June 1956 Popular Electronics
Table of Contents
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
published October 1954 - April 1985. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
Although obviously (but
getting less so) before my time, the mention of this airborne radar surveillance system having
been built by General
Electric, in Utica, New York, struck a chord since that is where I had my first engineering job
after having graduated from the University of Vermont with a BSEE degree. It seems to me the work at
the time was all done in the converted textile complex on Broad Street. They were the glory days
of GE, Westinghouse, Collins,
Raytheon, and other electronics titans whose engineers, technicians, assemblers, and program managers
changed the world. The airplanes and equipment used here were precursors to our modern
1956 must have been a big year for the General Electric plant in Utica, New York, where I had my
first engineering job right out of college, because I recently posted the
Submarines - Are We Open to
Sneak Attack? article that also referenced the location.
Aboard a Radar Picket Plane
Two dozen men live and work together in giant aircraft whose super radar system guards against sneak
New and powerful, the airborne radar built by General Electric is carried by this
Lockheed long-range high-altitude reconnaissance scout, patterned after the Super-Constellation transport
(Navy designation, WV-2; Air Force designation, RC-121). Radar antennas are mounted inside bubble-like
structures ("radomes") atop and below aircraft's fuselage. Both Navy and Air Force use giant planes
as flying radar stations off East and West coasts where they supplement the "radar fences" that guard
against sneak air attack.
Phantom view of radar plane shows main cabin where radar operators monitor displays
on screens. Rotating "dish" antennas are housed in both upper and lower turrets. Information received
is coordinated in Combat Information Center aboard aircraft. This flying CIC can plot course of enemy
invaders and then direct our own fighter planes to repel any attack. According to G.E., the radar is
twice as powerful as any previous airborne search unit.
High-flying radar stations will extend the detection range of existing land-based
units whose beams do not bend over the horizon. Provisions built into the equipment permit its use in
anti-submarine action, aeronautical weather reconnaissance, and navigational aid, in addition to its
chief function of aircraft detection. About six tons of electronic equipment are carried on one plane,
in addition to a crew of thirty men. At left is a special test rig built by G.E. at Utica, N. Y.; this
mock installation simulates setup on plane, removes system's "bugs" before use in real situation is
Inside the main cabin, looking aft. Each operator is responsible for observing a
particular segment of the total area being scanned by the rotating antennas. Weight and size of the
equipment has been kept down, despite increased power. Chassis are readily removed for easy inspection
and quick maintenance.
Radar operator, one of a large team of observers, studies screen of indicator 'scope.
Displays on screen show "pictures" of distant planes, giving range and bearing. In recent maneuvers,
carrier-based fighter planes played role of "enemy attackers" and were repelled by land-based fighters.
"Enemy" carrier was "sunk" by defenders using data supplied by radar plane, whose crew never even saw
the "attacking" carrier or its aircraft.
Information received on radar screens is coordinated and verified in another part
of the cabin. These men maintain radio contact with other aircraft and with surface stations. Special
apparatus automatically distinguishes between friendly and enemy aircraft, is virtually foolproof. Often
these planes are used as part of a large force which includes blimps and ships.
Time out for coffee and ... A complete galley, as well as bunks, helps keep the
crew well-fed and refreshed. Staying high in the air for 24 hours or longer, each aircraft carries two
crews for all stations. The double staff assures that rested men are available at all limes for any
emergency. Planes work with each other and with ground forces.
Posted March 7, 2016