by MSgt Harvey Hartman
272nd EIS, TxANG, LaPorte, TX
(743rd AC&W Sq., Campion AFS, AK, 1975 - 1977)
If you were a 30352 during the 1970s, chances are good that the following will bring back memories for you. They may not have all been fun experiences at the time but, if you’re like me, they’ve probably turned into slightly fond memories by now. (Or at least the nightmares don’t wake you up as much as they used to!)
Okay, show of hands (or AA membership cards): Who remembers the UPA-35 radar scopes? These 200 ton tube monsters were the mainstay in AC&W darkrooms throughout the 1960s and 1970s until they were replaced by the (then-exotic) all-digital-no-moving-parts-whatsoever UPA-62s in the late 70s. UPA-35s were the scopes that we were taught in Hangar 3 at Keesler. This scope was complicated in its antiquity yet was extremely simple to troubleshoot. (Which is a good thing because we seemed to ALWAYS be working on at least one of them!) If I remember correctly, the UPA-35 had 114 vacuum tubes scattered among 12 swing-out chassis and one giant power supply. This many tubes meant that the ops darkroom was never a cold place to work in. Although the cabinet was equipped with two cooling fans (which, as near as I could tell, their primary purpose was to suck up all of the darkroom dust and dirt and equally distribute it throughout the cabinet) most scopes that I remember had to be left slightly open so that they would get additional ventilation and avoid problems from overheating. This meant that the interlock (Remember the interlock switch? It was mounted inside the cabinet on the upper left.) had to be placed in the “maintenance” position since the upper drawer was not closed tight enough to activate the switch in the closed position. Since the circuits inside the scope were live, we had to keep the cabinet closed enough so that an operator couldn’t accidentally touch anything inside. (But at least open wide enough for all of their grease pencils to roll into!) So, here we had a scope that had the interlock pulled but the cabinet was only open half an inch. This meant that a good bump against the upper drawer would move it in enough to trip the interlock out of the maintenance position, which would shut down the scope. Naturally, this always happened right in the middle of an exercise or intercept. (Oh, this never happened at your site? Yeah, bullshit!)
And about those tubes… Remember how Keesler taught us to troubleshoot tube equipment by checking to see if the filaments were good by feeling for a cold tube. I don’t know about you but after 30 years, my fingerprints are still mostly burned off! One of my additional duties was the section bench stock monitor and I remember always having to keep 12AT7s and 50C5s on order because of the voracious appetite that the UPA-35s had for these tubes. And every tube in the UPA-35 was covered by one of those gold-colored metal tube shields that (I suppose) was intended to protect the tube from the EM pulse of a direct Soviet nuclear strike.
And here’s one last UPA-35 memory for you: Remember those 16 slotted screws around the perimeter of the upper drawer that were supposed to be used to secure the drawer closed? Remember how you had to open up the scope at least once each day for one reason or another so eventually you ended up tightening down only the one screw closest to the interlock switch? Remember how at least half of the other 15 screws were stripped out anyway?
Now, how about the UPX-14? This was an IFF transmitter-receiver unit that was designed not too long after the Pyramids were built and possibly by the same engineers. This ancient piece of crap was notorious for breaking down at two primary times: At 1530 on Friday afternoon or at 0230 on any given morning. And when this thing broke down, it was almost always down for at least a couple of days. (Which is why every radar site had two of them!) It gave us some of the most perplexing fits. Too bad the USAF didn’t pay overtime because when this thing went down, we had to work around the clock until it was back up again! I had always hoped to someday marry a girl who could keep me up all night like that damned UPX-14 could!
I saw a Frankenstein movie not too long ago and I swear that the monster’s neck electrodes were connected to a surplus UPX-14! (It was the cabinet that had all of the sparks and smoke coming out of it. In other words, Normal operation!) This explains why the Frankenstein monster was easily overpowered and killed by the torch-wielding townspeople at 1530 on Friday afternoon.
How about the GPA-30 Video Mapper? This tubed beast usually sat grinding away in the corner of an extra room and whose only companionship was from the GPA-127 Scope Camera. I swear that these two pieces of equipment would talk amongst each other at night and plot to give their maintenance caretakers gray hairs. Both of these pieces of equipment were designed under the same theory that “electronic” equipment should contain as many moving parts as an automobile transmission, except with more grease! The GPA-30 could have really benefited from a screensaver back then because it’s CRT had one mission in life, which was to produce a stationary sweep so bright that it could be seen from other radar sites! This sweep was fed through a rotating map disc that was synced to the search antenna and produced the video map for the scopes. Since the map discs were produced in-house by the ops guys, it was not uncommon for the latest Playboy Playmate to show up as a video map. (We couldn’t get away with stuff like that these days without it becoming a full-blown sexual harassment investigation!)
And although I spent an awful lot of effort during the 1970s trying to avoid being assigned to maintain the GPS-T2 and -T4 Target Simulator Consoles, I was ultimately unsuccessful. Boy, talk about another overtime generator! These big gray cabinets had power supplies that were truly possessed by demons long before the Exorcist movie scared the crap out of our dates. No other piece of USAF equipment taught me the fine art of cussing as well as the T2 and T4 consoles did. I remember that the T-4s had relays. LOTS of relays! These little 4PDT dollops from hell cost Uncle Sam about $50 each and I remember that the T4 ate them on a daily basis. Thank God that they were plug-in instead of hard soldered! And did anyone ever get through an exercise without the T2’s tape breaking at least once??? The T2s and T4s were also highly-tubed equipment, which meant that the “Simulator Room” was never cold. In fact, it wasn’t uncommon to have the sim room window cracked open even in the middle of the Alaskan winters. Of course, the sim room had it’s own UPA-35 scope for the sim operators to monitor but this scope was almost always down because it was used as a parts source to keep the darkroom’s scopes running. (It was known mostly as “Additional UPA-35 Bench Stock.”)
During my Alaskan tour, I was assigned to the Ancillary (“Ancy”) Section so my memories are mostly about radar display and support equipment. However, I was occasionally tasked to help the Search or Height Finder sections when they needed additional bodies. I remember one extremely long day when we changed out the bull gear at the base of our FPS-93 antenna. Unfortunately, we did not have the benefit of experienced help so all of us worked by trial and error, mostly error, that day. Most of it is a blur these days but I do remember greasing up some four-by-four skids and all of us dragging and pushing this locomotive-sized gear into position while the 29,359,062,718,504,354,219 ton antenna sail teeter-tottered above us on it’s temporary jacks and cribbing. We drank heavily after THAT job!
But being a 30352 was worth the hard work because occasionally we were treated to some of the most excellent bubble checks by the fighter jocks. And WE got to watch them from the catwalk of the search tower! Gawd, some of those jets were friggin’ close! Probably would’ve scared the crap out of anyone lesser than a radar troop!
(Proud owner of ten burned fingerprints!)