First Person Singular.
I had joined Applied Technology, Inc. (ATI), in January of 1960, a year after it was founded. Based upon an early threat-warning device we called Vector Sector, we got permission to try to develop this into a missile-warning system to replace the APS-54 in the B-52. In January 1965, we began an internal program to develop such a product. It was completed about July. The system was taken on the road and shown to the Air Force and the Navy, both of whom said they weren't interested because they had their own programs. We then learned from a retired major in our office about a committee run by then-BGEN K.C. Dempster. This committee had been set up after an unarmed RF-4C had been shot down over North Vietnam by an SA-2. Dempster got word of our warning system and asked for a briefing by us at ATI. Ours was one of about 200 systems the Air Force reviewed to try to find a way to protect our aircraft. Dempster borrowed a little simulator we had made and went to North American Aviation, in Long Beach, CA, which had its own F-100F test bed. He arranged a contract with them to install a Vector-IV system (as it was now called) by basically boring holes, stringing wire and mounting antennas in that aircraft. It was "do it yourself' and installed in a very quick ten days.
While that was going on, Maj Pierre Levy -- subsequently Wild Weasel No. 2 -- called me from the Pentagon and said, "I need a couple of your IR-100 series of receivers for a special project, and I've got $40,000."
I said, "Well, Pierre, the receivers you are talking about are $40,000 a piece, not $40,000 for two of them," to which he said, "Well, I need two of them for a very special program, and if it works out, it could be very interesting for you."
So I worked with ATI president Bill Ayer and told him what Pierre said, and also said I thought we should do it. Bill said, "Well, OK, let's go do it," while sort of gritting his teeth.
I called Pierre back and said we'd do it, and he said that we had to deliver the first one in 30 days and the second one in 45. My reply was, "Pierre, these things don't exist! There are no schematics! No drawings!" It was early "vaporware," the product appearing only in an advertising brochure to see if we could get interest. Of course, I told Pierre, "We'll do it, but I don't know how."
First off, I grabbed the engineering guys, and they started working around the clock. The next week I went to the contracts department at Andrews AFB, which consisted mainly of one little old lady who had slowly typed out a one-and-a-half-page contract (with carbon copies), and I signed it for the company. It was short. It said, essentially, "Build us two radios of such and such a size and to do such and such, all for forty-thousand bucks." There were no real specs on it for us to meet, although it did have an identified frequency band (which is still classified). It was all very simple.
So our guys -- Tony Taussig and Chuck Wilcox -- took the contract home and started buying whatever off-the-shelf parts they could find: filters, traveling-wave tubes and a little 3-in. cathode-ray tube for a panoramic display of frequency vs. amplitude. Thirty-three days later we delivered to North American the first of what we came to call the IR-133 panoramic receiver. Someone from North American came up to get it and took it back down for installation on their F-100F. And the second one was delivered twelve days after that.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, one of our head assistants, Bill Doyle, was visiting the NSA, and he ran across a piece of information -- which was "sort of left in front of him -- about a special characteristic of the guidance transmitter of the Guideline (SA-2) missile. So on Friday night on the way home to California, Bill sketched out what might be a system to make use of this information -- if it proved to be accurate -- to give an aircrew a 4- to 5-sec. warning before the missile came off the rails, which would be very advantageous, as in "Here's what's coming, guys!"
Doyle briefed Ayer and me and several other engineers, and we said, "That sounds pretty good. Let's call K.C. Dempster and see what he thinks."
Bill called K.C. and outlined the situation, and K.C. said, "Let's give it a shot."
In about 45 days, our guys built what became the WR-300. Now we had a system that consisted of the Vector-IV direction finder to show from what direction threat signals were coming; the IR-133 panoramic receiver, so that the EWO could look at the frequency vs. amplitude to see what sort of activity there was in the threat band; and the WR-300 missile-warning receiver. All of this became the system installed aboard the F-l00F. That airplane was first flown in Sept-Oct by North American against some radars in Nevada, and the system worked. And that became the basis for the initial Wild Weasel.
As we talked further with North American and other people involved, we talked about using the more sensitive IR-133 as a precision direction-finding system, replacing the four flat spiral antenna vector system using lobe-switching off the nose. We got North American to bore some holes in the nose end of the airplane for a flat spiral antenna to be mounted on the right and another on the left so we could get a lobe switch back and forth from one to the other and get beams that crossed over directly off the nose of the airplane. The EWO would be able to use "pip-matching" -- getting the right and left pips the same amplitude so he'd know the airplane was pointed right at the site being tracked. And that was incorporated into the first airplane. The first 4 F-l00Fs were outfitted and deployed to Thailand, arriving on Thanksgiving Day, 1965. Our involvement in this thing started in late August/early September, and we had four aircraft outfitted and aircrews trained by Thanksgiving, which was pretty fast.
One event is particularly memorable. We had a subsequent meeting at ATI with the Air Force to discuss the production of 500 systems. People said, "We need this; we need this; we need this." We discussed what the customer needed and what made up a system, which was the Vector IV, the WR-300 and the IR-133, as well as delivery schedules. The production people from Sacramento knew that we had never built more than a dozen of anything under any contract at that point. We were a small company at that time, the fall of 1965. The government people said, "What do you need in the way of test equipment?"
Anything we needed we discussed and wrote it down on a blackboard, gave them cost estimates, and Bill Ayer and Pierre Levy and others signed the blackboard. They then took a Polaroid picture of the blackboard. That was the contract. Nobody can find that picture any more, but it would be a real nice artifact to have. I don't know of any other time a government contract was written on a blackboard and made into a Polaroid photograph.
Before the first F-100Fs arrived in Thailand, back in California, we got approval to see about putting a vector system aboard the F-105F up at McClellan. It was another installation that took us about ten days -- the IR-133 and the WR-300. How times have changed makes an interesting contrast. Getting things done back then was most important; no one really worried about the paperwork until after the fact. I flew several people up to McLellan in a rented Piper Cherokee putt-putt. We installed our system on the -105 using hand tools, flew the test, and it worked well. I guess it would have taken the Air Force or the Navy a couple of months just to arrange to have one of their airplanes fly this test, and here it was done by a couple of civilians in a few days. You couldn't do this sort of thing in this day and age any more than you could shake hands with the Man in the Moon. The -105 left Sacramento for testing at Eglin AEB on Thanksgiving Day in 1965, and I followed. Testing went well, and over the following y ears we built 20,000 warning systems.
Our work made a real difference once the crews came up to speed. Over in Vietnam, pilot John Pitchford and his EWO Bob Triere got shot down on December 19, 1965. Triere, I was told, tried to fight his way out and the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) killed him. Pitchford dropped his pistol and surrendered when confronted by the NVA, but they shot him anyway, and he spent the next seven years in their prison. That was sad. Yet, just three days later, another crew, Alan Lamb and Zack Donovan, got the first SAM site (an SA-2). They had three F-105Ds with them. This was the first kill for the Wild Weasel and was the beginning of Wild Weasel evasive tactics. The radar operators learned after a while that if they had a Weasel going after them they'd better go off the air for a while. And the Weasels learned evasive maneuvers to keep from being shot down by SAMs or guns. The beauty of our system was that 5-sec. warning from the receiver. The crews referred to it as the "AS" or "OS" light; it meant "Ah, Sugar!" or "Oh, Su gar!" [Dr. Grigsby is too much of a gentleman to say what the "S" really meant.] The vector system let the crew know where the missile was coming from so they could look outside the cockpit and spot the cloud of smoke and dust at the launch point. Sometimes that gave enough of a warning so that the crew could just outfly the missile, watching it whiz past at Mach 3, unable to turn as sharply as the slower airplane.
And that was the beginning of the Wild Weasel -- Vector IVs, IR-133s and WR-300s. The Vector IV became the pre-qualified APR-25, and the WR-300 became the pre-qualified APR-26 -- all in less than a year from start to finish. Those were the early days -- a lot of work but also a lot of fun.
John Grigsby, Ph.D., entered the Army in 1943 as an aviation cadet. However, sinus problems prevented his becoming an Army pilot, and because he'd been a ham-radio operator in high school, the Army trained him as a radar technician. After the War, he earned BS, MS and Ph.D. degrees in engineering before joining Applied Technology, Inc.