THE LOCKHEED U-2 IN AUSTRALIA


Lockheed U-2A 56-6700 at RAAF East Sale on 14 May 1961.
Picture: Eric Allen
Lockheed U-2A 56-6705 at RAAF East Sale on 14 May 1961.
Picture: Eric Allen
Lockheed U-2A 56-6718 City of Sale at RAAF East Sale on 14 May 1961.
This aircraft is mounted on the rarely seen ground handling trailer.
Picture: Eric Allen

 

 

Operation Crowflight

On 26 October 1960, three Lockheed U-2 of the USAF 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing arrived at RAAF Base East Sale in Victoria to commence Operation Crowflight VI as part of the U.S. Department of Defense High Altitude Sampling Program (HASP). This was the first recorded presence of the U-2 in Australia but given the nature of this aeroplane's operations, there may have been earlier visits!

HASP operations began in 1957 from bases in Texas, Alaska, New Mexico, the Panama Canal zone and Argentina with the announced purpose of determining the worldwide distribution and concentration of radioactive debris from nuclear testing. More specifically, the classified purpose of Operation Crowflight was to gather samples of the Krypton-85 gas isotope which, it had been discovered by US scientists, could reveal the strength of Soviet nuclear detonations. These operations were flown at high altitude (60,000 feet and above) in a straight line aligned north-south-north from which the Crowflight name was derived i.e. as the crow flies! The extension of operations to Australia was signalled by a visit from the US Ambassador to Prime Minister Menzies on 5th July 1960. This was just two months after the infamous downing of Francis Gary Powers' U-2 (56-6693) in Soviet airspace on 1st May 1960.

The Crowflight U-2 operations were usually accompanied by four Martin NB-57B. Operations were typically supported by two SC-54D for SAR duties and several C-124 Globemaster II for logistics support. Crowflight IX commenced on 1st March 1962 and on 8th May it was announced that Australian operations would continue on a semi-permanent basis. The last two U-2s departed Laverton for the USA on 28th February 1965 as they were required for redeployment in S.E. Asia. These U-2s were replaced by two RB-57F which arrived on 1st March 1965. USAF Crowflight operations in Australia came to a close in February 1966.


Operation HICAT

On 14th July 1966, WU-2 56-6722 arrived at Laverton for Operation HICAT, a USAF program to study high altitude clear air turbulence. These operations commenced on 19th July 1966 and continued until 11th August when the final sortie (to Brisbane and return) was flown. During its time at Laverton, 56-6722 acquired RAAF roundels on both sides of the fin although the roundel on the port side was facing aft. The aircraft departed Laverton on 13th August 1966 on return to California. This aircraft is now an exhibit at the National Museum of the USAF at Dayton, Ohio.


NASA Stratosphere-Troposphere Exchange Project

The next U-2 to visit Australia was ER-2 NASA 706 which arrived in Darwin on 14th January 1987. The aircraft operated in conjunction with the CSIRO F27 VH-CAT and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration WP-3D Orion N43RF. It is understood that the NCAR Electra N308D was also involved in the project which lasted for two months.

 

Tropical Ocean Global Atmosphere
Coupled Ocean Atmosphere Response Experiment (TOGA COARE)

The last known U-2 to visit Australia was ER-2 NASA 709 which arrived in Townsville, Queensland on 8th January 1993 for the TOGA COARE Project to study the coupling of the ocean and the atmosphere in the Western Pacific. The project operated from 11th January 1993 until 23rd February 1993. Other aircraft involved were NASA DC-8-72 N717NA, NOAA WP-3D N42RF & N43RF, the US National Center for Atmospheric Research Electra N308D, RAF Hercules W2 XV208 and Flinders Institute for Atmospheric and Marine Sciences (FIAMS) Cessna 340 VH-EOS.

 

U-2 VISITS TO AUSTRALIA
DATE
SERIAL
BASE
SOURCE
REMARKS
CROWFLIGHT
25OCT60
56-6705
56-6714
56-6715
East Sale, Vic
3/6
Operation Crowflight VI: Three U-2A arrived East Sale on 25OCT60 (Source 6 states 04NOV60). Support aircraft (4 x NB-57, 2 x SC-54, 1 x C-124) began arriving on 14OCT60. U-2s departed on 19-20NOV60. 56-6715 reportedly had an engine failure at 60,000 feet 300 miles out over the Pacific but managed to make a deadstick landing at East Sale.
28APR61
56-6700
56-6705
56-6718
East Sale, Vic
4/6
Operation Crowflight VII: Three U-2A arrived East Sale on 28APR61. Support aircraft (4 x NB-57, 2 x SC-54, 2 x C-124) began arriving on 17APR61. Douglas SC-54D-5-DC: 42-72540, 42-72586 Martin NB-57B: 52-1496, 52-1498, 52-1500, 52-1502 (Stencilled as NB-57 but referred to as JB-57). U-2 56-6718 was named City of Sale. The B-57s and C 54s departed for Amberley on 29MAY61. The U-2s departed East Sale for Nadi direct on 31MAY61.
25OCT61
56-6700
56-6714
56-6716
East Sale, Vic
3/6
Operation Crowflight VIII: Three U-2A arrived East Sale on 25OCT61. Support aircraft (4 x B-57, 2 x SC-54, 1 x C-124) began arriving on 13OCT61. U-2s departed on 05DEC61.
MAR62
56-6696
56-6718
East Sale, Vic
3/5/6
Operation Crowflight IX: Commenced at East Sale with two U-2A on 01MAR62. Support aircraft (3 x B-57, 1 x B-50, 1 x C-124). WB-50J 49-0313 was photographed at East Sale in the early sixties in company with one other unidentified WB-50. On 08MAY62 it was announced that the detachment would be based in Australia on a semi-permanent basis with the U-2s operating out of Laverton and the support aircraft out of Avalon.
12SEP62
56-6690
56-6714
Laverton, Vic
3/6/11/14
Two additional U-2A arrived at Laverton on 12SEP62. Support aircraft (4 x NB-57B, 4 x C-124) arrived on 13SEP62. C-124C 52-1030 was photographed at Laverton on 16SEP62. 56-6690 was photographed at Laverton on 20SEP64 (Source: 11) 56-6714 and 56-6690 were noted at Laverton on 20SEP64 (Source: 14) 56-6714 had returned to the USA on 05DEC61 so evidently it was one of the two new arrivals on 12SEP62.
22OCT62
unknown
Laverton, Vic
13
An unidentified U-2 landed on a foam covered runway at Laverton after the pilot reported undercarriage problems.
05DEC64
56-6690
56-6714
-
15
"General H. Estes, Commander of the USAF MATS visited Avalon in C-135B 62-4126 on 5.12 and indicated that the aircraft used by the 57th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron would return to the USA and be replaced by two Martin RB-57F aircraft. The Squadron uses Lockheed U-2 56-6690 and 56-6714, Martin B-57B 52-1498, 52-1500, 52-1502, B-57C 53-3827 and Lockheed C-130B-70-LM 62-3496."
24FEB65
56-6690
56-6714
Laverton, Vic
16
The two U-2s flew their final Crowflight sortie.
28FEB65
56-6690
56-6714
Laverton, Vic
6/15/16
The last two U-2s departed Laverton for the USA.
HICAT
14JUL66
56-6722
Laverton, Vic
6/18
WU-2 56-6722 arrived at Laverton from Christchurch, NZ for Operation HICAT. Support personnel and equipment arrived on C-135A 60-374. The U-2 was piloted by Major F. Cuthill.
19JUL66
56-6722
Laverton, Vic
5/7/8
Operation HICAT operated out of Laverton from 19JUL66 until 13AUG66. The aircraft acquired RAAF roundels on both sides of the tail during its stay.
11AUG66
56-6722
Laverton, Vic
6/18
Last HICAT sortie (to Brisbane and return).
13AUG66
56-6722
Laverton, Vic
6/18
The aircraft departed Laverton for California.
STRATOSPHERE-TROPOSPHERE EXCHANGE PROJECT
14JAN87
NASA 706
Darwin, NT
3/6
ER-2 NASA 706 arrived in Darwin for two months in conjunction with NOAA WP-3D N43RF and CSIRO F27 VH-CAT on the Stratosphere-Troposphere Exchange Project. Source 6 also mentions a Lockheed Electra in addition to the WP-3D. The Electra is presumed to have been the NCAR's N308D.
TOGA COARE
08JAN93
NASA 709
Townsville, Qld
3/9/10
ER2 NASA 709 arrived in Townsville. Operated on NASA TOGA COARE high altitude research work from 11JAN93 until 23FEB93. A photo shows NASA 709 in a hangar at Townsville in 1993. Other aircraft involved were NASA DC-8-72 N717NA, NOAA WP-3D N42RF & N43RF, NCAR Electra N308D, RAF Hercules W2 XV208 and Cessna 340 VH-EOS of the Flinders Institute for Atmospheric and Marine Science (FIAMS).

 

SOURCES
1
https://nautilus.org/napsnet/napsnet-special-reports/atomic-spies-in-southern-skies-operation-crowflight/
2
https://terencegallacher.wordpress.com/2010/09/14/operation-crowflight-1960-part-1/
3
http://atsconsultancy.com.au/demo/Aeropidia_info/lockheed-u-2/
4
Journal of the Aviation Historical Society of Australia, Vol II No 5 May 1961 (p.37 & 41)
5
Photograph
6
Flypast A Record of Aviation in Australia, Neville Parnell and Trevor Boughton, AGPS, 1988.
7
U-2 Spyplane in Action, Squadron/Signal #86
8
PROJECT HICAT - An Investigation of High Altitude Clear Air Turbulence, Walter M. Crooks, Frederic M. Hoblit, David T. Prophet, et al, Lockheed California Company, Technical Report AFFDL. TR-67.123, Volume 1, November 1967.
9
https://www.eol.ucar.edu/field_projects/toga-coare
10
https://data.eol.ucar.edu/dataset/80.017
11
http://www.adf-serials.com.au
12
http://www.joebaugher.com/usaf_serials/usafserials.html
13
Journal of the Aviation Historical Society of Australia, Vol IV No 10 October 1963 (p.90)
14
Journal of the Aviation Historical Society of Australia, Vol V No 9 September 1964 (p.68)
15
Journal of the Aviation Historical Society of Australia, Vol V No 12 December 1964 (p.87)
16
Journal of the Aviation Historical Society of Australia, Vol VI No 1 January 1965 (p.3)
17
Journal of the Aviation Historical Society of Australia, Vol VI No 2 February 1965 (p. 9)
18
Journal of the Aviation Historical Society of Australia, Vol VII No 4 July-August 1966 (p.61)

 

MARTIN B-57 NOTED IN AUSTRALIA
SERIAL
TYPE
PLACE
DATE
REMARKS
52-1496
NB-57B
East Sale
14MAY61
Crashed after take-off near Werribee, Vic 17SEP62. Both crew killed.
52-1498
NB-57B
East Sale
14MAY61
Noted again on 20SEP64.
52-1500
NB-57B
East Sale
14MAY61
52-1502
NB-57B
East Sale
14MAY61
52-1503
NB-57B
East Sale
Early 60s
52-1504
NB-57B
East Sale
-
53-3826
WB-57C
Laverton
16OCT62
Crashed into the sea off Lorne, Vic 16OCT62. Both crew killed.
53-3827
WB-57C
Laverton
15SEP63
63-13288
RB-57F
East Sale
65
63-13289
RB-57F
East Sale
65
63-13290
RB-57F
Laverton
17JAN65
This aircraft arrived at Laverton on 17JAN65 after a non-stop flight from Guam for a one-week survey to select the most suitable base for RB-57F operations. East Sale was selected as most suitable. The aircraft returned to Albuquerque, NM after the survey. (Source: 16)
63-13292
RB-57F
East Sale
12SEP65
63-13294
RB-57F
East Sale
12SEP65

This list of participating B-57s is not intended to be comprehensive.

 

Issue
Date
Remarks
1
28MAY19
Original issue.



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