Veteran Stories: Dave Metheny

Veteran Stories: Dave Metheny

History of ADC's SAGE and GATR Operations

1959 -1967

I am writing this history, based on my own personal experiences in the USAF during my two 4 year terms of enlistment.  I was enlisted in the USMC Reserves while as a senior in High School.  Graduated May 25th, 1958.  Two days after graduation, me and three class mates were shipped off to MCRD San Diego CA for Boot Camp.  13 weeks boot camp, 4 weeks of ICT Individual combat training. That was followed by 10 weeks of ACT. Advanced combat and special weapons training. We then was given three options.

1. Take tests to see if we qualified for flight training.

2. Transfer to acitve duty and be assigned to a regular Marine Unit.

3. Transfer back to the Active Reserves in my hometown.

I failed the eye exam for flight training. So I opted to go back to my hometown reserve unit.  Once back there  in December 1958, my two brothers (both USAF) told me to see about USAF training. My AQE Scores was A-75, M-80, G-70, and E-95. The AF Recruiter took one look and said Dave,. I can get you into any electronic school  that the AF has. I signed on to Ground Radio Maintenance school at Keesler AFB. Five days later I started 30432 school.  41 weeks later was promoted to A2c, and sent to 694th AC&W site at Lewistown Montana.  When I arrived there the site was under construction. Radar up top the Judith Peak (6400 ft up) was up.  The GATR site was still being built. So I was given duty as crew driver.  Drive up and down the hill until the GATR was done..

Now the GATR was the ground to air communications for the tactical support bases. Eilson and Malstrom. We has 24 channels of UHF communications.. GRT-3 and GRR-7's. Plus we had two GRC-27 multi-channel units. Early in 1961, the GKA-5 was introduced. It was a digital logic transmitter from the SAGE center to send digital command via radio to the then F-106 fighters. This allowed the SAGE computer to send commands ahead to the fighter and let its on board computer store commands for up the 30 seconds if control was lost.  I applied and was selected for the GKA5 school, TDY to Keesler for 10 weeks.  Soon as I arrived back at the 694th, within 6 weeks I got orders transferring me to 639th AC&W Sqdn, Lowther Ontario Canada. (Pine tree line). Still GATR, but got to install the GKA5 and FRT49 system there. I also was becoming the all time expert on the GRC27. Was stationed there thru the Cuban Missile Crisis. With my Combat background was assigned (now A1C) base defense chief.  Summer 1963 we turned the site over to the RCAF troops, and I was transferred to 798th Radar Sq, Belleville IL. While there, President Kennedy was assassinated.  I applied for Computer school (Bluesuit several times)  but got selected for the BUIC II system school. Another 16 weeks at Keesler.   The BUIC II system was Backup for the SAGE Sector at Truax Field WI.  The SAGE computer was an antiquated FSQ7 tube type computer.  Three story building with over 500,000 vacuum tubes.  The BUIC II was a Burroughs D825 fully transistorized. The system we had at Calumet was fully capable to replace the FSQ-7. And we did several times a month when it had to go down for maintenance.

The SAGE system was a complete defensive system by the ADC.  From Colorado Springs.  Five Major AD sectors with centers across the USA.   lines of Radar sites fed into the SAGE center computers via The FST-2.   There was three lines of sites. Central USA, line of northern USA, and the pine tree line across Canada.  There also was the BIMEWS across the artic circle give early warning to missile attack or aircraft coming over the top. I served on all three lines of Radar sites.  Montana, Illinois, and Canada.

I was discharged from Calumet 1967. Went on to a career in the computer industry.

Then back to DOD civil Service. (1991)AF, Navy, USMC, Army and VA. Retired in 2010 with over 31.5 total years. Retired as a GS-14.


Active Air Defense Red Time Experience

It was early in 1966.  The FSQ-7 SAGE Computer was scheduled for a major downtime for an upgrade.  Sector Commander initiated an Inspection of the Calumet BUIC II site to hold an IG inspection during the time the FSQ-7 was down, to have the Calumet BUIC II perform all active air defense duties.  This was over a 24 to 48 hour period. They sent in an IG team.  A Full Bird Colonel, a Lt Col and three majors to observe our facility and the actions of all the operational personnel and the COMPUTER personnel.

During the first day shift of the inspection, I was a SSGT, and was assigned the BFMM. The BUIC Facility Maintenance Monitor.  The IG team came into the Computer room, and the three Majors went in with the ops crews to monitor. The Leader Col. Was Arthur A. Fox.  (He was my CO at the Lowther AFS, Canada. He was then a Major, and was promoted to Lt Col while I was there.)  He came in and looked at me, smiled and we shook hands and talked for a minute. He went into our offices with his deputy. The Lt Col. They both talked with the Operations chief, and our NCOIC. After about an hour they both came into the computer area to see how things were going. All was tip top shape. So they went back to the Operations office.  

Now I will clarify my duties. I was 100% responsible to ensure the computer system and its functions were 100% perfect.  The BFMM was an absolute GOD in the Computer room. Any malfunction that required a restart or complete reboot, was on a 4 minute time to restore.  After 4 minutes the system could not "remember" where everything was.

Complete restart within the 4 minutes, the system could remember and catch up, no problems.  AFTER 4 minutes, we would go to Active Air Defense RED Time.  (BAD BAD).

About 11:00 am the system Hiccupped, Went into "Error Recovery" Mode. That cycle normally would go thru the cycle in about 45 seconds.  Find the problem, exclude the failing unit and restart.  The system normally had one of the two computers with 5 memory banks running the Air Defense Program. One other computer with one memory bank, running a diagnostic program. This instance, the error recovery completed, then the WHOLE DAMN THING STOPPED. I had to complete a complete reboot of the system. That involved loading a master tape, Keying in a 12 step reboot sequence, then running to the Computer and triggering the reload. Best instance was about two minutes. Giving us a minimum of about 45 seconds to spare before we would go RED TIME.

Now here's what happened. Realizing when the bells went off, I had to act immediately. I ran over toward the tape unit, (we had a tape mounted but not loaded up). As I passed the door to the ops area, one of the majors came out and grabbed me, saying what the hell is going on. I didn't know who that was, so I just PUSHED him aside, saying get the hell out of my way. Made it to the tape unit, loaded the tape. Ran back past the major who was flat on his ass, keyed in the sequence, ran to the computer and triggered the reload. Now the system came alive and restored everything. 3minutes and 40 seconds.  WOW we were back up and no RED TIME.  

The next morning the Inspection was over. My NCOIC said for me to report to the CO's Office.  I went down there and the First Sgt, grinned at me, and waved me into the CO's office.  In there was my CO, Col Fox, and the major (the one with a sore ass). He was wanting me to be disciplined for knocking him on his ass. My CO asked me to explain the situation. I told it just like it happened.  Col. Fox, looked at my CO, and sneered at the major. He said "SGT Metheny did EXACTLY what his duty was.  Major YOU interfered with his official duty. He did it, and we had NO RED TIME. Case Closed."

As we left, Col Fox pulled me aside, said too bad you didn't knock his fucking head off. He is an asshole, and we all know it. Haha.


Calumet AFS and the YOGI Bear Experience

It was fall of 1966, and had our first snow fall.  We had just moved on base, in the housing area.  I had just gotten my E5 (SSGT) promotion. When we got the first snow, my daughter who was about 2 and a half came in and told me: Daddy, there is snow coming in by the wall.  I looked and sure enough, those relocatable houses had a tiny gap by the floor.  I called the maintenance group, and they came down and looked. Sure enough, snow was blowing in along the bottom of the wall.  He kinda chuckled, and said well don't worry about that. Soon as we get a good snow fall the snow would freeze and seal it up. And It DID. haha.  But with snow falling the area behind our house was all wooded.  Early in the evening about dusk, a young black bear would come out of the woods. Walked up to the back of our house. He then would turn over our trashcans,  Rummaging for anything edible. Then on to other houses and do the same. We would watch out the back for when he came out.  Our daughter was fascinated seeing a real live bear. In fact we used that as her bedtime.  She would stand by the back window and would holler, "Daddy the bear is out here."  So we named him YOGI.  All the folks in the housing area would watch for him.

That ritual became a daily routine.  It also worried the base commander. Because the bear kept getting more brave and would wander farther down to other houses. The commander sent out a notice to all the folks in housing to be aware of it.  He also said the after dark that no one should go out alone.  Just to be safe. No one know how temperamental a bear could be when searching for food.  One time, one of the guys went out, and left his garage door open.  Yogi got into his garage and pushed open the kitchen door and raided his cabinets and got the refrigerator open. He had a real feast.

One evening, my wife had went across the road to MSgt Carmen's house. She was visiting his wife.  It got a little late, about 8:30 or so. She was afraid to walk back over to our house. So she called me to come over and walk her back home.  I went out, looked all around to see if Yogi was out and about.  Didn't see him so i headed over towards the other house. There was a car parked on the road out front of their house. As I walked around the car, Yogi came around the other side.  I FROZE. Yogi Froze too, then reared up on his hind legs, snorted, and took off back the way he came. UNfroze and ran to their front door.  Once we were certain Yogi had left the area, we ran back home.

The base commander was worried about several encounters with that bear, He decided that we needed to get rid of it. They made plans for the Air police to see about getting that bear into an isolated area, and then the air policemen could shoot the bear.  Well the plan was for several men and the AP would kind of herd Yogi down to the area we had for dumping trash.  That worked pretty well, and yogi obliged by shying away from all the approaching men. Once he got to the dump area, the AP had a 30-30 rifle.  He lined up a shot, and BOOM shot Yogi.  Yogi fell, and laid there silent for about a minute. Then he GOT UP, and took off running south leaving a bloody path.  ( All the men, the AP and me included ran the other way FAST). The APs then called the Michigan Natural Resources Office. Told them what happened. They sent out several officers and they started tracking yogi.  Seems yogi left a big smashing path. They tracked him for almost 100 miles clear down by Houghton along the river there.  Finally yogi dropped.  They took him and guess they buried him somewhere.  They sent a very scathing letter to the base commander, to NEVER do that again. Just to call them First, Lesson well learned.  There were many bears all around that area.  Driving in to Calumet or up to Copper Harbor we almost always saw several of them.


Calumet AFS : Daily life living on base

I was stationed at the 798th Radar Sqdn, Turkey Hill near Scott AFB, Illinois when I was selected for the BUIC II program. I had applied for computer schools (Blue Suit) many times after my first introduction to computer digital logic with the GKA5 school. In 1965 I was selected and transferred to the 665th Radar Sqdn at Calumet Michigan. Soon as we arrived the computer facility was under construction and we all were sent TDY to Keesler for BUIC II School. After the 16 week school the facility was up and being finalized by the SDC (Systems Development Corp). The first promotion cycle of 1966, I was promoted to E5 SSGT. They told me I was authorized to move into base housing.  This series of stories will try to impart a feeling of how daily life was being an on base resident.

Daily life on base consisted of work times and family times. Mostly the on base activities centered around the "Club". One time around the fall, the base organized a base wide Halloween Party.  They managed to book the original "Ink Spots" group for the party. (They were aging and kind on a downfall, so we got them cheap).  It was also a dress up contest party. So everyone who came dressed up were going to be judged for a grand prize. Now I need to explain.  On base everyone knew we had a main Air Defense Computer system.  All the folks there knew that we had named the dual computers as "George and Elmira". So with that, my wife and I built up two boxes, painted them Grey, painted control panels on the front. We went to the party as GEORGE and ELMIRA. (I do wish we had pictures) But this was before everyone had cell phones with cameras.  Bottom line George and Elmira was a big hit at the party. We won the grand prize ($25) haha.

The NCO wives club organized a Bowling team. The Club had a two lane alley, and many activities including bowling.  The wives club organized a bowling tournament and got it sanctioned by the WIBC.  My wife was a bowler, (amateur of course), but her team won the tournament. The only bowling trophy she ever got bowling.

The club was also used for many activities there on base.  One was a weekly Bingo games. The caller was a man from Eagle River. Some said he was the sheriff there.  Now this is about my wife.  She never had a fully legal drivers license.  But she did drive a little bit at different places. All she had was a Indiana learners permit.  She wanted to get a license, but was afraid of having to take a written and driving test. Several of the ladies told her "Hey, go to the Eagle River DMV and get your license. It's easy there." So after a few days, off to Eagle River we went.  We drove around and found the City Hall,  It had a sign, Justice of the Peace, DMV, Sheriffs office and Mayors office.  We went in and lo and behold we were met by the Bingo caller. He asked what can I do for you. My wife said is this where I can get my drivers license? He just smiled, and said why sure. I am the Sheriff, JP, and DMV officer.  So he told her come over here and Ill take your picture.  He took her picture, the she said, don't  I have to take a test or something?  He said Oh yeah, sure.  He looked at her and said, so do you know how to drive?  She said yes.  He grinned, and said YOU PASSED. He then issued her drivers license.  Ah yeah, Northern Michigan had its advantages.  Haha.


SAGE - BUIC II Simulated Missions

I was stationed at Calumet during 1965 and 1967. I was a SSGT Computer Maintenance Supervisor. Our Sector Commander would schedule a simultaed mission for our site to keep our operators sharp for any in case of reality. You need to understand our mission and our area of responsibility. Our sector was responsible for all radar traffic from central Quebec Canada to the west of Manitoba Canada, all the way up to the north pole. Our defense posture included two fighter interceptor squadrons (F-106s and F-101s). We also had access to ground to air BOMARC site in southern Ontario Canada. (this was for any possible ICBMs, or fast moving heavy bombers.) Our computer systems (Both the SAGE FSQ7 and the BUIC II), had complete profiles of all our aircraft: Speed, Fuel capability, What armaments they carried, and their maneuverability. The BOMARCS were capable of speeds in excess of Mach 2, and altitudes of over 100,000 ft. This was considered both in real time and in simulation mode. In simulation mode the operators could scramble aircraft or fire a BOMARC at a target. But there was no aircraft actually up there, only the symbology would be on the operators screen. He could operate them as if REAL planes were there.

Now the mission. SDC would supply us a mag tape. We would put the computer "SIM" mode and start the tape. Operators would see some unknown tracks coming over the top near the north pole. Maybe eve a ICBM or two. Using stored data they could identify the tracks as heavy bomber or fighter escorts. Usually two or three heavy bombers and five or six MIG29 escorts. Operators then would coordinate with the missile site and launch missiles to eliminate the ICBMs. They also would scramble four or five F-106s and three F-101s. The MIG29s were no match for our F-106s. Soon as we scrambled the MIGs go supersonic and try to divert the F-106s. No Good. the F-106s would battle and out maneuver them, and eventually eliminate the MIGs. Usually in about 5 minutes. The F-101s would have a field day with the bombers, and all would be cleared before any of the hostiles got past Hudson Bay.

The mission inspectors then held a after effect meeting and score the operators on their perfomance. The good the bad and the ugly. Mostly it all was good, a few bads and never any uglies.

Now from my standpoint AFTER THE FACTS, and late at night on the evening shifts we computer nerds had our chances to play with the system. We put the system in sim mode and two guys would man a console. One would scramble a F-101, and we scrambled a F-106. Now when the symbology is flying, you could use the light pen and click on your aircraft, the "COMMIT" that aircraft to attack another by Clicking the light pen on the other aircraft. The other team on the console would commit the F-101 on the F-106. THEN we watch. the F-106 would try the overtake the F-101. the computer consistently update the attack angles and both planes were COMMITTED to each other. That was fun to watch. But the F-106 ALWAYS won, or they both ran out of fuel, Haha