Radar Maintenance Officer Training - Mid 60s

Contributed by Steve Weatherly

In 1964-65, Radar Maintenance Officers in AFSC 3041 (Ground Electronics) attended a 51 week long training program. The only longer training was for undergraduate pilots at 55 weeks. The program was in 2 parts.

Part 1, electronics fundamentals, was conducted at Keesler Training Annex #3, just off US Hwy 90 and closer to Gulfport than Biloxi. Part 1 was also used for AFSCs 3031 (communications) and 1741 (weapons controller but this training was dropped in 1965). There was a bus from the Keesler BOQ that provided transportation to and from Annex #3. The 3412th Student Squadron offices and the training facilities were all at Annex #3. Annex #3 was formerly a boys school that Uncle Sam took over during WWII, and it had huge oak trees with spreading limbs. No air conditioning except open windows; the classes were from 0600 to noon. All the Annex #3 buildings are now gone, and the grounds are part of the Naval Retirement Home. The electronics fundamentals addressed were similar to engineering physics taught at most colleges and universities without calculus. It was vacuum tube oriented, but had some solid state theory and practice (transistors). We did have some lab work and learned about test equipment such as PSM-6s and O'Scopes. For some reason, soldering was NOT included! Most of the class members did not have math or engineering backgrounds. Those that did, helped the instructors and fellow classmates. Old US Navy tech films were frequently used to introduce new topics, or reinforce classroom presentations. It was very clear that the Air Force had a detailed schedule and syllabus, and allowed no deviations.

Part 1 lasted 30 weeks. Part 2 (Sets) for radar maintenance was held over 21 weeks at Annex #1 off Pass Road just down the road from one of the back gates to Keesler. Training was based on the FPS-6 Height Finder and the FPS-20 Search radars. Additional training was provided on the OA-99 and UPA-35 search radar scopes, and a RHI height finder scope. Unlike part 1, the Annex #1 facilities were air conditioned (for the equipment). A field trip to an operational site at Houma, LA or Dauphin Island, AL was included. At the start of Part 2, each student received a big set of circuit diagrams for both radars, and a box of colored pencils. When the training was finished, the circuit diagrams were color coded, and the pencils were stubs. Training covered specifications and operation, every interlock in both radar systems, safety procedures, performance of -6 PMIs, and the troubleshooting and repair of most malfunctions.

Some of my own training experiences follow. My class was supposed to start in mid Apr 64, but was delayed 4 weeks. Inspected lots of barracks as a diversion. Once classes started, we got to work alongside two Vietnamese Captains in Part 1 (our world was expanding). Our radar class had a USAF Captain, a 1st Lt, and eleven 2d Lts (including me). We did not get a field trip in Part 2; instead we saw some MPN-11 GCA radars at Keesler main (OK, but a trip would have been better). The FPS-6 was down the entire time of our class, and I never saw a live GCI RHI display until Mt Hebo AFS. We did have the good fortune to have the same civilian instructor for all of Sets training in Part 2, and he was OUTSTANDING. The same instructor for all classes was an exception, since different instructors were usually used for each different segment of the training. Overall upon completion of the training in May 65, I was confident in my knowledge of radar systems and looking forward to my new assignment.

Maintenance Officer duties and responsibilities were never the focus of the training program at Keesler. Part 1 fundamentals was like a trade school. Part 2 Sets, was much more interesting and hands-on. As the training progressed, I became aware that I was not expected to be the one to do the hands-on maintenance. We never were issued a tool kit, and never actually did a repair, just alignments. The concept of being responsible for seeing that maintenance got done the Air Force way began to develop by the time we graduated. HOW was a big question.

Once I got to my first operational squadron (689th, Mt Hebo AFS) I learned that there was much more to do. I became aware of significant holes in the Keesler training program for those of us assigned to a SAGE radar maintenance position. The maintenance organization and concepts of AFM 66-1 (CEM) and TO 00-25-108 (radomes) were never addressed during the entire program. Proficiency training, supply and Maintenance Data Collection (MDC)??? There was no training or discussion on the single channel (GRR-7 and GRT-3) radios, the multi-channel GRC-27 radio, the FRC-49 digital radio, RAPPI, or the FST-2B. ECCM training was a joke. We also were never introduced to communications center operations and equipment, inside/outside plant, switching systems, or cryptographic systems and procedures. As a consequence, this all became self-help, OJT at Mt Hebo AFS along with multiple squadron additional duties. Sink or swim comes to mind. Regardless, the Air Force school at Keesler did a reasonable job in training radar maintenance officers, and I found the NCOs and Airmen at the Squadron had the training, experience, and were already part of a functioning team that knew and completed the many different maintenance tasks. There was nothing like the satisfaction of being part of this team, and seeing the job get done 24 x 7, over the course of years.