Santa Rosa Island

by Sid Segler

This article is not sponsored or endorsed by TAC Missileers Corp. or the United States Air Force. All views and opinions expressed are those of Sid Segler.

INTRODUCTION

The document which follows is an excerpt from a book currently in progress.  The book expresses the trials and tribulations as well as the rewards of having lived real life in several careers including, surveying, motorcycle maintenance, the solar industry, venture capital, warehousing, semiconductor production in Silicon Valley, magazine publishing, heavy equipment maintenance, printed circuit board production, computer maintenance and Information Technology.  They all paled compared to my military career.

The portion of the book excerpted here is somewhat of a detailed account of some special events, among many others, which occurred at Eglin AFB’s Santa Rosa Island and the Gulf Test Range in late 1966 and early 1967.

As a brief background, I was a member of the group of men who were deployed on TDY status on October 6, 1966, to convert 20 Mace A Missiles into target drones.  The mission was ultimately successful and the program went on to become a permanent unit assigned as Detachment 1 of the Tactical Air Warfare Center.  Over the next six-plus years, almost all of the remaining Mace A and B missiles were converted to target drones and the program contributed greatly to the development of more accurate air-to-air missiles launched from our fighter jets.

My involvement started when I was a SSgt and guidance systems technician during those first 20 conversions.  I was one of several Orlando Mace troops selected to continue with the permanent program at Eglin.  In my just over five years with the Detachment, I witnessed over 120 Mace Drone launches.  My last assignment was as NCOIC of Quality Control.  I left Eglin as a MSgt headed for duty with the SR-71 Spy Plane program at Beale AFB, CA.

The reason I am excerpting a part of the book-in-progress now is that it may not get finished.  For that reason I wanted to share some pretty stunning information with the Tac Missileers who may not know what we discovered during the initial TDY program to convert the first 20 missiles to drones.  Some of you may already know, especially if you were involved with that drone program.  But for those who don’t know, I wanted to take this opportunity to reveal it.

Regarding RFML (which will be explained in the text), I wanted to explain my knowledge of it.  For some reason which I still don’t know, TSgt R. P. Anderson, who was selected to oversee the Hahn retrofit program, selected me, then A2C Sid Segler, to be the coordinator of all steps of the modification on all the missiles and support equipment.  During that period I left my job at GEMS (Guidance Equipment Maintenance Section) for full time duty on RFML to insure that every retrofit step was accomplished, on which missile or equipment, then followed by a weekly report.  So I know the RFML program.

THE INFORMATION REVEALED

To get right to the point, after the Mace A RFML retrofit program of all the Mace A missiles in Germany, a deficient component was unknowingly installed as part of the Missile Launch Pack equipment.  As a result, no Mace A missile would have ever left the launch pad because of its inability to ignite the booster bottle.

One can only speculate what might corrective action could have or would have been taken in the event a real launch from one of the Germany sites was ordered.  Perhaps some of our sharp, resourceful troops would have come up with a quick modification to enable a launch.  Fortunately, a launch was never necessary, so I don’t think we’ll ever know.

If you want to read about the details of that revelation and another interesting one, please take a look at the four pages.

Thanks and the best to you all!

Sid Segler
SMSgt, USAF Ret.
Palm Bay, FL

 

Please Note:  The information expressed above and in the attached document is neither sponsored nor endorsed by the United States Air Force.  The author is solely responsible for its content which is based on the author’s personal observations and interpretations of events which transpired, and not necessarily those of the Department of the Air Force.  This document is the property of Sid Segler and may not be reproduced, published in any medium including the internet or any other entity without the express written consent of Sid Segler.  Copyright 2011 by Sid Segler.


SANTA ROSA ISLAND

After the deactivation of the MGM-13A, most of the enlisted people were reassigned to the MGM-13B training program.  For some of the A-Bird guidance and controls instructors, it was quite a transition having to learn in detail all about the Mace B’s inertial guidance and control system and be able to teach new students.

The Mace A’s which had been deployed to Germany were shipped back to the United States for “cocooning” and storage at the Davis-Monthan AFB “Graveyard”.  All associated support equipment such as the MM-1 tractors, translaunchers and power packs were also shipped there for storage.  The maintenance and support equipment such as GEMS, TEMS, BMCs, MLPs, AANCs, etc., accompanied the missiles to storage as did the Orlando training missiles and equipment.

In mid 1965, the idea of using the Mace A missiles as target drones began to be bantered around by some of the planners “up in the sky”.  From records of the radar tracking of several of the test launches for development and training, it was determined that the Mace airframe produced a radar return almost identical to a MIG-33 Russian fighter.  If the Mace could be converted to a drone and flown over a test range as a target, it could provide valuable training for our fighter pilots in locking in on an enemy aircraft and launching air-to-air missiles.  It would also help in the improvement of those same airborne missiles by enabling engineers to “tweak” their guidance systems for more reliability.

After a large amount of study and engineering by Martin, Goodyear and Air Force planners and engineers, the decision was made to pursue the use of the Mace as a target drone.  With almost all of the required modifications designed and engineered, the only thing left to prove the program’s value was to do a real conversion of a Mace A from missile to drone.

The only remaining decision was to decide on where this could all be accomplished.  There was the desert area of the southwest in Nevada already being used for such programs.  And there was the Gulf Test Range along the northwest Florida coast which was operated by Eglin Air Force Base.  After lengthy consideration, several factors contributed to the selection of the Gulf Test Range to launch the Mace drones.  First, the range is a huge over-water test area and its use would preclude any threat to western Florida land areas.  Second, the range was basically not being fully used to its capability.  Third, there were several previously installed launch facilities including hangars and vacant buildings, sitting idle at two or three of the sites.  Fourth, one of the largest fighter wings, the 33rd TFW, was based at Eglin and could participate in the drone program.  Also, at Hurlburt AFB, (actually Eglin Auxiliary Field 9) one of their units was part of Air Defense Command which would be able to coordinate ADC fighter support for the program as well.  So Eglin became the obvious choice for the planned short program.

In early September of 1966, twenty of the missiles at Davis-Monthan storage facility began to be delivered to Site A-15, an existing Bomarc site.  The adjacent facility to the East was selected as the initial maintenance and launch facility for the new drone program.  At Orlando AFB, selection of the personnel to participate in the program had begun.  On September 28, 1966, Special Order T-93 was approved and published.  Four senior NCOs and twenty-seven enlisted men from TSgt to A2C were selected for the TDY.  The OIC of the deployment, Major Larry Johnson, was selected on separate orders.

The TDY orders required reporting to room 10, building 376, TAWC (Tactical Air Warfare Center) at Eglin on October 6, 1966.  (There is more to come later about how TAWC became fully involved in the drone program.)

Personnel selected to take part in the drone program and listed on Special Order T-93 were:

SMSgt Robert D. Carver SMSgt Donald T. Gee MSgt Allen R. Fontenot
MSgt Walter M. Smith TSgt James L. Barnwell TSgt William H. Doxey
TSgt Sydney G. Harrison TSgt Edwin L. Lambert TSgt James D. Lee
TSgt Ralph G. Morris TSgt Raymond W. Rupe SSgt Robert G. Bridges
SSgt Preston J. Chapman SSgt Otto L. Duffey SSgt Gerald L. Furgerson
SSgt James W. Helms SSgt Ewell Lawson, Jr. SSgt Paul E. Lee
SSgt Carl A. McKey SSgt William B. Richardson SSgt Sidney B. Segler
SSgt Michael C. Sowers SSgt John M. White A1C Jefferson R. Brooks
A1C Joseph L. Clark A1C Robert T. L. Greenlee A1C Francis J. Kauzlarich
A1C Alfred Seaman A1C Robert S. Williams A2C Harry B. Drummond
A2C William G. Kerklin

On the first day at Site A-15, a dismal, dark and dank facility was introduced.  There was a hangar with lean-to office and shop facilities on the north, or road side.  Twenty Mace As on skids and wrapped in white preservation sprayed-on latex were scattered about on the grounds near the hangar.  To the West was the newer, nicer Bomarc facility.  To the East were white sand dunes and sea oats as far as one could see.  It was time for lots of work to begin.

A MAJOR REVELATION ON FIRST LAUNCH ATTEMPT

Much modification of the Mace A itself and the supporting maintenance and launch equipment was required before a launch could be attempted.  But after a few weeks of preparation, the first Mace A drone was completed.  It had passed all of the required radio noise filter checks done by Martin Company’s representative, Adon Phillips.  The ATRAN guidance system was modified to use only the turns and altitude programming punched into the original 35mm tracking film.  In the airframe warhead section, a huge, heavy ballast was installed for proper weight and balance.  An IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) system, as well as a range safety system, was installed in the event destruction of the drone became necessary.  Both wings were fitted with prima-cord explosives to accommodate drone destruction and send it into the gulf.

The drone was transported to the launch pad on the translauncher and tied down.  After all cabling was connected between the drone and the MPC and all prelaunch testing was completed, it was a matter of waiting for a launch time to be scheduled by the test range main facility.

After a day or two, a launch date and time were scheduled.  The 33rd Tac Fighter Wing had four F-4 fighters scheduled and ready to fly.  Everyone anxiously awaited the start of the countdown.

All of us were excited as we arrived at Site A-15 early that morning.  The launch crew hurried to the pad and the MPC Van to get preparations started.  Paul Lee and Otto Duffey, our armament team, were preparing the igniter into the booster bottle, also known as the RATO (Rocket Assisted Take Off) bottle and connecting the cables to the MPC.

The total countdown was relatively short compared to today’s Shuttles and other big rockets launched from Kennedy Space Center.  But it began and went rather smoothly.  Communications with mission control at Site A-2, the range safety officer and tracking plotter facility were established and were loud and clear.  Major Johnson, crew chief TSgt “Barney Barnwell and TSgt Gerald Furgerson were in the MPC completing all the pre-launch procedures.

Finally, the last part of the count began.  Non-launch team personnel were watching and listening from up the beach.  We heard the J-33 Allison jet engine fire off.  It went from idle gradually up to launch speed of 105 per cent power.  We waited.  The count progressed in the MPC.  Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five…start turning the RFML crank handle to power up the RATO igniter…four, three, two, one…blast off!!  Wait…no rocket motor start.  After a few seconds the jet engine began to rev down to idle.  Then it was shut down.  Mission aborted.  Fighters called off.  Just silence.  Then there was scurrying on the pad to secure everything and make it all safe.

What went wrong?  At first, everyone was totally shocked and surprised that the drone didn’t launch as planned.  So an investigation of all systems was started.  All cables and connectors were checked out.  Simulated launch signals from the MPC checked out.  No problems could be pinpointed.

A deeper check was started.  The question arose as to why the igniter for the RATO bottle didn’t set off the rocket motor.  The Thiokol rocket motor seemed fine.  In order to verify that the ignition system was ok, a simulation was set up down the beach away from possible harm to anyone.  The rocker motor igniter was connected to the launch equipment which provided the power activate it.  When all systems were go, the hand generator in the MPC was cranked as the launch buttons were pressed.  Again, the igniter did not fire off.  The voltage reading out of the generator was correct.  Detailed research of the specifications of the igniter revealed that only one thing could be wrong.  There wasn’t sufficient current being generated and flowing to the igniter to set it off.  To verify that finding, a power unit which could produce sufficient amperage, or current flow, was brought in, connected and when applied to the igniter, it lit off like a firecracker!

As a brief explanation here, the RFML (Rapid Fire Multiple Launch) retrofit project was designed to greatly decrease the amount of time required between the launch of four individual missiles.  Prior to RFML retrofit, hours were required to clear the pad, set up the next missile, go through another countdown and launch the second one, and so forth, until all four could be launched from one MPC.  RFML retrofit would reduce the time between launches down to minutes.

But back to the problem.  More hand crank generators were tested.  None of the units tested could provide the current required to set off the igniter of the rocket motor.  Needless to say, it raised many questions.

It was then that the major revelation was realized.  After the RFML retrofit of the Mace A missiles, there was never an actual launch of a Mace A missile to insure actual launch conditions were met.  There was only simulated testing at the launch sites which indicated that the missiles would launch properly when the launch command was given.

The reality of it is that, according to the findings at Site A-15 at Eglin, not one Mace A would have ever left its launcher after the RFML Retrofit program was completed.

The Mace A certainly served as a deterrent weapon during the cold war of the 60s.  And, fortunately, it wasn’t needed.

A MAJOR INCIDENT A FEW LAUNCHES LATER

After the rocket motor igniter current problem was corrected, the first launch of a Mace A drone went successfully.  There was, of course, joy and jubilation and lots of celebration.

At about 3.2 seconds after launch, the booster bottle dropped away from the underside and the full powered jet engine propelled the drone slightly southeast of south out over the gulf.  Down range a few miles the drone was programmed to make a left turn and head straight east.  Fighters would begin their pursuit.  The drone would fly east for several miles, make a 180 degree turn and head back west.  That “racetrack pattern” was to continue until the two to four F-4s launched their air-to-air missiles.  Some were programmed for a “near-miss” but the last to be launched was to be a direct hit up the tailpipe and destroy the drone.

At mission control, the flight of the drone was being tracked and recorded on a huge, flat plotter table.  Constant communications were kept with the fighter pilots as the mission progressed.  When the drone was destroyed by the fighters, the ink pens on the plotter paper stopped at the exact point on the large gulf map.  Mission completed.

After several successful launches, on Wednesday, January 4, 1967, preparations were in progress for an early morning launch.  All systems were functioning properly, the countdown went smoothly.  At T minus 0, the rocket motor fired off as planned.  Another successful launch was accomplished.

As the drone proceeded south-southeast toward its first left turn, communications with mission control were heard over speakers which had been installed outside the small office building near the launch pad.  After a few minutes, there was concern from mission controllers about the drone having travelled further south than normal.  After another minute or two, it was decided that the drone was not going to make its programmed left turn and the decision was made by the range safety officer to destroy the drone.

The RSO pressed the destruct switch.  A few more seconds passed as the tracking plotter indicated the drone was still on its southward heading.  The RSO hit the switch again.  And again.  But the Mace Drone continued merrily along without making the turn.  It was off to the western edge of Cuba!

The two fighter pilots were advised to get into pursuit.  They were further east over the gulf awaiting the drone’s flyby.  They changed their course and began the chase.  Both eventually caught up with the drone and fired their missiles, but both were misses and the old Mace kept on ticking.

A third F-4 armed with two missiles and 20mm cannons was flying in the general area but several miles away.  The pilot was directed to pursue the drone as well.  At about 100 miles out to sea, he caught up to the drone.  He fired the first missile but it missed.  He immediately fired the second missile and it, too, missed the Mace.  (No one was able to explain why the two misses occurred).

The fighter pilot followed the drone and began firing his 20mm cannons to bring it down.  A spokesman reported that the pilot made an undetermined number of direct hits on the drone, but it continued to fly.  The spokesman also said “the pilot stayed with it, he just couldn’t bring it down”.  About 300 miles north-northwest of Cuba, the pilot stopped his chase and returned back to Eglin.

All tracking information at mission control indicated that the drone flew over the western edge of Cuba, ran out of fuel and fell harmlessly into the Caribbean about 100 miles south of Cuba.

Needless to say, the whole episode created an international incident.  The State Department asked the Swiss Embassy in Cuba to inform Fidel Castro’s government that the 650 mph missile had accidentally crossed part of the island.  The Pentagon disclosed the errant missile flight at 11:21 am, precisely the moment the Pentagon figured drone would have expended its fuel.

THE BIG INVESTIGATION

In the days which followed, all further launches were cancelled.  The “Brass Invasion” began.  From the office of the Inspector General down through Eglin inspectors they all came to investigate why our drone flew over Cuba.  There were generals, colonels, majors, lots of other officers and both Martin and Goodyear engineers on the team.

One of the first areas they sought answers was the guidance system and why the drone did not make the programmed turns.  As one of the two ATRAN guidance experts in the TDY group, I remember hours of questions I had to answer.  It was like teaching a guidance class to a group of officers who had little technical knowledge.  They wanted to understand how the original system worked and then how it was modified to fly over a huge, flat body of water.

Briefly, ATRAN (Automatic Terrain Recognition and Navigation) was the guidance system made by Goodyear and used in the Mace A.  The system used a 5 inch cathode ray tube which produced a scanning light beam.  A lens system reduced and projected the scanned light through a 35mm film strip.  Each film frame was a real or simulated black and white photo of a two mile area of terrain over which the missile was to fly and two miles ahead of the missile’s current location.  Simultaneously, the radar system on the front of the missile transmitted its signal out two miles ahead of the missile’s current location.  The return signal was a radar image of the terrain two miles out.  The ATRAN systems discriminators, integrators and computers looked for alignment of the film image’s electronic signal with the radar image’s signal.  A mismatch in alignment would produce correction signals and send them to the flight controls system.  The missile’s wing spoiler system would respond to make course adjustments until a match, or no error condition, was acquired.

The problem was that the gulf provided no terrain, so ATRAN could not be fully used to guide the drone.  The radar and programmed film track systems were partially disabled.  However, in order to program altitude and turns, the film strip contained a short length of blank film space ahead of each film frame where two rows of up to six holes could be punched into the film.  Each film frame advance occurred in two steps.  The first was called Partial Frame Advance (PFA), followed by Full Frame Advance (FFA).  In PFA, the film would stop momentarily to let the first row of holes be sensed by microswitches if a hole or holes were present.  The combination of switches activated (or holes present) would send a turn signals telling the flight controls system to turn left or right, and by how many degrees.  In FFA, any holes present passed over the same microswitches, but sent altitude commands to the flight control system.  If no holes were present ahead of any film frame, obviously no changes were programmed.

After much questioning, investigating, demonstrations and monitoring actual components operating dynamically in real working mode, a specific answer was never revealed.  It was determined that one of several failures could have occurred.  Among them were that the film drive motor could have failed; the PFA sensor relay failed and the film went directly to FFA thereby passing turn commands; the microswitch bank could have failed; if the turn programming worked properly, any number of components in the flight control system could have failed including the hydraulic system failing to actuate the wing spoiler.

The other pressing question which put our armament and munitions NCOs to the test was “Why did the Range Safety System fail to activate?”  Mission Control at Site A-2 verified that their destruct signal went out strong and was still working properly.  If the signal reached the drone, did the destruct system receiver work properly?  It was a years old, highly simple and reliable system, so it was assumed to have been fine.  About all that was left to ask was “Did the prima-cord explosive installed on top of each wing detonate?  Was it old?  Was it wet and failed from that?”

Within a few days, a spare set of Mace wings were outfitted exactly the same with the prima-cord installed under its aluminum housing which was then secured to the wing surface in the same place on each wing.  The wings were transported down the beach to a large open area.  Cabling was routed to the destruct system and a range destruct transmitter was brought in made ready for the test.  At the appointed time when the area was cleared of personnel, a destruct signal was sent.

A loud bang sounded and puffs of smoke rose up from the test site.  Everyone involved hurried to the wings.  Except for the thin aluminum prima-cord housing being shredded to bits, there was a dent in the top of each wing about a half inch deep.  The wings remained intact, virtually undamaged.  Each one should have been severed completely or enough that at 600 plus miles per hour, they would have been ripped the rest of the way off and the airframe would have crashed.

Needless to say, a highly beefed up system was secured to be used in future flights.  To be sure the new system would work properly it was again tested on wings on the beach in much the same manner.  This time both wings were totally severed and the new system was approved for use on the Mace.

In thinking back about the Mighty Mace being riddled with cannon fire and it kept flying, and its wings were barely damaged from an explosion, I have to believe that Martin Corporation built one tough old bird capable of withstanding just about anything that could be thrown at it.

With all the ills corrected, all of the remaining Mace As were successfully launched as drones and successfully shot down by F-4 Fighters of the 33rd TFW.  And with that, a long, and sometimes tedious, TDY came to a happy end.  The end of living at Howard Johnson’s Motel (despite the great Friday night fish fry specials); no more long weekend trips back to Orlando; no more long drives along Highway 98 to get on the ferry to go across to Site A-10 and then on to A-15.  It was kind of the end of a short, but memorable era which will live on in several minds for a long time.

But Wait!  The Mace Drone Program wasn’t dead.  It was really just getting started.  More to come.  Stay tuned.

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