Electric Goons of “Naked Fanny”
By Ed Marek, editor
March 28, 2011
The EC-47 aircraft and its ARDF-COMINT equipment
The C-47 was built by Douglas and nicknamed the Dakota or Skytrain. It is a military transport aircraft developed from the Douglas DC-3 airliner. The C-47 was fitted with a cargo door in the aft port area big enough to admit a jeep and the cargo hold received a strengthened floor. The C-47’s maiden flight was on December 23, 1941, shortly after the American entry into WWII. Douglas offered a conversion in the late 1940s to improve takeoff and single-engine performance, and to increase air speed.
For the Indochina war, the C-47 continued her transport duties but took on additional missions, such as electronic reconnaissance and gunship. The electronic reconnaissance aircraft came in three styles, the EC-47N, EC-47P and EC-47Q. Their mission was to collect communications intelligence (COMINT) by intercepting enemy communications and conduct airborne radio direction finding (ARDF) against those communications to locate the enemy. It must be understood that the ARDF was locating the communications transmitter, which was thought to be close to a tactical commander and his forces. For the most part, the EC-47s targeted low powered high frequency communications which were routinely used by the tactical NVA and other enemy units.
The crews used the old chest pack parachutes that clipped on to their harness in the front. Here you see where the chest pack parachutes were stored, in a bin aft the aircraft, opposite the cargo door. They were too bulky for anyone on the aircraft to wear while flying. Crewmembers had to hope they would have time to get back to these chutes, attach them, and prepare for bailout. I personally found the damn things hard to attach.
The pilot and co-pilot had special problems. Their cockpit was tight. In an emergency, it would be tough for them to get out of that cockpit, run to the back of the aircraft, grab a chute, put it on and bail out. Most were not convinced this would work.
Many pilots at crew mission pre-briefings would simply opine that they were not going to leave the aircraft, but do their best to land the aircraft as safely as they could. Some bragged they could glide her for miles. Usually the pilots would give the crew the option of whether they wanted to bail. On the two inflight emergencies I was on, I suited up for bailout but was pretty certain I would stick with my pilots, as the thought of getting caught by the Pathet Lao just did not sit too well with me. Fortunately, in both cases, our pilots babied the aircraft back to Thailand single-engine for smooth landings with lots of guys smiling.
I had a good friend who ferried the EC-47s to Indochina from the US. He ran into engine trouble someplace up in the Alaskan area and had to shut down both engines. He giggled, and said he glided her for 20 miles and made a smooth landing. So that boosted my confidence to stick with that old blob of aluminum and my pilots all the way, unless it was clear there was no alternative. Each of us carried a .38 cal six shooter --- big deal. At survival school we were taught not to use it except when we were pretty sure we were up against only one or two enemy. Most of us left survival school certain we were saving one bullet for ourselves, which of course was exactly the wrong lesson to learn from survival school, which mean to teach us how to survive, not commit suicide!
Let’s use this moment to address the EC-47’s vulnerability.
She was unarmed and unescorted. She flew alone within a large target box area I mentioned earlier and will address again later. She would normally check in with the Airborne Battlefield Command and Control Center (ABCCC) C-130 and report when she crossed into enemy territory, in USAF vernacular, “crossing the fence,” when she departed enemy territory, and “Ops Normals” every 30-60 minutes or so or report emergencies during flight.
The aircraft flew slowly, at about 100-120 knots. She usually flew at about 10,000 ft. but would have to vary her altitudes depending on weather. She might get down to 5-8,000 ft. or up to as high as 12,000 ft. for a limited period of time. She was not pressurized. Some of our younger airmen used to flying the friendly skies of United back home could not believe they were being put in unpressurized aircraft! Weather was a big issue throughout Indochina. Massive storms could pop up out of nowhere, and the pilots had to be very careful to anticipate the weather and not get caught up in it. This shot, taken from an EC-47 flying in Laos, shows how rough the Monsoon clouds can get. Missions in the early days, where anti-aircraft artillery was not yet so prolific and accurate, missions might fly as low as 5,000 ft.
During much of the war, the main threat to the EC-47 was the enemy’s single-barrel and twin-barrel 37mm towed anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) gun. The twin-barrel version is shown here. This Chinese manufactured gun could attack an airborne target to a distance of 8,500 meters (roughly 4-5 miles) or slant range of 3,500 meters (roughly two miles). She could fire 160-180 1.455kg high explosive rounds/min. The greatest benefit to the EC-47 was that the 37mm was optically sighted and manually operated, which left room for lots of error by the enemy firing crews. That said, the 37mm remained a major threat in part because there were so many of them located in so many places in Laos and the RVN. An EC-47 flying at 100-120 knots and 10,000 ft. was very vulnerable to this gun, especially if the enemy firing crew were good.
Later in the war, the EC-47s began to experience the wrath of the enemy 57mm towed AAA gun. This gun was developed especially for low-speed airborne targets at short-to-medium range. The initial guns were optically sighted. Multiple guns could be fired simultaneously by a single remote control, enabling very intensive fire. Later variants employed the dreaded target radar which improved its accuracy enormously and substantially increased her threat to the EC-47. Initially, these guns were saved to defend very high priority enemy targets. As time went by and the Ho Chi Minh trail became more and more important, the 57mm guns showed up in more and more places along the trail and elsewhere. This was a formidable threat to the EC-47.
One of the major problems facing the EC-47 flight crews was that friendly forces seldom knew their location. When the EC-47 was hit, if the crew had time to call in its position, the search and rescue (SAR) forces had a reasonable chance of finding them. If the aircraft were shot down out of control, the SAR effort could take days to find the wreckage.
The intelligence activities serving the 460th TRW EC-47 crews did their best to provide maps with threat circles drawn on them. Quite often the pilots would lay those maps on their laps just to keep a double check on where the navigator and the Det 3 ARDF operator were taking them. A C-47B staging from Vientiane, Laos was the first C-47 to be shot down on March 23, 1961, killing seven of the eight crewmen, the sole survivor captured and held until August 1962. The first EC-47 lost was Tide-86 on March 9, 1967, flown out of Nha Trang, all eight souls lost.
The final C-47 loss was an EC-47Q, Baron 52, a Det 3 aircraft but out of Ubon RTAFB shot down on the night of February 4-5, 1973, all eight souls aboard lost, though many continue to feel some may be more properly listed as MIA. This is an aerial reconnaissance photo of the Baron 52 crash site in Laos. You can see she is lying upside down with both wings severed. Given the cease-fire in the RVN, the 6994th Squadron moved to NKP from Tan Son Nhut, and Det 2 moved out of Danang to Ubon RTAFB. Det 2 was re-designated Det 3. There is a great deal written about Baron 52 and I commend you study the internet sources on the subject. I will not cover her any further here, as I am trying to stay focused on Det 3 when she was at NKP.
These two photos show EC-47 #029 after she recovered at NKP RTAFB. She was hit in the port wing by enemy AAA in February 1973, after the loss of Baron 52.
A total of 21 C-47s were lost in the war. My research indicates the 6994th SS lost 18 enlisted aircrew to hostile action while airborne over enemy territory and two aircraft. Other aircraft were lost in the RVN at their air bases on the ground due to enemy attacks. Det 3 at NKP lost one on a crash landing killing one Det 3 crewman.
While the EC-47s were certainly vulnerable, they did have some things in their favor. One was a program to drop leaflets while conducting the ARDF mission. The idea was to distribute information and disguise the mission. The enemy often could not determine whether the C-47 they saw in the air was an EC-47, a simple cargo C-47, or a lethal AC-47. If they shot at an AC-47, the AC-47 was sure to respond with very intense fire. Even if the aircraft were an EC-47, the enemy knew that if they missed, the electronic reconnaissance aircraft might easily pinpoint the enemy’s firing location and call in air to destroy the enemy gun. So there was some risk for the enemy to fire on an Electric Goon.
Let’s return to the aircraft and mission equipment.
I want to start by reminding everyone that the C-47, and therefore the EC-47, was a “tail dragger.”
Phu Cat EC -47 ready for takeoff
AC-47 “Spooky” gunship on takeoff, rear wheel up, rudder in charge
Vintage C-47 rotates and airborne
Being a tail dragger meant that she rested on two wheels forward and one wheel aft. During the takeoff roll, the rear wheel was the first to come off the ground, while the forward two wheels remained on the runway. The pilot had to employ his rudder and a lot of eye-hand-foot coordination to keep her straight down the runway after which at about 80-90 knots she would slowly lift off. He landed the same way. First touch down with the front two wheels, then slowly let down the rear wheel. One pilot has said:
“The mere thought of flying a tail dragger is intimidating to outright terrifying to pilots who haven’t flown them.”
The Det 3 crews, many of whom were very young, remember vividly when their pilots had a shaky landing or takeoff. By shaky, that could mean anything ranging from a ground-loop to swerving off the runway and back onto it and off again. One Det 3 crewmember put it this way for one of his flights:
“When we boarded the plane a colonel introduced himself to me, which was rather unusual ... I sat directly behind the two pilots and watched as the lieutenant began the pre-flight checklist. I noticed the colonel was not assisting in any way whatsoever. I bravely inquired and was informed that the youngster was being checked out that day and would fly the plane without any assistance. I don't recall what that process was called but the trainee was required to handle everything on his own, just as if he were the only pilot on board.
“Everything went smoothly until the time we taxied out to the runway. The lieutenant properly mixed the fuel, set the flaps for take off, revved up the engines, and off we went down the runway, just as we did every other day. Today, however, we hadn't gotten very far when I suddenly felt and then noticed the aircraft had suddenly veered off to the left side of the runway, the side where the colonel was sitting. I quickly checked the pilots’ demeanors, and observed the colonel's face as he watched the lieutenant with great anticipation. I felt another jolt or jerk, as if a sudden over-correction had violently shifted the plane's direction towards the right side of the runway. It almost felt like I was in a bumper car. Normally, I was not nervous on take-offs, it was usually the landings I was more concerned with, but this day I thought perhaps it wouldn't hurt to seek some comfort from someone a little higher up on the food chain than me.
“As we zigged and then zagged, the silence over the radios became noticeable. The lieutenant made a last ditch effort to correct the direction the plane was traveling, which had zigged once more, and was now headed once more for the grassy field on the left side of the runway. The speed was approaching 50 knots, and just before we hit the grass, we were airborne, flying diagonally across the field, grass immediately below us.
“The colonel had only watched as this little drama played out, never gave the lieutenant any advice or instructions, and never touched the controls. It seemed like a couple of minutes before anyone, up front or in back, said anything, but it was probably only a few seconds after we were airborne when the lieutenant said, ‘I didn't know these Goonies could take off at 50 knots.’ The colonel looked over at the pilot, and said, in a matter of fact and firm manner, ‘I wouldn't advertise that if I were you!’ The Colonel had kept his cool throughout this ordeal and my admiration for him grew that day.”
These kinds of take-offs were the exception, not the routine, but the description underscores that handling a tail dragger loaded up with electronic equipment and crew took a little force of character, let’s say. I have since learned that even taxiing this beast in winds could be a challenge.
One pilot remarked:
“The airframe of the C-47 protests being taxied with sounds like the inside of an old clipper ship during a storm. Once the aircraft is moving on a long straight path, the best way to keep from wandering is to engage the tail wheel lock. This is especially important during strong cross winds. Failure to lock the wheel will result in the aircraft turning into the wind.”
He also commented this way about take-offs:
“For takeoff, the aircraft is lined up with the center of the runway, tail wheel locked, main wheels’ brakes locked, and manifold pressure brought up to 25 in. If nothing shakes off the wings, the brakes are unlocked and pressure brought up to 45 1/2 in. at 2,500 rpm.
“Forward pressure must be applied on the control column to keep the aircraft level and prevent it from trying to get into the air before it’s ready to fly. At 97 mph you can reduce the forward pressure and the aircraft will become airborne. Manifold pressure is 39 1/2 in. at 2,300 rpm for climbing. Once this is set, the cowl flaps are closed.”
That said, he added that once proficient, a matter of five or so hours, and especially with a bunch of combat flights under his belt, the tail dragging pilot would walk around with his chest out with pride and many who would go on to the more modern tricycle landing gears would get misty eyed thinking back to the days when they flew that old Goonie buggy.
The program was initially named “Combat Cougar,” but in 1970 that was changed to “Combat Cross.” The missions staging from NKP were designated ”Commando Forge.”
This is a nice look at the interior of the EC-47 cockpit. She was cramped. There was a hatch just behind the pilots intended for their use to bail out. It was quite small and arguable whether the pilots could have escaped from it. Most pilots with whom I flew felt they could not use it. They either said they would try to run to the back and bail out the side door or attempt to land the aircraft and take the consequences.
One pilot has written:
“Flying the Douglas C-47 Skytrain is not for the faint of heart. The tail dragger sits high on its main landing gear. This makes getting from the entrance door into the cockpit like climbing a flight of stairs.
“Just starting the big radials of the C-47 can be an adventure. Standard procedure is to hold the starter and then counting until twelve propeller blades have revolved before you. Turn on the magnetos and you should be rewarded with clouds of black smoke as each of 14 engine cylinders comes alive.”
I can recall my first flight. I was astonished to see all the smoke bellowing out the engines during engine start, and all the stuff dripping down on the tarmac. I would carefully look around and see that no one else was bothered, so I learned not to be bothered either. One of things all crewmembers had to get used to was the amount of smoke billowing out at engine start and then watching oil drip onto the tarmac. “Ops normal” as they would say. Some even boasted that an oil leak never stopped a mission.
As indicated earlier, there were three types of EC-47s used in the Indochina war, the EC-47N, EC-47P and EC-47Q. In addition, there were three types of ARDF systems employed, the AN/ALR-34, AN/ALR-35, and AN/ALR-38.
The EC-47N was the most basic of the three models, coming from the C-47A family of aircraft, the latter of which were first ordered in 1940. By the end of WWII, the Army Air Force and Navy had bought over 10,000 of them. The C-47A was produced in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Long Beach, California and had a 24 volt DC electrical system. Those familiar with the C47A say her greatest defense was her turning ability, but you had to be careful not to over-stress the airframe.
The EC-47N sported two Pratt & Whitney R-1830-92 “Twin Wasp” engines. The R-1830 used 14-cylinders in two rows of seven, mounted to a forged aluminum crankcase. It was largely made of magnesium to reduce its weight. It was an air-cooled radial design, a piston engine. This was an efficient and reliable engine. It had 1,200 hp (895 kW). Some 178,000 of these engines were produced. The initial variants of this engine could only produce 800 horses. The EC-47N needed much more power than that and all 1,200 horses obtained during the upgrades were needed.
Here’s another view of the beast. To the left is Major Jake “The Snake” Shirer, the chief STANEVAL pilot with the TEWS. Those STANEVAL guys all look alike --- they seldom smile. I’m told The Snake was at the time the oldest pilot in the group.
The EC-47N had a short radome in the nose to carry a weather detection radar. I think all the models had this.
To my knowledge, all EC-47Ns employed the basic ARDF system, the AN/ALR-34. One set of vertical whip antennas was installed on the top and bottom of each wing and on top the cockpit and on the belly below the cockpit. There were also long-wire antennas strung from above the cockpit to the top of the vertical stabilizer. Inside the cargo area, you see three positions, marked X, Y and Nav. You also see a notation called the periscope. That was actually single optical drift meter used in pre-Doppler aircraft. X and Y were manned by the 6994th SS enlisted operators while the navigator was a TEWS officer. The drift meter was used by the navigator to locate the aircraft’s position relevant to known spots on the ground. With this, the navigator could look directly under the aircraft to refine its position.
This is a model of an EC-47N done by Cyril Worley. He did a nice job. You can make out the antennas on the wings and fuselage.
This is a front shot of the real McCoy, EC-47 979. It was no surprise to see many of the old Electric Goons surrounded by TEWS maintenance guys. They did a helluva job keeping these old monsters aloft.
X and Y were COMINT intercept positions. The X position also employed the ARDF system. The ALR-34 was a high frequency (HF) ARDF aircraft, meaning it could intercept and direction find transmitters operating in the HF frequency range. The enemy preferred HF because that frequency allowed long haul transmissions and transmissions that could work their way around terrain. The enemy operated in Indochina with a long logistics tail so this was important to him. But most ARDF targets employed lower power HF transmitters, enough power to get by the terrain to the neighboring units. This helps explain why flying near the target was the best way to intercept and locate it.
The X position could fix targets within the frequency range of 2-16 MHz, while the Y position operated in the frequency range 0.5-30 MHz. The targets were enemy manual Morse transmissions.
Cockpit looking from the rear of the aircraft
This photo is of the interior cargo area of an EC-47N with the AN/ALR-34 ARDF system.
The door at the front was for the cockpit, pilot and co-pilot. There was also a place up there for the flight engineer, in a small compartment just behind the left seat pilot. To the rear, you see the navigator sitting with his back to you, and his navigator’s table, where he plotted the lines of bearing (LOBs) manually. The X position was in front of him, and the Y position to the right.
The X position worked closely with the pilots and the navigator and was tied into the antennas that provided the direction finding data to X. The Y position across the aisle was a COMINT position that searched for targets to exploit for intelligence and to hand-off to the X position for ARDF location. The Y position usually had a typewriter to note down what the operator was hearing.
A typical scenario might be for Y to acquire a target and start typing. If the signal strength were good, and the target were of interest, he would pass the target to X. Often, the X operator would latch onto the same target almost at the same time the Y operator got it. These guys were good.
X had a special set of ARDF equipment. He would acquire the signal and then go through a series of steps to lock on to the signal. Once done, X frequently would ask the navigator to make frequent turns and to obtain the best signal quality to lock on. Quite often the navigator would ask the pilot then to hold the aircraft “straight and steady.” The pilots were always keenly aware of where the threat circles were and things could get a little tense when the navigator kept asking for “straight and steady” and the pilots felt they were getting too close to or even inside a potential kill zone. The navigator and X, of course, were looking for a nice spread between his LOB shots, so the process could take a few minutes. The navigator wanted at least three good LOBs to get what was referred to as a “fix.” Only two good LOBs would give him a less accurate “cut.”
Once X felt he had good data, he would provide it to the navigator who would plot the fix on his map. Here you see the navigator using the data to plot the target location on his map. I’ll come back to this photo in just a moment.
The fix would come with an estimated Circular Error of Probability (CEP), which was usually an elliptical area on a map inside of which there was a high probability that the target was there. The lower the CEP, the better the location. When I was there in 1972-73, the crew considered they had a pretty good fix if they had a CEP of 1000 meters or less. If they got that, the crew usually called the target into the ABCCC which in turn would launch a FAC out to take a look; it was before my time, but I understand that in the early days they might even call the target down to a friendly ground station in Laos for action from there. However, a navigator has told me a 1000 letter CEP was not so old, that in his day the best they could get was 250 meters.
I mentioned in the previous section that the 460th TRW flew and maintained the aircraft, and the 6994th SS provided the “backend crews,” in this case X and Y. Sometimes the 6994th would also schedule a cryptanalyst to fly aboard to help analyze the signals, and they might even fly an airborne maintenance technician to keep their equipment up to snuff. Both pilots, the flight engineer, and the navigator belonged to the 460th TRW, and the pilots and navigator were commissioned officers. The 6994th crew was always enlisted, oft times first or second term airmen. In almost all instances, the X position was manned by the Airborne Mission Supervisor, the AMS.
The 6994th SS crew held security clearances known as “TS/SCI,” or Top Secret Sensitive Compartmented Intelligence. In most cases, the navigator held a similar set of clearances as he had to work so closely with the enlisted crew and sat in the back end with that crew, able to see all their classified working aids. The AMS usually carried the mission bag with the classified data in it along with the crypto key settings for secure communications.
Most often the pilot and co-pilot held only “Secret” clearances, which was awkward for the pilots. For reasons that defy this author’s understanding, decisions were made at higher levels that the pilots did not have the “need to know.” When I flew, I felt they did, especially when the AMS was asking them to go into higher threat areas. I felt the pilots had a “need to know” why that was so important, and the 94th crews worked very hard to sanitize the mission and inform them of what exactly what was happening. I have seen some memoirs from operators who opined that there was very little to nothing that was classified TS/SCI and they could not understand what all the fuss was about.
On a light side, the “John” was in the aft end of the aircraft. It had a trough for #1 and a bucket for #2. When a pilot wanted to use it, by the book he was supposed to notify the backend crew that he was coming through and the crew was to cover up or put its working aids away. That was what the book said anyway. I think most of the crews felt if a guy as important as their pilot has to go, he has to go and very few if any actions were taken to hide anything from the pilots, whose main mission at the time was to get to the head anyway.
Everyone on the crew was mission essential. For purposes of executing target acquisition, and conducting the ARDF LOB process, the AMS was in charge. This would often mean that the AMS, always working to maintain the respect required between enlisted and officers, would ask the navigator to do what the AMS needed done in order to get a good target lock on which would give a good target fix. In almost all instances, the pilots and navigators did their best to comply with the AMS’ requests.
Jerry Stehman of Det 3 with white cup, the others TEWS pilots
During my tour of duty at NKP from 1972-1973, I was most impressed by these young pilots. They might not have liked their predicament flying these old tubs, and they might have fooled around a lot, but the took their jobs seriously. Most impressive to me was that they knew their aircraft inside and out. As I mentioned earlier, I was in two inflight emergency situations over Laos, and in each instance my pilots brought us home single engine; in one instance one engine had caught fire and they had to extinguish it. There was never hesitation, never any sign of panic, there was always considered judgement and decisiveness. And, there was always a whole bunch of know-how regarding what to do. I will tip my hat to these guys to the day I die and beyond. I’m very proud to have served with them. They have my everlasting respect.
The navigators, especially later in the war, were often majors and lieutenant colonels, frequently the highest ranking officer aboard. But if a 1st lieutenant were the aircraft commander, the rank played no role, just as the officer would do his best to comply with the flying instructions given him by the enlisted Det 3 AMS. The men of the TEWS and 6994th were a bunch of characters to be sure, but during a mission, it was business and teamwork.
Just a moment on the navigator. He was usually one busy guy. First, he had to guide the pilots to the mission areas and then coordinate with the AMS and pilots once in the mission areas. He also had to take the X position’s ARDF data and plot it on a map, which in many instances could be an arduous process, lots of math and calculations involved.
When the AMS (who almost always manned the X position) turned the target over to navigator, the navigator would see the target’s relative direction on his N1 compass. The navigator would direct the pilot to turn the aircraft so the target is 45 degrees off the nose. He then printed out a LOB. As the aircraft progressed the target’s relative position is off the wing and another LOB was printed. Then a bit later another LOB was printed when the target was 135 degrees off the nose. The navigator then directed the pilot to a dop set point, resolved the LOBs to a target position, and updated the aircraft position to assure the 'fix'.
I’ve shown an exaggerated graphic here. All the navigator really needed was three good LOBs to get his fix. One navigator told me that nay more would sort of be like the law of diminishing returns. Better to go on to the next target.
The EC-47 navigator used the drift meter to update the aircraft’s position so that the LOBs could be accurately plotted. The navigator, using Doppler had a good idea of aircraft location and would check the map for a good reference point near this assumed location, like a road intersection or a sharp bend in a river. He would then direct the pilot to take up a heading toward that reference point, or doppler set point.
The navigator then looked down through the driftmeter and found that point of reference somewhere up ahead. Looking into the driftmeter, he continued to direct the pilot to fly over that point. When that point was reached, the time was noted and the position was marked on the map. The Doppler position was also noted and the two were compared (driftmeter fix and Doppler). A good Doppler would be close but could be as much as 1/2 mile off, depending on the time since the last Doppler set. The Doppler was then corrected and the LOPs were are drawn on the map using the updated position. The intersection of the LOPs would make a point or a small triangle, marking the position of the target. This would be written on a log sheet.
Here you see the navigator plotting his ARDF information. The red arrow points to his drift meter.
I always marveled at this system, and in my own naivete, wondered how we ended up with such an “archaic,” if I may, way of figuring out where we were. But this was the system he was given, and this was the one he used. Not only did the navigator need to know periodically exactly where he was for navigation purposes, but he had to have that data in order to give the ARDF data precision locations.
Paul Halpem, a navigator with the TEWS, told me that on a good target day, well, he held the record for 115 or 117 plotted fixes. He commented that the number of fixes on the Laotian missions far exceeded what he was used to in the RTVN.
Let’s switch now to the EC-47P. Like the EC-47N, she sported the Pratt & Whitney R-1830 engines.
There were two big differences.
The first was that the aircraft carried an updated ARDF system known as the ALR-35. The ALR-35 among other things automated the navigator’s position to some extent. Fundamentally, when the X ARDF position locked on to his target and shot a LOB, that data flowed automatically to the navigator’s position and spit a paper-tape printed read-out to the navigator. The navigator would then use that hard data to manually plot the LOB. In addition, Doppler navigation was provided to the navigator through this more automated system.
One note of caution. I have read a former EC-47 operator who said the EC-47N and EC-47P could carry either the ALR-34 or ALR-35 systems. I am not sure if that is correct but will note it here anyway. I do not think the EC-47N had it.
This is a look at the navigator’s new automated system on the ALR-35. You can see the drift meter just off his right shoulder.
The second big difference was that the EC-47P could carry two more COMINT intercept positions, one positioned in front of Y and the other to the rear of Y. In my day, these were known as Z1 and Z2, though I see they have also been referred to as Q1 and Q2. These were straight-forward intercept positions, though they too could tip off X to targets they had for ARDF. The ALR-35, like the ALR-34, was a HF DF system.
But the Z1 position offered something new and valuable, the capacity to operate in the HF and VHF ranges, the latter normally carrying enemy voice traffic. Z1 enabled the operator to hear voice targets in the 0.2-300 MHz range while the Z2 was configured much like the Y, in the range 0.2-30 MHz.
One problem for the EC-47P carrying the ALR-35 plus two extra positions was that the R-1830 engines were really put to the max to push this load down the runway, into the air and up to altitude.
Finally, the EC-47Q. She had three major differences from the “N” and “P” models.
First, she was powered by two Pratt & Whitney R-2000 Twin Wasp engines. This engine was more powerful than the R-1830, kicking out 1,450 hp instead of 1,200. I might add here that this engine was more fuel efficient as well. These two factors were huge in Indochina. First, with four positions (X, Y, Z1 and Z2), plus the navigator, two pilots, a flight engineer and mission analyst, the aircraft was heavier and needed the power. Second, especially during the summer the aircraft could not carry as much fuel because of the fuel expansion due to intense heat so the power and the fuel efficiency were very helpful. Most missions lasted eight hours and most crews did not want to stop off at another base on their way home to refuel. One take-off and landing was enough, no call for two if not required. I should remark here that in the earlier days, with the smaller engines, missions might last only 5-7 hours.
The second major difference was that the ALR-38 was a HF-VHF intercept and ARDF system. The ALR-38 ARDF system was the most complicated of the three from an electronics and automation standpoint. Very High Frequencies (VHF) are normally used for short haul transmissions, usually demanding line-of-sight. Intercepting them almost always required an aircraft. You had to get within line-of-sight of the enemy transmitter to intercept and locate him.
The third major difference was that the EC-47Q received blade antennas instead of whip antennas. You can see them on this EC-47Q in flight. Note the blade antenna sticking out of the fuselage just aft of the cargo door and the blades on the belly.
I thought I would look up some memoirs from those who flew the old Electric Goon. I found a few to share.
Charles “Chuck” Sutton” was in on the beginning of what was known as the “Phyllis Ann” program, the program name for outfitting the C-47 to be an EC-47, done in conjunction with Sanders Corp., the manufacturer of the ARDF systems. He talked of having to calibrate the Sanders equipment, which could only be done with the aircraft flying over water. He flew out of Grenier Field in Manchester, NH. Sanders was located in Nashua, NH. He said these flights were unusual because he had to make flat turn circles over the water.
Perhaps most interesting were his flights taking the EC-47s from Grenier to the RVN. It took 33 hours on average. He said they flew from Grenier Field to McChord AFB in Washington, commenting that he could take any route there he chose. After that, he had to fly McChord to Anchorage, Alaska, to Adak island at the end of the Aleutian Chain, to Midway Island, to Wake Island, to Guam, to Clark Field, Philippines, and then into Saigon’s Tan Son Nhut AB.
James “Bull” Durham flew the EC-47. He said, “I was a hired driver for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology electrical geniuses. Why that ‘Gooney Bird’ was older than my co-pilot.”
J.M. Hirsch wrote an article about the C-47 and commented that the pilots acknowledged she had her quirks. Jeff Vantine remembered, “If you do a hard stall, you usually flip onto your back. That’s probably the only thing the airplane does fast.”
Pilots liked her because she did not need a long runway, and her “fat wheels” could land on nearly any surface.
Vantine added, "They are workhorses. They just don't die. You just keep putting new engines on them, and they keep on going."
Only the landing gear was hydraulic. Everything else used cables and levers, which could be challenging. Vantine said, "It's one of the few airplanes left that you actually have to fly. It doesn't let you just sit there. The autopilot is the guy sitting next to you ... You really should have some good muscles in your legs to control the tail and the big old rudder."
This was important especially on takeoff and landing. Remember, the C-47 was a tail dragger. The tail was the first thing up during the takeoff roll, and the last thing down on landing. The rudders had to be worked hard to keep her running straight down the runway. It was a no-no to attempt a three point landing. Any kind of crosswind made the landing extra exciting. As one veteran put it, the landing is not over when the wheels are down. Roll out always offered the opportunity for a ground loop. He went so far as to say that the crosswind challenge was not over until he had his Goon parked.
This same veteran commented that while flying during the monsoon season once, the rain came at the aircraft so hard it came into the cockpit. His flight engineer put a raincoat on his lap and had to empty it several times to keep his pilot reasonably dry!
An aside is due here. When a crewmember flew his first flight, known as his “Cherry Flight,” someone would always tip off the pilot. The “head” was way in the rear of the aircraft. Each crewmember had to inform the pilot if he were going to move from his position, to wit, he would inform the pilot he was going to the head. The pilot would wait a bit for the rookie to get back there and get down to business, and then play with the rudder to swing the rear of the aircraft back and forth a bit. Many more than a few “rookies” emerged with a soaking wet flight suit to the laughter of the entire crew. The initiation ceremony was done! I recall it well.
The EC-47 pretty well required visual flight rules, VFR. Navigation equipment was minimal. As mentioned earlier, the navigator would use his driftmeter to pinpoint known locations on the ground, which he had to see for identification purposes. Avoiding thunderstorms, which could pop up at any moment in Indochina, was a constant requirement for the flight crew. Usually they were able to avoid them, but quite often had to fly through cloud cover and even climb up to 11,000-12,000 ft. for a bit to get above the weather, or descend to get below it. The flight through clouds was usually uneventful, but on occasion could bounce the aircraft around to cause a few white knuckles. To be honest, I hated this more than anything else. I still hate clear air turbulence when flying on commercial aircraft.
The pilots had a thorough checklist with engines running and positioned just before turning onto the runway. They would often find problems that would require them to go back to the parking ramp and receive attention, while the crews hid under the shade of the wings waiting. I recall the magnetos being a big issue during engine run-ups. The magneto is an electrical generator that uses permanent magnets to produce pulses of high voltage alternating current. This high voltage enables a spark to jump between the poles of a spark plug in the engine, in short, it produced an ignition spark.
This photo shows what most pilots would say are the “brains of the aircraft,” what’s known as the “Throttle Quadrant.” During the takeoff roll, the pilots concentrated on three sets of controls, the prop pitch controls (left), the power throttles (middle) and the mixture controls (right) affecting the richness of the fuel being employed at any moment. At the very far left is the trim wheel (nose up and nose down). There were other controls in and around this area.
As we would roll down the runway, the pilot not executing the takeoff would sound off speeds and at a certain speed, call out “rotate,” at which time the pilot would execute takeoff. I believe he would rotate at about 85-90 knots, and I think they landed at about 70-75 knots, not far from stall. In any event, all the while during the takeoff roll, the rest of the crew would watch out the windows looking for anything abnormal, such as excessive smoke or a fire. If any crewmember felt the takeoff was going to be unsafe, he could sound off through the intercomm, “Abort, abort, abort.” It would then be up to the aircraft commander whether to abort or takeoff, which he might have to do because the aircraft was committed and was running out of runway.
For example, I read one Goonie pilot saying that he was enjoying a nice takeoff roll, he had reached 85-90 knots, and was about to lift up the nose when all of a sudden the right engine backfired and momentarily lost power, losing power for about one second, then seeming to return to takeoff power. The pilot said so many thoughts raced through his mind so rapidly, each highlighting an option and a possible consequence, but he had no time to verbalize any of them. His bottom line was that he could not trust his right engine, which complicated multiple options he was considering, so he radioed the tower, “Abort, abort, abort,” was fortunate to have a long runway, and pulled her to a stop, “climbing on the brakes” as he said.
The aircraft even with its heavy load could fly single engine. My own experience was to observe this happening twice, both times over Laos. As I recall, one was an engine that was shaking, rattling and rolling, the other was a blown spark plug that caused a small engine fire. In both cases, the engines had to be feathered and the propeller stopped. It was kind of eery looking out at an engine whose propeller was not turning. In both cases, the crew was very professional. In both cases, the aircraft commander gave us the choice of bailing out. He ordered us to suit up, which meant get that survival vest on, the parachute harness on, and then pass the chest chutes forward to be attached to the harness. In both cases, bail out was not necessary and the pilots babied their Goonie back home with, I might add, perfect landings.
One of these instances did have a light moment. This was a night flight over eastern southern Laos out of Ubon RTAFB. I think this was the one where we blew a spark plug. The pilot radioed Ubon Tower that he had an IFE, “In Flight Emergency,” and explained the problem. He said he was heading back to Ubon and was about 100 miles out. Ubon was, in the main, a F-4 Phantom fighter base and the tower immediately started putting the F-4s coming in for landings after combat missions into holding patterns. Once our Goonie pilot recognized what was happening, he called the Tower and told him he was an EC-47 and it would take a bit over an hour to get back to Ubon. He recommended the Tower start landing his F-4s before they all ran out of fuel! I think the Tower guy was not used to handling such slow movers. We all got a chuckle out of that even though I think each of us had a nervous stomach of some sort.
Well, we should stop here and turn to the organizational lashups surrounding the establishment of Det 3, 6994 at NKP RTAFB, Thailand and then the establishment of Det 3 itself. This latter task will be accomplished mostly through memoirs I have received from men who were with the unit.