A Maintenance Officer Remembers the 552nd
I served as an aircraft maintenance officer (2nd and 1st Lieutenant) with the 552nd Organizational and Field Maintenance Squadrons at McClellan AFB, CA, from May of 1965 to November of 1967. While I was there, I became interested in the history of the “Connies.” I learned a few things about them from my own digging and much more from talking with T.J. Smith, our Lockheed California tech rep (who later went on to rep for the 553rd), and Robert Collins, rep for our IRAN contract at Lockheed Aircraft Services, Kennedy Airport, NY.
A few items at random, as I remember them:
• RC-121C 51-3838 was the first radar Connie delivered to the old 8th Air Division in late 1953. As such, its photograph appeared in several aviation books and magazines to illustrate the type. While attempting to land 838 at Hamilton AFB in the early morning of 7 February 1954, the pilot set the plane down in San Pablo Bay in a couple of feet of water. I have enclosed several pictures of the accident from T.J.’s files.
RC-121D 54-2308 took off from McClellan on 22 March
1958, lost one engine on takeoff, and attempted to go around and land again. It
then lost another engine on the same side and crashed in
• F.R. Swanson, T.J.’s predecessor as tech rep, was killed in the crash of TC-121C 51-3842 on 22 March 1961.
The “Big Eye” Task Force (later renamed “College Eye”
in a bureaucratic attempt to impose uniformity on code names by assigning the
first word on a command basis, thus destroying the whole meaning of the name –
the EC-121 was indeed a BIG EYE) started in early 1965 and was still going strong
long after I left the wing. I was never a part of the BETF, so I can’t pass on
much about it, but I do remember hearing about one plane (53-0537) that was
dived like a fighter from 10,000 feet or so to get into
We had another incident, not on “Big Eye,” when the #3
propeller on one of the ECs ran away, came off, and sliced through the fuselage
several times, seriously injuring a crew member who had been sitting in one of
the “airline” seats forward of the galley. That one was also being rebuilt by splicing
on the nose section from a Navy “Willie Victor” from
52-3413 was bailed to
• BLUE STRAW:
– We had to fly one of our “Blue Straw” missions with the AN/APS-95 search radar consoles on even though the cooling blower was burned out. We did our job, but the radar was messed up almost beyond belief. The next day, our radar E-8 (I think it was SMSgt Wright) had the radar consoles in pieces, with TOs and wiring diagrams strewn throughout the plane.
On the way back to
One of our ECs, 53-3400, was named the “
• Our earlier aircraft carried a trailing wire antenna (I think it was for the Loran); it had to be retracted prior to landing, or it would wreak havoc with utility wires!
One of my predecessors in the FMS, Lt. James Hall, was
a graduate metallurgist. As a result of his efforts and those of a few others,
a severe corrosion problem on the ECs was identified and dealt with. At one
time we had several aircraft grounded, and a Major General at HQ ADC personally
interested in our problem. During the acceptance inspection of 55-0124 after
We had some impressive fogs in
• Our Wright R3350-93 engines were notorious for pouring oil out of the breathers after shutdown. It was said that if the 3350 didn’t leak oil, it meant that there was no oil left in the engine! You could tell the 552nd flight line in an aerial view of McClellan – all the rest of the concrete on the field was a light concrete color, while our ramp was almost black from oil stains. I will never forget the sight of our Chief of Maintenance, LTC Ross Davidson, examining an engine that had caused an air abort while the oil poured down the back of his 1505s!
• We had an advantage at McClellan which no other Connie outfit had – SMAMA (later SM-ALC) was our Depot, and could offer us on-the-spot engineering and technical support. The cognizant engineer for the C-121s in those days was Barbara Lee Feiling, one of the first female engineers I had met; she spent more than one day atop a B-4 stand in our nose docks helping us solve problems.
• The picture of 52-3423 sitting in the snow is unidentified as to date or location. There was a reference to a “major runway accident” in a 1965 article about the plane; the article stated that it had occurred “a few years ago.”
• The pictures of the hailstone damage to an RC-121 “95 NM West of Offutt AFB” on 12 July 1955, which apparently caused loss of the AN/APS-45 radome and antenna, have no story that I can determine. The plane is apparently a D-model, as it has tip tanks.
• We had one type of maintenance person on the ECs that was unique to the AEW&C community – the inflight radar technician. They were rated as aircrew, and many had spent their entire careers being transferred between Otis and McClellan.
The crash of EC-121H 53-0549 in the
ALAN E. DINN
Some People I Knew in the 552nd
LTC O’Hagan, Wing Safety Officer
CPT Melnick, Wing Personnel
CPT Earl McFatridge, Wing Information Officer
LTC Lyle Jewell, Maintenance Control Officer; later transferred to Otis
LTC Ross Davidson, Chief of Maintenance
MAJ Bernard Rudden; later transferred to HQ ADC
CPT Earl Tighe, OMS Squadron Section Commander; later transferred to HQ ADC
MAJ Clement Tromblay, OMS Commander
CWO-3 Leo Wolz, FMS Officer
LT James A. Hall, FMS Officer
LT Norman Falconer, OMS Officer
LT Richard Philpott, OMS Officer
LT Brumble, OMS Officer
LT William Linton, OMS Officer
LT Sanford Kozlen, 510S Field Training Detachment Commander
MAJ Richard T. Villanueva, FMS Commander, later Maintenance Control Officer
LT Samuel Barrick, Jr., FMS Squadron Section Commander
MAJ Anthony Praxel, Pilot
LTC Bert Lindstrom, Weapons Controller
CPT Richard van Nest, QC Test Pilot
CPT George Halstead, FMS Officer
CMS Myles Fraser, OMS Line Chief; later transferred to 553rd
CMS Vincent Niadna, FMS Propulsion Branch NCOIC
SMS Kenneth Grigsby, FMS Fabrication Branch NCOIC
MSgt Ralph Horrocks, Flight Engineer, 964th Sqdn
SSgt Flippo, Engine Tech
MSgt Melvin Paine, FMS Sheet Metal Shop NCOIC
CMS Smith, FMS Aerospace Systems Branch NCOIC
SMS Steele, FMS First Sgt
TSgt Oseski, OMS DD-780 NCO
SMS Henry Cordes, OMS Supervisor
SMS Howe, FMS Mechanical Accessories NCOIC