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Notes from USAF Radar Shop Members

Since I created the MPN-14 ASR/PAR Mobile Radar Shop page and began listing service information of members, it has grown considerably. Just recently, I have been asking for permission to post their e-mails when a story is included.

Thanks to all who have contacted me.



From Mike Skees <service> (September 2013)

Hi Kirt, I don't think I've ever met you personally, but I just wanted to check in with you, tell you I appreciate you immortalizing the MOB for us. I have visited your web site on several occasions over the years. I served my entire career in the USAF in the 303X1 career field. Besides the fixed base sites I served at (Keesler AFB - Tech School '76-'77, Langley AFB '77-'78, Kunsan AB '78-'79, Vance AFB '79-'82, Yokota AB '82-'84 and McClellan AFB '86-'92) I also did my share of time (and then some maybe) in the 1st ('84-'86), 2nd ('92-'93 - deactivated it, sent my brand spanking new "K" model to the guard and headed for RAFB, GA) and the 5th Mob ('93-'98) units. I know and served with many of the folks you have featured on your pages. Of notable daring, dashing and just plain stupendously dangerous fun were folks like Ed Kopp, Tom Birch (and Bobby his wife eventually) Tom Bolduc, Bob Bullock and the list goes on. I initially showed up in FRG and was assigned to the TPN-19 shop out at the Leper Colony but the MPN-14 shop was undermanned and since I had -14, -16 and -61 experience, it was off to Maintz Kastel for me. As I remember Bill Olsen was NCOIC during my time in the LC. Bill Olson and his wife are here in the Warner Robins - Ft. Valley area on the large property that Bill bought years ago. Bill is retired from the USAF of course and has been in Saudi Arabia as a contractor pretty much forever since I believe. From what my wife tells me his wife tells her (they're both Thai) she ships him Ramen by the case or maybe it's by the pallet I forget which. Anyway back to the 1st days. In the MPN-14 shop while at Lindsey AS, Greg Dimtroff was my immediate supervisor and also NCOIC. He later went to QC and I believe it was Dave Perdue took over as NCOIC. We had Brent Shirts (was married to a Brit from his Skuthorpe days or some such and is probably back in the UK somewhere these days), Bob Harris (was getting out to become a preacher), Tammy Zook, Kathy Griego and several others as well. Greg's wife is French and he spoke it fluently and visited France periodically while I knew him there in FRG. Years later while in the 1849EIS out of McClellan AFB, CA and TDY to Berlin, I ran into him one time when I had to cross the zone (E. Germany) TDY to Bitberg AB to assist their radar shop I think and then the last time here at Robins AFB in the '94-'95 timeframe maybe. Seems he was still stationed in Europe but had to retire and to do that he had to return to CONUS long enough to process for retirement and I guess Robins was his choice - he actually looked me up as I had no idea he was here. Then he was headed for France he said, where he and his wife owned a house. I believe him to be living in somewhere in France today. Tom Bolduc separated from the USAF, I stayed with him in his parent's house in Gainesville, FL once on my way down to see my son in Cocoa Beach. Last I heard Tom was going to attend UF@ Gainesville where his father was a professor.  Tom Birch also did marry Bobby St. Louis and they both separated from the USAF. Last I heard in the late '80's Tom and Bobby were in Jacksonville FL where Tom was working for the FAA. I knew Paul Mayo, met him while at Langley (I think but not sure) and I also think but am not completely sure later again in 1981 when we were installed a "new" GPN-20 at Vance AFB, OK.

Then, after I ask for permission to post his e-mail he replied:

Exercise your own judgment on what to use as you want, maybe some of our old compadres-in-arms will post with corrections to any of my inaccuracies. Who knows? But I want to get the jump on them and correct one made in my previous statement below: It wasn't Dave PURDUE, it was Dave DEPEW who took Dimtroff's position as NCOIC I think - good guy.   And other additions:   Robert Fox (a.k.a. Bob Fox) was my second supervisor. The first and only time I ran into him he was a SSgt statione with me at Kunsan in the ROK in 1978. He PCSed out a couple of months later. Great guy to work for, stood up for his people. Get him to tell you the story sometime about the ROK national that jumped out in front of the shop truck (that truck itself - a real war story). That incident could have easily escalated into an international incident - it would make for a really entertaining short course on how to/how not to conduct international relations and how diplomacy works at the lower level$$$ between allies.    BTW Bill Ross was the TPN-19 FSR Raytheon assigned to the 1st MOB the entire time I was there. I thing he was there for like seven years or something. He knew the -19 like the back of his hand. Though not really a part of his duties technically I guess, he conducted classes at the Maintz Kastel facility upstairs in the huge old building where the 1st's -14s were set up. That building was steeped in history. You could still see some of the holes in the girders made by the .50 cal machine guns of the P-51s and P-47s that strafed it during WWII when it was Rommel's tank overhaul facility. Wish I had pictures of that.  Anyway, frequently Bill taught us a module and he seldom even looked up at the board as he knew his lesson content that well. He drove a 450SL MB which he subsequently shipped back to the States - flew it in a cargo plane if I remember correctly what he said. Ah, those were the days of big contractor bucks I guess.


From Paul Fowler <service> (July 2012)

Ran across your site while surfing down memory lane. Enjoyed it very much. Never was assigned to a MOB but worked with them when taking over new locations or when they came in so we could overhaul our equipment. My experience runs from the MPN-1 through what I think we called MPN-17 (Berlin) and just about everything in between. I’ll list my assignments and if you think appropriate to add to the 303X1 list I would appreciate it.

- Paul Fowler
 
Sampson AFB ,NY Flt. 4552 Aug 1955
Keesler AFB, Miss.3394th Training Sq 1955/56
Andrews AFB, MD 2045 AACS? 1956/58
Pepperrell, Newfoundland 1883 AACS Engineering & Installations Squadron 1958
Thule AFB, Greenland 1983rd AACS 1958/59
Davis Monthan AFB, AZ 1903rd AACS? 1959
Manhattan Beach AFS, Cal. 1959
Mather AFB, Cal. 2034th AACS? 1959
Tempelhof Central Airport, Berlin Germany 1946th AACS? 1962/65
Chambley, Fr. TDY to 1952nc AACS?
Tan Son Nhut, RVN 1964th Comm. Gp 1965
Pleiku RVN, 1964th Comm. Gp. Det. 2 / 1978th Comm. Sq. 1965/66
Myrtle Beach AFB, SC 2066th Comm. Sq.1966/68
Na Trang RVN, 1979th Comm. Sq. 1968/69
Sewart AFB, TN 1969/70
Tinker AFB, OK 1984th Comm. Sq? 1970
Carswell AFB, TX 2048th Comm. Sq.?Fort Hood, TX Det. /1976


Hi Kirt:

My name is Tony Spagnolia. I served in the AF and AFCS 1968-1972. I enjoyed visiting the RF Cafe site, especially the GCA Radar section. It brought back many fond memories of my time as a radar technician; maintaining the “temperamental” and sometimes “possessed’ MPN 13s and 14s! Regardless, my AF time was a great experience for a 21 year old.


I worked with some great Senior NCO’s, (both USAF and VNAF); ITT tech Reps; flew a mission on the C-140A flight check Jetstar, assisted the 1st Mob team swapping out the 14 with a 13 at Phu Cat and I can’t forget downtown Saigon and Bangkok!
 
Here’s a list of my assignments and equipment:
3402nd STS Keesler AFB                    Jan 69-Jan70       (Camille hurricane veteran!)
2017 Comm - McGuire AFB                 Feb 70-Sep71     (FPN 16 & 47)
1883 & 1881 Det 3 Phu Cat AB           Oct 71-Dec71      (MPN 13 & 14G)
1881 Comm - Cam Ranh AB                Dec 71-Jan72      (MPN 14H)
1876 & 1876 Det 2 TSN & Bien Hoa   Jan 72-Mar72       (MPN-14E)
1998 Comm - Korat RTAB                    Apr72-Oct72         (MPN-14H)

The Vietnam assignments were all PCS though some ran only a few months each resulting in much travel, no mail delivery and home-baked Christmas cookies finally finding me at Easter!

I retired in this past April, after a career as a private investigator, specializing in Technical and Tactical Electronic Surveillance and Countermeasures.
 
I would be honored if you included me in your list of “Radar Troops”. Feel free to use any of the above information.
I’m in the process of transferring my radar pictures to disk and would be glad to send you a copy once completed.
 
As a member of the AF Comm & ATC Association, I’ve reconnected with some AFCS guys and might possibly to do with others on the RF Cafe site as well.
 
Thanks for taking the time to read this & thanks for your service to our great country!
 
Sincerely,
Tony Spagnolia



Note received from Jim Alderdice (with permission)

4/12/2010

Greetings Folks,

First of all, a great site bringing back a lot of good memories.

I came across your site and thought I’d just say “Hello” to some of the fraternity. While I was not part of the 5CCG I also was a GCA Radar technician (30351) working on the ITT Gilfillan MPN-13 and the associated precision approach and IFF/SIF systems.

My first duty station after Keesler AFB was with the 2068th Sq. of AFCS at Hurlburt Field (Field #9) of the Eglin FB complex from Apr 1967 to Nov 1968. The NCOIC at the time was Edison B. McKinley, MSgt and my direct report was Floyd E. Hinkson, MSgt. These were great men and teachers of the craft.

This, of course, was quite an active time at Hurlburt as there was a lot of training going on for foreign pilots. On one occasion a C-123 with the IP and student on takeoff roll lost speed, altitude and ideas all a the same time and very quickly headed over the grass for the trailers. The tower hit the claxon and all personnel departed the trailers in great haste. I wasn’t on duty that day but I was told that there were a couple guys falling over the gin poles and cables and one short TSgt controller set an Olympic quality performance as he shot
up the ramp and taxiway headed for safer environs. The next morning when I went out to work early to get the radar set over on emergency power in expectation of the summer storms rolling in off the gulf I found, to my great surprise, a broken C-123 on the grass just beyond the trailers with guards around it. It was then that I learned of the mishap. Someone had grabbed the controls and had the presence of mind to get the left wing up just enough to clear the vertical PAR and communications antennas.

It was also during that tour that John Wayne and company were filming “The Green Berets” on the complex. There was a air demonstration scheduled while they were there (these were about monthly for big wigs, congressmen, etc) and the Duke wound up off the end of the GCA radar man’s customary balcony seat. Somewhere around here I have a photo of him there.

From there I went to Alaska serving with the 1930th Comm. Sq., Detachment 2 at King Salmon AFS serving there from Nov 1968 until my separation in Nov 1969. Here again we had an MPN-13 in place which was remoted to the RAPCON in the tower which had CPN-18 displays, video mapper, etc. The interesting thing was, though, that King Salmon had FAA controllers while the military provided the radar.

The radar set at King Salmon had been in place since the late 50’s and, so, once the maintenance costs per annum became over $150,000 it was finally decided to have the unit replaced with a rebuilt set from ITT Gilfillan. Our normal duty was 20 hours a day, 6 days a week keeping the old beast up and off the NOTAMS. The replacements was a good move since that was a cheaper option at about $115,000 if I remember the details correctly. In April 1969 the 2868th GEEIA team came in with the new unit and together we had it up and flight checked in record time.

Like Chuck Rogers we got to see the T-Birds really up close when they swung through King Salmon and gave a demo. There’s nothing like the “balcony seat” with an F-4 with all the gear down wobbling all around and smoke on as he heads straight for you. They didn’t have the same restrictions placed on them that day as they would contend with in more populated areas. It was wild.

After the new unit was in place and the burned in things became more like a regular job and the comm. folks were known for their fishing expeditions and Friday salmon bakes. The GCA folks even secured a boat and rebuilt an outboard engine for their periodic expeditions on the Nak Nak River. We’ll not go into how that was secured but it sure looked good with its yellow bow deck and huge AFCS decal affixed.

The core of the team there during that time included: p>
Donald R. Mahoney, TSgt, NCOIC
James H. Alderdice, Sgt
Michael A. Benjamin, Sgt
Charles R. Cahoon, Sgt
Larry W. Winstead, Sgt
Richard A,. Wilson, Sgt

Where they are now? Who knows but it was all good while it lasted.

After separation I worked for AT&T Long Lines and other divisions as well as IBM for a while.

Jim Alderdice - N1ABM
Woodstock, GA 30188-3117



To which I replied:

Greetings Jim:

Thank-you for sending your service information and the great letter. You preceded my time at Keesler by about a decade. The story of the aborted takeoff is a very familiar scenario. I never gave much thought at the time about how vulnerable we were sitting between the runway and taxiway, just a couple hundred feet off the runway centerline. We should have received hazardous duty pay!

I will add you to an honored place in the list, but I want to first check to see if it is OK to publish your letter as well?

Take care.

Sincerely,
Kirt Blattenberger
RF Cafe


To which Jim replied:

Kirt,

Hey, you may be on to something there with the Hazardous Duty Pay. Now we think about it! When you’re young and indestructible who worries about 150’ between you and several tons of moving aircraft. I was enthralled in the smell of jet exhaust, watching and hearing the A-1 Skyraiders and the T-28s. There also was a certain amount of adventure in the duty.

I did find it odd at the time that, even though I was housed in barracks while at Hurlburt and at King Salmon we still collected separate rations allowance. At the time I wasn’t going to turn down another whopping $39.00 per month!

I remember one time during the late Spring of ’68 we had an emergency called from 2 F-4s that were out over the Gulf. They were low on fuel, couldn’t make Eglin Main and had declared an emergency. They figured they only had enough fuel for one try at Hurlburt. Additionally, we were experiencing a real frog strangler of a thunderstorm in the area. It was so forceful that even though the trailers had the gin poles and cables they still were rocking just a bit. We got drenched just coming from the maintenance trailer and piling into the van. There were two controllers on duty. I only remember SSgt Dave Settle and he was working final. He always had a habit of bouncing his leg while working final and he was somewhat portly so you could feel it in the floor. He was moving that afternoon.

It was going to be a straight in approach but the rain was so bad that they were having severe problems seeing the targets on the scope. There was a fair amount of tension and they were yelling for help in clearing up the presentation. Anything I tried didn’t help a lot at all but at one point I reached into the canceller (I think that was it) to adjust a cap that was in there on the right side. It was hot and I knew it would be but all I had with me at the moment was a little steel shafted screwdriver. I would adjust the cap and watch the presentation on the scope just behind me and, then, my fingers would slip forward onto the screwdriver shaft which led to, shall we say, an electrifying experience. That scenario kept up for what seemed an eternity but an F-4 on final is going about 150 – 160 knots so it couldn’t have been all that long. My efforts didn’t lead to any fantastic improvements that I could detect but it was just enough to help them see just a bit better (or so they claimed) and get the aircraft on the ground. They got a verbal thanks from the pilots over the radio but we never did get to meet them. It was rare instances like that that let a guy know that maybe, just maybe, he’d contributed something a bit useful that day.

I have no problem at all in your posting the letter. Maybe it’ll bring back good memories for some of the folks reading it.

Kirt, as Bob Hope used to say, “Thanks for the memories” and keep up the great work.

I really like the imaginative signature section you have.

Stay pure,

Jim Alderdice - N1ABM
Woodstock, GA


To which I replied:

April 12, 2010

Greetings Jim:

That’s a pretty wild story about the F-4 incident. I had forgotten about the blind finger-walking across hot tubes through the access doors in order to make on-the-fly tweaks to the radar display. In some areas you could feel the hair on the back of your hand tingle from the radiation leaking inside, but after a while that served as a clue as to how near you were to the targeted adjustment screw that was buried down between tube shields that could burn the skin off your fingers.

Of course that was not an officially approved procedure, since the textbook method was to shut everything down, drag the chassis onto the floor with a patch cable hooked to it, then bring the radar back up. How many times do you think that actually happened? Yeah, almost never during operation. Patch cables were for scheduled maintenance and troubleshooting of a broken unit.

You might be interested to know that my best friend from the USAF, Don Hicks (also in the list), is now working as a civilian radar tech at Hulbert field now. He's been there for a few years and loves it.

Anyway, your name is now in an honored spot in the list. Have a good retirement.

Sincerely,
Kirt Blattenberger


To which Jim replied:


Kirt,

My wife and I go down to the Ft. Walton area each year around New Years to get a bit of R&R and quietly celebrate our anniversary. I met her way back in ’67 when she lived in Mary Ester.

On an earlier occasion way back in ’86 or ’87 we had our youngest son (then 12) with us and somehow (I can’t even remember how I was able to arrange it) I was able to take them onto Hurlburt for a drive around tour. Of course, everything had changed. The static display was there for instance and the vans were gone. I thought that I had spotted ILS antennas. Every time we go down there, though, I tease my wife about trying to arrange to get on again for a swing through. It still maintains a certain siren song. I guess that’s just the way it is with this old geezer.

Here’s an FYI that you might pass along to your buddy Don Hicks. There’s a seafood market in Destin called Sexton’s. It was started by Paul Sexton who was a GCA controller in the 2068th at Hurlburt. He retired in 1967 and, originally, long before all the build up along the Destin and Ft. Walton shoreline, he started the enterprise down on the docks as just a small 2 room shop. One of my roommates, Ray Sakso, was from CT and loved raw oysters. We’d sometimes stop by there and he’d down a half dozen of the slippery water filters with hot sauce in a flash. Anyway, Paul’s sons still run the show now I think. Paul, and his wife were killed in an auto accident back in 1976 I think while coming back from a trip to New Orleans.

During the Fall of ’68 at Hurlburt we had some problems with the PAR failing a flight check. It was troubling because nobody could figure out why the unit, which was another rebuilt that we had installed and had been fine until then, was failing. McKinley and Hinkson were at their wits end. A tech rep from Gilfillan was even called in to help and there were a lot of hours spent going through the unit trying to find out what was the cause. Eventually, someone noted that there was taxi way work being done at the South end of the strip. A bit of an investigation revealed that the underlying material being used was at least partly steel slag that had been brought in from somewhere. They finally attributed the problems to a slight distortion of the radiation pattern caused by the slag material. It all seemed just a bit “out there” to me at the time. I don’t remember what was done to resolve the problem or even if it was taken care of before I got transferred to King Salmon. I would later be involved in another unit replacement job up there.

Over and out,

Jim Alderdice - N1ABM

Cherokee Amateur Radio Society
Secretary

Cherokee County ARES
Assistant Emergency Coordinator




Note received from Chuck Rogers (with permission)

3/9/2010


Hi Kirt,
 
I noticed your 5CCG page while I was searching for old MPN-11/13/14 photos, and I was delighted to find all the information you posted there. I noticed your invitation to 303x1 radar techs whether or not 5CCG, and I'm taking you up on it.
 
I was a 303x1 ATC Radar Repairman at Goodfellow AFB, (San Angelo) TX from 1970-1972.  We had an MPN11, and then replaced it with an MPN13 with IFF/SIF system in my second year there.  I did my training time at Keesler all through 1969 (including the massive cleanup after Hurricane Camille), then was assigned to Goodfellow for the rest of my hitch.  All of our approaches at Goodfellow were T38 training flights out of Webb AFB, and the aircraft would break off immediately upon clearing landing threshold, because our WWII runways weren't up to handling modern jet aircraft.  One year, several of us drove down to Webb AFB at Christmas, and the instructor pilots took each of us up in a T38 and let us fly 'em in one of the low altitude training areas.  We even got to fly an approach on our own GCA installation, just like the student pilots did.
 
I agree with "Angelo V" about the Air Conditioner - ours let go one day, with a huge bang, and dumped all its freon into the HVAC duct into the RAPCON trailer while our controllers had active approaches.  It must have taken some kind of fortitude to stay on their posts until the aircraft were safely handled!
 
The best day ever was when the Thunderbirds flew at Goodfellow: they used our GCA trailers as the central landmark for their show, so we spent a good deal of time looking straight up into their afterburners during their climbouts.  Best seats in the house, and what a show!
 
Thanks for all the work you put into the web page - you did a great job!
 
Best regards,
Chuck RogersWestminster, CO
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