UFOs as a U.S. Air Defense Issue - Part II

Here is the second part of an article written originally by the late Joel Campbell, a man who wrote extensively about UFOs and related subjects. We thank Jan Aldrich, Director of the historical archive Project 1947, and investigator Thomas Tulien, both of whom told us the name of Mr. Carpenter because the article we are sharing here hadn't originally the name of the author.

Air Defense Challenges
The Lashup network and its successors would be impotent without weapons to deploy against intruders. The job of defending the US against air attack fell to a relatively small cadre of pilots and ground controllers who were forced to work under highly taxing conditions. First generation jet interceptors were a far cry from the computerized supersonic killing machines of the late 1990s. 
The famous North American F-86A Sabre, though a successful dogfighter in the Korean theatre, was subsonic, lacked radar and carried only machine gun armament. Capable as the Sabre was, it was a visual-conditions airplane and was unsuited for night or bad-weather missions. 

For the bulk of its bomber interceptor force, until the supersonic fighters it desired became operational, the Air Force pinned its hopes on Jack Northrop's F-89 Scorpion, a heavy, subsonic twin-engine jet with a battery of 20mm cannon in its bulbous, radar-equipped nose. But the two-seat F-89, ordered in 1945 as a successor to Northrop's WW II-era P-61Black Widow, was plagued with development problems. Only a few dozen would enter service by the beginning of 1952. 

Anticipating problems with the Scorpion, the Air Force in early 1948 turned to a designer with a track record for quick service: Lockheed's Clarence "Kelly" Johnson. Lockheed's "Skunk Works" - a small team of talented advanced development designers under Johnson's direction - had developed the first US jet to see service, the P-80 Shooting Star, in less than six months. A two-seat trainer version of the P-80, the TP-80 (better known by its later designation, T-33), appeared to be a candidate for the night/all-weather intercept mission. Modified with an afterburner and equipped with the Hughes E-1 fire control system intended for the Scorpion, the Lockheed fighter would be somewhat slower and shorter-legged than the Northrop bird, but would be available much sooner. The first Lockheed F-94 was delivered to the Air Force in December 1949, and two squadrons soon went into service at McChord AFB and Moses Lake AFB in Washington. The F-94A and B models, as interim substitute for the F-89 (itself considered a barely-acceptable interim aircraft), based on a trainer version of a first-generation jet, were far from ideal front-line interceptors. Combat radius of the F-94B was a mere 240 miles, permitting one pass at a high-altitude target in most cases. With an obsolescent engine and a top speed of under six hundred mph, early F-94s were armed with just four light .50 calibre machine guns. The cockpit was cluttered, uncomfortable, and noisy. The 50-kilowatt Hughes AN/APG-33 vacuum-tube radar unit, a derivative of a system originally intended as a tail-gun-aiming radar for the B-36 bomber, was primitive and unreliable, and its lock-on could be broken by a maneuvering target. Air-to-air guided missiles were still laboratory trinkets in the early fifties, and even the unguided rocket batteries intended for later versions of air defense fighters were not yet widely available to service units. As a result, the F-94's crew would have to position their fighter quite close to a target before attempting to fire a burst of machine-gun fire at it. This meant constant verbal communication between the ground controllers, the radar observer in the rear seat of the F-94, and the busy pilot. 

The air defense assignment was difficult for ground personnel and aircrew alike. Of necessity, many Lashup radar centers and interceptor bases were located in isolated, rural areas. Stress was high. Concern over possible sabotage drove the Air Force to put the fighters under constant armed guard on lighted alert pads. Pilots standing duty often had to sleep in trailers next to their planes, and aircrews were ordered to carry a .45-calibre sidearm at all times while on alert. Since many tactical pilots were assigned to combat squadrons in Korea, air defense forces faced a perennial shortage of trained crewmen; consequently duty was long and fatiguing. At some interceptor bases, crews rotated through 24-hour alert cycles. Air Defense Command (which became a separate entity on January 1, 1951) commander General Benjamin Chidlaw noted that alert pilots could be on base as much as 100 hours a week. "Add to this the sleeping time and [commuting time] required, and you get a picture of just how little time they have left for recreation or to spend with their families. This is an acute morale problem..." 

Ground controllers had it just as hard. Radarmen might spend hours in a darkened shack peering at the relentlessly rotating glowing needle on a scope display. Air defense alert duty was an odd compound of boredom and nagging anxiety. At any moment of the day or night, the probing radar beam might illuminate a Soviet bomber determined to destroy some large city. The contradiction between the banal routine of watching the scopes and the frantic effort necessary to protect the country from a nuclear attack took its toll on controllers. Promotions in ADC ran far behind other Air Force branches, and job dissatisfaction was widespread: controllers opted out of their jobs at a high rate. The fast turnover meant that few controllers had long-term experience. Even ADC considered fully half its controller force unqualified for its mission. 

Compounding the problems of the air defense system in the early 1950s was the cantankerous nature of the available radar units. Second or third-generation devices, the Lashup radars were a hodgepodge of various types, vulnerable to a wide variety of technical problems, and limited in their capabilities. Early units were not capable of locating a target in three-dimensional space. Separate devices called "height-finder" radars would be needed to determine the altitude of a blip displayed on a search radar scope. If the CPS-4 height-finder was inoperative, it would be impossible for a controller to determine the altitude of an unknown object, complicating the problem of vectoring a fighter on it. Lashup radars also were prone to a malady known as "anomalous propagation," or AP. Angel and AP images were an everyday fact of life for ADC radarmen, and separating genuine targets from false images, which might or might not appear fuzzy, intermittent, or otherwise unusual, was part of the carefully honed craftsmanship which experienced operators, of necessity, learned to cultivate. There was no such thing as computer processing to help sort out the subtle electronic fingerprints -- doppler shifts, polarization, delay times -- which might characterize AP returns. The operator simply looked at his scope, which displayed everything reflected back to it. Was that strange, drifting blip a genuine unknown or a reflection from an ice cloud or a mountain a hundred miles away? Was that apparent formation of aerial objects actually a bridge sixty miles away? Was that high speed track a flying saucer moving at 1,000 mph or a distorted echo of a 500 mph jet? And since a fighter's own onboard radar might suffer similar distortions, an interceptor sent up to investigate a bogie might be as confused as its ground controllers. "This question of whether a radar target looked real is the cause of the majority of arguments about radar-detected UFOs because it is up to the judgment of the radar operator as to what the target looked like. And whenever human judgment is involved in a decision, there is plenty of room for an argument," one head of the Air Force's UFO study group observed. (See appendix C of J Allen Hynek's "The Hynek UFO Report")

Through the summer of 1951, the number of anomalous radar reports had reached unacceptable levels, and the officer then in charge of Project Grudge, Lieutenant Jerry Cummings, was growing concerned. From ADC's point of view, the problems of its radar controllers, interceptor crews and the Ground Observer Corps were serious and intractable. By its own secret estimates, in the 1951-52 period, even under ideal conditions - a high-altitude, daylight incursion - ADC's chances of detecting, identifying, engaging and downing an enemy bomber were an appallingly low three to six in a hundred. Even in Korea, a much smaller arena of operations, the Air Force found that it was impossible to achieve a leakproof air defense network. The Korean Air Defense Region was frequently surprised by formations of MiGs over Seoul and other southern cities, and even primitive North Korean PO-2 biplanes on "Bedcheck Charlie" nuisance bombing missions were able to elude radar-equipped F-94s.