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The 552nd Airborne Early Warning and Control Wing was born as an offspring of defense necessity. During the mid-1950s, the nation's defense planners devised the idea of extending the wall of powerful land-based radar seaward. This was done by equipping Air Force C-121 Super Constellations with radar and communications equipment which could maintain an air defense barrier several hundred miles off the shores of the United States. The new defense concept was designed to provide greater early warning time in case of an enemy attack upon the nation.

On September 20, 1953, news was released to the public press that the 4701st Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) Squadron was being activated with McClellan as its home base. Preparations for receiving the Squadron were begun in June 1953 when a contract was let for construction of nose docks and shop buildings for its use. The purpose for the buildings, the unit they may house, and the mission a new tenant might have, was all a closely guarded secret until the September announcement.

On Oct. 1, 1953, a provisional unit, the 4701st Airborne Early Warning and Control Squadron, was established at McClellan AFB, Calif.. and equipped with RC-121D aircraft.

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Location of the 4701st AEW&C Squadron at McClellan, while it did not add greatly to the base workload, made this base a much more vital link in Uncle Sam's defenses. In October, the squadron of some 130 officers and airmen arrived and were given quarters. This number increased to about 350 officers and men by the end of the year. Lt. Col. Russell E. Cheever was its commanding officer.

The RC-121C aircraft used by the squadron was described as a flying radar station and was to be used for extending the country's warning net far beyond the range of fixed radar stations. The first RC-121 landed at

         McClellan on 21 December. Inasmuch as it was a product of Lockheed Aircraft
         Corporation, the C-121  became a prime responsibility of SMAMA in August.

The following year, in December 1954, a handful of airmen and officers were transferred to Otis AFB, Mass., where the 551st AEW&C Wing was activated. In January 1955, only a few weeks after the activation of the permanent wing at Otis AFB, a provisional (552nd) AEW&C Wing was established at McClellan AFB. Immediately two maintenance squadrons were activated, 552nd Electronic Maintenance and 552nd Periodic Maintenance (redesignated the 552nd Organizational Maintenance on I October 1960). The 4703rd Field Maintenance was redesignated 552nd Field Maintenance Squadron on I October 1959.

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On July 8, 1955, after six months of provisional status, the 552nd AEW&C Wing was activated as a permanent organization at McClellan AFB. Two tactical squadrons, the 963rd and the 964th AEW&C Squadrons, were immediately assigned to the wing. In August 1955, the 965th AEW&C Squadron was activated, and became the third tactical squadron to join the 552nd Wing.

On May 1, 1963, the 552nd Wing acquired its fourth tactical squadron, when the 966th AEW&C Squadron, based at McCoy AFB, Fla., was reassigned within the Air Defense Command from the 551st to the 552nd. The 966th remained a squadron until January 1970 when it became Detachment 2 of the 552nd. The 965th Squadron was deactivated June 30, 1971, and redesignated the 4759th Air Defense Squadron (training) to coincide with its training mission.

ADC became the Aerospace Defense Command in 1968 and its structure also changed through the years, leaving the 552nd Wing as the only EC-121 wing in ADC, and the Air Force. Charged with a world-wide mission, the 552nd stood ready to deploy to any spot on the globe. Units were located in California, Florida, Iceland, Korea and Southeast Asia.

The deployment capability of the 552nd was put to test in many areas of the world, each with a unique and different mission. Filling in for inoperative land based radar sites; providing coverage in gaps of land based radars, special coverage of active areas, coverage of the first manned space flights, surveillance of VIP aircraft on overseas deployment or providing radar surveillance and control of fighter aircraft on overwater deployments. This unique capability made the crews and support personnel of the 552nd Wing one of a kind in the U. S. Air Force.

In April 1965, with the buildup of United States military forces in SEA, the 552nd AEW&C Wing was directed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to deploy a force of aircraft and personnel to that theater to assist in tactical operations against North Vietnam. This force, originally known as the Big Eye Task Force, and later renamed the College Eye Task Force, during its deployment to Southeast Asia, provided outstanding support to United States fighters and bombers striking military targets in SEA, most notably in North Vietnam.

College Eye aircrews were providing radar service for Air Force F-4C Phantom fighters on their first MIG kills in July 1965. The College Eye Task Force also provided invaluable services to disabled flyers, and in rescuing downed pilots.

The Southeast Asia arm of the 552nd ceased its continuous operations in that area in June 1970, bringing to a close, more than five years of service which saw the CETF control more than 210,000 aircraft involved in combat operations. Almost 3297 MIG border warnings were issued to aid these aircraft in carrying out their combat tasks. College Eye played a key role in the successful rescue of 80 downed crewmembers.

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During the more than 20 years since the inception of the airborne radar platform concept, many changes evolved, some of which brought changes in operating locations, redesignation of units and deactivations.

By June 1974, only the 552nd AEW&C Wing remained, and in July of that same year, it was reduced in size and redesignated the 552nd AEW&C Group.

In November of 1974, it was announced by the Defense Department that the 552nd AEW&C Group would be scheduled for deactivation during the summer of 1976. This announcement, although it marked the end for the 552nd AEW&C Gp, and its McClellan operations, does not mean the total end. The 552nd unit designation will be inherited by the new 552nd AWACS Wing on July 1, 1976.

It was also announced on December 8, 1975, that a new unit would be activated using some of the aircraft and personnel from the 552nd AEW&C Gp to form an associate unit with the 79th AEW&C Sq (AFRES) at Homestead AFB, Florida. The new Detachment 1, 20th Air Defense Squadron, and the 79th Squadron will continue the Air Force radar mission until AWACS is fully operational, and is ready to assume the role the Connie, and the 552nd AEW&C Gp has carried out for nearly a quarter of a century.

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1953  * October 2 —4701st AEW&C Squadron assigned to McClellan AFB within the
8th Air Division, on WADF General Order No. 39 dtd 17 Sep 53 begins operations in
building S-31 located in "splinter city" area of McClellan AFB.

* November 10 —Mission of 4701st set forth in WADF Reg 24-2, dated 10 Nov 1953.

* December 21 —4701st received its first RC-121 aircraft, tail no. 51-3838A.

* December 28 —4701st received its second RC-121 aircraft, tail no. 51-3839A.

* December 31 —Some 55 officers and 275 airmen were assigned to the 4701st 
against an authorization of 74 officers and 382 airmen. The original authorized strength
was 26 officers and 109 airmen.

1954  * May 25 — 4712th AEW&C Sq moves from Otis AFB to McClellan AFB and
becomes part of 8th Air Division.

* December —551 st AEW&C Wing activated at Otis AFB, Mass.

* December 18 —552nd Electronic Maintenance and Periodic Maintenance
 Squadrons Assigned.

1955  * January —552nd provisional AEW&C Wing activated at McClellan AFB, Calif.

* July —Col. R. W. Devania named first 552nd AEW&C Wing Commander.

* July 8 —552nd Wing gains permanent status at McClellan AFB; 963rd and
964th AEW&C Squadrons immediately assigned.

* August —965th AEW&C Squadron activated and assigned to 552nd.

1956  * August —Col. S. S. Richard assumes command of 552nd vice Col. Devania
(July 1955-August 1956.

1957  * July I — 8th Air Division inactivates and 552nd comes under control of the  
Western Air Defense Force

* October —Col. C. R. Hefner assumes command of 552nd vice Col. Richard 
(August 1956-October 1957)

* November—4703rd Field Maintenance Sq. activated and joins the 552nd.

1959   * May —Col. C. F. Knierim assumes command of 552nd vice Col. Hefner
(October 1957-May 1959).

* October 1 —4703rd FM redesignated 552nd FM Sq.

1960    * October —Col. R. J. Loughry assumes command vice Col. C. F. Knierim (May 1959- 
October 1960).

 * October—552nd PM redesignated 552nd OM Sq.

1962  *  October —552nd participates in space project "Mercury"

 964th aircrew assists in recovery of project "Mercury" space capsule.

1963  *  May 1—966th AEW&C Squadron reassigned from 551st to 552nd
964th Sq assists in recovery of "Fath 7 ' space capsul piloted by astronaut Gordon Cooper.

 *  October —Col. J. P. Lyle assumes command vice Col. R. J. Laughry (October 1963-October

1964  * September —Col. W. J. Sherrard assumes command vice Col. J. P. Lyle (October 1963
September 1964).

1965  *  April 4 —"Big Eye Task Force" (later renamed College Eye Task Force) deploys to
Southeast Asia. College Eye later became 552nd's Detachment 1.

 * April —552nd passes 5,500 in combat missions during College Eye Deployment.

 * July —EC-121D teams with 8th Tactical Fighter Wings F-4 Phantom aircraft for first SEA
MIG kill.

1966   * February —Col. W. R. Nevitt assumes command vice Col. W. 1. Sherrard (September
1964-February 1966).

1967   *  February—Forward operating base of College Eye moves from Tan Son Nhut Airdrome
to Uborn RTAFB, Thailand.
*  July—Big Eye redesignated College Eye.

1968  * January —The last TC-121C model aircraft owned by the 552nd went into retirement
at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz. The "C" models were replaced with "G" models, which were
of a later vintage

The last "C" model aircraft number 844, chalked up over 12,618 flying hours in 14 1/2/ years.

* March —Aircraft no. 554 became the first Lockheed Super Constellation in the history of the
United States Air Force to exceed 20,000 flying hours.

 *June —Col. O. E. Gilbert assumes command vice Col. W. R. Nevitt (February 1966-May 1968)

1969   * November—552nd gains control of 551st's Icelandic deployment forces.  Operation Location
A-2 is later designated as 552nd's Detachment 3.

Col. H. L. Timmermans assumes command vice  Col. O. Gilbert(June1968-October 1969)
965th Squadron is first unit of the 552nd Wing to deactivate, signaling the end is near for the
"Warning Star" organization

* December —New EC-121R arrives in 552nd.

1970   * January —966th AEW&C Squadron is redesignated as Operation Location A- 1  and
will later be designated as Detachment 2.

1971   * February—Det. I says "Sayonara" to Japan and moves to its new home as Kwang Ju,
Republic of Korea.

*  June —965th Sq. deactivates as a tactical control squadron and reorganizes as the 4759th
Training Squadron. Lt. Col. Dewitt H. Barwick named commander.

*   August 1 —Detachment 3, Keflavik Navy Station, Iceland activated.

"Triple Nickle" aircraft no. 555, retired and becomes a permanet part of the Air Force Aircraft
Museum at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio, after logging some 22,000 hours and 4.8 million miles
on her weary airframe.

1972 *   May —Col. R. P. Halpenny assumes command vice Col. H. L. Timmermans  (November
1969-April 1972).

1973 *  August —College Eye flies last active combat mission. November —Det. 2 moves from
McCoy AFB to Homestead AFB, Florida. Late '73 —Det. 1 moves from Kwang Ju, Korea to
Korat RTAFB, Thailand.

1974 *   May —Detachment 1, "College Eye" inactivates at Korat Royal Thai AB, Thailand and
forces return to McClellan AFB.

*   June 30 —964th AEW&C Squadron deactivates.

*    July 1 —552nd AEW&C Wing assumes "Group" status.

*   August —Col. H. P. Knutty assumes command vice Col. R. P. Halpenny (May 1972-July 1974).

*  November 22 —Defense Department announces that 552nd AEW&C Group  will deactivate
in summer of 1976.

1975 * April 1 —Last major reorganization within 552nd takes place. All maintenance squadrons are consolidated as 552nd CAM Squadron with 963rd AEW&C Squadron remaining the only tactical unit.

*  June 30 —Detachment 2 at Homestead AFB, Florida deactivates.

*  July —Col. F. B. Henkel assumes command vice Col. H. P. Knutty (August  1974-July 1975).

* December 8 —Air Force announces deactivation of 552nd Gp for spring of  1976, and activation
of Det 1, 20th Air Defense Squadron, to be located at  Homestead AFB, Florida.




Beauty or a beast? Opinions vary as to the aesthetic contibution Lockheed made to aviation history with the Constellation, especially the massive, bulging EC-121. As for the practical value, there can be no dispute. The Constellation is the queen, the ultimate in reciprocating prop aircraft technology.

The "Excaliber" was conceived by Howard Hughes and Lockheed in 1939 as the "continent-sparing airliner of the future" for Hughes' Transcontinental & Western Airlines (TWA). With the outset of WW II, the Army Air Force (AAF) took over the project. The first flight of the prototype, now designated the L-049 by Lockheed and C-69 by the AAF, was on I Jan 1943.

In 1944 tests progressed and records were set, (Los Angeles to Washington D.C. in 6 furs, 57 min. 51 see). Orville Wright, at age 72, even flew the Connie for 50 minutes during testing at Wright Field. It was his first flight in 25 years.

At the War's end, only 22, of the 260, C69s ordered were delivered; but the production lines were open. With the military contracts cancelled, the path was clear to fill the hungry airline orders and to guarantee the intended destiny of the Connie as an airline great. This was only the beginning. Transoceanic routes demanded more range and payload. The L-649 and L-749 series were the answer.

The Navy purchased two L-749A Connies and designated them POIW, or "PO' ones" and equipped them with radar. The intent was to provide a radar umbrella for their fleets. This was the first military prototype of an airborne surveillance radar aircraft, a concept under study since 1945.

The early '50s brought the L-1049 super constellation with 18 ft., 4 in. more fuselage, 400 increased horsepower per engine, and the Navy WV2, "Willy Victor Two" radar model. The Air Force began equipping their new AEW&C wings with the RD-121 "Warning Star" President Eisenhower received his new VC-121E, "Columbine III" Weather the "K" model, "Hurricane Hunter" and the Military Air Transport Service, 100 C-121C transports.

Technical changes of the RC-121 radar equipment continued. Tech order 1-1-81 redesignated the RC-121 the EC-121 in Oct. of 1962. The late 1960s and Vietnam struggle brought the development of the Airborne Surveillance and Control System (ASACS), for real time radar information. The EC-121D was then converted to the "T" model.

Although many Constellations saw service throughout the 1960s, and the EC-121 will extend into the late 1970s, the last development by Lockheed was completed in 1958. The L-1249, after providing the airframe on which the T-34 turboprop engine tests were made and paving the way for the Lockheed Electra and P-3, was never to reach production. Only the L-1649, with a redesigned, faster, more economical wing and the old R-3350 engines, were yet to be built.

Today, 37 years after Hughes' idea, and 33 years after the first prototype flew, the Connie is still the queen.





THE 552nd

Aerospace flying safety and all it entails, the many, many hours of training in the simulator and classrooms paid off over the years for the 552nd as they chalked up an enviable flying safety record of well over 800,000 hours without a single crash involving a fatality.

To fully recognize the extent of this outstanding achievement, consider that the history records on the 121 reflect that Aerospace Defense Command was making its pitch back in 1955 to replace, as they put it, "the aging 121 aircraft" Then along comes a unit called the 552nd Airborne Early Warning and Control to make believers out of the skeptics who thought this proud bird had had it.

During the 22 years that the 552nd has been flying the famed 121, we've naturally had our share of minor and major accidents, but none causing loss of life due to a crash.

The 552nd AEW&C has without a doubt, made a significant contribution to the United States Air Force Accident Prevention Flying Program in more ways than one. Each and every member of the unit, past and present, rightfully deserves a resounding 'well done' for all that they contributed to keep this record unblemished.



April 1965 - May 1974

Statistics taken from the historical records compiled by the 552nd Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) Wing, College Eye Task Force, Southeast Asia, from the period April 1965 to May 1974.

� over 13,931 combat sorties flown

� more than 2,761 days flown in a 12 year period

� had a 98% sortie success rate

� flew 98,777 combat hours

� issued 3,297 MIG warnings

� controlled more than 20,000 aircraft over enemy territory

� detected over 400 unknowns

� had 187 consecutive on time takeoffs

� credited with 80 recovery assists of downed U. S. aircrew members

� assisted in 25 MIG kills

Personnel Awards

2 Legion of Merits; 63 Distinguished Flying Crosses; 3,351 Air Medals; 59 Bronze Stars; 22 Air Force Commendation Medals; 231 Purple Hearts; 4 Airman's Medals, and 11 Meritorious Service Medals.



--- and for your efforts ---



1 July 1961 to 30 June 1963


15 April 1965 to 1 July 1966


2 July 1966 to July 1968


1 July 1969 to 30 June 1970


(with Combat V Device)

1 July 1970 to 30 June 1971


(with Combat V Device)

1 July 1971 to 31 December 1972




1 January 1973 to 30 June 1974


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The Connie still has a few good years in her, yet. Until the 552nd AWACS Wing is ready for the task of possible world-wide deployment, the EC-121 will remain in active service, but in a new unit with a new home.

As was announced on 8 Dec. 1975, Detachment 1 of the 20th Air Defense Squadron will activate at Homestead AFB, Florida during the spring of 1976. Det 1 will be comprised of approximately 310 men, most of whom will be reassigned from the deactivating 552nd AEW&C Gp at McClellan AFB. The new unit will fly Connies in an associate unit arrangement with the 79th AEW&C Sq, U. S. Air Force Reserve. The 79th is the Only Reserve unit equipped with the EC-121.

The combined force will be used for Southeast U. S. radar mission, maintaining a TDY force of EC-121 aircraft in Iceland for support of NATO and other special missions as specified by the Department of Defense.

Headquarters for the 20th ADS is at Ft. Lee, Virginia, and will provide the administrative headquarters for the new unit. The 79th AEW&C Sq will assume control of the personnel and aircraft for training purposes. Aircrew and aircraft will be deployed under the appropriate unified or specified commander. This realignment of forces is in accordance with the Defense Department's total force policy.

EC-121 Page

This page done by Dean Boys
Direct any comments to dboys@dean-boys.com


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