The earliest days of Project Jenny from a plank owner’s perspective.
Aboard the USS Orion AS18 on an afternoon in June of 1965, Paul Ingold ETR2 received a set of orders detaching him immediately for somewhere. He was ship’s company.
At about 1800 that same day I received a call indicating I had a set of orders and I should return to the ship immediately. My response was “I know I have a set of orders to Newport RI for instructor duty”. Well, these aren’t for RI, return now!” When I returned to the ship about 1900, the XO and OD were waiting for me on the quarterdeck with papers in hand. Their first question was “What do you know about this?” I didn’t have the slightest idea what they were talking about… after reading the orders myself I suggested it could have been in regards to a modification to submarine ECM masts I had recommended. The Orion Repair gang had spent many hours on ECM mast repair. I turned my responsibilities in R-4 Division over to the duty ET and the Repair Officer.
The orders stated: “Report to Mr. Neil van der Duessen on a (certain) street corner in Camden, NJ tomorrow morning at 8:00AM, you are to be wearing civilian clothes”. Cloak and dagger stuff. When Mr. van der Duessen asked me what I thought of television, my answer was “I hate the damn stuff.” This sort of set him back on his heels, but without skipping a beat he said “well how about radar?” I said “That’s ok.” He said “TV is like radar”.
To the best of my recollection, the following sailors were present in the classroom at RCA:
…and myself. According to what I have read from Steve Robbins’ website, the enlisted crew was turned over to me. I didn’t have the slightest idea what was going on. The word was we were going to put television in an airplane. On a submarine I could perhaps understand, but on a plane?? One of my first questions was how are they going to convert the 60 ~ stuff to the 400~ used in aviation? I thought the idea of putting a heavy 60~generator in an aircraft was crazy.
We completed the TV training, which was focused on operation and not on maintenance. We were then sent to Washington, PA for training on an RCA broadcast AM radio transmitter. Once we completed that training we were sent to NATC Patuxent River and introduced to a twin engine R4D aircraft that had a TV transmitter and an AM transmitter with a trailing wire antenna, and lo and behold, a 25 KW 60 ~ generator. Guess they were serious about this 60 ~ stuff after all.
Curious sort that I was, we were to transmit with the AM transmitter, and I wanted to see the effect on the generator when we went to transmit. So I left one of the guys tuning the transmitter into a dummy load and I went back to the generator. We had synchronized our watches and at the time we were to transmit I heard a god-awful groaning of the generator and some hollering at the transmitter. My first thought was someone got across the output and was fried. I kicked the generator breaker off and in doing so broke the handle. I think we took that particular generator to Vietnam.
What actually happened was the trailing wire antenna got hit by lightning. I still have the directional coupler to look at once in a while- the glass capacitor was heated to globs of glass. There is quite a bit of energy in lightening! A young JO immediately told me that he hadn’t touched a thing. He and I had had a bit of a “discussion” while in Washington, Pa. One of the techs was tuning some coils in the back of the transmitter and this JO was messing with knobs on the front of the transmitter. We had to develop an understanding. I had a big problem with “knob twisters”, especially when someone was working on equipment.
Along about this time I was asked if I wanted to stay with the project. Seemed like pretty good duty, so why not? The time spent at Pax River was fantastic - short workdays and home for lunch- what could be better?
That didn’t last long, as the crew was moved to Andrews AFB where we created the first Blue Eagles. There I met Captain Dixon, two super Connies and a bunch of civilian broadcast equipment. In essence, I was told to build the two platforms and make it work. There were no other guidelines. I divided the crews so we could move both along, 444 was the prototype and the first TV aircraft to be completed, John Scida coordinated reconfiguration of 641, the second aircraft.
The months spent constructing these platforms and making the stuff work was grueling. Those living at Pax River would leave at 4:30AM and return around midnight that same day. Everyone stepped up to the line and did their jobs. I don’t know when it dawned on us that we were headed for Vietnam, perhaps when we heard rumors about broadcasting the 1965 World Series.
Not everything was rosy between one of the plane commanders and myself. I’m not much of a politician. I installed the reconfigured equipment for maintenance, not for pretty looks. The Captain had to referee this problem, so we wasted a lot of time making cardboard mockups. Maintenance requirements won out. This same guy kept referring to us as “a bunch of misfits”- I'd take this bunch any and every day. This bunch of “misfits” took the day.
In late November 1965, Captain Dixon, Max [an RCA engineer from UK], myself and the plane crew flew a “test mission” at 2400 over and around DC to demonstrate we could transmit a solid TV signal. We drove the transmitter with a function generator; the sawtooth waveform made a perfect jammer. I had asked my wife to watch the TV over the period we would be playing around. When I asked her what she saw, she wasn’t impressed- the show she was watching was interrupted by a bunch of squiggly lines.
444 was the first TV aircraft to arrive in country in Vietnam, and my mission was to ensure the reliability of equipment operation. I was told I would return to CONUS and build the third TV bird. That was to be in six weeks. That I found out was not so.
When we got in country we were given a two hour introduction to Vietnam. “If you go down, if what you find to eat is bitter - spit it out, if not, you won’t starve”. Mr. two step- “If the snake bites you, two steps and it’s over”. And, “Oh by the way, if you guys go down we don’t know you.” So much for the air cover we were supposed to have.
Cooperation between the Air Force and the Navy wasn’t the best. We couldn’t eat in the AF mess, so we had to get by on our own. I was lucky when I made contact with an Air Force Warrant Officer when looking for spare parts. One of the tubular resistors in the TV transmitter cracked, so we scavenged stuff to “glue” it back together. Then I had to jury rig the voltage regulator on the 60~ generator. The AF Warrant was a supply type, so we had a steady supply of WWII C Rations. When you mixed that with spam you had a pretty good meal. The Army clubs on base welcomed us. What I couldn’t find was a good cup of coffee, Good grief, coffee ran in my veins. What I did find was a “salty dog”. Anybody recall the ingredients? (Grapefruit Juice and Gin or Vodka, with salt around the rim of the glass – JH)
Early in the morning of 13 April 1966 I was down on the flightline and made eye contact with a Vietnamese- he seemed “different” to me in some way. It didn’t occur to me that something wasn’t quite right and I should have challenged him. I don’t suppose I’ll ever have that question in my mind answered.
There were three of us at 444 when the aircraft was targeted. If the first mortar round hadn’t hit the co2 “fire bottle” we would have been toast. The second round went through the tail section. The third round hit the area between the generator and the air conditioner. I was forward of the air conditioner. How we got back to the rest of our crew, I do not recall. I do recall we had the word that the base was being overrun and the flares from the choppers were lighting us up like daylight. I also recall a young sailor in his white tee shirt getting up on top of the sandbags, perhaps to get a better look around, and making a brilliant target. I threatened him, not necessarily proud of it, but I probably did him a favor.
There were six of us who crawled into a Vietnamese cemetery. It had a canopy over the top with 6 foot walls and above ground graves. We made a pact between ourselves that we would take at least one VC out with us. Our weapons- survival knives. The American flag over the base the next morning never looked so good, or meaningful.
What I do know is that our efforts were paying off, as the little buggers squatted down in front of the idiot box and that disturbed their movement. Charlie couldn’t have that. So maybe, just maybe Mr. van der Duessen, TV did have a purpose! (I still think that it’s a big waste of time!).
I left the project somewhere around July 1966. One of my proudest moments was being awarded my Aircrew Wings on my departure from the project. I have the utmost respect for the sailors I had the opportunity to work with.
John Lucas ETC (SS) (AC) Saigon 65/66