Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Working On The "SIX" The F-106 In The 83rd F.I.S.

Sgt. J. Stuart Richards

On November 1, 1971 my tour of duty in Vietnam was over. After spending 12 months working on one of the best aircraft ever made, the C7A Caribou I returned home and took a 30 day leave. Got to meet my daughter for the first time, she was born 5 months before I left Vietnam. I took a long over due rest back home in Pottsville. In late November I reported to my next duty station, Loring A.F.B., Maine, A big SAC (Strategic Air Command) base located near Presque Isle, Maine. Actually right near Limestone, Maine. . Loring was the home of the 42nd Bomb Wing that flew B-52’s and KC-135’s. I was assigned to one of the tenant units on the base, the 83rd Fighter Interceptor Squadron ADC (Air Defense Command) flying the famed F-106 “Delta Dart”. I was assigned to the FM, (Field Maintenance) Electric Shop. The 83rd was a reactivated unit beginning on 1 Jul 1971 by redesignation of 27th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron personnel and equipment. The squadron was inactivated on 30 June 1972, twenty one days after I was discharged.

The interesting aspect of this assignment for me was the fact that I had never worked on any type of fighter aircraft. My past 3 years as an aircraft electrician I worked on reciprocating engine aircraft, C-124, C-118, C-131 and a full year working on the C-7A Caribou in Vietnam. The only jet experience I had was minimal working on the C-141 at Maguire AFB prior to going to Vietnam. Another fun thing for me was coming home from Vietnam in November. In Vietnam the temperature ranged from 120 degrees in the summer to a cool 85 in the winter, and now being assigned to the far northeast of the U.S. where the temperature in November is a warm 20 degrees and in those wonderful winter months down to a -30. A real pleasure assignment.

The 83rd F.I.S. was activated from the original 27th F.I.S. The 27th was transferred to Loring Air Force Base, Maine, in October 1959, where it assumed an air defense role flying F-106 Delta Darts in the Bangor Air Defense Sector. The redesignated 27th Tactical Fighter Squadron was assigned to MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, July 2, 1971, as part of the reorganized 1st Tactical Fighter Wing. Although it left behind all of its F-106’s and turned them over to the 83rd F.I.S.
Unfortunately my time working on the Six was short lived. I would have liked to work more on the aircraft, but my discharge came along, and I wanted to get out. Actually I got an early out. Being assigned to the Air Defense Command was one of the best assignments in the Air Force. While stationed at Loring we had in the squadron a total of twenty F-106’s, eighteen ( A ) models and two (B) models. The aircraft where all 57/58/59 models. We also had one T bird, or T-33 that was used for training. T-33s were assigned to USAF F-101 Voodoo, F-102 Delta Dagger and F-106 Delta Dart units, to include similarly equipped Air National Guard units, of the Air Defense Command as proficiency trainers and practice "bogey" aircraft.

The Six was the main aircraft used by the United States during the 'Cold War'. It was used in air defense against Soviet bombers; the F-106 was an interceptor not really a fighter. To me the F-106 is a beautiful aircraft; it looked like it was built for speed. The Six is now fully retired from service but it will always take with it the notoriety of holding the fastest single engine jet aircraft speed record. It could fly at Mach 2.5+. In December of 1956 the initial prototype F106A first flew from Edwards Flight Test Center, coming close to the US Air Force requirements of Mach 1.9 and an operational ceiling of 57,000 feet. The Six was an extremely deadly interceptor; its weapons system was state of the art for the time period. This system called the MA-1 airborne fire control system comprised sophisticated navigation and fire control electronics.

it was an extremely deadly and effective weapons system that any hostile airspace intruder had reason to fear. The heart of its deadliness was the advanced MA-1 airborne fire control system, developed by Hughes Aircraft and based upon the earlier F102A MG-10 system. Comprised of over 2512 pounds of navigational and fire control electronics, the MA-1 system's 200 separate black boxes full of ‘hollow state devices’ (vacuum tubes) formed a very formidable all-weather, fully automatic weapons suite for its time. While technologically out of date by today's state of the art aircraft guidance and control systems, the MA-1 system nevertheless represented the peak of aerial targeting and fire control systems of the time period.
The Six entered operational service in May 1959, with the 498th FIS at Geiger , AFB, Washington. Many changes would take place with this aircraft over a period of years, and by the time I got my hands on one most of the changes were completed.

Escorting a TU-95 Bear

The mission of the Six was to intercept enemy bomber fleets approaching the U.S. and destroy them. The standard interception armament consisted of a combination of AIR-2A or AIR-2G Genie Nuclear Rockets, AIM4E/4F Super Falcon radar guided missiles, AIM-4G Super Falcon infrared seeking missiles. Fortunately there was never a need to fire the Genie at any Soviet TU-95 bear fleets. There are a few pictures of the Six flying along with the Soviet Bear Bombers that flew down from Iceland and down the North east corridor on their way to Cuba.

At Loring we always had two aircraft on Alert, they were armed with Genie’s and falcon missiles. Working in the alert barn on the alert aircraft was always interesting. While working on any aircraft that was armed the pilot had to be onboard the aircraft while any maintenance was performed. Actually the pilots would loosen any panels in the cockpit that needed to be opened. I can remember standing on the ladder telling the pilot to open this and that panel, while he used my screw driver. It was very confined for the pilot to try and do this type of work. The alert barn was a unique place to work. Often times I would look at the aircraft sitting there ready to roll out at a moments notice and marvel at the fire power this aircraft had. On alert, the Six was capable of a quick cold start, and scramble times of as little as 2 & 3/4ths minutes from initial alert to take off were routinely recorded during its time with ADC.

Once in the cockpit, the pilot was in full control, he began the engine start sequence by depressing a button on the throttle. Sitting on the forward top part of the throttle was a little black button, that I was very familiar with, changing one of these was quite the bear. The ignition and starter circuits are electrically interconnected. The electrical sequence for starting consisted of moving the throttle outboard to the start detent. This sent DC electrical power to the starter. While continuing to hold the ignition button depressed and moving the throttle inboard would now supply ignition to the engine. The ignition system is energized only during engine starting, as combustion is continuous once the engine starts. Advancing the throttle to IDLE position supplies fuel to the combustion chambers and lights the engine off. At idle speed setting the aircraft was disconnected from ground power. As soon as the electrics were on line and the radar was configured, the aircraft was ready to taxi, after a ‘last chance’ look-over from the ground crew on the saftey check area before entering the active runway. Once the final look over by the crew the six was ready to go.

throttle and console left side
We also had about six ready pods for the aircraft on the flight line if my memory holds. The ready pods were for aircraft that were cocked and ready to fly for training missions or other types of flights. The bad part about ready pods were they were just open area with a triangle shaped cover over top of the aircraft. The wind just blew through them and made things very miserable while working on the aircraft. I can still see the poor APE’s (Air Police) guards who walked the ramp in their heavy parkers and muckaluks armed with M-16 and looking like they were freezing to death, while I was sitting in the cockpit working on a problem with the portable heater blowing hot air into the aircraft, cozy to say the least when the temperature is about 20 below out side. Wow! What a crappy job being an Air Policeman Ramp Tramp had to be. I can remember riding the launch truck and hoping that nothing would go wrong electrically on the aircraft. I did not want to get out in the cold and have to work on the aircraft.

Almost all of the equipment I worked on in the six was somewhere around the outside of the aircraft ,including the engine area the engine and all the other componets were in the wheel wells, missile bay or in a panel that had to be accessed from the outside. If it was a generator or csd (constant speed drive) problem and the generator or csd had to be changed the jet mechanics had to pull the engine. In reality the electrical system on the six was controlled by a single ac generator. The main ac generator is driven by the engine through a CSD unit. AC electrical power was supplied by a 115 volt main ac generator. There was also an emergency ac generator that supplied power to the essential ac bus only. If the main generator fails the emergency generator starts automatically. The main switch for the generator was located on the right console, marked GEN, OFF, ON , TEST. The TEST position provides a test for the generator but does not connect it to the bus. A 200 amp transformer rectifier unit converts a portion of the generator output to dc power. There was also an emergency 50 amp TR a dc back up source in case the 200 amp TR failed. The six also had a 22 amp hour battery for emergency power.

On the left console is the master electrical switch. This switch is guarded and turning this switch on powers up all the buses. When the switch is on it connects the battery to the dc essential bus, then the generator can be energized. With the switch in the off position the generators are disconnected from the buses. Well actually that switch sets everything into motion, generator, inverters, voltage regulators etc. around the aircraft. One thing that had to be remembered when working on this bird is if the external power is connected it takes precedence over aircraft power. While external power is on the aircraft ac generator can be energized but not connected to the aircraft buses. The battery was charged by a small charger that was located in the nose wheel well and it got its power from the ac nonessential bus. Overall working on the aircrafts electrical systems was not that hard, the biggest problem associated with the electrical system was the failure of a generator or TR unit and the associated wiring which in some places was getting quite old. Systems that were necessary for flight were all on the essential bus and systems not critical to flight were on the dc nonessential bus.

What I remember most about working on the six was the constant problems associated with the master warning light panel that was located at the forward end of the right console. We seemed to have a lot of problems with the warning systems. And the little indicator lights on the panel. Actually there were 24 small warning lights on the panel. Another system that the aircraft electrician takes care of is the master fire warning system. Any abnormally high temperature in the engine compartment is indicated by a red fire warning light located on the instrument panel. When it is illuminated steady it indicates FIRE, which no pilot wants to see! When it is flashing the light indicates that only one detector loop has been affected. The problem with the loop system is the loop sometimes rubs on parts of the aircraft wearing through the wire and causing a high resistance, or shorting out completely which will give a false fire indication. Troubleshooting this system can sometimes be very difficult.

Being an aircraft electrician puts you in the fore front of aircraft maintenance; actually almost every system is run by electricity, provided by a generator, Transformer rectifier, inverter, battery or external power. We as aircraft electricians supplied this power to all the avionics, MA-1 systems; we worked closely with the hydraulic mechanics and the jet mechanics, actually working with the jet mechanics can sometimes be very trying. To change a generator out on the flight line requires the jet mechs to pull the engine, they in turn will remove the generator and re install a new one, my job as simple as this sounds was to hook up the leads on the generator, after the engine is re installed, unfortunately for me on one occasion, a very cold day out on the flight line, I had the Jet mechs pull the engine and replace the generator, after they went through the whole process of installing the engine and hooking up all their lines, fuel, hydraulic etc. I was in the process of hooking up the electrical leads, when I happened to torque down one lead a little too much and broke it completely off the terminal stud. Need I say more! The mechanics had to un hook and re pull the engine so they could change the generator once again, they were not happy, and I stayed away from them as long as I could. Actually I think there was some vile comments only a cold and un happy jet mechanic could say while I was hooking up the new generator. If I remember right I just put on my sound suppression head set so I couldn’t hear them.

The last job I did on the six was to install what was called a TCTO, (Time Compliance Tech Order). This was to install a switch on the canopy rail mechanism and an idiot light, (what we called all warning lights in aircraft) on the front panel to indicate to the pilot that the canopy was un locked! I guess some pilots were not locking the canopy prior to take off and as they went into AB down the runway the canopy was opening up.

Some of the other things I remember about working on this aging beauty at the time was A lot of work on the landing gear up and down lock switches, the nose wheel steering electrical circuit was a real bumer to work on. Power to the solenoids on the missile rails. We had a lot of problems with the landing lights and formation lights. The landing lights were on the gear doors, and the wiring was old and sometimes frayed and had a tendency to short out from the movement of the gear doors and the slop and water that could be thrown up inside the wheel wells would cause problems.


After a few years of working on large cargo aircraft where a lot of the electrical components and systems are easily accessible. On the other hand when I started working on the six it seemed like everything electrical that needed repair was in the cockpit and was under the instrument panel, or in the cramped side consoles. If the ejection seat was removed it wasn’t too bad, but if the seat was in you had to lie on your back upside down and on the floor and squeeze between the control stick and the TSD and try to work from that position. Oh yea, the EJECTION seat, cargo aircraft never had ejection seats, so any time you worked on a six with the seat in you had to remember to check the pins and make sure they were all in place so the seat wouldn’t eject on the ground…not good for the mechanic! I absolutely hated to work on the throttle quadrant and the little switches that comprised the different settings, I hated anything like that. I can remember setting the voltage regulator while the aircraft was running, if you want to talk about noise, stand beside a J-75 when its running.
We also had a larger hanger that comprised all of the maintenance shops, electric, instruments, radio, Avionics, MA-1, hydraulic, jet, and crew chiefs APG, etc in this hanger we performed all of the Periodic maintenance to check major components and major phase maintenance or routine repair jobs.

I worked with some really great guys in the 83rd, there was one particular crew chief that was amazing, and I don’t think he was ever cold, as you would see him out on the flight line in just his fatigue shirt in some of the coldest of times. The pilots were all great guys, seems to me they were mostly Lieutenants and Captains. In my shop (the Electric) were some really good electricians, a lot of these guys had worked in ADC for a long time and had a lot of experience on the Six, so I learned a lot from them. As bad as the weather was in Maine, (172 inches of snow on the ground that year) I still enjoyed working on the “SIX”. And was proud to be part of the old Air Defense Commands 83rd Fighter Interceptor Squadron.


1 comment:

cliff clark said...

I stumbled onto this article because I just came across a pen and pencil set like the one I have up in attic and I was looking for a name. I was originally assigned to the 465th FIS at Griffith AFB in Rome NY. This squardon was combined with the 27th squardon and the 606th Maintenance Sq. was formed. This was split again in Oct. 1959 and I elected to go with the 27th FIS and move to Loring AFB. You are correct it was one of the best assignments possible. I would enjoy talking with you but I'm not sure how we could arrange that. My e-mail address is