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9/22/2017 12:11:25 AM
Posted: 9/11/2005 10:19:10 AM EDT
From The Age, Australian News Paper
http://www.theage.com.au/text/articles/2005/09/09/1125772695364.html?oneclick=true

Revealed: secrets of the spies in our skies
Date: September 10 2005

The truth behind secret US missions over Victoria in the '60s is stranger than fiction, writes Brendan Nicholson.

IT WAS one of the best-kept secrets of the Cold War. A clandestine operation, with overtones of Dr Strangelove, was played out against the backdrop of superpower paranoia in — of all the surreal settings — rural Victoria.

Only now, more than 40 years later, and still shrouded in official secrecy, are details of the United States' operations on Australian soil beginning to emerge.

In May 1961 a group of distinctively shaped, oddly named US spy planes began flying a series of top secret missions from East Sale RAAF base.

Their role — the Australian government said at the time — was to take part in a global survey of radiation levels to gauge the impact of nuclear bomb testing. Later the government said the planes were engaged in weather reconnaissance.

Forty years on, the Australian government documents that could reveal what those aircraft really did on "Operation Crowflight" are still classified. But US documents, unearthed from military archives by Australian historian and author Dr Philip Dorling, show that it had nothing to do with the weather.

At the time, the Victorian Peace Council called for protests against the US Air Force deployment and speculated that it was part of a US plan to carry out nuclear tests at Maralinga.

But the real goal of Operation Crowflight was even stranger. It was to collect, from the sky over the Southern Ocean, a rare gas called krypton-85 with which the US hoped to calculate the size of the Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal.

The saga began on July 4, 1960, when the US embassy in Canberra passed a note to the Australian Defence Department outlining the proposal and suggesting the radiation sampling cover story.

A month earlier U-2 had become a household name around the world when a spy plane belonging to the US Central Intelligence Agency and piloted by Gary Powers was shot down over the Soviet Union.

Now the US was asking Australia to allow it to fly three of the planes, with their distinctive albatross-shaped wings, along with six other US planes as part of a mission that might influence the outcome of the Cold War.

The US ambassador in Canberra, William Sebald, called on prime minister Menzies on July 5, 1960, to discuss the project. Documents obtained by Dr Dorling show that some in the Australian Defence Department doubted whether the cover story would be swallowed in scientific circles because the results would not appear to justify the high cost of the operation.

There was also some concern about using U-2s so soon after the downing of Powers' aircraft over the USSR, and the resultant collapse of the Paris Summit between US president Dwight Eisenhower and Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev.

CIA U-2 operations in east Asia, including flights over communist China, had also attracted unwelcome publicity with the crash landing of a U-2 in Japan.

Perhaps, suggested the US embassy, the planes could be "rechristened" for their Australian sojourn. The State Department, however, pointed out that the planes were already well known and that "an unsuccessful attempt at camouflage of this kind would make the United States a laughing stock".

Krypton-85 is an isotope produced when weapons-grade plutonium is manufactured. It is then carried off around the planet on air currents.

By collecting air samples around the world, the US Air Force planned to work out how much krypton-85 existed. By subtracting the amount of the gas created by the plutonium production of the US and its allies, they could make a reasonably accurate estimate of the amount of plutonium produced by the Soviets and from there calculate roughly how many bombs the USSR had.

Crowflight's real purpose was kept a very closely guarded secret because the United States feared that if the Soviets found out about it they would suppress the emission of the gas from their plutonium production reactors.

Such sampling of rare gases to detect nuclear activities was not new.

In 1944 the US Air Force had carried out a series of low-level reconnaissance flights over Germany looking for traces of xenon-133, a radioactive gas produced by fission in a nuclear reactor, in a bid to detect any German nuclear activity. They found none because the Germans had not built a reactor.

Much more recently, krypton-85 sampling has been and continues to be used as a means to monitor North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

But when Dr Dorling, who is writing a book on the Australian-US defence relationship, asked the Australian Defence Department for the records of this project from 40 years ago, access to critical records was refused on the grounds that declassification would reveal details of liaison and co-operation between Australia and the United States that were "of continuing sensitivity and remain properly classified".

The department said the files contained information communicated in strict confidence by the US Government.

"The US Government has asked that the information not be released to the public. The release of this information would therefore constitute a breach of confidence owed to the US Government," he says.

In the end Dr Dorling turned to declassified US records, which included enough of the material to tell the story.

The US Air Force planned to take high altitude air samples simultaneously at various sites around the world during November 1960 and May 1961. The initial flights were carried out from the RAAF base at East Sale and involved three U-2 and four JB-57 aircraft (modified Canberra bombers) supported by two C-54 search-and-rescue aircraft. Up to 200 personnel were involved.

Operation Crowflight continued until early 1966. High-performance RB-57 reconnaissance aircraft were employed in the latter stages before the operation was transferred to Argentina.

But Dr Dorling argues the operation raised more difficult questions that remain relevant today.

The Crowflight operation, he says, was an important part of Australia's growing defence collaboration with the US. Before the North-West Cape Naval Communications Station became operational at Exmouth, Western Australia, in 1967, it was the largest US defence project in Australia.

But it was never referred for consideration by the Australian cabinet and was not covered by any treaty or memorandum of understanding.

"Operation Crowflight was highly visible but its purpose was highly secret and was known to only a handful of Australian officials.

"The fact that krypton-85 sampling is a method of detecting clandestine nuclear programs is well known so it's hard to see why this has to remain security classified in Australia to this day apart from a desire by the Australian and US departments of defence not to admit past disinformation."

Dr Dorling says that after 40 years, Crowflight provides a good illustration of the hidden dimensions of the Australia-US alliance.

"Behind the press releases and communiques issued by government ministers and officials, there is the critical realm of clandestine intelligence collection and exchange," Dr Dorling says.

"To a large degree this is the real bedrock of the alliance, cloaked in secrecy and disinformation, and any true understanding of our relationship with the United States must take these elements into account."
Link Posted: 9/11/2005 10:51:30 AM EDT
Totally awesome. Thanks for posting this. I like reading about all the black op type things we did in the past.
Link Posted: 9/11/2005 10:57:39 AM EDT

Originally Posted By KA3B:
Krypton-85 is an isotope produced when weapons-grade plutonium is manufactured. It is then carried off around the planet on air currents.

By collecting air samples around the world, the US Air Force planned to work out how much krypton-85 existed. By subtracting the amount of the gas created by the plutonium production of the US and its allies, they could make a reasonably accurate estimate of the amount of plutonium produced by the Soviets and from there calculate roughly how many bombs the USSR had.

That was a great idea! Those Cold Warriors had skills pulling missions like that all over the world until the USSR collapsed.
Link Posted: 9/11/2005 10:58:12 AM EDT
Interesting article. I'll take this opportunity to post a photo of the USAF WB-57F, one of the least-known but elegantly-proportioned unofficial spy planes ever.

Link Posted: 9/11/2005 11:03:55 AM EDT
What I see between the lines is that we have each others back. Cool story.
Link Posted: 9/11/2005 11:06:26 AM EDT
tag for later
Link Posted: 9/11/2005 11:07:42 AM EDT

Krypton-85 is an isotope produced when weapons-grade plutonium is manufactured. It is then carried off around the planet on air currents.

By collecting air samples around the world, the US Air Force planned to work out how much krypton-85 existed. By subtracting the amount of the gas created by the plutonium production of the US and its allies, they could make a reasonably accurate estimate of the amount of plutonium produced by the Soviets and from there calculate roughly how many bombs the USSR had.

Crowflight's real purpose was kept a very closely guarded secret because the United States feared that if the Soviets found out about it they would suppress the emission of the gas from their plutonium production reactors.




Some of the analysis of the equipment that was used for air sampling was done at the National Lab my dad worked at in the '80s, in his building. It was classified at the time. The hallway where the work was done simply didn't exist. People knew about the project, but knew better than to talk about it. And then one day it was declassified, about the time the SR-71 was being retired.

When we'd come to visit we normally went to my dad's office through the hot lab, as it was faster (and cooler). One day they were running an experiment in there, so we couldn't go through. So we went in the front door. I'm walking along, and suddenly noticed the hallway (which all looked almost the same), wasn't right. When I asked about it, it turned out we were in the formally classified hallway. It had just been opened up and you could walk down it again. I'd honostly never noticed a door there before.

Really cool stuff.
Link Posted: 9/11/2005 11:11:00 AM EDT
Awesome
Link Posted: 9/11/2005 11:13:47 AM EDT
This seems hardly newsworthy. The AF does all kinds of research like this.
Link Posted: 9/11/2005 1:20:57 PM EDT
Of course the "peace" activists were opposed to these incredible missions...


Originally Posted By DzlBenz:
Interesting article. I'll take this opportunity to post a photo of the USAF WB-57F, one of the least-known but elegantly-proportioned unofficial spy planes ever.

www.aero-web.org/database/aircraft/showimage.php?id=2267



NASA is still flying two of them. Most recently as chase/camera aircraft for the last shuttle launch.

Here's a link to some very cool video of the launch taken by the NASA Canberras from an altitude of 60,000'. WARNING: Not for those who are prone to motion sickness.
Link Posted: 9/11/2005 2:04:05 PM EDT


A Brief History of the B-57 Canberra
The inception of the B-57 dates back to 1944, when World War II brought English Electric Company Ltd back into the business of designing airplanes. The company had gotten out of the design business in 1926, but with the dawn of the jet engine, the company decided to answer a proposal sent out by the Ministry of Aircraft Production. The first test flight of the B-57 Canberra was May of 1949.

The United States Air Force first got interested in the Canberra, as well as many other aircraft, in 1950 when it was looking for a replacement for the aging Douglas B-26 Invader. The Air Force was to make its final selection for the replacement aircraft after a final demonstration in February of 1951. The B-57 was flown in by the Royal Air Force for the demonstration, making the flight across the Atlantic in four hours and forty minutes, setting an unofficial record time for the crossing in either direction. This was also the first unrefuelled Atlantic crossing by any jet-powered aircraft. Coming into the demonstration flight with such fan-fare, the Canberra easily stole the show, and won the contract.

Throughout the lifespan of the B-57, there were several variations of the aircraft, ranging from an "A" model to an "F" model. The B-57 also had two prefixes, an "R" designating it a reconnaissance plane, and a "W" designation for weather. A total of 21 "F" models were constructed by modifying existing B-57s. However, only the fuselage, landing gear, and horizontal tail were kept from the original aircraft.

The primary user of the WB-57F was the 58th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron at Kirtland AFB, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who received their first aircraft in 1964. These Canberras were deployed throughout the world where there was suspected atmospheric testing of nuclear devices to sample the upper atmosphere for nuclear debris.

Due to a poor material selection, the long wings of the WB-57Fs started showing stress corrosion cracks after a few short years of service. It was decided to replace the wing spar and ribs with a different type of aluminum, but it was not financially feasible to replace the entire fleet, and nine planes were sent to storage. Shortly thereafter, the 58th WRS deactivated their remaining planes in 1974, ending a long era of the Canberras military service.

However, shortly before this in 1968, NASA had contracted with the Air Force to operate an RB-57F, which flew many research missions as part of the Earth Resources Technology Satellite program. In 1972, the Air Force thought the expense was too high, and transferred the plane to NASA. This aircraft was re-numbered NASA 925. This plane operated until 1982, when it was retired. It currently resides in the Pima Air Museum in Tucson, Arizona.

When the 58th WRS high altitude program was cut in 1974, they also transferred NASA 926 to Houston. While this plane was out of service for some time due to budget considerations, it is still flying missions today, operating out of Ellington Field in Houston, Texas. More recently, NASA acquired another WB-57F, numbered NASA 928.

NASA 926 and NASA 928 are the only two WB-57s still flying in the world today.





Link Posted: 9/11/2005 2:10:27 PM EDT
Link Posted: 9/11/2005 2:10:57 PM EDT
The B-57 looks awsome. Never heard of it before today.

Link Posted: 9/11/2005 2:14:30 PM EDT
Cool, I love hearing about old classified stuff like this



Link Posted: 9/11/2005 2:22:15 PM EDT
[Last Edit: 9/11/2005 2:36:40 PM EDT by Sub-MOA]


Now where have I seen a setup like that before?

[W.C. Fields]Ah yes[/W.C. Fields]

www.boeing.com/defense-space/military/abl/tests3.html
Link Posted: 9/11/2005 3:10:53 PM EDT
Link Posted: 9/11/2005 3:30:17 PM EDT
Two challenges faced by airborne laser.

1) Getting enough photons down an aperture to do damage
2) Keeping those photons focused on a ballistic target.

I would say that we have just about got #2 licked – just by looking at that NASA footage
Link Posted: 9/12/2005 10:08:54 AM EDT

Originally Posted By DzlBenz:
Interesting article. I'll take this opportunity to post a photo of the USAF WB-57F, one of the least-known but elegantly-proportioned unofficial spy planes ever.

www.aero-web.org/database/aircraft/showimage.php?id=2267



I believe there are 2 B-57's parked just off the runway at Falcon Field in Mesa, Az. I've never gotten close enough to be sure that's what they are. There's a whole bunch of old aircraft there.

Don't know what they're doing with them, or even who owns them. There's a CAF museum that they could belong to, as well as a company that does refits - but they seem to be playing with S-2's and OV-10's at the moment...
Link Posted: 9/12/2005 1:25:59 PM EDT
They are not RB-57's or B-57's, they are English Electric Canberras TT18's.
A TT-18 is a trainer aircraft that was modified to be a target tug.
These aircraft were fitted with two underwing winches designed for use with a variety of towed targets.
The Canberra is what the B-57 is based on.

N76764 and N76765.
Only one is believed to be airworthy.

They are owned by:
JET AVIATION HISTORICAL SOCIETY
45 W JEFFERSON ST
PHOENIX ARIZONA 85003-2307
MARICOPA COUNTY
UNITED STATES





Originally Posted By ASUsax:
I believe there are 2 B-57's parked just off the runway at Falcon Field in Mesa, Az. I've never gotten close enough to be sure that's what they are. There's a whole bunch of old aircraft there.

Link Posted: 9/12/2005 1:32:07 PM EDT
Link Posted: 9/13/2005 11:48:11 AM EDT

Originally Posted By KA3B:
They are not RB-57's or B-57's, they are English Electric Canberras TT18's.
A TT-18 is a trainer aircraft that was modified to be a target tug.
These aircraft were fitted with two underwing winches designed for use with a variety of towed targets.
The Canberra is what the B-57 is based on.

N76764 and N76765.
Only one is believed to be airworthy.

They are owned by:
JET AVIATION HISTORICAL SOCIETY
45 W JEFFERSON ST
PHOENIX ARIZONA 85003-2307
MARICOPA COUNTY
UNITED STATES

www.warbirdregistry.org/jetregistry/images/canberra-wk163-2.jpg



Originally Posted By ASUsax:
I believe there are 2 B-57's parked just off the runway at Falcon Field in Mesa, Az. I've never gotten close enough to be sure that's what they are. There's a whole bunch of old aircraft there.




Thanks, never been close enough to them to tell the difference. They're parked on the North side of the runway, roads on the south side, and I never bothered to bring a pair of Binoculars. I like to drive through on the way to the store, it's a little out of the way, but there's lots of Aircraft salvage/repair shops in there, I like to see what's going on.

It's a neat little field, with the CAF museum, MD Helicopters, and Boeing right there, you get some nice stuff flying around, and my house is almost exactly in line with the runway, so I get them taking off or landing, depending on the wind.
Link Posted: 9/13/2005 12:24:45 PM EDT

Originally Posted By cmjohnson:
That's a Schmidt Camera, not a laser, in the nose of the '57.


CJ




Schmidt-Cassegrain scope.

I could be wrong though as it may be a Dall-Kirkham or a Ritchey-Chretien scope.
Definitly not a Maksutov scope, though.
Link Posted: 9/13/2005 12:30:52 PM EDT
The B-57G model was one of the first USAF aircraft to
use laser guided bombs in the Vietnam war.
Late 60s, early 70s era.

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