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Missile Practice


Neil Albaugh
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Neil Albaugh

In 1962 we were expecting to be sent to Ft Bliss for our annual missile firing practice & qualification but word came down that we would not be returning from Germany to the States that year, Instead, we would be flown to a British Royal Artillery range in the Outer Hebrides Islands. This news was disappointing as we were all looking forward to a trip to "The Land of the Big PX" but it did send us scrambling to a map to see where the Outer Hebrides were located.

 

We found that it was just off the northwest coast of Scotland, out in the Atlantic. We were to transport all of our equipment to the range in the Hebrides, unlike previous training in Ft Bliss, where we used the range-furnished stuff like radar, computer, etc. This change required the Air Force to fly us and tons of vehicles and electronic equipment from Germany to the Island.

 

We loaded everything aboard huge USAF cargo planes at Rhine-Main  and took off. It was an uneventful flight if you don't consider the anxiety of sitting in a canvas seat right alongside a 5- ton van chained down to a cargo track. As the plane flew through turbulence, the chains rattled and strained but they held. The scariest part of the flight was landing at the Benbecula Aerodrome, a fairly short runway constructed by the British on the main island of the Outer Hebrides. The AF pilots did a skillful job of landing on this runway- brakes on, reverse props, and use the whole length of the available airfield!

 

We were billeted in a British Army barracks and were served by the British mess hall during most of our stay there. Mutton for breakfast, mutton for lunch. mutton.... I Managed to exist by supplementing this diet with Cadbury chocolate bars from the NAAFI store. There was a mobile snack bar truck that ran up and down the island every once in a while so I checked out what they had to eat aboard and found pies! I bought one and carried it back to the barracks, eagerly anticipating the nice fruit pie. I bit into it and immediately spit it out- blood pudding! Arrrggghhh! We were glad when the USAF flew us in some C-rations.

 

We successfully launched our first Corporal Missile and the British radar station on the small rock island of St Kilda scored it as a hit. Off duty there was little to do on the islands (the three Outer Hebrides Islands were North Uist, Benbecula, and South Uist). The population was small and the principal occupation was raising sheep and selling wonderful hand-made woolen fabrics. These folks were known as "crofters". Some days we tried fishing.

 

One afternoon I stopped at a crofter (McGillivray & Croy) to see his wares and maybe buy some woolen goods. I found a great heavy wool cloth with a tartan of "Hunting Frazer". I still have the shirt I had made of it. To walk back to our barracks, I saw that I could take a shortcut across a field to save time so I set off across what turned out to be a peat bog! Of course I fell in up to my waist and the British troops had great glee when I walked back up the company street. "Haw Haw- the Yank fell in the bog!!"

 

Oh, well. I had a laugh at some drunk British troopers who were trying to get their mate to get into a bathtub (the British had tubs instead of showers) but he was cursing, fighting and proclaiming at the top of his lungs that "I am not about to bathe in the shark-infested waters!"

 

Our next to last missile misfired on its launcher. When the countdown reached "Zero", nothing happened except a huge cloud of orange- the count continued alphabetically up to about "J" and the launch was stopped. We later found that a burst diaphragm in the fuel line to the combustion chamber had not fractured which allowed only oxidizer to enter the rocket motor and blow out the exit nozzle. The oxidizer was Red Fuming Nitric Acid which was highly corrosive and it created a repair nightmare. To inert the missile, a sergeant was sent up to the nose of the missile to remove a set of batteries. while he was thus occupied, a very strong gust of wind blew the extended arm of the cherry picker hard enough to shear a pin and the arm swung around full circle with the sergeant clutching the basket and it hit the fueled missile with a loud "clang". The missile rocked back and forth on its launcher as we all held our breath. Fortunately it settled back and a major disaster was averted.

 

My crew and I worked all through the night repairing the damage caused by the acid but we finally finished and a launch was attempted again. This time it fired, rose majestically into the air passing through a few low thin clouds and the disappeared in a flash and a distant "boom". All that hard work and it blew up! Later we heard the whole story- the British Range Safety Officer switched on his transmitter and the "destruct " switch was "On" accidentally and when the tubes in his transmitter warmed up, a destruct signal was transmitted to the missile and it was destroyed.

 

Later we were informed that the radar on St Kilda had been tracking it and since it was on the proper trajectory, we were awarded a "hit". We were all elated and we tied upturned brooms to the up-swept exhaust pipes of our trucks on the way home like the WWII submariners did, signifying "A Clean Sweep". We were the best missile unit in the whole world!

Outer Hebrides Islands- Bagpiper on South Uist.jpg

Outer Hebrides- Jim Gittens, Dave Brummett, Gary Sponseller Fishing.jpg

Radar Antenna-- Outer Hebrides.jpg

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