EC-121 operations began in Southeast Asia in the spring of 1965, after two F-105's were shot down by enemy MIG's while on strike missions over the North. From this incident the first in which F-105's were lost in air combat it became clear that early detection and warning of MIG flight activity were prerequisites to reducing aircraft losses. With the existing surface based radar net unable to do the job, the Air Force brought in the EC-121's.

The EC-121 task force deployed to Southeast Asia early in 1965. It consisted of 5 aircraft, flight crews, and about 100 support personnel from the Aerospace Defense Command's 552d Airborne Early Warning and Control Wing at McClellan AFB, Calif. Its main support base was in Taiwan, but operations were generally flown from forward bases in South Vietnam or Thailand, originally Tan Son Nhut, later from Ubon, Udorn, and eventually Korat, where the task force finally found an in theater home in October 1967. It was officially designated Detachment 1 (Rotational), 552d Aircraft Early Warning and Control Wing on 30 October 1968.

In performing what became their primary mission, College Eye airmen stationed themselves over the Gulf of Tonkin about 50 miles from Haiphong Harbor, flew elliptical orbits, and passed on information about North Vietnamese air activity. After Communist China charged in October 1965 and May 1966 that U.S. aircraft had violated its borders, the EC-121's took on the additional task of tracking and warning all American aircraft when they were approaching or appeared to be too close to the Chinese border. For this purpose, task force aircraft flew orbital patterns over Laos near the Plain of Jars.

The EC-121 crews undertook a number of other control duties. For example, from April 1965 to early 1966 and beginning again in lateradar tech.gif (185667 bytes) 1967, they controlled four fighters flying protective cover for unarmed support aircraft operating in the Gulf of Tonkin area. The EC-121's also (1) plotter.gif (335649 bytes)served as an airborne communications relay center through which aircraft returning from their targets could transmit strike results and position reports to the control center at Da Nang; (2) directed operations of fighter escorts, MIG combat patrols, C-130 flare ships, and A-26 strike aircraft along the North Vietnamese-Laotian border; (3) provided rescue and navigational assistance in searches for downed pilots: and (4) frequently assisted fighters in finding tankers for emergency refueling In 1967 College Eye controllers also began actively directing USAF F-4 fighters to North Vietnamese MIG's.

Paradoxically, the EC-121's were called upon only three times to provide one of its basic services early warning of enemy air attacks against South Vietnamese ground targets. The first occurred in October 1965 when intelligence reports indicated a possible IL-28 bomber attack on Da Nang. The second and possibly most serious threat of the entire war took place early in February 1968 when 41 wd.gif (257626 bytes)L-28's and 13 MIG's penetrated the DMZ. Upon entering the zone, the fighter escort broke off, some turning Laotian border, the remainder flying out to sea. The four Beagles loitered in the DMZ  for almost an hour, then dropped below radar detection altitudes and departed. The third incident came in mid June 1968, when an enemy helicopter threat appeared to be building up along the DMZ. In these three instances, night-flying College Eye crews were able to detect them and alert friendly ground forces and alert them.    








Contributed by
Steve Dmytriw