The Aerospace Defense Command’s (ADC) 552nd Airborne Early Warning and Control Wing


The Aerospace Defense Command’s (ADC) 552nd Airborne Early Warning and Control Wing was located at McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento, Calif. The Wing was made up of (4) Squadrons: the 963rd, the 964th, and the 965th, were stationed at McClelland, the fourth squadron, the 966th was located at McCoy Air Force Base in Orlando, Florida. There was also a sister Wing located at Otis Air Force Base on the Cape in Massachusetts.

Our mission was to provide early warning of enemy aircraft trying to penetrate the Western Cost Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). As a secondary mission we were responsible for the control and the interception of enemy aircraft by friendly interceptors. This was accomplished by manning several orbital stations, several hundred miles off the western coast flying elliptical patterns. All unidentified aircraft approaching the ADIZ would be tracked until they were identified or if identification could not be made, they would then be scrambled upon. Station manning was done either on a full time round the clock basis or on a random schedule. A typical mission profile would last approximately 14 to 16 hours or until relieved by a succeeding aircraft. The Squadron in Florida was likewise responsible for the Cuban corridor and the Wing on the East Cost was responsible for the Eastern ADIZ.


We flew the then ultra sophisticated electronic laden, prop-driven , Lockheed EC-121D aircraft. It was a flying radar and airborne control platform with the AN/APS-95 search radar, height finder, IFF/SIF (identification Friend or Foe/Selective Identification Feature), interrogation equipment and a multitude of communications gear. Navigation equipment included ADF; VOR, TACAN, DME, ILS as well as LORAN and a ceiling bubble for the navigator to make star sightings. Up front the pilots had their own weather radar with a special band for land mapping.


The normal Flight Crew consisted of (1) Aircraft Commander, (1) First Pilot, (2) Flight Engineers, (2) Navigators and (1) Radio Operator. The Radar Crew consisted of (2) Weapon Controllers, (2) Radar Technicians and (7) Radar Operators. All total, the mission crew consisted of (18) members.


The 552nd AEW&C Wing through the years performed their same basic mission over many foreign countries and off of many foreign shores. Where-ever on this globe there was a need for a flying radar and control platform, the 552nd was there to aid and assist the U.S. and other friendly forces. All in all, we flew the AWACs of yesterday before anyone had ever heard of the AWACs of today.


ALWAYS A LADY - In my five and one-half years in the Air Force, I logged over 5,000 hours, that’s 1,000 hours per year or 83 hours per month or 20 hours per week. Eighty percent of that time was spent in the Lockheed EC-121D or C-121 Super Constellation. Therefore, it was with much justification that my wife would say, that my first love was with a ‘Connie’ and that she came second.


How true–even now, after having left the Air Force for a career in business, I still have room in my heart for that tall slender looking lady. She was built rugged to withstand some of my roughest landings, reliable as an old friend with back-up systems upon back-up systems, easy to fly and naturally graceful. Above all else–she was ‘Always a Lady’.



Note: Above article reprinted with the permission of Donald E. Born who was a pilot in the Connies.