Everyday life at 331 sq. in 1970

By Jan Meyer

It is a cold day in february, we have an appointment with Olav Aamoth to learn some more about operations with F-104 in the north of Norway during the seventies. We´re sitting in a conference room at NAKs headquarter in Tollbugata over mugs of coffe and danish pastry, making small talk to find an end to start from. The building shakes a little every time a tram passes in the street below.


- The purchase of new fighter aircraft for the air force was cancelled in this round, he muses in afterthought, - But looking back it was the summer of `75 we concluded the preparations for what was then the purchase of the century, the acquisition of F-16. Now 25 years have passed and we should have been there again... The seventies were as close to a golden age in military aviation history as we´ll ever get. With 331 squadron and F-104 we had a sharp and effective weapon. We had the almost daily intercepts of single missions close to our territory and we met large scale excersizes that were directed towards American carriers in the Atlantic. It could happen that we, two single fighters intercepted swarms of 20 - 30 bombers on their way out. Occationally we were the first to intercept and photograph new and exciting Sovjet types as well.


- Let´s take a step back, we interrupt, - The fighters didn´t operate alone, there would be a large organisation behind them. Can you tell us something about how the operational environment was organised? - Naturally it was (and still is) the squadron that had the planes, manned them and maintaned them. In the operational line it was the Air Operations Centre (AOC) at Reitan that kept an overwiev of what was going on around us at all times. They had intelligence from the entire controll and warning chain and saw the radar screens from all stations from Vardø in the east and all the way around the coast. There was a direct telephone line (hotline) from AOC to the air bases, wherever the fighters might be at the moment.

At Bodø we had hangars blasted into rock at the east end of the airfield. Normally we had two fighters on 15 minutes alert and two more on one hour. The latter would be stepped up if the the first were scrambled and the crew fetched at home or wherever they might be. The alert crew consisted of two pilots and line crew for making the aircraft ready and assist the pilots at startup. The alert crew lived their own life beside the rest of the squadron. They resided and slept in the "alert area" outside the hangars, accomodations that was suited for the purpose. There were bunks and a kitchen. Food was brought from the base mess and the crew prepared it themselves. It was plain luxury compared to what we had in the F-86 days. Then we lived in Nissen huts, even slept on the hangar floor at Banak, and food was scarce at times. The pilots wore flight suits at all times, all they had to don at scramble was the survival suit.



Aamoth sips some coffe and pauses before continuing, - At change of alert crew each day the, alert aircraft were started. They had designated bunkers and had electric power connected. All checks were performed, the inertia-navigator´s platform was lined up. That took 71/2 minute. We had modified the equipment such that we could lock the platform and restart it in one minute, provided the aircraft was not moved in the meantime. The aircraft was ready for immediate takeoff. Then the pilots got a briefing from sector at AOC about the present situation which they plotted. There were codewords for this, if there was activity or quiet, as for the status on the surounding airfields and alternates. A weather briefing was naturally part of it as well. The weather in the north of Norway is a story in itself, in winter and at night with gale force winds and blowing snow it could increase the flow of adrenalin considerably more than unknown aircraft.

Norwegian F-104G with Sidewinder missiles mounted under its wings. On long, subsonic missions, this was the configuration of choice as it created the least drag. On supersonic missions the belly "catamaran" configuration gave the least supersonic drag.



If the controller at sector registered activity that needed attention, the alert crew were usually warned and began preparing themselves. The line crew was roused if they were sleeping and the pilots donned their survival suits. If something developed they were stepped up at first - "you may expect a scramble such and such". Then the scramble would arrive on the hotline: "This is Yankee, scramble two one-oh-fours, vector three two zero, angels three five zero, gate (climb in afterburner), contact Yankee channel one seven, back up ..."The moment the controller started to read we pressed the alarm button. The line crew was awoken (if they were sleeping), we jumped into the survival suit (if we werenÕt wearing it allready) and as soon as the controller concluded his message we got into the cockpit. We pressed the start button as we slid into the seat, fasten the harness, donned the helmet and plugged in and when the start sequence had concluded the inertia platform was lined up and ready to go. The tower was in the loop, hot scrambles needed priority. The fighters taxied out from the bunker and if the scramble was silent (without using the radio and thereby letting anybody know that something was going on), we got our clearance with lights, otherwise it was normal radio procedure. The alert area was at the east end of the runway so takeoffs were made to the west regardless, we could take off with 40 K tailwind. It was only if there was no hurry that we bothered taxying around and taking off the other way.



After takeoff and established climb on the vector that AOC had given us, we called sector, checked in and were on our way. The controller would issue courses and other information he had to intercept the target. It was a piece of cake when he had both ourselves and the target on his radar screen and we squawked as designated. His computer would tell him all he needed and he would relay to us what we needed to do to get the target on our own radar. We usually got contact at 30 miles, the controller continued to talk us in while we kept track of the target on our own radar, adjusting course and speed such that the target followed a particular pattern across the screen.

Soviet intelligence gathering along the Norwegian coast. "Cub 03" and its sisterplane "Cub 04"
were regularly out, listening to the Norwegian communications, radartransmissions and other
electronic information in Norway. They flew just clear of Norwegian airspace and was
constantly intercepted by Norwegian fighters.
Photo: RNAF

When we approached the target we would lock our radar on him. We would do that as late as possible. If the target was an "Ivan" he would notice the lock on and might take evasive actions, like sudden alterations in course (jinks), gate stealing or simply jamming our radar. Getting to missile range we had to decide whether to fire weapons or to proceed close in for identification. (Firing in anger was luckily never required, but the alert aircraft were allways armed with hot weapons). In daylight and nice weather identification was never a problem. In dark and/or in cloud it was a different story.

We had a powerfull light mounted behind the seat in the cockpit, but the only way to maneuver it was by maneuvering the entire aircraft. Getting visual contact, slide up along his side and light the target so we could decide what it was, read his tailnumber, sometimes photograph him and report type, registry, possition, direction and speed to sector sometimes provided a solid challenge at night and in cloud. More than once I wanted an extra arm. The russians were rarely out to help us and often flew with their navlights off. We could get in close and suddenly discover that he had a wingman a little behind and off to the other side of us. Our own wingman were covering us from behind with his weapons.


Then we would check fuel state, how much was left and report it to sector. We could then get ordered to return or to proceed to another target. We allways kept close track of fuel remaining, thatÕs an aquired reflex with fighter pilots. A usable alternate was usually the the largest problem in peacetime operations, it would require something very special to launch if there weren´t usable alternates within reach. The F-104 wasn´t as difficult as the F-86 in this respect. We could actually reach Gardermoen with 3900 pounds remaining over Bodø. The F-104 went like a knife through butter at M 0.9.

Bison with its bombbay modified for aerial refueling. The type was first seen over Moscow at the may the first parade in 1954. It was first used as a bomber and later as long range recconosance plane over the sea. Other duties were ECM and tanker as shown below
Photo: RNAF


Aamoth makes another pause, we refill our coffe mugs before he continues. - It wasnÕt allways that straight forward. It happened that they were practicing electronic countermeasures, noise transmissions or jamming. They could jam our radio so we couldnÕt hear sector, or they could jam our radar. Then we had to utilize different procedures and different mindsets. The radar antenna had a pretty narrow beam and could be steered both in elevation and asimuth and we could adjust gain. That allowed us to get pretty good bearings on the noise source. We could also step down, say 10.000 feet and the get a vertical bearing on the noise source.

The crew of a giant Bear-bomber waves hello.
Photo: RNAF

Because we knew how much we had stepped down we could calculate distance or altitude. We didnÕt need an extra arm then, rather an extra brain. - It also occurred that they arrived so they didn´t show on the early warning screens, he continues. - Radar coverage wasnÕt equally good in all directions, often they only needed to fly below a couple of thousand feet for the radar to get only glimpses of them. Sector had several sources of intelligence, they were able to relay a position such and such and a few minutes later another position. We brought a plotting aid along, a board with polar coordinates on it, centered on Bardufoss or somewhere else. The positions we got from sector were relative to to this centerpoint, and we could make out a track and fly our intercept accordingly.


- The trip home was plain instument flying? we inquire. - Oh yes, we had priority due to our meager fuel reserves and we had Ground Controlled Approach (GCA) at Bod¿, And¿ya and Bardufoss. The combination of GCI/GCA had top trained and very professional operators. Our entire aparatus was top notch during this period. It was a golden age.


- You mentioned that 331 sometimes were the first to spot and photograph new Sovjet types. What did you actually find on these trips? - Sometimes it was plain routine like the sigint (signal intelligence) equipped Cub (russian turboprop, not unlike Hercules) that flew up and down our coast once a week. There was Cub 03 and Cub 04 that shared the task each Wednesday. That was the milk run. But we were there and photgraphed it. The operator in the tail turret sat reading his Playboy or whatever, we waved at him, he waved back. We met the intelligence planes Coot and May, those are the Sovjet equivalents of Orion that flew up and down our coast with regular intervals. - We´ve met them ourselves, we interrupt, - Our crew chief stood in the open door in the rear and photgraphed, they did the same on the other side, then we all waved and split. - Exactly, continues Aamoth, - They were regulars. Then there were the more offensive types. There were the large anti submarine Bear with the large radar underneath and cruise missiles. They usually operated several toghether. Then there were Badgers also with missiles, we thought they were heading for the American carriers, but that is only guesswork. I think there must have been some 22 different varieties of Badgers in the end, if my memory serves me right. Sometimes they proceeded towards shore and simulated missile launches before breaking off. We met some Bisons from time to time, mostly tankers. We got some pictures of Bisons refuelling Badgers and other planes. Then there was Mail, the amphibium, the "Supercatalina". That was mostly encountered in the far north. Backfire arrived at the end of the seventies and we met Blinder a couple of times. Blackjack showed up even later.


- You mentioned Mandrake last time we talked? - Yes, but we never saw that. We knew it was there, that´s why we went through the altitude program we talked about last time, to be prepared when it showed up. We counted on something coming that way as well, and we wanted to be there when it happened. We saw Foxbat, the Sovjet SR-71 once or twice. I think Rolf Noel is the only one to intercept a Foxbat. That was north of Nordkapp, the Foxbat flew over at high altitude and probably thought himself safe. Noel was low and fast with lots of energy, applied all he had and zoomet up under his belly. ThatÕs the only pictures we managed to get of it. We were probably the first in NATO to get pictures of the Sovjet AWACS, Moss in the summer of Õ68. At first no intelligence officer would believe that the antenna disk rotated. They didnÕt yield till we brought them pictures where one half of the disk was black, the other aluminum. - OurÕs rotate? - Oh yes, but they didnÕt think the sovjets were that advanced, smiles Aamoth, - LetÕs see, you probably want to get something dramatic as well, You writers like that, I know. - WeÕre all ears, yes please! - Actually it wasnÕt very much, he is still smiling, - The most dramatic was probably what happened to Klaveness. A russian had probably made a navigational error and came in over VesterŒlen, our territory. It was at night, Klaveness was scrambled and came up behind the russian with his wingman. The russian started dropping flares at him, that wasnÕt particularly pleasant, all these flares in in his face at night. A lot was made of that episode, but I think intelligence agree with me that the russian was scared witless. He knew very well what would happen to one of ours that got confused and flew over Sovjet territory around Murmansk. WeÕve seen examples of that, and when the fighters came up, all he expected was getting a Sidewinder in an engine. That, as far as I know was the most dramatic episode we had. Other attempts at making our lives miserable, like using ECM, reduce speed or turn into the figther we had to count on. That was part of the game.



Aamoth makes another short pause before continuing. - I mentioned the large russian excersises a while ago. I remember I was on alert with Henriksen and we were scrambled on a target at sea north of And¿ya. When we arrived we flew into a giant formation of Badgers. How many I don´t actually know, there were Badgers all over the place, twenty or more. We took up position, counted and photgraphed till we were low on fuel and slid down on Andøya. There we were resupplied with fuel and film and launched again straight into another equally monstrous formation of Badgers. When we landed in Bodø a little while later I was struck by the absurdity. We had spent the better part of the day over the Arctic Sea flying around an entire russian invasion force and suddenly we were back in quiet normal Norwegian everyday life. The wife told us to take home bread and milk from the supermarket when we came off duty. Something to ponder, he concludes, empties his coffe mug and pushes the plate with the last pastry across the table. The times have changed, the wall has fallen, the cold war is history. Earlier Sovjet fighter aircraft, including the more excotic ones, the new ones that 331 squadron intercepted and identified for the first time, are well esteemed guests at airshows all over the western world. Anyone can go on a tourist trip to Moscow, get access to previously inaccessible air bases and fly with russian pilots in practically everything that the russians can offer in advanced fighters. It costs a pretty penny, but is nowhere as expensive as the ticket Dennis Tito had to pay for his ride to the Sovjet Space station.

Visit www.incredible-adventures.com/migs/ and sample their offerings.

Norwegian Fighters has photographed a Soviet attackforce near the Norwegian Coast. At some exersizes, more than 20 such planes would fly south-west along the coast, suddenly altering their course towards a Norwegian city or airbase. They would break off just before reaching Norwegian airspace, not far from land. At the same time, Norwegian politicians were discussing how not to provoke the great eastern nabour. The primary mission for these planes in a war was to disrupt western shipping in the Atlantic and NATO installations on the northern flank and in Great Britain.
Photo: RNAF

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