Just When Did TACAMO Begin?
The official history says in the early 1960s, RADM Bernard F. Roeder, Director of Naval Communications, directed then LT Jerry O. Tuttle, a recent Naval Post Graduate School telecommunications masters program grad to start a project to ensure alternate communications could be had with Polaris nuclear powered and nuclear missile armed submarines. My source, a speech VADM Tuttle delivered at a TACAMO PMA change of command in 1989 for then PMA 271 Capt Ed Hampshire. The admiralsí remarks indicated that it was in 1963 that RADM Roeder scribbled the word TACAMO on a slip of paper and told LT Tuttle to "Take Charge and Move Out" - TACAMO.
However recent research shows that while the term TACAMO is from 1963, Naval Air Development Center (NADC) Warminster, Pennsylvania completed some feasibility testing in 1962 to determine if a long trailing wire antenna could be made to fall into some kind of vertical array if the aircraft extending it was flown in certain flight patterns.
Captain Hampshire, who flew some of first EC-130 TACAMO orbit flights provides this intro into the NADC work that was intended to evaluate airborne antenna options for submarine communications.
The original airborne VLF idea came into existence just after the FBM subs were tested and started to be deployed (The first underwater Polaris launch was from the USS GEORGE WASHINGTON on 20 Jul 1960). Of course the airborne VLF purpose was to give a degree of survivability to the communication link to the subs. When the FBMs were first deployed the primary means of communications was still HF where they periodically (on a preset schedule) had to breach an antenna to receive their submarine broadcast traffic. The messages were sent FSK and CW. VLF was just really being tested as a good way to have deep submerged one way communications with the subs. This was the 1961-1962 timeframe. The real push to complete this work came as a result of the Cuban Missile Crisis when President Kennedy realized how vulnerable his link to the FBMs was. At that time we had five Polaris equipped subs with 80 warheads. If we were to play the game of who blinks first with the Russians then the President had to know with certainty he could communicate to the subs. That energized the airborne VLF project (October 1962).
The initial idea of testing an airborne VLF system came from the Naval Air Development Center in Warminster, PA. They had assigned to the command a couple of NC-121K aircraft (BuNo. 137889 and 141292) that they decided to try out the concept on. The one they chose was BuNo.137889. I remember the BUNo because we did all the TACAMO IV development tests on our EC-130G BuNo.151889, both ended in "889".
The initial concept was tried out using a high powered audio amplifier and using a target towing cable that was cut off from the spool that was installed on the aircraft after the wire was deployed. This wire was isolated from the aircraft ground and hooked up to the high powered audio amplifier. The reason they used a high powered audio amplifier was the frequency range of the amplifier was about 60 hertz to about 18,000 hertz (the audio range of frequencies) and it could be coupled to the long cable instead of a speaker. It worked so development continued. Many things had to be worked out to have a workable system. Things like how to couple the high power to the cable without excessive voltages at the cable and signal losses, do you "trail the cable antenna or try to get it as vertical as possible, do you have to know where the sub was to point the antenna", etc.
Captain Walt Reese, USN Retired
flew those flights in the EC-121 BUNO 889.
My tour of duty at the Naval Air Development Center was July 1961 - November 1963 as the Project Flight Support Coordinator; (and since I had previous duty with Airborne Early Warning Wing Pacific, I was EC-121 / WV-2 qualified. I recall that initial TACAMO Project related work did NOT start during the early part of my NavAirDevCen tour. It would have been during 1962 that CNO assigned the Navy's #1 Priority Project for development to NavAirDevCen for our project flight support schedule we referred to the "Navy's #1 Priority Project", and during early development not to referred to as "Project TACAMO".
At that time we had one EC-121 / WV-2 assigned to NAS Johnsville PA for flight support of NavAirDevCen projects and we were aware of another EC-121 / WV-2 with very bad fuel leaks parked on the back line at NAS, Pax River (probably never to fly again). Since this was in support of the Navy's #1 Priority Project, money was no problem and EC-121 / WV-2 BuNo 137889 was pulled off the back line, the fuel leaks were repaired, and it was transferred to NAS Johnsville. Also at that time NavAirDevCen was in the business of developing towed airborne targets, and 30,000 feet tow cables were available to become 5 mile long antennas. At NavAirDevCen all normal equipments were removed from the aircraft rear fuselage, and a winch was installed with a hawse pipe through the aircraft belly to handle the 5 mile antenna. It was fun to work with Navy Chincoteague Radar, VA. to determine angle of bank and airspeed needed to give the 1,000 feet of antenna verticality needed for the VLF system. Walt.