USAF Helicopter Pilot Association

Texas Tower Helicopter Support

Otis AFB, MA

The Texas Towers were a set of off-shore radar facilities used by the United States Air Force during the Cold War that were modeled on the offshore oil drilling platforms first employed off the Texas coast. The platforms were used for radar surveillance of the Atlantic Ocean near the eastern seaboard of the United States from 1958 to 1963.

On January 11, 1954, the USAF approved the construction of 5 Texas Towers as part of the Air Defense System. Only three were built:

  • No. 2 - Georges Shoal, in 56-foot deep water,110 miles east of Cape Cod.

  • No. 3 - Nantucket Shoal, in 80-foot water, 100 miles south-east of Rhode Island.

  • No. 4 - Unnamed Shoal(Unofficially: Old Shakey) , in 185-foot water, 84 miles south-east of New York City.

The towers were phased into operation between 1958 and 1960.

Texas Tower #4 suffered severe structural damage during Hurrican Donna in September 1960 and, before repairs could be completed, was destroyed by a winter storm on January 15, 1961. Twenty-eight airmen and civilian contractors were manning the station; none survived.

With the advent of Soviet ICBM's, the bomber threat was reduced in importance. Thus due to a lower need and the perceived risk, the remaining two towers were decommissioned in 1963 and demolished shortly thereafter.

Notes from Ron Mecklin - In 1959, I was rotated back to the states and posted to Otis AFB, MA to fly the H-21B in the Air Rescue mission.  Otis was a very active base with units of F-101 fighters, C-121 radar picket A/C and C-97 aerial refueling aircraft.  While assigned there I was sent to Goose Bay, Labrador on a temporary assignment to fly Air Rescue missions in that area.


 My last assignment with the H-21 was there at Otis AFB flying radar site support missions to the three active Texas Towers located off Cape Cod and Long Island.  Again, we were to provide personnel and parts/equipment transport to these off shore sites.  We scheduled weekly trips to each radar station and were available for medical evacuation and ROCP parts or Specialist equipment/personnel transport.  Because of the extensive over water flying, we flew each mission with two helicopters in case one went down with a problem.  This would have provided rapid rescue of personnel in the case of an emergency.  This provided a bit of a problem at the tower site because there was only room for one helicopter on the flight deck.  We would land one aircraft while the second orbited the Texas Tower.  When the first aircraft was unloaded and re-loaded and refueled, it would take off and orbit waiting for the second aircraft to do the same.  When it became airborne, we would fly back to Otis together.

 The Otis AFB based 'Texas Tower' H-21B 's had very successful off-shore (256km) round trip people and things transport missions. The Texas Tower Helicopter Pilots were assigned to the 551st AEW&C Wing, Operations Squadron. Otis AFB, Massachusetts. Some of the Pilots were Allan 'Sonny' Hopkins, Ed Flanigin (later at Edwards), Wilbur Parker, Ed Brooks, Robert Naylor and myself, John H. McLeaish.  I flew 1200 hours in support of the Towers.

Here's Texas Tower #2 - 128nm east of North Truro, Mass (Cape Cod)  --H-21B's were the mainstay of personnel and magnatron and other material support.  Landings were somewhat hampered by wind over the radomes. We used an increased RPM landing technique --never had a landing or take-off accident.

Here's an H-21B on final for a landing aboard TT-2.

Note the flotation bags on the side of the aircraft. Only 'tested' once --in actual use!!! Only one H-21B had to be ditched at sea and the flotation bags (untested) worked as advertised. The crew stepped into the life rafts and were hoisted aboard the second H-21.

All missions originated from Otis AFB and without refueling. All were max gross flights. We had 'steel' rings installed in the R1820-103 Wright recip engine.

During my three years at Otis and the Texas Tower H-21B operation, I wrote the study for a twin turbine replacement for the 21' . The V-107 (CH-46) was addressed as the most likely candidate but they wound up with 'cast-off' CH-3Bs after I'd left. (At least it was two engines!  That Atlantic water temp never got above 47 degrees and our H-21's all developed "strange" noises the further out to sea on every mission!) Just nickel knowledge.

LT COL John H. McLeaish USAF (ret)

In 1963, three CH-3B's were purchased from the Navy and flown directly from the Sikorsky factory to be placed into service supporting the Texas Towers.

The CH-3B in the center photo (62-12574) was named the “Otis Falcon”. It made a flight from New York to Paris, France in 1963.

More on Texas Tower Operations by Harold Brattland. (updated 12/2011)

From Bill Scott

 24 Dec 2010

 I recently received some correspondence from Harold Brattland and his effort to document the last few years of the Texas Towers mission at Otis Air Force Base.  This was his first helicopter assignment and when he arrived Texas Tower IV off the coast of New Jersey had already been lost to a hurricane with 28 personnel meeting a horrible death.  We had 10 H-21’s assigned to service these Radar Towers. Texas Tower I was never built off the coast of Maine, Tower II was 110 miles off the coast of N.H., Tower III was 65 miles off the coast of MA.  The H-21 was not capable of operating in the hurricane conditions that brought down Tower IV and the supply ship out of New Bedford could not effect a rescue, although they were on scene.  As the result of this failure, the Air Force became suddenly interested in a more capable helicopter and decided to borrow HSS-2 helicopters from the Navy.  As a result of the HSS-2/CH-3B being assigned to  Otis AFB, John Arthur and I were the first IP’s, FE, SE’s, etc. and got to develop much of the doctrine, mission of the USAF’s first exposure to a large twin turbine helicopter.  Besides training our local crews, we were involved in many interesting missions as the AF warmed to the realization that it finally had a truly capable helicopter. This was furthered by Sikorsky’s realization that they had affected a coupe in the task of entering the USAF market for a new generation helicopter. The summer White House for Kennedy was located in Hyannisport and we were already up to our ears in every type of support.  It helped that the Presidential Helicopters were plush versions of the aircraft we were flying with all weather qualified crews.  It also led John Arthurs and I into assistance in development to the CH-3C at Sikorsky.  That is a story that Harry Dunn can tell much better than I.

I have decided to submit some items that deal with the first years of the HSS-2/CH-3B/CH-3C mission that I participated in.  First item is John Arthurs and I flew the Photo Ship for the first satellite broadcast on national TV from the US to Europe.  We flew out of the UN Rose Garden and the subject was the New York skyline from Statue of Liberty, down the East River to the U:N Building.  The year was 1962.  The next item is the flight of the Otis falcon in 1963 from Otis AFB to the Paris Air Show.  John Arthurs, William Lehman and I were the pilots on this flight.  I kept a log at the request of Mal Burgges and Danny DeVito of Sikorsky.  A copy is supposedly at the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patt where it may be gathering dust.  The aircrew was awarded DFC’s and were also nominated for both the Harmon and McKay International Trophy by ADC.  Naturally we did not win but I have always enjoyed the thought of all those ADC fighter pilots dealing with a helicopter crew as their nominee for the year’s outstanding aerial flight.  The last item is Capt. Frank Kelley and I picking up the 1st CH-3C from Sikorsky factory assembly line.

William A. Scott III

Major USAF – Ret.

For the complete story on the planning, construction and operation of the Texas Towers,

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