(Consider it an early weekend present — enjoy!  Now, get to reading that new Maritime Strategy – lots of discussions next week and some surprises in the offering on this site…stay tuned.  -SJS)

15 Oct 1962.  Imagery from U-2 flights begun on the 14th continue to roll in for imagery analysts at NPIC (National Photographic Interpretation Center), located in Washington, DC, from high altitude flights over Cuba.  Of interest is the Soviet build-up of forces on the island which apparently include nuclear-armed medium range ballistic missiles.  While detailed, the imagery isn’t granular enough to accurately determine operational status and equipment details.  To do so would require high-speed, low altitude runs…and the new RF-8A Crusaders of Light Photo Sixty Two were the perfect platforms to execute the mission…

Designated the F8U-1P under the pre-joint designation system, the RF-8 differed markedly from the F-8 by having the lower half of the forward fuselage squared off to accommodate the installation of cameras (three CAX-12 trimetrogen cameras and two K-17 vertical cameras.  All armament was removed, the upper fuselage “area-ruled” to account for the squared off forward section and camera installation.  A smaller tail reduced drag, boosting that all important speed factor (doubly important for unarmed recce birds).  The imagery configuration was pretty complex and originally consisted of three trimetrogen cameras, which gave horizon-to-horizon coverage at Station 2, actually the aft-most bay. Eventually, the definitive camera arrangement was two cameras giving vertical and oblique coverage in station s 3 and 4, while station 1, located below and forward of the cockpit, mounted a forward-looking oblique camera. Station 1 could also carry a 16-mm movie camera. Although the cameras at Stations 3 and 4 could give several degrees of obliquity, those most commonly used were 5 degrees, 15 degrees, and 30 degrees. The cameras were manufactured by Chicago Aerial and were designated KA-66 (station 2), KA-51, KA-53 or KA-62 (stations 3 and 4) and KA-45 or KA-51 (station 1).  First flight for the Photo-‘sader was 17 December 1956.

  • Tuesday, 16 October: The Joint Chiefs of Staff were ordered to emergency session at 1100Q on October 16. Admiral Anderson was recalled after a National War College/Industrial College of the Armed Forces lecture and General Curtis LeMay, Air Force Chief of Staff, was recalled from Europe. At this meeting came the first firm revelation that military action would be taken relative to the Soviet offensive build-up in Cuba.  At 0900Q, the President received photographic evidence of the Cuban offensive missile sites from Mr. Bundy. Three hours later, he convened a meeting at the White House with the Vice-President, Secretary Rusk, Secretary McNamara, the Attorney General, General Taylor, Deputy SECDEF Gilpatric, Deputy SECSTATE George Ball, Asst. SECSTATE Edwin Martin, Mr. Bundy, Presidential Assistant Ted Sorensen, Douglas Dillon, Charles Bohlen, and Kenneth O’Donnell. The outcome of the meeting was that reconnaissance of Cuba should be increased greatly. Six U-2 flights were scheduled for the next day.  Conferences that afternoon at the State Department included Messrs. Rusk, Ball, Martin, Alexis Johnson, Ambassadors Bohlen, Thompson, and Stevenson. At 1830Q there was another White House meeting at which a Guided Missile and Astronautic Intelligence Committee evaluation of U-2 missions and photographs taken on October 14 and 15 were considered.

  • Wednesday, 17 October: On the 17th, the Joint Chiefs notified CINCONAD to take action without delay for the augmentation of air defenses of the Southeast U.S., and CINCLANT alerted shore-based Navy and Marine Corps fighter squadrons in the area to assist CONAD forces. The Chief of Naval Operations sent a personal message to the Fleet Commanders advising them to be prepared to order as many ships as possible to sea on a 24-hour notice, provided their main propulsion plants were ready.  Project “BLUE MOON” a CINCLANTFLT operations order to obtain low-level photographic reconnaissance of Cuban military buildup areas, became operational at Naval Air Station, Jacksonville, Fla., utilizing F8U-1P aircraft.

Tuesday morning, 23 October the first RF-8 flights lifted off the tarmac at NAS Key West to begin the low level recce flights across Cuba.  In three flights of two they crossed the Florida Straits and began their missions in the areas identified by the U-2 flights as holding MRBMs with a goal of bringing back photographic evidence of their state of operational capability. Recovering aboard NAS Cecil, the film canisters were downloaded and processed:

23 Oct USN low level (10 23 Oct USN low level (2)

In a 1999 interview (in concert with the release of the movie “Thirteen Days”) Ecker reflected on that first mission:

On Oct. 19, 1962, the Pentagon’s Bureau of Aeronautics contacted Koch while he and Ecker were fishing in Orange Park, Fla. The bureau had a top-security mission in mind. “They called up and said, ‘Can you really take pictures this good?’ ” Ecker recalled. “We said not only ‘yes’ but ‘hell yes.’ ” A few days later, Ecker got his assignment to fly over Cuba. Ecker and the pilot of a plane that flew just off his starboard wing were assigned to photograph a suspected missile site at San Cristobal. After the Havana skyline appeared, Ecker banked to the west, flying right over a fleet of Cuban trawlers.

Despite that warning, the jets proved too fast for Cuban air-defense gunners. The flight time over Cuba totaled only 4 minutes. “You could see the popcorn in your mirrors,” Ecker said, referring to the white puffs of smoke left by anti-aircraft fire. “But we never got hit.” One of the jet’s photos even captured a soldier scrambling from an outhouse. More importantly, the photos also showed soldiers conducting activities around missile bases.

“Then it got kind of hectic,” Ecker recalled. “We were flying right into the granddaddy of all thunderstorms. We’re talking a wall of clouds rising to 50,000, 60,000 feet. “Here I’ve got the pictures, and if the airplane gets busted all to pieces, it wouldn’t do anybody any good,” Ecker said. At the last second, Ecker saw a jet-sized hole open up in the clouds. “It was just a sunspot,” he said. “I said, ‘Burners, now!’ We popped out the top.”

Once back at Cecil Field, technicians unloaded reels of film from the belly of the jet, and Ecker was given orders to fly immediately to Washington, D.C., to brief the joint chiefs of staff. Upon arrival at Andrews Air Force Base, Ecker was whisked by a black limousine to an underground garage at the Pentagon. An Air Force colonel escorted Ecker to a small elevator, which led to an unmarked corridor guarded by a Marine. A door opened, and Chief of Naval Operations George Anderson ushered Ecker into a room. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Maxwell Taylor and other top commanders sat around a large table. Ecker said he doffed his sidearm and flight suit, which revealed his uniform was soaked with sweat. “I’d like a glass of water,” he said in a hoarse whisper. He then apologized for his sweaty condition. “This four-star general took a fat cigar out of his mouth and said, ‘You’re a (gol-danged) pilot, you’re supposed to be sweaty!’ ” Ecker recalled.

Not long after the flights began, they would come under fire.  Proving the adage that ‘speed is life’ however, no Navy recce flights were lost (one U-2 and one RF-101 would be shot down though):

27 Oct USN low level under fire

VFP-62’s RF-8s would eventually be joined by Air Force RF-101 Voodoos.  Interestingly, all but one low level photo recce would be flown form the beach, this despite the fact that photo dets were embarked on the carriers like the Enterprise (VMCJ-2) and Independence (VFP-62).  The photographic evidence provided the Kennedy administration with the final proof they needed to show to the world the Soviet deployment of nuclear missiles (which the Soviets were denying).  In fact, the picture that Adlai Stevenson unveiled in the chambers of the Security Council at the UN was taken by CDR Ecker on that first mission, using a forward-looking camera that VFP-62 had developed prior to the crisis.

After the crisis, President Kennedy would personally award VFP-62 a unit commendation:

and in a note to CDR Ecker, President Kennedy expressed his personal thanks:


Article Series - Centenary of Naval Aviation (1911-2011)

  1. Flightdeck Friday: Smoke and the Battle of Midway
  2. Flightdeck Friday: RF-8 Crusaders and BLUE MOON
  3. Flightdeck Friday: Midway POV – Wade McClusky
  4. Flightdeck Friday: 23 October 1972 and The End of Linebacker I
  5. Former VFP-62 CO and DFC Recipient, CAPT William Ecker, USN-Ret Passes Away
  6. CAPT John E. “Jack” Taylor, USN-Ret.
  7. Flightdeck Friday: USS MACON Added to National Register of Historical Places
  8. Tailhook Association and Association of Naval Aviation
  9. Flightdeck Friday: Speed and Seaplanes – The Curtiss CR-3 and R3C-2
  10. Flightdeck Friday: A Family Remembers a Father, Naval Officer and Former Vigilante B/N
  11. Out of the Box Thinking and Execution 68 Years Ago: The Doolittle Raid
  12. The ENTERPRISE Petition – A Gentle Reminder
  13. USS Enterprise (CVAN/CVN-65) At Fifty
  14. A Golden Anniversary: The Hawkeye At 50
  15. Project CADILLAC: The Beginning of AEW in the US Navy
  16. Project CADILLAC: The Beginning of AEW in the US Navy (Part II)
  17. Project CADILLAC: The Beginning of AEW in the US Navy (Part III)
  18. Reflections on the E-2 Hawkeye’s 50th Anniversary
  19. An Open Letter to “The 100th Anniversary of Naval Aviation Foundation”
  20. U.S. Naval Aviation – 100 Years
  21. Doolittle’s Raiders: Last Surviving Bomber Pilot of WWII Doolittle Raid, Dies at 93
  22. More Naval Aviation Heritage Aircraft (But Still No Hawkeye)
  23. Naval Aviation Centennial: Neptune’s Atomic Trident (1950)
  24. Naval Aviation Centennial: One Astronaut, A Future Astronaut and Reaching for New Heights
  25. Flightdeck Friday Special Edition: The Space Shuttle – Thirty Years of Dreams, Sweat and Tears
  26. Flightdeck Friday – Postings from the Naval Aviation Museum
  27. Saturday Matinee: US Naval Aviation – the First 100 Years
  28. National Museum of Naval Aviation – Some Thoughts and A Call to Action
  29. Flightdeck Friday – 100 Years of Naval Aviation and the USCG
  30. Guest Post: THE U.S. NAVY’S FLEET PROBLEMS OF THE THIRTIES — A Dive Bomber Pilot’s Perspective
  31. This Date in Naval Aviaiton History: Sept 18, 1962 – Changing Designators
  32. Centennial Of Naval Aviation – The Shadow Warriors

6 Comments

  1. sid

    One of the participants reminisces

  2. Steeljawscribe

    Great article — thanks for pointing it out Sid…
    – SJS

  3. MSgt Tony Tang USMC Retired

    Sad to report that on 5 Nov 2009 Capt. William B. Ecker former VP-62 CO and pilot of RF-8A GA-910 BuNo.146871 was called to his last post at age 85 in Punta Gorda, FL.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/NewsSearch?st=Ecker&

    Semper Fi, Top T

  4. rmm

    62. That’s when the Navy was the Navy. NO PC.

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