Carribbean Film

John Hampton 7 OCT 2006

  Reading some of the history of 1370thPMG that I have and from Aerial Survey and Photomapping History site, I am reminded of how difficult it was to photograph the Carribbian islands. From setting up the radio stations, aircraft photo and electronics equipment and the constant cloud cover it was next to impossible.

  I will recall for you an incident which happened in 1958 when I was on a check out mission. I feel certain no one on crew is still around as I was only 24 at the time and probably youngest on crew.

  We took off early in the morning and headed out for training and check out. When we got out over the islands out AC commented how nice and clear it was and instructed our radio operator to see if ground stations might be up, calibrated, and operating for some possible flight lines. They responded favorably and photo navigator and my first photo took over for rest of mission. Training and check out could be put on back burner if some lines could be done.

  Well the weather co-operated, the equipment worked well in aircraft and at ground stations and we flew Twenty Five (25) flight lines. Everything seemed perfect and crew was very excited. AC had been in contact with group commander from early in the mission and Hq was also upbeat. After group commander got the news on completion of the mission he contacted APCS. On the way back to Palm Beach there was talk on board of medals and accomadations. We turned in the film and a lot of us went over to Recky Tech ( Photo Lab) to await results. Then the bombshell hit !

  There was a civilian Army survey technician there and it was discovered that the film we had used was two months outdated. It was customary during training missions to use up old film and that's what I had loaded in the magazines. The Army claimed the results weren't acceptable but it wouldn't surprise me if they used it any way.

  It sure was fun for a few hours and seeing that film come out of the processing machine was very rewarding.


Operation Hardtack

John Hampton 15 Apr 2004

It all started for me on 12 March 1958 when I received copies of Special Orders Number 12. I had been assigned to an aircrew for a Top Secret mission in the Pacific, Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands to be specific. I was an aerial photographer with the 1371st Mapping and Charting Squadron out of Palm Beach AFB, Florida. From this location our outfit, the 1370th Photo Mapping Group flying RC 45's, RC 54's and RB-50's conducted worldwide photo mapping activity for the Air Photographic and Charting Service.

My first stop was the infirmary to update my shots. I had gotten Smallpox, Typhus, Typhoid and Polio shots in January during my annual flight physical so all I needed was a Cholera shot this visit. Next visit was to the finance office for an advance on my pay so I would have a couple bucks in my pocket should we set down anyplace interesting along the way. As it turned out we overnighted in Hawaii and visited Pearl Harbor. I packed my B-4 bag with two summer Class A's and all the clean underwear and flight suits I could find. No "civvies" on this trip we were told.

On the 15th of March we took off for the Orient. After our stop in Hawaii we flew over to Clark Field in the Philippines to pick up a specially equipped RB-50 aircraft. We then proceeded on to Eniwetok where additional cameras were installed by the AEC. We were outfitted with standard photo mapping cameras with 12 and 24 inch lenses and some very interesting motion picture cameras. These additional high speed cameras were arranged in two cages mounted so as to follow a target below the aircraft. They were balanced by gyro server motors intended to keep them level regardless of aircraft attitude. During our two months of training our first photographer and I set the camera operation timing and monitored the high speed cameras by aiming them on a dye marker in the lagoon 25,000 feet below. Our responsibility would be to override the gyro motors should anything go wrong. We flew a race track pattern practicing to be directly overhead at precisely 25,000 feet at the moment of detonation. All this was coordinated with gun tracking radar on the islands. The speed of the aircraft was slowed or increased by controlling the engine power and prop pitch and the altitude kept true by the pilots using flaps and tail controls. Occasionally they would drop the gear to slow the aircraft quickly. These training flights took place seven days a week. We went up at daylight, came down for lunch and gas and back up again till late afternoon.

On the 16th of May we were ready for the first shot of our mission, "Wahoo". On the 8th of June we photographed "Umbrella". Of the two, (both were Hydrogen bombs) Umbrella was the most impressive. The shock wave hit our aircraft after we had completed our photo run and while we were in "peel away" attitude. The aircraft commander, a few moments later, brought the airplane around to a safe distance off and we watched the mushroom cloud to see a spectacular sight. Rising up off the lagoon floor was a large funnel of water, sand and coral rock. Out at the edges of the cloud you could see large chunks of burning coral rock falling back to the water below. It must have been 30 minutes or so when we saw an aircraft carrier steaming thru the area below. We descended to see this ship washing itself down with what appeared to be shower heads all over the deck and control towers. We didn't see any one on deck so assumed they were all safe below until these showers cleaned it. Our aircraft was still pretty hot with radiation when we got back to the states. We made an emergency landing at Monterey airport and couldn't get mechanics to come near it.

The crew that I flew with during this assignment were top notch men, especially our aircraft commander, Capt. Grafton N Smith. Number 4 engine on the aircraft we had been given was overdue for replacement and burned oil like a diesel bus. When we left Hawaii coming back to the states we were told we would not have the use of #4 for the full flight back and it was feathered and powered down shortly after leveling off at our cruising altitude. What we didn't expect was the engine fire in number 3 about mid way into our journey. Capt. Smith extinguished it but it was a goner. Now number four would have to do extra duty handling the entire load of the right wing. It wasn't long before it was running out of oil and had to be shut down. Well there we were, four hours from the California coast and in an aircraft that wasn't designed to fly on two engines, especially when they are both on the same wing. By this time we had completely gutted the inside of the aircraft jettisoning everything out the bomb bay. We kept water, life vests, parachutes and rafts, everything else went to the deep six. We passed two Navy PBY's sent out to escort us and a destroyer diverted to pick us up if we had to ditch. Also a TWA Constellation headed for Seattle changed its course and kept an eye on us. When we finally saw the Golden Gate Bridge with its bright yellow lights on the horizon we were pretty darn happy to say the least Capt. Smith really excelled when bringing us in for the landing. He had restarted #4 because he knew it would be needed to land safely. We had only one shot to get this cumbersome, underpowered bomber into this unfamiliar, small civilian airport at night. There was not enough power available to make a go around once committed to the approach and landing pattern. Number four performed OK until we hit the ground, Capt. Smith put #1 & #4 into reverse pitch to brake the aircraft and it overheated and froze up. All hell broke loose with burning smoke and flaming sparks everywhere. How he stopped the plane I will never know but when he hit the escape bell we were all out of there lickety split. I had many close calls in my seven years of flying RB-29's, RB-36's and RB-50's but his was by far the most expert handling of an aircraft of all my experiences.

The unit, 1370th Photo Mapping Group, did earn an Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for its participation in Operation Hardtack and crewmembers were all given Commemorative Zippo lighters by the AEC.

John Hampton USAF 1952-59