The Cuban Crisis
October 1962

© by Col. Robert W. Stonestreet

On Wednesday night, October 17, 1962, at approximately 10:00 p.m., I received a phone call from Major Jack Ragsdale, Operations Officer for the 482nd Fighter Interceptor Squadron (FIS), notifying me to report to squadron operations early the next morning with my bags packed. He had no more information than that and suggested that I pack for at least two weeks. The 482nd FIS was stationed at Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina. On Thursday morning we were told that sixteen aircraft and sixteen pilots were deploying immediately to Homestead Air Force Base, Florida for an indefinite period. Homestead AFB was in the process of deploying all of its B-52 and KC-135 aircraft to make room for approximately 500 F-100s and our F-102s. We deployed to Tyndall AFB, Florida, on Thursday due to a hurricane off the coast adjacent to Charleston, South Carolina, that was predicted to hit North Carolina. We spent Thursday night at Tyndall and on Friday deployed to Homestead. The 482nd already had a detachment of aircraft and pilots (four F-102s and six pilots), including maintenance and support personnel, TDY (Temporary Duty) at Homestead to provide air defense alert in the southern Florida/Cuba area. Pilots were rotated every two weeks and aircraft as required. Initially we set up operations in the 482nd alert facility on the flight line where we maintained normal air defense alert (2 aircraft on 5 minute alert). My job at the time was Assistant Operations Officer and before we left the flight line Friday afternoon, we prepared a normal flying training schedule for Monday. We had the weekend off. Even though it was obvious that we were there because of Cuba, we didn't know what was really going on until President John F. Kennedy's speech to the nation on Monday night, October 22, 1962.

Our squadron commander, Lt. Col. Carl T. Weaver Jr., said that he did not yet know what was about to happen either, even though he was a member of the U. S. Air Force Task Force Commander's staff and attended some meetings on Friday. General Gordon Graham, Commander of the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson AFB, was the USAF Task Force Commander and had requested that the 482nd be deployed to Homestead to provide air defense for the tactical forces (F-100s) that were parked on the ramp. Approximately 500 F-100's, with targets assigned, were armed with bombs/weapons, preflighted, and ready to takeoff in less than fifteen minutes.

On Monday morning, October 22, we arrived at the flight line and began preparations for a normal flying day. At approximately 8:00 a. m. the entire fleet of 20 aircraft was brought up to "5 minute alert" status. As I looked around me and then polled the other pilots, I found out that I was the only pilot among them that had ever had any formal fighter versus fighter training (with the exception of our commander). I had been through the F-86 school at Nellis AFB prior to a tour with the 4th Fighter Wing in Korea. I was also a graduate of the Interceptor Weapons School at Tyndall. In addition to being Assistant Operations Officer, I was the Squadron Weapons Officer with the responsibility for training squadron pilots in tactics and weapons employment. Fighter versus fighter tactics were not part of our normal training program in those days, since our primary air defense mission was to stop bombers. As quickly as possible, I gathered as many pilots as I could outside the alert facility and briefed them on flying combat formation, both patrol and fighting wing positions, as well as basic defensive maneuvers, manually firing of rockets, and the importance of covering each other visually. The F-102s were armed with air-to-air missiles (both radar and infrared guiding) and 2.75 inch rockets. We carried no nuclear missiles, even though we had the capability.

At approximately 8:30 four flights of two aircraft were ordered to takeoff and were vectored to four CAP (Combat Air Patrol) points that basically established an airborne line of defense half way between southern Florida and Cuba. I was one of the first eight pilots to takeoff and we patrolled under ground radar control in a racetrack pattern, two aircraft at each CAP point. We logged approximately two hours each flight, 15 minutes out to the CAP point, 1 and 1/2 hours on CAP and 15 minutes back home. This allowed almost two hours on the ground and then takeoff for another mission. This routine went on around the clock through Monday, Monday night, Tuesday, Tuesday night, and Wednesday. On Wednesday the 326th FIS from Richards-Gebaur AFB, Kansas City, Missouri, also F-102s, arrived and began flying missions by mid afternoon. At this time the entire F-102 operations moved to the Strategic Air Command (SAC) alert facility (affectionately called "mole hole") and operated out of there for the duration. This gave us good sleeping accommodations as well as a kitchen. The 482nd had flown well over 100 sorties with 20 aircraft and 22 pilots during this 60 hour period, with a minimum of 8 aircraft in the air at any given time. That sure said a lot for our maintenance personnel! I flew 3 sorties straight before I was pulled out of rotation to assist with scheduling duties. I do not know how many U. S. Air Force air defense units were involved in the Cuban Crisis, but I know that F-106s from the 48th FIS at Langley AFB, VA were flying out of Patrick AFB, adjacent to the Kennedy Space Center.

The CAP points were approximately 50 miles apart and formed a slight curve that basically followed the coastline of Cuba. In the normal day to day air defense operations we flew in trail formation (Number 2 approximately 1-2 miles behind the leader), but I had my wingman fly a combat patrol position and recommended it to the other pilots. Combat patrol position in the F-102 had to be modified to compensate for the canopy design which limited visual coverage to the rear. This required that the horizontal position between the two fighters be farther out than normally desired. Any maneuvering required that the wingman move in closer immediately, if not directly into a trail position. Another concern was that the cruise speed we had to maintain in order to remain on station for 1 and 1/2 hours was not the desired speed you would hold in a combat environment. These were some of the things brought into focus that lead to my convincing Major Charlie Pauling, Commander of the Interceptor Weapons School (IWS) in 1965, that we should teach, at a very minimum, an orientation course in Air Combat Training (fighter versus fighter) which he approved. We developed and taught an ACT course to students that included 10 flights, for the three aircraft (F-101, F-102, F-106) we flew at IWS. The communist world had several thousand fighters (MiG 15, 17, 19 and 21s) and American pilots were facing them in Cuba, Europe, and about to face them in Vietnam.

During these flights off Cuba we received numerous "Bandit" calls by ground radar, meaning Cuban MiGs were airborne, but to my knowledge there was never any real threat of an engagement. Numerous friendly aircraft sorties, especially the photoreconnaissance flights, were being flown. Friendly aircraft were called out as "bogies". During this period of time intelligence estimated that Cuba had over 100 MiG 15s, 17s and 21s. Airborne EC-121 aircraft and ship-borne radar complimented ground radar coverage.

At the time we deployed to Florida, I had already received orders to transfer from the 482nd to the 59th FIS at Goose Bay, Labrador. After we had been there two weeks it was brought to my attention that if a person was within sixty days of a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) move, he/she could not be sent on Temporary Duty. I was immediately sent back to Seymour Johnson AFB and began preparations for moving to Goose Bay.

As far as I know there were not any encounters between Cuban MiGs and F-102s during the several weeks of the crisis. I was really surprised to learn when I got back to Seymour Johnson AFB that the base had very seriously prepared for a nuclear war. The families had been alerted to stockpile food, water, and all the essentials. Instructions were issued on what precautions to take and it really shook up some of the people. I do not know of any book or publication covering the role the USAF played in the Cuban Crisis, which was significant. During the first few days we were at Homestead, USAF C-130s brought in several loads of Army anti-aircraft weapons and personnel for base defense. The several TV specials made about the Cuban Crisis focused on the politics and the blockade. I remember only one time that they mentioned the RF-101 photoreconnaissance aircraft being shot down and the pilot killed.

Lt. Col. Robert W. Stonestreet
USAF (Ret.)

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