of sending the first position report. I won the toss but yielded to the chief's career status and the fact that he just wanted to do it and my reluctance to screw it up due to my excitement and inexperience as a radioman. I did, however pay, very close attention and made the proper log entries.
I was standing a routine radio watch and was unable to contact the station I was trying to send our position report to. Whatever the station was it should have been almost right underneath us when a voice came in very clearly. Conversation went like: "Planner 12, Planner 12, this is Goose. You copy Goose?" I bounced on immediately with "Goose, this is Planner 12, I have you five square, over" "This is Goose, can I relay for you? Over." "Roger Goose, what is your location? Over." As it turns out it was Goose Bay Labrador and was quite a ways away from our location. They could talk clearly with the station close to us and to us but we couldn't contact the close in station at all.
Being an experienced technician but a novice radio operator I did not have access to all the tricks of the trade that the experienced operators had. Chief Steffen had brought a florescent tube aboard that was about 6 inches long and a half-inch in diameter. He'd taped it to the conductor leading from our HF ART-13 (ART for Airborne Radio Transmitter) to the external long wire antenna and showed me how to make use of it. Whenever you changed frequencies on the ART-13 you had to retune the TX to that frequency. You did this by twisting knobs and peaking two meters in the face of the TX. Chief Steffen, not watching the meters, would instead, tune for maximum brightness of the tube, which, while a little less accurate, was much simpler and quicker. Every time I transmitted while on a night watch the copilot would get up and close the drapes between the radio compartment and the flight deck.
Standing a routine radio watch at night when the co-pilot summoned me to the flight deck. "What's he saying Max?" the co-pilot asks. I looked forward and could see a blinking light on the water a mile or so ahead of us sending what appeared to be Morse Code. I grabbed the Aldus Lamp (a powerful light with a shaped beam used for vessel to vessel communications in lieu of a radio) and sent him a Morse Q signal (a radio operators short hand) to repeat, which he began doing. I started mumbling letters, heck, I could just about copy Morse by hearing it let alone seeing it. I called topside to the bunkroom and summoned Chief Steffen. He came down the ladder in his skivvies and did an excellent job. It was a surface vessel asking "What Ship"? Just for the practice the chief handed me the lamp and told me to send "United States Airship Snowbird on record-breaking cruise". I did an acceptable job I guess because after the ship rogered for the message the chief slapped me on the shoulder and said "OK Max don't wake me up again".
We were fully operational for the first 72 hours or so with both engines running, all equipment fired up and standing by with all stations manned. The night we switched over from being fully operational and went into our fuel-conserving mode we shut down one engine and were running both props from a drive shaft connected to the one running engine. I was in the rack for my six hour rest period when the pilots tried to lean out the engine just a little bit more. They lost it. It started backfiring and then accelerated rapidly in response to the throttle being jammed forward. I was half way down the ladder to the flight deck, in my skivvies, when I noticed that no one there seemed alarmed. I sheepishly went back up the ladder and retired. No one ever mentioned it. Great crew.
I was standing a daylight watch when the pilot passed the word to look out the port side close in. I went forward to look out the widows on the flight deck and saw a pod of about 7-8 whales swimming along in the same direction we were going. We closed on them rather slowly indicating that we were traveling very slowly or they were quick. They were always on the surface or just three or four feet below. We must have had them in sight for 20-30 minutes causing them no apparent concern. I guess they knew that they had nothing to fear from anything in the air.
I was standing a daylight watch and was quite bored and had gone forward to sit on the flight deck with the pilots. Sea conditions were smooth and as was our habit, we were flying quite low, perhaps 3-500 feet, to take advantage of the denser air in the heat of the day. I noted that the pilot in the command chair was talking quietly into his mike on the UHF radio system. After a moment or two he turned around to me and quietly said "watch over there" nodding to the port side. There was just a little bit of mist so visibility was pretty good at maybe a couple of miles or so. As I was watching, a shape, lower than we were and closing on us materialized in the mist. It was Planner 3 heading to our next emergency landing point. They passed from port astern to starboard forward and then climbed steeply, disappearing into the mist. I'm sure there is no notation in the pilots log from either aircraft about that one. I have never seen a photo of the event from either crew. Perhaps the two pilots cooked it up and everyone was taken by surprise.
I was standing a daylight watch on a clear pleasant day when we passed off the coast of Africa. It was so pleasant in fact that the pilots had the windows open on the flight deck. We were a few miles out but had a clear view of Cape Yubi, the western most point of the Dark Continent. All I could make of it was a gathering of huts and what appeared to be some low buildings, which may have been made of clay bricks. Everything appeared to be a dull, pale red. There was no evidence, from where I was, that there were any trees or other vegetation. The most memorable point of that day was a few hours later when I came back on watch. Chief Steffen claimed to have captured a genuine African Sea Bat that flew in one of the open windows on the flight deck. He had it closed up in an empty cardboard box which had been placed on one of the tables in the galley, labeled with black crayon (see photo) and had a peep hole cut into it. Us young, uninitiated, inquisitive sailors were invited to take a quick look and encouraged to hurry with the explanation that the poor beast had to be released soon before we got to far away from its home. I, of course, had to have a look. While bent over to look into the peep hole, leaving my lower cheeks in an extremely vulnerable position, I was smacked soundly on each cheek with a broom being swung by a couple of the older, more experienced crew. I just figured Chief Steffen had to much time on his hands
Chief Lee Stephen with Sea Bat Cave.
While standing one of my six hour watches at night the copilot came back and asked me to come forward to the flight deck. The pilot asked me if I wanted to drive the airship for a while to which I responded "Yes sir, let me at it". He got up out of his chair and motioned for me to sit down. He gave me a brief description of the controls, pointed out the course on the compass and told me he'd break my arm if he saw me reaching for the throttle. The Nan type of airship differs from regular, heavier than air fixed wing aircraft in that there are no rudder pedals. Everything is done with the yoke. Since it was after dark and the air was a little cooler we were flying at a little higher altitude so I guess the pilots felt they had plenty of room to recover if I did something stupid. It was a really bright, moon lit night so visibility was superb. I had no trouble seeing the long lines which acted like a plumb bob and as the aircraft moved about its axes they would give a good indication of what was going on. Of course, in my infinite arrogance, it only took a few minutes for me to have complete control, in my mind at least. It only took a little while for the pilot to tell me to get up with the explanation that he was getting complaints from the guys in the bunks getting seasick from us rolling all over the sky. I was reluctant to give it up but he was bigger than me. I don't understand it, but I was not invited to drive again which I attributed to the fact that they understood that I was much to busy and had no time to fool around with that kind of stuff.
I'm standing a night watch just East of the Canary Islands and the pilot calls me to the flight deck. He explains that there's some fog and mist around the islands making visibility sketchy at best and that there are a few high peaks associated with these islands. He does not want to gain altitude to a point where he would clear the peaks because that would necessitate venting helium, which he didn't want to do. He ordered me to fire up the radar and navigate through the islands. We agreed that I would just give him directional orders, like "easy left" or "easy right". He told me that if I waited long enough to have to give him a hard left or hard right order he would pitch me into the ocean without a life jacket and wait three days to pass the word about a man overboard. After all he didn't want to wake up the guys that were off watch. I snapped off an "Eye Eye Sir" and went about the business of getting the radar fired up. The additional load on the engine was detectable, to me at least. It was interesting in that I had complete control of our safety for the half hour or so that we were passing through the islands. I never got a chance, or didn't want to leave the radar long enough, to go forward and look out the windows to see how bad it was. I prefer to sit here and believe that they couldn't have done it without me.
We were just West of the Canary Islands. I was standing a nighttime watch and was in voice contact with our base radio at South Weymouth, whose call sign was Planner Base, when we started getting a lot of Teletype noise. I kept instructing base to move up a little in frequency to try to get out it. After a short while a voice came booming in and the radio conversation went something like:
"Plainer (note mispronunciation) 12, Plainer 12, Hickem, you got a copy? Over".I was standing a daylight watch on a very still, bright afternoon when the aircraft commander got up from his nap and relieved the pilot. He announced that he was going to pick up some seawater and for everyone to stand by in case we got in trouble. He called me on the intercom and told me to stand by to drop a smoke flare. I immediately went into panic mode, looked around for some one who would know what the pilot was talking about and spotted one of the mechanics that was a long time airship crewmember. I motioned him over and told hem what was up. He chuckled a little and showed me where the drop tubes and flares were and how to get them out of the airship without setting fire to everything. I managed, with the mechanics help, to get a smoke flare set up to drop. On the pilots order I dropped the flare and stood around with my thumb in my mouth waiting for some one to tell me what else to do. Looking forward I could see that the pilot was making a large circle and coming up down wind of the flare. Using the flare as a marker he kept his nose into the wind, kept throttling back and losing altitude until he was absolutely motionless, or at least relatively so. Two men back aft, wearing safety harness, (see photo) had a large canvas bag with a capacity of about 50 gal. or so attached to the crane boom. They lowered the bag into the sea and when it filled, lifted it free and hoisted it into the airship. I could feel the airship settle down by the stern when the crane picked up the weight of the bag. The pilot accelerated, regaining some speed and altitude, told me to drop another flare and repeated the process. The water was pumped into an empty tank to act as ballast to replace the weight of the burned gasoline so we wouldn't have to valve out helium.
"Hickem this is planner 12. I've got you 5 square, over".
"Planner 12, Hickem. You're blocking my primary air to ground frequency. Over".
"Planner 12, Planner base. Are you talking to me? Over".
"Planner base, planner 12 standby".
"Hickem, planner 12 over".
Planner 12, Hickem, go ahead".
"Hickem, what is your location? Over"
"12, this is Hickem Field Hawaii. Over".
"Roger Hickem, this is the United States Naval Airship Snowbird flying just West of the Canary Islands on our way to setting a new worlds distance record for non-refueled flight. Over".
"12, Hickem. We need this Frequency. Over".
"Roger Hickem, it's all yours. Out".
"Planner Base, Planner 12 Over".
"12, Base, go ahead".
Base, 12. Go back to our original frequency. Over".
12, Base, Roger, returning to our assigned freq. Out".
The unique thing about this incident is the fact that here we were in March 1957, talking to another unit half way around the world as though they were across the room. Before satellite communications.
Hoisting Water Aboard
While puttering around the radio compartment on one of my six hour watches I heard the idle engine start and take over the job of providing power to the ship. The two flight mechanics were both up and about gathering tools, spark plugs, oil cups, grease guns and other paraphernalia and setting up near the now idle engine. As soon as the engine cooled down they started servicing it (see photo). I don't know how many times this occurred during the flight but it took place at regular intervals.
Servicing an Engine
During a daylight watch I was having trouble finding someone to give a position report to. I had already missed two reports and it was my understanding that if we missed three in a row that Air-Sea Rescue would be alerted. I just started dialing the receiver trying to pick some one up. My correct assumption was that if I could hear them I could talk to them. I stumbled across a very charming feminine voice with absolutely no radio discipline chatting with someone else about how "absolutely beautiful the water was". I broke in with a similar lack of discipline and asked for help. It turns out the lady was on a boat in the Caribbean talking to a shore station. I couldn't hear the shore station. I explained who we were and what we were doing, gave her our BU. No and asked her if she would take my report, pass it on to the shore station she was talking to and ask them to either radio or phone it to the nearest military establishment. She turned breathless and in a very excited voice agreed to do as I asked. I lost contact with her immediately after I heard her give the report to the station she was talking to. I've often wondered if she got excited all over again when she saw our story in the papers. I can just see her telling her friends "I talked to them" and having them agree with a great deal of skepticism.
We had what was at the time a new piece of equipment that NADU was apparently doing some work on for, I believe, Collins Radio. It was called Single Side Band (SSB) and was a combined transmitter and receiver. We had a similar piece of equipment installed in the radio shack at South Weymouth and had it rigged up with a connection to the local telephone company. We could make a radio call from an aircraft in flight to our base and then patch it in to the phone line allowing the person on the aircraft to talk via telephone to anyone in the country. I had gotten into trouble with the new drift equipment from Sanders that I referred to earlier and made use of the SSB to talk to the engineers at Sanders. The results were terrific so I asked the Aircraft Commander if I could set it up for the Snowbird crew to make a few calls. He readily agreed with the proviso that we'd have to reverse the phone charges on all long distance calls. Timing it so that it was the late evening at South Weymouth so that the whole country would be awake and away from the dinner table I contacted our base radio and told them what was going on. Fortunately communications were very clear. I would pass on the phone number to be called or provide a name for information and the radio operator at Weymouth would contact the people. He'd instruct them on basic radio procedures and then make the connection with the radio equipment. It worked out great. There was a great deal of humor in some of the conversations when people would forget to say "over" which resulted in periods of silence and the two people would start talking simultaneously which would mean that neither one could hear the other so we'd get a lot of "what?" "were you saying something?" or you'd have someone say "Where did you say you were?" "I don't believe that." All in all it was a fun evening or morning or whatever depending on where we were. This entire system was archaic by today's standards given the instant communications from anywhere to anywhere via satellite connected cell phones etc.
The word was passed one morning that we'd be making land fall about lunchtime that day and we would be back over land for the first time in 10 days. It had been determined that we would go in directly over Miami Beach. Being the middle of the day and coming in from the Atlantic we had to transition from the relatively cool air over the water to the hot, rising air over the sands of the beach. This caused the helium in the envelope to expand at an alarming rate, in turn causing the airship to start rising rapidly. The pilots reaction to this was to nose the ship over to a very steep angle, apply max power to the engine, pump air into the ballonets and start, for the first time in the flight, to valve helium into the atmosphere. Somewhere in my limited data bank on airships was the knowledge that the car is suspended from the envelope by a number of cables. If one were to exceed some specific angle of nose up or nose down the weight of the car would be transferred to only two cables which would rip out of the envelope causing the car to separate from the envelope and fall. With my limited airship experience I had no idea what that angle might be but felt sure that were about to exceed it. The pilot regained level flight after a couple of moments and we proceeded inland over the hotels.
As we approached the hotels it was noted that many of the rooftops had been sectioned off into private booths for sunbathing and were generously occupied by nude people, mostly women. We were flying at about 20-30 mph at an altitude that took us about 100 or so feet over the roofs. At this point the pilot very generously took a turn to the North, which carried us parallel to the hotels keeping the roofs in view for a longer period. A mad scramble ensued to locate and bring into use all of the binoculars on board to mumbled curses and grunts like "gimme those" "get out of my way" and "my turn". The sunbathers, for the most part either pulled towels over themselves or as in one case, just sitting up and tucking her knees under her chin. A large portion of them just waved. We liked the ones who waved and did a lot of waving back. I don't recall seeing any photos of this event. I guess the photographers were to busy carrying out their assigned duties.
As we got North of Miami Beach we turned west and proceeded out over the Everglades. We were flying quite low and slow, just wasting time and sight seeing, staying away from civilized areas. I don't know if this was on purpose or just the course the pilots elected to steer. We saw a lot of swamp with trees covered with Spanish moss and an occasional very tall stark looking tree. An occasional deer would get spooked out of its hiding place by our noise and size. These were very small deer, Sitka I think. We watched the sunset that night over the Gulf of Mexico.
We arrived in the vicinity of Key West just about sun set and made an uneventful landing. I learned several years later that a squadron of S2Fs from Quonset Point RI was trying to get off and were held up waiting for us to come in. Part of squadron had gotten off and others were waiting. Among the ones waiting was Rick Reid, whom I met several years later at Sprague Electric where we were both employed. Rick and I became good friends. After landing we were boarded by an officer who I believe may have been the base personnel officer who said that there were bunches of dignitaries waiting and that the enlisted men could not possibly be seen in public without white hats. He produced some in record time and there was a mad scramble to make them look "salty". Admiral "Bull" Halsey was there to pin the Distinguished Flying Cross on our Aircraft commander, Cdr. Jack Hunt (see Photo). The crew was standing in a line abreast and the admirals and other people came down the line shaking hands and congratulating us. Mosquitoes that I felt were large enough that if three of them had gotten together they could carry off a good-sized man were plaguing us relentlessly.
CDR Hunt with Admiral Halsey.
After the arrival ceremonies the crew retrieved their parachute bags from Planner 3, took showers, got into clean whites and headed into beautiful down town Key West. We stopped into a local watering hole where the tables were just large enough to set a drink down on and were joined by a couple of local damsels who were bragging about their own records which didn't impress us old married salts so we sent them over to entertain the younger inexperience sailors.
We gathered, as ordered, at the Key West operations shack bright and early the day after we landed (see photos). It had been determined that a relief crew would drive the airship home to Weymouth while we, the celebrities, would travel in style aboard Planner 3. It seems there was only one radioman who arrived in Florida on Planner 3 so it was left up to Chief Steffen and I to decide who would fly as radio operator for the flight back to Weymouth. I'll bet you'd never guess who said "OK Max you do it". So I did. The base galley loaded us up with box lunches (see photo) and we took off for Weymouth.
All in all it was a great time. After a couple of days in the air I was glad I had been persuaded to "Volunteer". Two months later I had been released from active duty and was on the outside trying to earn a living as a civilian. Several months after being released I received an air medal and citation through the mail. I also received a model ZPG-2N from the Goodyear Company, the people who manufactured the airship. It's plastic, mounted on a base and engraved with my name, rank and the details of the records we set. I'm very proud of it.
A BIT OF HISTORY: NADU History "...Circa Spring 1957 - NADU at a personnel inspection in the spring of 1957. As can be seen the unit was considerably larger than in late 1954 but still small enough to fit into a small gym. This photo was taken in the rec hall at NAS South Weymouth, Massachusetts..." Contributed by MAXYMILLIAN, AT2 Frank firstname.lastname@example.org [28MAY2003]
A BIT OF HISTORY: "...'Practice Makes Perfect' Detection - Page 24 - Naval Aviation News - May 1956..." WebSite: http://www.history.navy.mil/nan/backissues/1950s/1956/may56.pdf [09AUG2004]
A BIT OF HISTORY: NADU History "...NADU's two "Nan" type airships BUNO:'s 126718 and 126719 taken during 1954 or 1955 while they passed down Runway 17-35 at NAS South Weymouth, Massachusetts. It's highly likely that this photo was taken on the same day as the one of the same aircraft over Boston Bay. Also shown in the photo are the two NADU WV-2 Super Constellations on the mat along side the hanger. Just in front of them is NADU's P2V-3W and NADU's P2V-5F is just in front of the open hanger doors. In the background are numerous F4U's or FG-1D's and other aircraft belonging to the Naval Air Reserve units based at NAS South Weymouth, Massachusetts. Photo and details courtesy of John Yaney. John is the gentleman who wrote the NADU history published on the NADU history page..." Contributed by MAXYMILLIAN, AT2 Frank email@example.com [29MAY2004]
Circa 1953 - 1962
A BIT OF HISTORY: "...NADU History..." Forwarded by MAXYMILLIAN, AT2 Frank firstname.lastname@example.org [Updated 29NOV2005 | 16FEB2004]
NAVAL AIR DEVELOPMENT UNIT
NAS South Weymouth, Massachusetts
John C. Yaney
The author would be pleased to hear from anyone having comments, corrections, additions, etc. to this manuscript. Of particular interest to the author would be any information regarding NADU Detachment Rota. The material contained herein about this particular aspect of NADU's history was obtained from only one source. Thus, any confirmation that this Detachment did in fact exist and any information as to its mission during its presumably short existence would be greatly appreciated. In addition, the author has seen at least two photographs taken on different occasions at NAS South Weymouth in the mid 1950s showing, in the background, a Boeing PB-1W (the Navy's airborne early warning version of the B-17) parked on the apron. If anyone has any information that could confirm or deny that this aircraft was assigned to NADU, the author would appreciate that person contacting him. The author can be contacted at the email address given above.
NAVAL AIR DEVELOPMENT UNIT
On 10 July 1953, one of the Navy's most important but least known aviation test and evaluation activities was established. That activity was designated the Naval Air Development Unit (NADU), and was located at NAS South Weymouth, Massachusetts.
Events following World War II were bringing increased tensions and rapid changes to the world, with many of those changes threatening the security of the United States and its friends. The Soviet Union, an ally of the United States during the war, had become an enemy shortly thereafter, as it, through words and deeds, espoused a goal of world domination by communism.
The post-war years saw the governments of most countries of Eastern Europe being led by communists subservient to Moscow, while West Berlin had been blockaded by the Soviets in an attempt to compel the United States, Britain, and France to abandon their commitments to the people of that island of democracy. In 1949, the Soviet Union became the second nation to explode an atomic bomb, sending shock waves throughout the free world in the process. During that same year, the People's Republic of China was proclaimed by Mao Tse-Tung, as Chaing-Kai-shek and his Nationalist forces were driven from mainland China. The events of this period reached their climax when, on 25 June 1950, the armed forces of North Korea, with the backing of the governments of China and the Soviet Union, crossed the 38th parallel in order to attack South Korea in what was to become a three-year conflict resulting in over 300,000 casualties to the United States and its allies.
It was against this backdrop, only a few days before the signing of the Korean armistice at Panmunjom, that NADU was created to help assure that the United States would be better prepared and would never be caught surprised by Communist acts of aggression, specifically in the form of a direct attack on the United States. The need for advance warning of an impending attack was paramount if the United States was to survive in the event that the so-called Cold War once again turned hot.
The mission of NADU was to:
(1) Operate and service aircraft and airships as assigned by the Chief of Naval Operations for detection, tracking, and intercept functions in air defense systems, and for utility flights in connection with the transportation of special equipment and personnel.
The mission emphasis on air defense and ASW was directly related to the growing awareness at the time that the United States was no longer geographically invulnerable to attack, given the fact that the Soviet Union was producing bombers capable of reaching North America while, at the same time, was deploying what was to become the largest fleet of submarines in the world.
(2) Provide available services for PROJECT LINCOLN (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and assist that project in the design, development, and testing of equipment and systems used in the above functions.
(3) As directed, participate in experimental or prototype air defense and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) systems which may be established, in order to determine their effectiveness.
A wide variety of aircraft types, some of them unique, was operated by NADU over the years, although not all at the same time, in order to accomplish its missions (see the tabulation presented at the end of this document with regard to aircraft designations). For the air defense role, some of the latest jet fighters of the time were employed. These jets included the Douglas F3D-2T2 Skyknight, the Douglas F4D-1 Skyray, the Grumman F9F-7 Cougar, and the McDonnell F2H-2 and F2H-2N Banshee. Lockheed WV-2 Super Constellation Warning Stars were employed in the airborne early warning and, to a lesser extent, the anti-submarine role, as were Goodyear ZPG-2 Seafarer, ZPG-2W Reliance, and ZPG-3W Vigilant blimps. For other anti-submarine warfare and other missions, P2V-3W, P2V-5, and P2V-5F models of Lockheed's Neptune patrol bomber as well as the Grumman S2F-1 Tracker were on hand. Aircraft used for administrative transport and other functions included the Beech SNB-5 Navigator and the Douglas R4D-8 Super Skytrain. Rounding out the fleet were a Douglas JD-1 Invader and a large Goodyear free balloon. All of these aircraft used the radio call sign "Planner" followed by a number assigned to each individual aircraft. This collection of aircraft was housed and maintained in a huge steel blimp hangar (Hangar 1) originally constructed at NAS South Weymouth during World War II and which was claimed to be one of the largest in the world. A massive structure, it was 956 feet in length, almost 200 feet in height, close to 300 feet in width, and had a floor area of 8 acres.
Over 250 officers and men, having of necessity a diversity of backgrounds, were assigned to take part in the many projects being undertaken by NADU. In an interview given many years after NADU had become part of history, CDR. Max V. Ricketts, former NADU Executive Officer under CAPT. Harold B. Van Gorder, remarked "…when you were selected for duty with NADU, you had to be exceptional…" In another interview with author William F. Althoff when CAPT. Van Gorder was asked to look back upon his NADU assignment, the blunt and characteristically straightforward Van Gorder replied: "We were busy."
The aircraft and personnel of NADU shared South Weymouth's facilities with the Naval and Marine Air Reserve units also based there, which, during the 1950s, were operating such aircraft as the Grumman F9F-6 Cougar, the North American FJ-3 Fury, the Convair P4Y-2 Privateer, the Douglas R5D-2 Skymaster, the Grumman AF-2S and AF-2W Guardian and later the Grumman S2F-1 Tracker, the Lockheed TV-2 Shooting Star, the Piasecki HUP-2 Retriever, the Sikorsky HSS-1 Seabat, etc.
This combined collection of NADU and Reserve aircraft was, without doubt, one of the most diverse and unique to be found at any air station in the country and was one of the few to include all basic types-jet, prop, helicopter, and lighter-than-air blimp and balloon.
The chain of command of NADU was also unique. NADU was under the technical command of the Office of Naval Research, the management control of the Bureau of Naval Weapons, and the military control of Commander, Naval Air Bases, First Naval District. It was also unusual in being a major active duty tenant at a Reserve Naval Air Station.
As stated previously, a significant portion of NADU's mission was carried out in support of PROJECT LINCOLN. That project was a joint effort with the Lincoln Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), located at Hanscom Air Force Base (AFB), Massachusetts, and the Air Force's Cambridge Research Laboratory, also located at Hanscom. The work carried out by this group was a continuation of the pioneering efforts of M.I.T.'s famed Radiation Lab established during World War II for the purpose of developing both ground-based and airborne radar systems and improving the nation's air defense capabilities.
As a premier Research and Development organization funded jointly by the Air Force and the Navy, the Lincoln Laboratory and various companies under contract to it produced a wide variety of experimental gadgetry, and all of it highly classified at the time. PROJECT LINCOLN was an inexhaustible source of theoretical studies and prototype equipment, while NADU provided the flight platforms for all field testing. In effect, NADU's relationship with PROJECT LINCOLN was as a flying laboratory. Adapting special equipment to aircraft was a NADU specialty. In addition to equipment developed as part of PROJECT LINCOLN, NADU also regularly evaluated systems and equipment, as directed by the Bureau of Weapons or the Naval Research Laboratory, which had been developed by other civilian contractors.
One example of exotic equipment, tested by NADU under the name PROJECT DENNIS, was electronics developed by Minneapolis Honeywell and carried in a NADU F3D-2T2 Skyknight (Bureau No. unknown/"Planner 6") that permitted the aircraft to follow energized power lines. Another example involved equipment developed by MIT/Raytheon and mounted on a NADU F2H-2N Banshee (Bureau No. 123305/"Planner 10") that allowed the location of that aircraft to be tracked whether it was on the ground or in the air. Only 14 examples of the radar-equipped F2H-2N were constructed, with NADU operating at least three of them. Bureau No. 123300, the first F2H-2N to be built, operated with NADU as "Planner 9." The Bureau No. of the remaining NADU F2H-2N is unknown. NADU is also known to have operated at least one standard F2H-2 Banshee. It, too, operated as "Planner 9." In still another example of NADU's work with civilian contractors, photos exist of a NADU F4D-1 Skyray (Bureau No. 134938/"Planner 6") carrying a Sparrow missile under each wing. F4Ds that served in the Fleet were never equipped with this type of radar-guided missile, their armament being limited to cannons, unguided rockets fired from underwing pods, and Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles. Therefore, it is assumed that NADU was likely working with Raytheon, the missile's developer and which was headquartered in nearby Lexington, Massachusetts, in undertaking an evaluation of this missile for use on other types of Fleet aircraft such as the forthcoming McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom II. This F4D-1 was one of at least five examples of this type of aircraft operated by NADU over the years, the others being Bureau Nos. 130748, 134748, 134825, and 134930.
One key aspect of NADU's association with PROJECT LINCOLN involved participation by NADU jet aircraft in the testing of new radar systems and interception techniques. In a typical scenario, U.S. Air Force bombers would be assigned to stage mock high altitude attacks on the city of Boston. NADU jets, along with others from nearby Otis and Hanscom AFBs, would be tasked with intercepting these bombers before they could carry out their attacks. The interceptors would use a combination of ground-based and on-board radars in locating the approaching bombers. At other times, NADU jets acted as targets for interception by others. Much of this work by NADU jets was directly related to the Lincoln Laboratory's successful efforts to develop a massive, nationwide air defense system controlled by computers and called SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment).
While NADU's jets were being kept busy making practice interceptions of friendly aircraft, efforts were being undertaken at NADU and elsewhere to develop and evaluate an aircraft that would be able to provide advance warning of a real enemy attack on the United States. This aircraft was the Lockheed Warning Star, designated WV-2 by the Navy and RC-121D by the Air Force. Based on the airframe of the Super Constellation and carrying a crew of up to 26-31, this four-engine aircraft carried over 13,000 pounds of radar and other electronic equipment. Distinguishing features included an upper-fuselage radome eight feet in height housing the AN/APS-45 height-finding radar, and a massive under-fuselage radome containing the AN/APS-20 surveillance radar.
To provide the necessary advance warning of impending attack and, thus, give time for fighters to intercept enemy aircraft long before they could reach targets in the United States, an elaborate system of off-shore radar coverage was planned to be implemented by the Navy and the Air Force. Navy WV-2s, operating as a seaward extension of the land-based Distant Early Warning (DEW) line, would operate in a "barrier" mode, providing continuous airborne radar coverage between Newfoundland and the Azores in the Atlantic and between Hawaii and Alaska in the Pacific. Air Force RC-121Ds would fly in "racetrack" patterns at four off-shore stations along the length of both the east and west coasts of the United States. Radar coverage provided by these aircraft would be supplemented by Navy radar picket ships and by a series of off-shore radar platforms in the Atlantic between Nova Scotia and New Jersey called "Texas Towers" because of their resemblance to oil-drilling rigs. Other Navy WV-2s would be assigned to provide direct radar coverage to the fleets wherever they might be operating. Navy blimps would also be called upon to man offshore radar stations under this plan.
NADU received several of the first Navy WV-2s off the Lockheed production line for the purpose of evaluating their effectiveness and maximum operational potential and to test new equipment before it became operational with the fleet. The first one of these aircraft (Bureau No. 131387/"Planner 4") to be delivered to NADU at South Weymouth arrived during the summer of 1954 and was given the nickname Big Dipper. On 1 November 1954, this aircraft was called upon to search for a missing Navy Lockheed R7V-1 Super Constellation transport plane that had disappeared over the Atlantic on a flight from NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, to Africa. Unfortunately, the Big Dipper was itself destroyed in a landing accident at the Naval Air Development Center in Johnsville, Pennsylvania, on 9 December of that same year. Luckily, all members of the crew were able to escape from the aircraft that turned over and burst into flames after touching down.
Another NADU WV-2 Warning Star (Bureau No. 135754/Planner 3) was used extensively in association with the MITRE Corporation for PROJECT LINCOLN. Both this aircraft and, as noted below, an Air Force RC-121D (53-553) temporarily assigned to NADU were used in the testing of the Airborne Long Range Input (ALRI) system, whereby digitized radar images gathered by aircraft flying far offshore could be transmitted to land-based receiving stations for input to the SAGE computerized air defense system.
NADU's fleet of jet interceptors often worked closely with the WV-2s, acting as targets for radar operators.
The NADU WV-2 aircraft were also used for missions other than airborne early warning, such as providing logistics support for NADU's long-distance blimp flights, as described later. One other type of mission saw a two-plane NADU WV-2 detachment return to South Weymouth on 27 August 1958 from the Pacific area where they spent five weeks participating in special weapons (nuclear) tests. Another type of mission, undertaken by a NADU WV-2 in 1956, involved the evaluation of several models of "electronic navigators." On one such evaluation flight, a NADU WV-2 under the command of CDR. Ralph W. Hart flew from South Weymouth to Oslo, Norway, automatically, in a test of the new devices. A NADU WV-2 (Bureau No. 131388/"Planner 1") is also known to have spent time at the Royal Radar Establishment at Pershore in Britain.
Still another example of the use to which NADU's fleet of WV-2s was put was the participation by Bureau No. 141297/"Planner 4" in WEXVAL exercises held by the Office of Defense Research and Engineering's Weapons System Evaluations Group at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, during the period October through December 1959.
Several other models of the Warning Star were operated by NADU throughout the organization's existence. One such model was the WV-2Q, a WV-2 modified for the communications intelligence/electronics intelligence/signals intelligence role. Using at least two of these aircraft (Bureau Nos. 131391 and 131392), NADU in the late 1950s operated a detachment at Rota, Spain. This detachment was later absorbed into Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron Two (VQ-2). VQ-2 still operates in the Mediterranean area to this day on electronic reconnaissance missions and is currently equipped with the Lockheed EP-3E Aries II. This type of role has been proven to be extremely dangerous over the years. For example, a WV-2Q of VQ-2's sister squadron, VQ-1, was shot down by North Korean fighter jets on 15 April 1969 with all on board losing their lives. More recently, an EP-3E from VQ-1 made headlines when it was involved in a collision with a Chinese Navy Shenyang J-8-11 fighter jet while operating in international airspace 70 miles off the coast. Due to damage incurred from the collision, the EP-3E was forced to make an emergency landing at a military airfield on the Chinese island of Hainan. Fortunately, there were no casualties on board the EP-3E.
Another Warning Star model assigned to NADU on a temporary basis was the Air Force's RC-121D, a type that went on to be used in great numbers by the 551st Airborne Early Warning & Control Wing at nearby Otis AFB on Cape Cod and with the 552nd Airborne Early Warning & Control Wing at McClellan AFB in California. Two aircraft of this type (52-3413 and 53-553) served for a short time with NADU. (As a point of interest, the RC-121D was not the only Air Force aircraft type to be temporarily assigned to NADU. A North American B-45 Tornado was also operated briefly.)
Perhaps the most unusual version of the Warning Star assigned to NADU was the one-of-a-kind WV-2E. This particular aircraft (Bureau No. 126512/"Planner 2") was originally constructed as the first WV-2 but later modified by Lockheed for delivery to NADU as the WV-2E. It differed from other WV-2s by having a massive saucer-like, 37-foot-diameter, radome on the upper fuselage, similar to those employed by today's E-2 Hawkeye and E-3 Sentry aircraft. That radome, which rotated at 12 revolutions per minute, contained an APS-82 radar which was developed by General Electric and Hughes Aircraft under the direction of the Lincoln Laboratory and which was capable of detecting targets from sea level up to an altitude of 100,000 feet. The Navy listed as an important advantage of the saucer antenna the "sharp reduction of sea clutter interference" and its "remarkable ability to pick up weaker signals from unknown targets at longer ranges." It was claimed to be the "most potent" ever developed up to that time and was said to be fully comparable with ground-based installations. A detection range 70 percent greater than other airborne radars was also claimed. The aircraft, which required over 10 million man hours of research and testing to develop, was accepted at NADU during a special ceremony held in March 1958 at which MAJ. GEN. Harvey T. Alness, the Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Operations of the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD), stated to a gathering of NORAD officials at South Weymouth, "The eyes of the military services are upon this aircraft today, and on its highly important test program."
The WV-2E aircraft was evaluated by NADU for a period of 15 months. It departed South Weymouth for the last time on 6 July 1959 and was eventually transferred to the Naval Missile Center at NAS Point Mugu, California. It had been hoped to incorporate the technology of the WV-2E into the WV-2s planned replacement aircraft, namely the Lockheed W2V-1. However, the W2V-1 program had to be canceled because of budget constraints, although, as mentioned previously, the concept of a rotating radome was later used on other types of aircraft.
Another Lockheed product that was used extensively by NADU was the P2V Neptune. Several variants of the Neptune were on the NADU roster at one time or another.
One mission involving a P2V-5F Neptune (Bureau No. 128333/"Planner 9") from NADU took place beginning in early November of 1959. Entitled PROJECT TRADEWINDS II, the project was a research program having the purpose of probing the skies for a refractive layer vital to the missile down-range communications network. Working as a team with an aircraft from the Naval Research Laboratory, the 15 officers and airmen aboard NADU's Neptune operated between Recife, Brazil, and Ascension Island in the South Atlantic to determine the reliability of a reported atmospheric refractive layer between those two points. A refractive layer increases the possible radio communications distance many times by acting as a mirror that reflects radio waves back to earth, thus eliminating the need to lay extensive cables for communications purposes. In the case of Ascension Island, the southernmost island in the Atlantic missile range, such a refractive layer would facilitate the transmission of missile test data back to Cape Canaveral in Florida.
A similar research effort appropriately entitled PROJECT NEPTUNE, was conducted in March 1961 by NADU under the overall control of the Air Force's Cambridge Research Laboratory. That project was an effort to chart for possible radio use two "air ducts" which span the Atlantic near the equator. Scientists conducting the experiment believed that, if the tests revealed the expected results, communications between the Western Hemisphere and Africa could be revolutionized. Specifically, standard radio and television transmissions, normally capable of reliable ranges of only several hundred miles at the most, would be able to be broadcast across the Atlantic Ocean with a high degree of reliability.
Using two NADU Neptunes, one equipped with a radio transmitter and the other with a receiver, scientists compiled data with the hope of pinpointing the altitudes of the different atmospheric layers that would allow long-range radio transmissions. One "air duct" studied was located between Puerto Rico and Dakar, Senegal, while the other was located between Recife, Brazil, and Luanda, Angola. Previously, a NADU WV-2 Warning Star had operated in this same general area collecting similar data. During that mission, the NADU WV-2 operated from Recife, Brazil; the British West Indies; Ascension Island; and Liberia, Africa.
One unusual mission performed by a NADU P2V-5F Neptune (Bureau No. 124896/"Planner 10") took place during August of 1960. The mission involved the operational testing of the new "Fulton air retriever" system. This system, used today on some Air Force Lockheed HC-130 Hercules aircraft, consists of a Y-shaped extension-a two-pronged fork-mounted on the front of the aircraft, a helium-filled balloon, and a length of nylon rope. The system was designed to make possible the aerial retrieval of both personnel and equipment from areas inaccessible because of location and/or terrain.
The design of the system calls for the party on the ground to release the balloon with the strong nylon cord attached. When the balloon reaches an altitude of approximately 300 feet, the aircraft will then catch a device on the upper end of the cord by using the "fork" mounted on the front of the aircraft. At that time, the person or material attached to the cord will be snatched aloft, rising vertically. Once airborne, a winch mounted on the aircraft is used by the crew to reel the person or material into the aircraft.
Although this device had already undergone preliminary testing elsewhere, the work by NADU was to be its first test under actual operational conditions. The testing was spurred by the stranding of a number of Air Force scientists the previous year on a floating 45?square mile ice island in the Arctic Ocean when the ice island began to break up. Aircraft were not able to fly in to retrieve the men and equipment, and the use of helicopters had also been ruled out. The site, called Ice Island T-3, was being manned in a research effort begun as part of the International Geophysical Year program.
The tests of the Fulton device, often referred to as the Skyhook system, by NADU were actually undertaken at T-3, since it was believed that the severe weather and operating conditions in that part of the Arctic Ocean would provide an ideal proving ground for the system. They were undertaken under the direction of Dr. Max Brewer, head of the Navy's Arctic Research Laboratory. The specially modified Neptune departed NAS South Weymouth on 5 August 1960, piloted by CAPT. Edward A. Rodgers, the Commander of NADU, and flew to Point Barrow, Alaska, via Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. On board was Mr. Robert Fulton himself, the inventor of the system. Five days were spent operating between Point Barrow and T-3 before the Neptune returned home to South Weymouth. During its time in the Arctic, the NADU Neptune picked up mail from T-3; retrieved artifacts, including mastodon tusks, from an archaeological party on the tundra; and secured geological samples from Peters Lake Camp. The high point of the Arctic trials came when the Neptune dropped a package near the Navy's icebreaker USS Burton Island. The package was retrieved by the ship's boat, was brought back on deck, the balloon inflated, and the pickup accomplished.
The test of the Fulton retriever system was not the only time that a NADU Neptune operated in the Arctic. In May and June of 1961, PROJECT ARCTIC BASIN was undertaken by NADU in support of an Office of Naval Research study of the floor of the Arctic Ocean. Accompanied by a ski-equipped P2V-7LP Neptune from squadron VX-6 at NAS Quonset Point, Rhode Island for search and rescue support, a NADU P2V-5F (Bureau No. 128362/"Planner 8") deployed on what would end up being a 35-day mission away from home base that consumed over 200 flight hours and 35,668 nautical miles of travel. The mission called for three aerial traverses of the north geographic pole and one of the north magnetic pole on flights between Thule Air Base in Greenland and Point Barrow in Alaska. In flight, continuous recording of the regional magnetic field was made by a Varian proton procession magnetometer installed in a non-magnetic fiberglass cone in the tail of the aircraft. The recordings provided data on the geologic characteristics of the ocean floor in the so-called Arctic Basin. At the same time, an ice observer assigned to NAS Argentia, Newfoundland, but serving aboard the NADU aircraft for this project, made observations on the locations, size, density, and age of the ice fields encountered. During these flights, an abandoned Soviet drifting weather station was sighted, as was "Arlis II," a drifting ice station manned by personnel from the Arctic Research Laboratory.
For this mission to the Arctic, the NADU Neptune was not specifically configured for operating in cold climates. While the cold weather did not affect the aircraft, greater difficulties were experienced by the maintenance crew. However, available hangar space at Thule, which is located in the far north of Greenland, eliminated most of the potential problems. According to a NADU spokesman, on the few occasions that the aircraft had to be left outside overnight, problems were no different than those experienced during the winter at South Weymouth!
On its return flight to South Weymouth from Fairbanks, Alaska, the excitement level rose when the NADU Neptune first experienced a starboard prop failure followed by a complete port engine failure. With one prop windmilling in the airstream, the pilots turned on the two jet engines under the aircraft's wings and landed easily at Fort St. John, British Columbia for a ten-day engine change delay.
The sighting of the abandoned Soviet drift station, designated as NP9, by the NADU P2V-5F Neptune crew participating in PROJECT ARCTIC BASIN began an intriguing chain of events. Abandoned by the Soviets when the ice runway serving it began to crack and it could no longer be re-supplied, it became a subject of deep interest to the Office of Naval Research (ONR), which was eager to learn what secrets it might reveal. In 1960, ONR had established on a U.S. drift station an acoustical surveillance network used to monitor the activities of Soviet submarines in the Arctic. It was assumed by ONR that the Soviets would have a similar system to keep track of U.S. submarines as they passed beneath the polar ice pack, although there was no direct evidence to support this assumption. Gaining access to NP9 could resolve the issue, but the problem was how to get to that Soviet drift station. Out of helicopter range from land bases and too deep into the ice pack to be reached by icebreaker, the concept of using the Fulton Skyhook system seemed to offer an opportunity. The successful testing of the Skyhook system in the Arctic by NADU in 1960 was fresh on everyone's mind. Thus was born OPERATION COLDFEET. The plan, as developed by ONR, was to parachute two scientists onto NP9, allow them 72 hours to explore the drift station and collect data, and then retrieve them by using the Skyhook system.
OPERATION COLDFEET was originally scheduled to take place in September 1961, but was delayed through the winter for various reasons. By March of 1962, ONR received the news that another more modern drift station, NP8, had just been abandoned in haste by the Soviets, again as a result of its ice runway becoming unusable. Focus now shifted to NP8 rather than NP9. In mid-April, a Fulton Skyhook-equipped P2V-5F Neptune (presumed by this author to have been Bureau No. 124896 formerly assigned to NADU, since the only other Skyhook-equipped Neptune, a P2V-7LP (Bureau No. 140439) assigned to VX-6 at NAS Quonset Point, Rhode Island, had sadly crashed on 9 November, 1961 in Antarctica with the loss of five members of its nine-person crew), departed NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, in company with a ski-equipped C-130BL Hercules from VX-6, and headed for the Arctic. The plan was for the two scientists to parachute onto NP8 from the Hercules while the Neptune would stand by in case immediate extraction of the men became necessary. However, things did not go according to plan. NP8 could not be found. Multiple searches over several days failed to locate the Soviet drift station. With the C-130's time availability running out and the weather deteriorating, the operation was called off and the two aircraft returned to their respective bases in Rhode Island and Maryland. No sooner had they done so, however, when another aircraft on an ice reconnaissance flight spotted NP8, well to the east of its expected position. ONR was convinced that the operation to examine NP8 could be successful, but the operation's funding had run out. At this point, the situation became even more intriguing, as attention turned to the intelligence community for additional funding.
Robert Fulton had been working with the CIA since the fall of 1961 on the operational use of the Skyhook system. One of the CIA's proprietary companies, Intermountain Aviation, had equipped a World War II-era Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress with the Skyhook gear to be used to infiltrate and extract CIA agents from foreign territories. Fulton approached Intermountain about participating in OPERATION COLDFEET. They agreed, following the provision of funding from the Defense Intelligence Agency. Accompanied by a Curtiss C-46 Commando transport, the B-17 reached Point Barrow, Alaska, on 26 May 1962. On 28 May, NP8 was located and the two scientists (Major James Smith, USAF, an experienced paratrooper and Russian linguist who had served on U.S. Drift Stations Alpha and Charlie, and Lt. Leonard LeShack, USNR, a former Antarctic geophysicist who had set up the surveillance system on T-3) parachuted onto this Soviet drift station. Attempts on both 31 May and 1 June to extract the scientists were unsuccessful due to weather conditions. However, on 2 June, they, along with 150 pounds of exposed film, documents, and equipment samples, were successfully retrieved using the Skyhook system mounted on the B-17.
OPERATION COLDFEET produced intelligence of very great value, among which was the confirmation that the Soviet station was configured to permit extended periods of silent operation, which signified the importance that they attached to acoustical work. Equipment and documents obtained from NP8 also showed that Soviet research in polar meteorology and oceanography was superior to U.S. efforts. While NADU played no direct role in OPERATION COLDFEET, it was NADU's successful testing of the Fulton Skyhook retriever system in the Arctic and NADU's subsequent sighting of the abandoned Soviet drift station NP9 that laid the foundation for this most unusual and highly successful intelligence-gathering operation.
Even NADU's transport-type aircraft were put to good use in support of various projects. For example, one mission involving its R4D-8 Super Skytrain had this aircraft checking the installation and operation of the new TACAN (TACtical Air Navigation) systems at Naval Air Stations all along the East Coast, ranging from NAS Argentia, Newfoundland, Canada to NS Roosevelt Roads, PR. This same aircraft was also used to provide logistic support and search and rescue backup for the NADU P2V-5F Neptune that operated between Thule, Greenland and Point Barrow under PROJECT ARCTIC BASIN, as described above.
NADU was perhaps best known for its operations involving lighter-than-air blimps. Some of these operations gained the attention of the world at that time, while these huge but majestic aircraft certainly gained the attention of residents living near NAS South Weymouth whenever they took to the skies. On at least one occasion, however, a NADU blimp received unwanted attention. On 31 March 1955, the Commanding Officer of NADU at the time, CDR. Robert Wood, announced that one of his blimps had been fired upon while making a practice Ground Controlled Approach (GCA) to South Weymouth. CDR. Wood, in an effort to stress the importance of the NADU mission to the public, stated to the press "…the airships attached to NAS South Weymouth are integrally involved in the defense effort of the United States. They are designed for anti-submarine warfare but specially modified with electronic devices to provide early warning of enemy aircraft en route to attack this country."
The blimp had proven itself during World War II. Operating from air stations along both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the United States, as well as from bases in the Caribbean and South America, these giants of the air patrolled in search of enemy submarines and protected Allied convoys from attack. So successful were they that not one ship under their protection was ever lost to enemy action. However, following the end of the war, the airship fleet was greatly reduced in number, with land-based heavier-than-air aircraft taking over many of the tasks previously performed by blimps. By the late 1940s, only two lighter-than-air stations at Lakehurst, New Jersey, and Weeksville, North Carolina, remained operational, each supporting one Blimp squadron specializing in anti-submarine warfare.
Despite this massive rundown of the lighter-than-air fleet, advocates of this type of aircraft contended that the Blimp could still play key roles in the defense of the nation, including both in anti-submarine warfare and, more particularly, in the role of airborne early warning. It was argued that Blimps possessed both exceptional endurance and stability, thus being an ideal candidate for those missions.
A last great class of airships was to be built. Called the "N" class following the sequence of designations used throughout World War II and before, the first operational model of this class was originally designated the ZP2N-1, but later was re-designated as the ZPG-2. This model, of which 12 were eventually constructed, was 344 feet in length, 95 feet in height, and had a volume of 1,011,000 cubic feet. A search radar was mounted beneath the cabin. The ZP2N-1W, later re-designated as the ZPG-2W, was developed as a modification of the ZPG-2 design to serve in the airborne early warning role. Identical to the ZPG-2 in size but with the addition of a height finding radar located on the top of the envelope, five airships of this model were produced. The final model in the "N" series was the ZPG-3W, which was really a new design as opposed to being a modification of the original ZPG-2 design. It was designed from the start specifically for the airborne early warning role. Four were manufactured, and it was the largest non-rigid airship ever to be flown. It was 403 feet in length, 117 feet in height, and had a volume of over 1.5 million cubic feet, dimensions considerably larger than those of the ZPG-2 and ZPG-2W.
Before these aircraft could be operated in their envisioned roles, much testing had to be accomplished. A significant share of this testing was undertaken by NADU at South Weymouth, beginning in 1954. The assignment of this task to NADU resulted from NADU's expertise in the areas of radar and electronics and its work with PROJECT LINCOLN, as well as from the fact that South Weymouth was one of the few air stations operational in the country having the facilities (hangar, helium storage capability, etc.) necessary to accommodate Blimps.
If this class of airship was to be operated in the airborne early warning role as a component of NORAD, it had to be proven that the airships would be capable of operating reliably in the worst of weather, since operational requirements called for the Blimp to maintain a continuous offshore radar barrier patrol regardless of weather conditions. NADU conducted a series of tests of this capability. One such series of tests was undertaken during 1955, with a flight conducted on 4 December of that year being of particular note. On that day, LCDR. Mills operated one of NADU's ZPG-2 Seafarer aircraft (Bureau No. 141561) in an ice-accreting experiment, for which he was later to be awarded the 1956 Harmon International Trophy for Aeronauts. Flying in the vicinity of South Weymouth, LCDR. Mills piloted the aircraft, directed the collection of data, and returned to South Weymouth under instrument conditions by means of a ground controlled approach (GCA) landing, all in a manner that retained a maximum amount of ice on the airship for analysis on the ground. The flight was conducted despite heavy airship icing, propeller icing, severe vibration, and flying ice particles.
In a further test of the ability of airships to operate reliably under extreme weather conditions, five Blimps from NADU and ZW-1, the latter unit being a Blimp airborne early warning squadron established at NAS Lakehurst in January of 1956, maintained a continuous radar barrier patrol 200 miles of the New England and New Jersey coast for a period of 10 days. Operating in relays from South Weymouth, the aircraft flew through some of the worst storms to be experienced in the area in years, including freezing rain, fog, high winds, sub-zero temperatures, and blizzard-like conditions. Most commercial and many military flights in this area were grounded by the weather during this time, but the giant airships carried on undaunted with their mission. The Blimps involved generally relieved each other at intervals of approximately 40 hours. However, on one flight, one of the airships was able to remain at the offshore radar patrol station for a period of 32 hours and in the air for 52 hours, for the longest operational flight of this type made to that date. This test confirmed the ability of Blimps to continuously man an off-shore radar station as part of the NORAD air defense network.
Participating in an interview with the press before piloting one flight on a day when conditions at South Weymouth featured a 200-foot ceiling and ¼-mile visibility, CDR. Jack Hunt of NADU said that the Navy was tickled with the weather and that conditions for testing were ideal. "You see," Hunt explained "we are out to demonstrate that this huge bird can fly in any kind of weather."
Another report appearing in the local press about this 10-day series of flights generated some controversy and, perhaps, some inter-service rivalry, when it was claimed that an unnamed naval source stated that the $4 million Blimp is "…more practical and economical" than the Air Force-manned Texas Towers which cost $10 million each. The naval source further went on to say that the experiments could make a defensive "has been" of the Texas Towers, while the Blimp's maneuverability enables it to cover a much wider radar range that the stationary tower. CDR. Ronald Hoel, the commanding officer of NADU at the time, expressed concern and disappointment when informed of this press report. He emphasized that the tests carried out at South Weymouth were "directed by the Chief of Naval Research and were designed to investigate the capability of the airship to fly under all-weather conditions and were not conducted to determine their relative capability as opposed to other detection systems."
With proof that the airship was indeed capable of being operated in all types of weather, the attention of NADU then turned to evaluating the maximum endurance of the ZPG-2. In May of 1954, a ZPG-2 (Bureau No. 126716) had conducted a record-breaking flight of 200.1 hours, or more than 8 days in the air, in a flight between NAS Lakehurst and NAS Key West, Florida. However, this record was not good enough, as the Navy wished to break the distance record of 6,980 miles set in 1929 by the German rigid airship the Graf Zeppelin when it flew non-stop from Germany to Japan.
After months of meticulous planning and in a flight well documented in both the November 1981 issue of Naval Aviation News and in Kite Balloons to Airships…the Navy's Lighter-than-Air Experience, a NADU ZPG-2 Seafarer (Bureau No. 141561) nicknamed the Snowbird departed South Weymouth at 1832 hours (EST) on 4 March 1957 on a non-stop, round-trip trans-Atlantic flight. Three days later, the coast of Portugal was sighted, with Snowbird passing Casablanca in Africa on the 8th. The Cape Verde islands were reached on the 9th. At 0245 hours (EST) on 13 March, the Snowbird broke the previous record of 200.1 hours of continuous non-refueled flight set by another ZPG-2 and later that same day surpassed the Graf Zeppelin's distance record. Snowbird finally landed at 1844 hours (EST) on 15 March at NAS Key West, having been continuously aloft for 264.2 hours (11 days) and having covered a distance of 9,448 miles.
The crossing of the Atlantic between North America and Europe by NADU's Snowbird was the first and only such non-stop flight ever accomplished by a non-rigid airship. In 1944, six K-type Blimps from squadron ZP-14 had flown from NAS South Weymouth to Port Lyautey, Morocco, in the first-ever crossing of the Atlantic by a Blimp, but had made refueling stops at Argentia, Newfoundland, and at Lajes Field in the Azores in the process.
The pilot in command of Snowbird was CDR. Jack Hunt, who was later presented with the Lighter-Than-Air Society Achievement Award for 1957 and with the 1958 Harmon International Trophy for Aeronauts by President Eisenhower at the White House. CDR. Hunt had also been presented with the Distinguished Flying Cross by FLEET ADM. William F. Halsey on behalf of President Eisenhower immediately following Snowbird's arrival at Key West. In addition to CDR. Hunt, 13 other members of NADU had been aboard Snowbird for its record-breaking flight. A NADU WV-2 Warning Star (Bureau No. 135754/"Planner 3") and its crew had preceded the Blimp along its flight path carrying a portable mooring mast and being able to provide logistical support should an earlier-than-anticipated landing by the Blimp become necessary.
The highly successful flight of Snowbird did not end NADU's association with lighter-than-air aircraft. For example, in July of 1957, NADU acquired a large free balloon designed as an aerial platform to test the very latest highly classified electronic equipment being developed by the Lincoln Laboratory. This balloon had a 40-foot-diameter bag capable of holding 35,000 cubic feet of helium, with a basket that could carry a crew of 3 and 750 pounds of equipment.
The free balloon made an excellent aerial platform for testing electronic equipment because there was no engine interference with the equipment being tested, nor was there any vibration.
Whenever the free balloon was sent aloft, it had to be trailed by a 20-man ground crew in trucks. It created considerable excitement in June of 1958 when it made an unplanned landing in Columbian Square in the center of the community of South Weymouth.
In late 1957, one of the new ZPG-2W Reliance Blimps (Bureau No. 141563) arrived at NAS South Weymouth for the testing by NADU personnel of the revolving AN/ASP-70 radar search antenna that was suspended inside the airship's helium bag. This particular airship was the last of five of this model and the only one to feature the internal radar system. It served as the test-bed for the planned ZPG-3W. This same ZPG-2W aircraft operating as "Planner 12" was later deflated in an accident at South Weymouth on 9 January 1959. The airship was damaged by a sudden gust of wind while being moved into the hangar and did not fly again.
On 11 April 1958, ZPG-2 Bureau No. 126718 was accidentally deflated at South Weymouth due to an excessive amount of snow that had accumulated on the airship's envelope. Eventually, the gondola from this airship was taken on trucks to the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts for shipment back to Lakehurst where it was restored to airworthy condition.
During July and August of 1958, another long-distance flight of a NADU ZPG-2 Seafarer airship was undertaken for the POLAR PROJECT, as authorized by the Office of Naval Research. This flight was described as a feasibility flight to determine logistic requirements, weather conditions affecting airship operations, and ground-handling problems at northern latitudes in the Arctic, as well as to gather related data. Specifically, the trip was planned to determine whether lighter-than-air aircraft could be used for Arctic research.
The ultimate destination of this flight was Ice Island T-3. As on the flight of Snowbird to Europe and back, this ZPG-2, nicknamed Snow Goose (Bureau No 126719/"Planner 11"), would be accompanied by a NADU WV-2 Warning Star (Bureau No. 131388/"Planner 1") for logistical support. Personnel on board the Snow Goose would include NADU crewmembers, Canadian military personnel, representatives of the scientific community, and a reporter from the Associated Press. This tour of duty would be the second with NADU for the Snow Goose. Bureau No. 126719 was originally accepted by the Navy from Goodyear on 24 January 1954 and delivered to NADU on 26 January 1954. After serving with NADU for over two years on a variety of functions, it then underwent its first overhaul, following which it was transferred to Airship Squadron Three (ZP-3). After its second overhaul during May of 1958, it was then returned to NADU custody.
Upon leaving NAS South Weymouth on the night of 27 July, the first planned stop was to be Royal Canadian Air Force base (RCAF) Churchill on the west shore of Hudson Bay in northern Manitoba, Canada, a distance of 1600 miles. However, this leg of the flight did not go as planned. With LCDR. Donald Collins as command pilot, the airship was forced to divert into NAS Lakehurst, New Jersey, due to abnormally high temperatures in the upper atmosphere. These temperatures resulted in too much helium being used while trying to maintain altitude. After departing Lakehurst, the airship once again had to alter its flight plan because of excessive winds, resulting in a landing at Akron, Ohio, the location of Goodyear's Blimp manufacturing facilities. Akron was left behind at 0033 hours on 3 August, with RCAF Churchill finally being reached at 0830 hours on 5 August. CAPT. H.B. Van Gorder, the Commanding Officer of NADU at this point in history, joined the flight there.
The next two legs of the flight, from Churchill to Resolute on Cornwall Island in the Northwest Territories, and the final 600 miles from Resolute to T-3, went more smoothly. Upon reaching T-3, equipment and mail was dropped to the group of scientists living on the ice island in connection with research projects being conducted as part of the International Geophysical Year program. While in the vicinity of T-3, Mr. Guy Harris, a researcher from the Naval Underwater Systems Lab, dropped hydrostatic depth charges from the Blimp's aft observation station into the ice-choked sea. Scientists on T-3 measured the acoustical effects of these depth charges.
This flight, which was the first and only Arctic flight of an American airship of any type and the first-ever visit of a non-rigid airship of any nation to the Arctic, concluded when the Snow Goose touched down at NAS South Weymouth on 12 August at 0826 hours. Over 6200 miles had been traveled, with a latitude of 79.8 degrees North having been achieved. The last airship to have previously crossed the Arctic Circle had been the German dirigible Graf Zeppelin in July 1931.
NADU was very interested in undertaking a second airship mission by the Snow Goose to the Arctic in 1959 but necessary funding was not authorized and it did not occur.
The flight to the Arctic by the NADU Blimp Snow Goose in 1958 received extensive publicity in the press before, during, and after the mission. However, another Navy mission to the Arctic occurring at the same time and personally authorized by President Eisenhower was undertaken under TOP SECRET conditions, and was not revealed to the public until after its completion. On 23 July 1958, four days before Snow Goose departed South Weymouth to begin its celebrated flight, the USS Nautilus, SSN 571, America's first nuclear-powered submarine, quietly slipped away from berth S-11 at the Submarine Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and set a course for Portland, England, via the North Pole. Going under the ice in Alaskan waters, it reached the North Pole on 3 August, later emerging into open waters northeast of Greenland on 5 August to complete the first passage of a submarine from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean under the polar ice. The Nautilus docked in Portland, England, on 12 August, the very same day that the Snow Goose arrived back at South Weymouth from its Arctic trip.
The coincidence of the timing of the missions of the Snow Goose and the Nautilus has caused some to speculate that the true mission of the Snow Goose to the Arctic was not to conduct scientific research but rather to contact and/or track the Nautilus as it passed through the Arctic Ocean under the ice. However, this speculation has been largely dismissed, as detailed in William Althoff's book referenced at the end of this paper. The highly classified nature of the Nautilus mission, with some saying only a handful of people in the Navy and the White House knew anything about the super-secret mission, makes it extremely unlikely that NADU personnel and even their superiors in the Office of Naval Research were aware of the Nautilus' journey.
The next several years saw several events of note regarding NADU participation and leadership in lighter-than-air activities. For example, on 28 August 1959, a new ZPG-3W Vigilant (most likely Bureau No. 144243) arrived at South Weymouth for the first time for operational evaluation by NADU of its electronic equipment. This same airship, unfortunately, received close to $600,000 in damages when, on 13 February 1960 while being docked by an experienced crew of 30 ground-handlers, it was pushed by strong winds against Hangar 1 at South Weymouth and split open. Repairs took three months to complete. This airship then made its final flight when it flew from South Weymouth to Lakehurst on 5 May 1960.
Late in 1960, NADU successfully tested a "flying trapeze" hung from a high-flying helicopter. This device had been developed to snag research balloons on their return from the stratosphere and was planned to be considered for use the following year in the recovery of a 36-inch telescope suspended from a balloon in its descent from an altitude of 80,000 feet. The project, known as Stratoscope II, would be an attempt to photograph planets and stellar nebulae with a clarity never before possible, according to the National Science Foundation, co-sponsor with the Navy of the experiment.
In an interview with the press, CAPT. Edward A. Rodgers, Commanding Officer of NADU, said that the tests were conducted with a Navy helicopter and a standard balloon in an effort to determine the feasibility of the recovery method. He said that the trapeze device was designed to engage a hook attached to the top of the balloon carrying the costly telescope after the helium-filled bag has been lowered to a predetermined altitude by ground control. Once the bar and hook have been securely engaged, helium is continued to be released from the balloon by the ground control unit, the three-ton load being gradually absorbed by the helicopter, which then carries the payload safely to a pre-arranged landing site. CAPT. Rodgers went on to explain that the hook is held erect by a small pilot balloon atop the large balloon. The entire train of equipment, from the top of the balloon to the bottom of the telescope, was said by CAPT. Rodgers to be about 450 feet long.
On 3 January 1961, ZPG-2 Bureau No. 141561 Snowbird departed South Weymouth on the first leg of a cross-country flight to Marine Corps Air Facility (MCAF) Santa Ana, California. There, it would operate for six weeks performing classified research, including what the public was told was going to be a study of the heat balance of the ocean and the atmosphere, in cooperation with the Scripps Institute of Oceanography at La Jolla near San Diego. The research was actually part of the classified PROJECT CLINKER. It involved investigating the feasibility of using infrared technology to locate submerged nuclear submarines by detecting the heat given off by their reactors. Santa Ana had been a Blimp base during World War II and had two hangars that could accommodate the ZPG-2. Planned stops on what would eventually be recorded as the last major long-distance flight of a Navy airship included, in addition to Lakehurst, NAS Glynco, Georgia; Laughlin AFB, Texas; and Naval Air Facility (NAF) Litchfield Park, Arizona. Because South Weymouth and Lakehurst were the only two bases in the country from which Blimps were then regularly operating, support personnel and equipment were once again carried on an accompanying NADU WV-2 Warning Star (Bureau No. 141297/"Planner 4").
The westbound voyage experienced excellent weather except for an area near the 7000-foot elevation of Van Horn Pass, located to the southeast of El Paso, Texas. At that location, the WV-2 was forced by ice, snow, and fog to fly by instruments, while it became necessary for the Blimp to follow the white dividing line on a highway from an altitude of about 350 feet above the ground. A large bus traveling on that highway was observed by the Blimp's crew to nearly go off the highway when its driver spotted the Blimp so low overhead.
Snowbird departed Santa Ana on 7 March 1961, arriving back at South Weymouth five days later.
On 20 June 1961, the Navy announced that NADU would continue to operate one of only two on the nation's Blimps that would remain active under a cutback program. Such operation was expected to continue for at least another year. The following month, NADU's Blimp arrived at Kindley AFB in Bermuda on a classified mission, gaining considerable attention from the local press in the process. On 2 August, however, despite earlier announced plans for continued use, Snowbird departed South Weymouth for Lakehurst for the last time, thus ending NADU's and South Weymouth's association with lighter-than-air Blimps. All airship operations were ultimately officially terminated by the Navy as of 31 August 1962.
NADU itself passed into history following an announcement by the Department of Defense in April 1962 that 98 facilities would be closed in an effort to save money. Many of NADU's functions were taken over by various activities at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland. The massive Blimp hangar at NAS South Weymouth from which NADU had operated throughout its existence was demolished four years later in 1966 to make way for a smaller, more-economical-to-operate, hangar to be used solely to support the needs of the Naval Air Reserve program at South Weymouth.
A number of NADU's aircraft went on to research and development roles with other organizations following their service with NADU. For example, WV-2E Warning Star Bureau No. 126512 served at the Naval Missile Center at NAS Point Mugu, California, until June 1962, after which it was sent to NAF Litchfield Park, Arizona, for storage and eventual scrapping. WV-2 Bureau No. 131388 was briefly consigned to Litchfield Park in 1962 but was removed from storage later that year and operated at the Naval Air Development Center in Johnsville, Pennsylvania until 1974. It ended up being stored at the Military Aircraft Storage and Disposition Center (MASDC) at Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona. Another NADU WV-2, Bureau No. 141297, was transferred to NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, in September of 1961, where it faithfully served several organizations, including the Naval Research Laboratory and the Weapons Systems Test Division of the Naval Air Test Center, until August of 1979, following which it, too, was transferred to MASDC for storage. It was, however, saved from scrapping and is now on display at the Museum of Aviation located at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia. While serving at Patuxent River, it was used primarily as an electronics warfare test-bed, in the development of missile simulators, and the at-sea testing of electronics warfare shipboard equipment. It was also used for icing studies, satellite tracking, locating eddy currents in the Gulf Stream, and in photo work. NADU's S2F-1 Tracker, Bureau No. 133061, also was transferred to Patuxent River, where it was subsequently equipped with a Fulton Skyhook retriever system. P2V-5F Neptune Bureau No. 128333 went on to serve at NAF China Lake, California. The Chapparal Program there had it conducting infrared radiation profile tests using Sidewinder missile 1A and 1C seekers. For those tests, an infrared detection flat optics system was installed in the aircraft's nose. As stated previously, the NADU P2V-5F Neptune (Bureau No. 124896) that was equipped with the Fulton Skyhook retriever system was transferred to Patuxent River and participated in OPERATION COLDFEET. P2V-5F Neptune Bureau No. 128362 also ended its career serving with the Naval Air Test Center at NAS Patuxent River. ZPG-2 Seafarer Bureau No. 141561, the Snowbird, along with another ZPG-2 (Bureau No. 141559), were the last two Blimps retained in service by the Navy after all other airships were ordered retired on 26 June 1961. After departing South Weymouth for the last time, it finished its career at NAS Lakehurst, where it continued to be involved in the classified CLINKER project. Its final pressure watch was conducted on September 24, 1962 and, one day later, its storage process began. The control car (gondola) from this famous Blimp was saved from scrapping and was in storage at Lakehurst for many years before being relocated to the National Museum of Naval Aviation at NAS Pensacola in 1992. The restoration of the cockpit portion of this historic aircraft is underway for display in the Lighter-Than-Air exhibit at the museum. Finally, F4D-1 Skyray Bureau No. 134748, which was operated by NADU at one time, has been preserved and is on display at the Pima Air Museum in Tucson, Arizona. This aircraft, following its brief service with NADU, was transferred to the custody of the Inspector of Naval Material Boston from October 1957 to February 1961 and to the Bureau of Naval Weapons Representative Waltham, Massachusetts from February 1961 until its retirement in October 1963. During this time, it was assigned for use by the Raytheon Company in connection with the development of the Sparrow III air-to-air missile. Unfortunately, neither the WV-2 at the Museum of Aviation in Georgia nor the F4D-1 at the Pima Air Museum is displayed in NADU markings. In fact, the WV-2 is displayed in U.S. Air Force markings and is meant to represent an EC-121D of that service.
Regarding NADU-specific aircraft markings, they generally consisted only of the word NADU painted in large letters on each side of an aircraft's vertical stabilizer along with an individual nose number painted on each side of the fuselage denoting the aircraft's "Planner" radio call sign.
NADU aircraft were painted in a wide variety of colors over the years, as briefly described below.
Initially, the tactical jets such as the F2H-2N Banshees, the F3D-2T2 Skyknight, the F9F-7 Cougar, and one F4D-1 Skyray (Bureau No. 130748) operated with NADU in standard Fleet colors of the early 1950s era, which consisted of the aircraft being painted overall glossy sea blue. In 1955, the Navy revised many of its aircraft color schemes, one result of which called for tactical jets to be painted light gull gray overall with white undersurfaces. At least one NADU F3D-2T2 Skyknight (Bureau No. 124611) appeared in this new scheme. In the way of specialized markings, this particular aircraft also featured a long, tapered red stripe on each side of the two fuel tanks mounted under the wings. A series of white stars was superimposed onto the red stripes, making for a very attractive scheme. At least one NADU F2H-2 Banshee operated in the light gull gray and white scheme, but the F2H-2N Banshees were retired from service with NADU before they could be repainted. NADU F4D-1 Skyrays, with the exception of the aircraft noted previously along with one other, also carried the light gull gray and white colors, but with the addition of other flamboyant colors to denote their test/research status and to make them more visible. For example, F4D-1 Skyray Bureau No. 134938 first appeared with NADU with its tail and the outer portions of its wings adorned in a glossy international orange color. This same aircraft was later repainted with its tail, the rear half of its wings, and a wide nose stripe being painted fluorescent red-orange. Another color scheme utilized by a NADU F4D-1 Skyray (Bureau No. 134930) consisted of the aircraft being painted glossy insignia white overall but with large areas on its fuselage, wings, and tail being glossy international orange.
NADU's WV-2 Warning Stars could be found in many color schemes over time. The initial examples of this aircraft type, such as Bureau Nos. 131387 (the Big Dipper) and 135754, came to NADU in an overall natural metal color scheme, but with small portions of the wings, nose, fuselage, and upper radome being painted light gray. With the 1955 revision in Navy color schemes came a change in standard WV-2 colors to seaplane gray overall. Seaplane gray was a much darker gray than the light gull gray used on tactical jets. Bureau No. 131388 was one example of a NADU WV-2 that operated in this new scheme. Starting in 1959, some WV-2s that were operated by the Navy in a test/research role received a much more colorful scheme, consisting of overall seaplane gray, glossy white along the length of the top of the fuselage, and large areas of fluorescent red-orange on the nose, outer wings, and tail. Bureau No. 135754, which, as noted above originally operated in an overall natural metal scheme, was an example of one NADU WV-2 that was repainted into this latter scheme. NADU WV-2 Bureau No. 131388 was another example of a Warning Star that ended up in this color scheme. Unique among NADU's Warning Star aircraft in terms of color scheme was the one-of-a-kind WV-2E. While with NADU, it was painted overall light gull gray, with the top of the fuselage as well as the "saucer" radome and supporting structure being insignia white.
NADU's first Neptunes, such as its P2V-3W and a P2V-5, were painted in the same overall glossy sea blue color used by the tactical jets of the early to mid 1950s era. The 1955 Navy color scheme revisions, however, resulted in the Neptunes operated by NADU subsequently being painted overall seaplane gray with white fuselage tops. P2V-5Fs Bureau Nos. 128333 and 128362 were examples of NADU Neptunes that were painted thusly. P2V-5F Bureau No. 124896, the NADU Neptune that was equipped with the Fulton Skyhook retriever system, was painted like the latter two aircraft but with the addition of large areas of fluorescent red-orange on the nose, outer wings, and tail. The addition of the fluorescent red-orange to this particular aircraft likely resulted from its special test status and/or its use in the Arctic.
The S2F-1 Tracker aircraft operated by NADU was light gull gray and white, but with large areas of international orange on the fuselage, wings, and tail.
The airships operated by NADU featured a light gull gray control car, with the envelope being an aluminum color. ZPG-2 Bureau No. 126719 the Snow Goose was unique among the Blimps in having large international orange stripes painted on the nose to improve its visibility while it operated in the Arctic.
All in all, NADU's aircraft were a colorful lot, becoming even more so in the later years of the organization's existence.
Presented below is a tabulation of the aircraft designations referenced in this document. Aircraft types known to have been operated by NADU at one time or another are shown with an asterisk after their pre-1962 designation. The Department of Defense unified all military aircraft designations in 1962 under a common system based largely on that of the U.S. Air Force. Under this new system, most Navy aircraft received new designations. Throughout this document, pre-1962 designations are used, since that was the time period for which NADU was in existence. However, for the convenience of readers who may be familiar only with the post-1962 designation system and not the pre-1962 system, or vice versa, the tabulation below provides a translation between the two. In the case where a particular aircraft model was no longer in active service with the United States military by the time of the 1962 re-designations and thus was not re-designated, "N/A" meaning "not applicable" appears in the tabulation. Note that the so-called "popular name" associated with aircraft types did not change with the change in systems.
||Warning Star (USAF)
||(No Name Assigned)
The designation systems were unified in an attempt to end the confusion (particularly to members of Congress!) that the systems presented. A good example of the confusion that could potentially result from the pre-1962 designation systems can be seen from the Table above. Specifically, the Navy's WV-2 airborne early warning type of aircraft and the Navy's R7V-1 transport type of aircraft were both variations of the Lockheed Super Constellation series of aircraft. However, this fact is not at all obvious from the designations used. Similarly, the Air Force's RC-121D airborne early warning type of aircraft was also based on the Super Constellation. In fact, the Navy's WV-2 and the Air Force's RC-121D were essentially identical. Under the post-1962 system, the WV-2, the R7V-1, and the RC-121D became the EC-121K, the C-121J, and the EC-121D, respectively. The common heritage of all three types being based on the C-121 airframe becomes immediately evident with this new system.
1. Althoff, William F. Arctic Mission By Airship and Submarine to the Far North. Lghter-Than-Air Institute. Auckland, New Zealand. 1999.
2. Althoff, William F. Sky Ships. Orion Books. New York 1990.
3. Archives of the Public Affairs Office, U.S. NAS South Weymouth, Massachusetts.
4. Ginter, S. Naval Fighters Number Four, Douglas F3D Skyknight. Simi Valley, California. 1982.
5. Ginter, S. Naval Fighters Number Eight, Lockheed C-121 Constellation. Simi Valley, California. 1983.
7. Grossnick, Roy A. Kite Balloons to Airships…the Navy's Lighter-than-Air Experience. U.S. Government Printing Office. Washington, D.C. 1987.
8. Grossnick, Roy A. "N-Class Airship Operations." Naval Aviation News. U.S. Government Printing Office. Washington, D.C. November 1981.
9. Leary, William M. "Robert Fulton's Skyhook and Operation Coldfeet." Studies in Intelligence, 1995 Edition. CIA, Washington, D.C. 1995.
10. MacClelland, LCdr. G. R. "Tests Today for Equipment Tomorrow." Naval Aviation News. U.S. Government Printing Office. Washington, D.C. February 1960.
11. Marson, Peter J. The Lockheed Constellation Series. Air Britain (Historians) Limited. Tonbridge, England. 1982.
12. Shock, James R. American Airship Bases & Facilities. M&T Printers. New Smyrna Beach, Florida. 1996.
13. Shock, James R. U.S. Navy Pressure Airships 1915-1962. M&T Printers. New Smyrna Beach, Florida. 1994.
14. Van Fleet, Clark and Armstrong, W.J. United States Naval Aviation 1910-1980. U.S. Government Printing Office. Washington, D.C. 1980.
15. __________. "Neptunes Probe Arctic Basin." Naval Aviation News. U.S Government Printing Office. Washington, D.C. November 1961.
16. __________. "Practice Makes Perfect Detection." Naval Aviation News. U.S. Government Printing Office. Washington, D.C. May 1956.
17. Email correspondence with Mr. Frank Maxymillian, NADU 1954-1957, and Mr. Burnie Cobane, NADU 1958-1960.
18. Email correspondence with Mr. Jim Burridge.
19. Information gathered from vpnavy.org/NADU website.
20. Eckhouse, Mort. "NMNA Progress Report." The Noon Balloon (The Official Newsletter of the Naval Airship Association, Inc.). June 2004.
A BIT OF HISTORY: NAS South Weymouth History "...This is believed to be a photo taken during the first General Inspection after the station was reopened in December of 1953. It was taken inside the airship hanger and appears that, with all the spectators, it may have been coupled with an open house. The large pointed object protruding from the left side of the picture is the nose of one of NADU's ZPG-2 airships. This photograph is unique in that it certainly goes a long way toward illustrating the size of the hanger. It was so large that at times clouds of mist would actually form along the overhead. This photo is from the files of Mr. John Yaney who is the author of the NADU history that appears on the NADU page..." Contributed by MAXYMILLIAN, AT2 Frank email@example.com [17JUN2004]
A BIT OF HISTORY: NADU History "...This tree is in the NADU barracks at NAS South Weymouth. The photo is from the scrapbook of NADU plank owner Hugh Higley AD3..." Contributed by MAXYMILLIAN, AT2 Frank firstname.lastname@example.org [24APR2004]
A BIT OF HISTORY: "...08JUL53 - The Naval Air Development Unit was established at NAS South Weymouth, Massachusetts, to participate in development and test of equipment designed for antisubmarine warfare and air defense..." http://www.history.navy.mil/branches/avchr7.htm [07DEC2002]
Can you identify the Month and or Year?
A BIT OF HISTORY: NADU History "...This is a picture of the NAS South Weymouth, Massachusetts taken from the radar operators seat on the right side of the cockpit of NADU’s F3D planner 6 during landing. The LTA hanger, which was large enough to house 4 Nan type airships, is on the right side. That light dot on left is the control tower. The photo was taken sometime during the spring or summer of 1955..." Contributed by MAXYMILLIAN, AT2 Frank email@example.com [02JUN2003]
A BIT OF HISTORY: NADU History "...NADU “troops” practicing their engineering skills by building pyramids in the E Club at NAS South Weymouth, Massachusetts. The photos were taken during the winter of 1956..." Contributed by MAXYMILLIAN, AT2 Frank firstname.lastname@example.org [02JUN2003]
A BIT OF HISTORY: NADU History "...NADU “troops” practicing their engineering skills by building pyramids in the E Club at NAS South Weymouth, Massachusetts. The photos were taken during the winter of 1956..." Contributed by MAXYMILLIAN, AT2 Frank email@example.com [02JUN2003]
A BIT OF HISTORY: "...APPLICATIONS FOR NORTHERN TRANSPORTATION AIRSHIPS TO THE ARCTIC SYMPOSIUM PROCEEDINGS - Held at Winnipeg, Manitoba - October 22-24, 2002..." http://homepage.ntlworld.com/michael.rentell/Airship_Day1.pdf [28MAY2003]
Airborne Early Warning (AEW)
The first Government use for airships was border patrol. Decades later during the concept-proving Project 'Lincoln,' Naval Historians recorded, " …a continuous patrol was maintained for 10 days, 200 miles off the coast of New Jersey, by personnel from the Naval Air Development Unit, NAS South Weymouth, Massachusetts ZP-1. The weather proved to be the roughest part of the test. It was the worst the area had experienced in 35 years. The crews and their airships dealt with snow, freezing rain, icing, sleet, fog, rain, zero temperatures and high [60 knot] surface winds. During the patrol, all military [including “all weather” fighters] and commercial aircraft were grounded due to severe weather, but the airships kept going and continued their patrols without mishap." The last airship delivered to the US Navy was a radar picket ship, the EZ-1A Vigilant. With its 40-foot radar antenna and typical 36-hour snowstorm mission, its 20-man crew manning its CIC easily replaced a malfunctioning air traffic control center. The need to detect small, stealthy missiles against sea clutter has only become more acute since the “Lincoln” experience was set aside and four airplanes in rotation were substituted per blimp. Today, impractical for airplanes, a stealth-detecting 1,000 sq ft antenna lofted to 10,000 feet would extend today's surface 25 Nautical Mile radar horizon out to more than 120 NM. Airplanes, gulping fuel constantly having to rush forward, are ill suited to 24/7 fence maintenance.
A BIT OF HISTORY: ZPG History "...COMMAND PILOT HONORED: Fleet Admiral William F. (Bull) Halsey, USN-Retired, one of World War-II's most colorful naval officers, presented the Distinguished Flying Cross to Commander Jack R. Hunt, USNR, command pilot of the record breaking 11-day 9,448-mile non-refueled flight of the ZPG-2 airship “Snowbird” immediately following its arrival at NAS Key West..." Contributed by MAXYMILLIAN, AT2 Frank firstname.lastname@example.org [21MAY2003]
A BIT OF HISTORY: NADU History "...This was the christening ceremony shortly after we received our first Super Connie. It took place outside the LTA hanger at NAS South Weymouth, Massachusetts. Note the name under the cockpit window. It can’t be clearly seen but there is a drawing of the big dipper constellation there also..." Contributed by MAXYMILLIAN, AT2 Frank email@example.com [16MAY2003]
A BIT OF HISTORY: "...CAPT Van Gorder reported this first crossing of the Arctic Circle by a U. S. Airship was witnessed by a "polar bear." ZPG-2 (11), nicknamed "Snowbird," piloted by CDR Jack R. Hunt with CDR Ronald W. Hoel, Commanding Officer of Naval Air Development Unit, South Weymouth, Massachusetts as senior officer aboard, flew a 264.2 hour (11 Days) without refueling across the Atlantic to tip of Portugal, Canary and Cape Verde Islands, off Africa, back across the Atlantic to Puerto Rico, and landed at Key West Florida..." http://www.naval-airships.org/zpg2.html [07DEC2002]
"Naval Air Development Unit (NADU) Summary Page"