First person ... singular.
I was called to active duty in July 1943 in the Army Air Force Communications Cadet program at Boca Raton, Florida. In February 1944, I was commissioned as a second lieutenant upon graduation from the Communications School at Yale University with a MOS of 0200. The next stop was back to Boca Raton, where I attended the Radar Maintenance Officers School and received a MOS of 0141. It was at this point that I first became aware of a super-secret program called "Electronic Counter Measures" and the pressing need for officers with 0200 and 0131 AFSCs [Air Force Specialty Codes]. I quickly volunteered when I found out that ECM officers received flight pay!
After about three months of training in ECM equipment and tactics, our group of five newly graduated ECM officers was sent overseas to the XX Bomber Command in Kharagpur, India, just north of Calcutta, for reassignment to B-29 Groups. On December 7, 1944, I was assigned to the 468th Bombardment Group, based at nearby Chakulia, where I quickly became educated in ECM in the real world. Bernie Friedman, the group ECM officer, knew his job and made it easy for me to learn what to do and how to do it. One B-29 in each of the three squadrons was configured to permit the ECM officer assigned to that squadron to conduct electronic reconnaissance on whatever mission the B-29 flew. An equipment rack was installed just forward of the radar operator's position in the rear pressurized compartment. Receivers, a pulse analyzer, direction-finding (DF) gear, and a compass were installed. The upper aft turret was only inches away to the right of the ECM man.
My first mission as an ECM operator was a photoreconnaissance mission to Singapore--as a single air-craft. My job was to detect Japanese search-radar signals, record signal characteristics, and take DF bearings to the station. We were flying at somewhere between 25,000-30,000 feet in altitude just east of Ceylon when a group of Japanese fighter aircraft intercepted us and started to attack. The interphone was full of chatter from various members of our crew calling out locations of the fighters, etc., and I was dutifully logging data on radar signals I was intercepting, when all of a sudden, one of our gunners starting firing the upper aft turret guns just inches away from my head! The combination of interphone bedlam, guns firing, and machinegun-shell casings rattling around in the inside of the turret overwhelmed me, and for a few seconds, I froze! My first exposure to the sounds of air combat raised my blood pressure a bit, but the Zeroes were not able to really press their attacks. We were flying too high for them. We flew on to Singapore, took pictures, and flew back to our base in India. The flight time was eighteen hours from take-off to landing. I flew on nine combat missions while in India, always conducting electronic reconnaissance while our B-29s were bombing, laying mines, or conducting photoreconnaissance.
The 468th Bomb Group moved operations from India to the island of Tinian as part of the XXI Bomber Command. I flew a total of 22 missions over Japan from mid-May of 1945 until the end of the war in August. The character of ECM missions changed when the decision was made to conduct night firebombing raids on Japanese cities in the summer of 1945. We changed from electronic reconnaissance to active jamming to defeat searchlight-control and gun-laying radars. Multiple jamming transmitters were installed in some B-29s, whose missions were changed from bombing to ECM-support aircraft that circled the target area, providing barrage jamming and spot jamming by the ECM operator. These aircraft were called "Guardian Angels" by combat crewmembers after aircraft losses and damages were noticeably less whenever this tactic was employed. I participated in several "Guardian Angel" missions. The reduction of aircraft and crew losses on these missions convinced everyone that ECM was good!
Early in August 1945, the two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war. My 31 missions gave me enough points to be one of the first to be returned home. I was a civilian in Ohio by November 1, 1945, and enrolled in the Graduate School at Ohio State University by January 1946. It took one quarter at Ohio State to convince me that my wife and I could not make it financially on the government GI Bill, so I went to work as an accountant for John J. Gerlach & Co., a CPA firm in Columbus, Ohio.
When the Army Air Force became a separate service, I began to receive letters asking me to accept a commission in the United States Air Force. I finally did and was recalled in August 1947, reporting to Wright-Patterson AFB. In December of 1947. I was sent to Scott AFB, Illinois, to attend the Air Force Communications School. In May of 1948, when I was about halfway through the course, I was interviewed by a team of officers from Headquarters USAF, who asked if I would volunteer to attend a very secret course of instruction at Sandia Base. Albuquerque, New Mexico, with final assignment to the 509th Bombardment Wing at Roswell, New Mexico. The team would not tell me anything about the school, except that it was in the atomic-energy area and that their review of my college and service background had convinced them that I was qualified to attend the school. I volunteered and was told that the course was called "Weaponeer" training.
A set of orders, classified Secret because of the course title, was issued, and I began to clear the base. My first stop was at the transportation office, where I found that the transportation officer would not accept my orders because of their security classification. After two days of arguments, the name and designation of the course were removed from the orders (by razor blade!), and the show went on. My wife and I (and cat) started the long drive to New Mexico. Several days later, we arrived at the front gate of Sandia Base, and I told the guard that I had been sent there to attend some classified school. "Oh, yes, you're going to the Weaponeer School," he said, and I wondered why such secrecy had been attached to the word "weaponeer" at Scott Field when the word was known by a guard at the gate at Sandia!
I soon found that security was a way of life at Sandia. There were about 10 students in my class, and we were about the 10th class to take weaponeer training. We were required to memorize every component and circuit of the atomic bomb: what each component did, what happened if the component failed, and how that failure affected the bomb burst. Every mark we made on paper was collected at the end of the day and locked up until we returned to class the next day. Our final examination was to draw out the complete schematic of the bomb on a 6X12' blackboard and answer questions as to what would happen to the bomb blast under certain conditions--i.e., part failures. Part failures or circuit problems were detected by test gear incorporated in a Flight Test Board (FTB) about the size of a juke-box. The weaponeer would detect any problem with the bomb's internal circuitry, assess how the problem would affect the bomb blast, and advise the pilot (bomb commander) of the situation and his options.
Somehow I survived, graduated, and moved on to the 509th Bomb Wing. My first assignment was to establish a special weapons school designed to keep weaponeers and bomb commanders of the 509th knowledgeable on special weapons procedures. A few weeks later, but before the new school started, the powers that be decided weaponeers were not needed. Evidently, the atomic bombs had become more automatic, and there was no need for monitoring, FTBs, or even weaponeers. I was happy to be assigned as a squadron ECM officer.
The years 1948 to 1952 passed by quickly but not without never-ending problems. My unit, the 468th Bomb Wing, had a very high priority for anything we needed, because we were capable of dropping atomic bombs. In spite of our high priority, we did not have all the ECM equipment we were authorized for. We also experienced personnel shortages. The two TDY rotations we made to England were enjoyable, as were the test flights we conducted in the United States for and with Vince Lane and his cohorts at Standard Rolling Mills:
It wasn't until I was transferred to HQ SAC in 1952 that I became fully aware of what was going on in the ECM world. Let me try to describe the ECM environment that I found in the Strategic Air Command at the start of the 1950s:
1. Most of the SAC bomber units had only 20-50% of the WWII-type ECM equipment authorized and severe shortages of ECM officers.
2. Flight tests and exercises by SAC aircraft against radars of our Air Defense Command of the period indicated that ECM could significantly degrade radar performance.
3. The ongoing phase-out of B-29s, B-50s, and B-36s eased our problems of lack of ECM equipment and officers, but the actual and forecast improvement of Soviet radar defenses made an improved ECM capability a must have for B-47s phasing in and B-52s starting to be flight-tested.
4. High-ranking officers within the Strategic Air Command recognized the value of ECM and supported ECM-equipment development and large-scale test programs by designating the 376th Bomb Wing as an ECM-support wing.
5. The 376th ECM Support Wing developed tactics and equipment that increased our overall ECM capability. SAC war plans called for a far greater role for ECM-support aircraft, similar to World War II "Guardian Angels."
To summarize, there was a lot of activity in all phases of ECM from R & D to planning for the use of ECM to support SAC wartime strikes. In my four years at HQ SAC. I was responsible for developing ECM requirements, working with the 376th ECM Support Wing to develop ECM tactics and equipment, and to write plans for the use of ECM to protect SAC strike aircraft.
In 1949 HG SAC had stated a long-term requirement for a fully automatic countermeasures system that was capable of analyzing the electronic spectrum, determining which signals represented the greatest threat, and automatically deciding on the correct countermeasure. Research contracts were given to several companies to develop ECM equipment to satisfy all or part of that requirement. One of those contracts resulted in the development of the ALQ-5, an automatic search-and-jam system that proved the feasibility of a system that could meet SAC's requirements. Sperry's successful development of the ALQ-5 demonstrated the feasibility of automatic search-and-jam equipment.
In the mid-1950s, a number of events contributed to the bullish attitude of ECM by the majority of military and civilian scientific personnel involved with ECM. Traveling-wave tubes were improved dramatically in power output, in frequency coverage, and in weight reduction. Backward-wave oscillators (carcinotrons) were developed. Both of these tubes promised a huge increase in the performance and capabilities of jammers, as well as permitting the development of automatic search-and-jam equipment.
The annual presentations by Bill Rambo of the Stanford University Electronics Research Laboratories that reviewed all electronics work in progress highlighted the progress made in tube development and their applications to the development of ECM equipment. It appeared that new techniques and capabilities were just around the corner, and all that was needed to satisfy our ECM requirements were money and hopefully not too much time!
In this same period, Sperry proposed a very comprehensive multi-band system, using the same design principles as used in the ALQ-5 but adding many expanded capabilities that provided all types of countermeasures known at that time. In 1957 Sperry received a contract to design and build the ALQ-27. By this time, I had been assigned to HQ USAF in the Directorate of Requirements. I was immediately assigned as the ALQ-27 Project Officer for Headquarters USAF and continued in that capacity until my tour at the Pentagon ended in 1959.
The ALQ-27 program started with a bang--with high expectations, lots of money, and a tight schedule. It soon became apparent that the ALQ-27 was not going to be successful. The weight and space requirements of the ALQ-27 were far too great for even the B-52. Those development programs that seemed so close to success at the beginning of the ALQ-27 program were not being solved as time ran out. Cost overruns became common, as Sperry desperately tried to make up time with more people, more subcontracts, etc. The program was cancelled in mid-1959. An excellent description of all aspects of the ALQ-27 program is contained in Volume II of the History of US Electronic Warfare by Alfred Price. In retrospect, we tried to do too much in too little time and relied too much on completing development of critical components on what turned out to be a ridiculously tight schedule.
After my tour at the Pentagon, I was assigned to the B-52 Weapon System Program Office (B-52 WSPO) at Wright Patterson AFB, as the B-52H was brought to production and then phased into SAC fleet operations. A tour with the Aeronautical Systems Division (ASD) with responsibility for procurement of ECM equipment followed, and I ended my Air Force career on the faculty at the Armed Forces Staff College. I retired on April 16, 1966 and started to work for Hallicrafters (and later Northrop) in Chicago that month.
As I wrote this article, my thoughts usually were about the people I worked with and admired during my career in ECM. I decided to end this article with some nominations for an ECM "Hall of Fame." Here is a very short list of men that I considered to be the best of the "movers and shakers" in our business:
"HF" Smith was the most successful of the practical thinkers in our field. He was equally adept in how best to install DF antennas and equipment in aircraft, the best way to test ECM equipment and tactics, how to modify ECM equipment to do a better job, and how to sell ECM.
"Inkie" Haugen was probably the smartest of the operational ECM people in the early ECM years. He really knew what the engineers were talking about and could marry their "world" to our needs for conducting test programs or modifying equipment. He was very quiet, but anyone who worked with him soon realized that "Inkie" was head and shoulders above the rest of us in making sense out of the complex situations and events in the ECM world.
Frank Lindberg was the organizer of our ECM business. Whether it was manning documents, ECM training, requirements, test programs, production schedules, intelligence briefings, or whatever, "Lindy" could organize all of the pertinent data into an accurate and understandable program format. Senior USAF officers quickly recognized his abilities and sought his recommendations. Frank's superior staff work won more than a few battles for us and a lot of respect for ECM.
John Paup was one of a kind. He worked hard and played hard. He was a super salesman, who sold ECM to the generals. Like the ALQ-27 that he promoted, people loved him or hated him.
I don't know Alfred Price very well, but he gets my vote as the top member in the ECM "Hall of Fame" even though he never was an ECM man. The books that he wrote are the only all-inclusive work on the history of ECM that I know of. He brought together all of the people, the equipment, use of ECM in peace and war, and hundreds of personal stories in these two books. Our story would never have been told if Alfred Price had not responded so brilliantly to the invitation of the AOC Historical Committee. Thank you, Alfred Price.
Lt Col William A. McDonald, US Air Force (ret.)
Lt Col (ret.) William A. McDonald, a charter member of AOC, graduated from Ohio State University in 1943. In WWII, he completed 31 combat missions as an ECM officer in B-29 aircraft flying from bases in India, China, and the island of Tinian. Decorations awarded to Lt Col McDonald include the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Force Commendation Medal, the Air Medal with 4 Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with 5 Battle Stars.
With nearly 50 years of electronic warfare leadership, the Information and Electronic Warfare Systems unit of BAE SYSTEMS is pleased to sponsor "First Person ... Singular."