The Unit

The 59th all weather Fighter-Interceptor Squadron

The following is a detailed history of the unit where the book Black Watch Diary took place, this excerpt below is from the complete history of the unit at: 59th Fighter Interceptor Squadron web site.

pic2As the result of the Cold War getting “Hot” in Korea and for the need to increase national security, the U.S. Air Force Air Defense Command (ADC) was inaugurated. The United States was divided into the Eastern, Central and Western Air Defense Areas and their Fighter Interceptor Squadrons received the first U.S. Jet Fighter Interceptor radar equipped aircraft, the new Lockheed F-94A Starfire. The two-place F-94 was this nation’s first operational jet all-weather interceptor. It was developed from the T-33 trainer which had been a modification the Army Air Forces’ first operational jet aircraft, the F-80. Although the F-94 had a redesigned fuselage to accommodate the large radar unit and the addition of an afterburner, it used the T-33 tail, wing, landing gear and engine. The Starfire was also the first U.S. production jet to have an afterburner, which provided brief periods of additional engine thrust. The especially designed radar in the nose permitted the observer in the rear seat to locate an enemy aircraft at night or in poor weather. The pilot then flew the Starfire into proper position for an attack based upon the observer’s radar indications and information. The armament consisted of four 50-cal. machine guns mounted in the nose.

In early 1951, the Air Force began advertising for personnel to become Radar Observers to fly in the rear seat of the F-94 and, using sophisticated intercept radar equipment, direct the pilot to the target. RO training was conducted at James Connally AFB, Waco, Texas, and lasted only six months. Many young men awaiting assignment to a Navigator class switched to the Radar Observer training. The trainees graduated as Second Lieutenants and were awarded Radar Observer Wings in half the time the 12-month Navigator School required.

The squadron at Otis AFB began converting to the F-94B aircraft early in 1951. Many highly experienced Jet Fighter Pilots, who had previously flown only single seat fighter aircraft and with prior combat experience in both Korea and WW II, were assigned to the squadron. Typical reactions from single seat pilots who had never flown a fighter with a back seat Radar Observer as a “passenger”, after being assigned to an Air Defense Squadron:

fighter“I’d always flown single seat, single engine fighters. This was a new twist for me. Like most fighter pilots, I was not very happy about having someone in the back seat. Nor could I imagine why anyone would want to ride back there during all the gyrations we go through.” One RO, when asked why he was a Radar Observer at the bar one evening replied, “Everyone has to be some place.” When asked what ROs were good for? A fighter pilot replied, “If you go down in the arctic, you could eat ‘em.”

The new ROs were three distinct types. Some were in their thirties and were holdovers from World War II night fighters, others were refurbished WWII Navigators and Bombardiers and some were new kids in their early twenties, straight from Radar Observer School.

The squadron was scheduled for Gunnery Training in the F-94B in the fall of 1951 out of Eglin AFB, Florida. Many of the pilots scored a high percentage of “hits” and both the squadron and the individuals were commended. As the training continued, Pilots and Radar Observers became “teams” and increased their proficiency in finding “bogies” and guiding their planes to within firing range on radar. The squadron was composed mostly of pilots of the rank of Captain, with only two or three 1st Lts. It was one of the most “experienced” squadrons in ADC, if not the entire Air Force. Probably because of this high pilot experience level the 59th was alerted in April or May, 1952, to be transferred to Goose Bay, Labrador, a strategic air defense location, in October.

During this period, the squadron only had nine F-94s and had broken all previous flying records. More than 1,000 hours were flown in the month of June alone! In June and July, six 2/Lt. Pilots reported to the squadron. All were from Pilot Training Class 51-H, which graduated with their wings in December 1951, except for one from 52-A who graduated in February 1952. These pilots had flown T-6s and B-25s in pilot training and had been sent to Jet Transition in T-33s and Jet Instrument School at Moody AFB, Georgia, after getting their wings. When they completed the training in Georgia, they proceeded to Tyndall AFB, Florida for checkout in the F-94. They then teamed up with newly graduated Radar Observers and began Radar Intercept training.

The wife of one of the 59th Supply Airmen or NCOs had designed a new 59th Squadron Patch early in 1952. Her new patch depicted a black bat on a yellow “Moon” background with “59” on the top part of the moon and “Freicudan Du,” Gaelic for Black Watch or Black Guard, below the bat and across the bottom part of the moon. The new patch was called “The Bat on the Moon”. It more fittingly represented an All-Weather Fighter Interceptor Squadron, flying mostly at night and in bad weather, than the existing 59th Lion patch with the phrase, “Golden Pride”. In June one of the newly reporting 2/Lt pilots, William R. Tuxhorn, refined the design making the bat look more “ferocious” and that design was adopted as the new squadron patch. Unfortunately, this Bat on the Moon patch was never submitted to the Air Force for official recognition. Never-the-less, it became the 59th Squadron Emblem for the Goose Bay Northeast Air Command period from mid 1952 until the squadron was inactivated in 1967. A bat, without the moon, was painted on both sides of the nose of the F-94 squadron aircraft between the gun ports and air intake duct.

Additional F-94Bs joined the squadron that summer and the squadron moved to Goose Bay in late October, 1952. Although there was some new construction going on, the base had changed very little from its World War II configuration. Initially, a major problem was where to house the officers of an entire new squadron. A new BOQ building was not yet completed and work had been suspended for the cold months. So all officers, from the Commander down to the newest Second Lieutenant were housed in one large bay on the top floor of a WW II “H” shaped building constructed of wood with a heavy outside covering of black tar paper. There was one large latrine/shower room. The plumbing was in such disrepair that occasionally water was ankle deep in the latrine and additional boards had to be thrown down to walk on. In the large open bay, bunks were tiered two high and so many windows were missing glass that snow was scooped up from the floor to chill the Scotch. The squadron enlisted men were quartered in another building with similar comforts.

There were separate facilities for Squadron Operations. The 59th was given a couple of large rooms on the south side of Base Operations. Directly outside the building, about 50 yards away, and located in the open cold of the late Labrador fall and early winter were the two Red-Alert F-94s and the two 15-minute-alert aircraft. When scrambled, the flight crews ran out the south door of the Operations Building to their aircraft. As the crews climbed in the cockpit, the pilot brought the throttle “around the horn” to complete the starting process that the ground crews had initiated to facilitate the scramble time. Checklists were addressed as crew was buckling in and the aircraft was taxied to the end of the runway for take off. Even in that primitive alert environment, three-minute scrambles were the rule.

A detachment of the 59th, a flight of four aircraft and their crews was assigned to Thule AFB, Greenland in September 1952. The 59th crews continued to stand alert at Thule until the 318th FIS arrived at Thule to replace them in late July and early August 1953.

In the spring of 1953, the new BOQ was completed at Goose Bay and the 59th officers were assigned quarters in the facility, two per room. This was a great improvement over the original officers quarters and moral skyrocketed. However, when the long awaited Spring Thaw arrived and snow melted revealing hundreds of empty whiskey, wine and beer bottles and cans around the old BOQ, all the Officers of the squadron were summoned to the Base Theater for a “Dressing Down” by the “dismayed” Base Commander. He had a couple of six-bys vehicles turned over to the 59th Officers who were told to police up the mess! He thought this would serve as punishment but actually the men had a good time in the process.

pic7For about 10 years before the 59th was assigned to Goose Bay there had been U. S. Air Support activities on the Canadian base. The base had also been a civilian refueling alternate for aircraft flying from Canada and the United States to Europe using the “Great Northern” route through Goose Bay, BW-1 Greenland, Keflavik, Iceland, Prestwick, Scotland and on to their final destination. The 59th was the first Fighter Squadron assigned to Goose Bay on a full-time basis. Almost from the beginning of the squadron’s stay at Goose, relationships between squadron officers and the Officers Club OIC (Officer in Charge) and other Base Wheels had been strained. These “ground-pounders” and an ever changing contingent of SAC “Weenies” were not acquainted with the free wheeling behavior of Fighter Crews. More “conservative” members of the Club frowned upon their off-duty behavior. The Club Officer was “shocked” and other non-59th “wheels” began to complain of the conduct of 59th officers. Col. Dow, the 59th Commander who had brought the squadron from Otis, spent many an hour in front of the Base Commander, Col. Thomas, attempting to explain minor incidents (some may have been more notable), as the result of exuberant camaraderie to be expected from Fighter Crews. From time to time, an individual might be barred from the Club for a few days or a week, but Col. Dow became the buffer and protector and no “mass” punishment was inflicted on the squadron during the first year at Goose Bay while he was in command.

A new group of 59th officers, who were replacing those who had served their tour, continued to stretch the patience of other officers who were not in the squadron and who did not appreciate the uninhibited style. In other words, this second group of officers dutifully carried on the squadron’s dubious reputation until finally, the entire squadron was banned from the O-Club.

BanquetThe result was the now famous “Scramble Inn”. In a vacant corner of the BOQ basement, from the creative resourcefulness of the eager and motivated volunteer 59th officers, emerged a uniquely decorated party room complete with tables, chairs, sofas and a well stocked bar. On Christmas Eve 1953, the Scramble Inn held its grand opening and survived to enhance the tours of Goose Bay airmen for many years after.

During 1954, Squadron Commanders came and went. In January, a flight of two F-94s making an instrument approach to the base in an ice fog lost the horizon when they went visual and crashed onto the bay ice in formation. One cold Saturday night in February, an F-94 buzzing the Scramble Inn struck an unlighted radio tower near the BOQ but the pilot managed to get a badly beat up airplane on the ground with no injuries. Another aircraft ran out of fuel and the plane was lost in the Queen’s timbers. Fortunately, pilot and RO were unhurt, used some of their survival training for one night, and came home on foot the next day. Another F-94 aborted the take off, ran off the end of the runway and burned. The RO, using a .357 Magnum, got out by blowing a large hole in the jammed canopy and then dragged his pilot out. The pilot was also trapped under the jammed canopy and would not have made it without the ROs help. It was a tough year accident-wise.

The 59th was in process of taking over an old WWII hangar and painting and fixing up office spaces in preparation for moving the Squadron Orderly room there. Paints and solvents were stored in the furnace room. One midnight, it all burned. All of the 59th maintenance records and field personnel records were lost and it was back to square one using whiskey cases for filing cabinets. Luckily, no one was injured.

HangarA great amount of construction began in 1954 to replace the old WWII structures. A new Base Theater, Chapel, Base Exchange, nine hangars, four warehouses, a steam power and heating plant, new Base Ops building, two fire stations, several shops were built and the runway and ramps were repaired. Compared to what the 59th crews found in October 1952, it began to look like a modern air base.

Towards the end of 1954, the 59th began receiving Northrop F-89D Scorpion aircraft and crews. The F-89D was a twin-engined interceptor, equipped with 104 unguided rockets located in launch-tube pods in front of the wing-tip fuel tanks. It had a more sophisticated radar system than the F-94. It also had a Pilot and Radar Observer. The F-89D was the first all-rocket armament equipped USAF fighter. Early 1955 saw the end of F-94Bs and those F-94 crews who had not completed their year tour commitment transitioned into The F-89. The squadron’s F-89Ds were replaced in 1957 with F-89Js. The F-89J was actually a modified F-89D with a new fire control system for launching the Genie (AIR-2A) nuclear unguided rocket missile (the first USAF nuclear equipped fighter). The F-89J carried two Genies on launching rails that were mounted on the under-wing pylons. The wingtip armament/fuel pods of the F-89D were removed and replaced by 600-gallon fuel tanks.

Harmon AFB, Newfoundland, and Thule AFB, Greenland were slated to be equipped with F-102As in the summer of 1957. The Convair F-102A Delta-Dagger was a single pilot crew, delta wing, supersonic all-weather interceptor, a USAF first. It was armed with 24 unguided and 6 guided missiles. After electronic equipment on board the F-102 had located the enemy aircraft, the radar control system would guide it into position for attack. At the proper moment, the electronic fire control system would automatically fire the F-102’s air-to-air rockets and missiles.

It turned out the F-102 was not ready for NEAC winters. Thule aircraft were delayed and Harmon got the Truax AFB “Deuce” squadron in about October. Within a week, the 59th had to send some F-89s to Harmon along with ground crews to stand alert while the Truax Squadron tried to work the “Cold Weather Bugs” out of their Deuces. In addition to this additional alert commitment at Harmon, the 59th sent F-89 crews to Thule because the pipeline flow of their F-89 crews had been terminated in anticipation of the scheduled replacement of the F-89 by F-102s.

The 59th released their F-89J aircraft in early 1960. The remaining ROs were then reassigned. Canadian CF-100 aircraft from RCAF Squadron 433 at North Bay temporarily took over the alert commitment at Goose on 31 May 60, while the 59th pilots transitioned into F-102As during temporary duty to Harmon AFB. This training was completed and the 59th pilots retook the alert commitment at Goose on 6 Sep 1960 in their F-102s.

courtesy: 59th Fighter Interceptor Squadron

Click here for ordering information for Black Watch Diary.

Leave a Comment

Black Watch Diary The Sequel
Fellow airmen, spouses, widows, and children forwarded their personal memories, stories, and pictures. The saga of rebellious fly-boys building the “world famous” Scramble Inn will tickle you into many laughs. Only. $19.50