The Storm Before the Calm – October, 1962 Part 2: The ANG RIO School

  • Published
  • By Lt Col Terrence G. Popravak, Jr., USAF (Retired)
  • 142nd Wing / Historian's Office

As the USAF developed air defense interceptor aircraft with night and all-weather capabilities, some of the aircraft such as the Northrop F-89 Scorpion had a radar intercept officer (RIO) position in addition to the pilot.  For the F-89, the USAF operated a RIO school at James Connally Air Force Base in Texas.  But as the USAF added newer “Century Series” interceptors to the inventory such as the McDonnell F-101 Voodoo and the Convair F-102 Delta Dagger and transitioned away from the F-89, the RIO School at Connally was closed in 1960.

But there was still a need for F-89J RIO training for the nine Air National Guard (ANG) units which converted to the F-89J when active duty forces phased it out.  These included fighter-interceptor squadrons belonging to Oregon, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin. 

To meet this need, in June, 1962 the creation of the ANG’s RIO School was announced, to commence October 1, 1962. The ANG RIO School was to be hosted at the Oregon ANG’s 142nd Fighter Group (Air Defense) facilities at Portland International Airport/Portland Air Force Base, Oregon. 

The ANG RIO School was designed to produce qualified RIOs, AFSC 1561, for ANG F-89J units, including the 142nd Fighter Group (AD) itself.  Classes were held three times a year for a period of 15-weeks each, for a maximum of eight students per class.  They were instructed by a faculty of 12 Regular Air Force officers headed by School Superintendent, Maj. James L. Thomas. Eleven captains were responsible for the following elements of the program and/or instruction:

Capt James R. Boone, Academics Supervisor

Capt Paul F. Ares, Operations Supervisor

Capt John P. Chervenak, Electronic Warfare

Capt David L. Schneekloth, Engineering

Capt Gail S. Anderson, Air-Surface Vessel Recognition

Capt Earl L. Seagrave, Cruise Control

Capt Sommers I. Howard, Aviation Physiology

Capt Zenon L. Babin, Radar Equipment Malfunctions Analysis

Capt Alan F. Rush, Operations Tactics F-89J

Capt Harry D. Hines, Weapons Control Procedures

Capt Robert L. Sparks, Basic Interceptor Technician

These instructors were previously assigned to the RIO school at Connally, and were transferred to Portland for duty while reassigned to Portland Air Defense Sector (PADS), which was based at Adair Air Force Station, Oregon.  The school was the product of the combined efforts of the Air National Guard, Air Training Command and Air Defense Command.

Brig. Gen. Gordon L. Doolittle, the Oregon ANG Chief of Staff and Base Detachment Commander, was the Commandant of the RIO School, whilst Oregon’s CWO-W2 Clarence C. Rylander was the academic coordinator and CWO-W3 John J. Leaptrott served as the administrative coordinator.

Students in the school were qualified navigators, most of whom reported to the school directly after completing undergraduate navigator training.  Some student positions were filled by reserve officers who were already qualified navigators.

The school administered ANG Syllabus Number 156102, which outlined “…a comprehensive course of instruction including ground training, simulator training, and flying missions” to complete the RIO mission requirements indicated in ADC Manual 51-89.

In order to accommodate the schools flying training requirements, Portland received additional F-89J’s which brought its inventory up to 28 Scorpions.  One more T-33A T-bird jet trainer was added too, for a total of four.  The new aircraft wore the “ADC Gray” paint (Federal Standard 16473) as compared to the natural metal finish worn on the other aircraft in the unit.  In time, this ADC Gray would cover all the F-89Js in the unit, and be worn on the interceptors and T-birds in the F-102 and F-101 eras yet to come.

Academic and flight simulator training were accomplished in Building 1331.  Flying training was coordinated through the 123rd FIS Operations section.  To aid the ground training program, TSgt Lloyd N. Clodfelter and his team of technicians constructed a partial F-89J Scorpion cockpit mockup fitted with actual aircraft instrumentation to allow simulation of electronics, radar, radio, navigation and flight characteristics. 

An adjacent computer room housed the analog computer which simulated flight conditions and challenges for the aircrew to work through, as well as the place for the “actors” who played the roles of pilot, radar operator and ground control, as required by the simulated flight’s objectives, had to work from.

In November, 1962, the simulator crew, TSgt Clodfelter, along with TSgt Gary Glass, SSgt Charles Stocking, A1C Mike Duckworth and A2C David Bjork operated and maintained the simulator for a record 187 hours without a malfunction. 

The official opening ceremony was held on October 7, 1962 with a ribbon-cutting by Brig Gen I. G. Brown, Assistant Chief for the Air National Guard (later Maj Gen and the first Director of the ANG, and for whom the ANG’s I. G. Brown Training and Education Center is named), flanked by Oregon’s Adjutant General Maj Gen Paul L. Kliever and Commandant Brig Gen Doolittle.

The first class was full with eight lieutenants:  2nd Lt’s Jerome D. Cook, James W. Korth, Edward A. Payne, Theodore E. Shanks were all from the 123rd Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, the Redhawks.  Other lieutenants in the class included 1st Lt. (senior ranking, class commander) Gerald K. Blake (124th FIS, Iowa), and 2nd Lt’s John M. Leadholm (179th FIS, Minnesota), Gary R. Patenaude (134th FIS, Vermont),  and Thomas S. Thomas (176th FIS, Wisconsin).

The first class, designated RIO Class 63-1, graduated on January 11, 1963.  Brig Gen I.G. Brown returned to give the graduation address, present the Outstanding Achievement Award and the graduation certificates.  Brig Gen Doolittle gave the introduction, while 142nd Fighter Group Chaplain (Capt) William C. Hurn, Jr., gave the invocation and benediction.

The second RIO School class of five 2nd Lt student RIO’s began on January 21, 1963 and graduated on May 10, 1963.   It included graduates from Oregon (John R. Loacker, 123rd FIS), Montana (Daniel J. Balko and Clinton D. O’Neil, 186th FIS), North Dakota (James P. Reimers, 178th FIS) and Minnesota (Gerald J. Spehar, 179th FIS).  Lt Balko was the Outstanding Achiever of the class, as announced in the graduation ceremony officiated by Brig Gen Doolittle, Lt Col Robert L. Stacklie, Maj Thomas and Chaplain Hurn.

With classes of 15 weeks, three sessions a year, some 10 classes were held during the program.  By late 1964, the ANG looked to phase out RIOs as it looked to the departure of the F-89 from service, and made plans to do so with an effort to retain as many personnel as possible.  Some RIOs were given the opportunity to go to pilot training; others received the opportunity to continue service in a non-rated position in their unit. 

The ANG RIO School ran until late 1965, when the F-89J began to leave ANG service, although two of the Scorpion squadrons, Iowa’s 134th FIS and Maine’s 132nd FIS, flew the F-89J into 1969.  The 142nd Fighter Group (Air Defense) transitioned into the Convair F-102A Delta Dagger interceptor in early 1966 to complete the F-89 era in the Oregon ANG.

After the closure of the ANG RIO school, units still needing new RIOs had to accomplish training within their own unit in the ANG RIO Home Station Training Program, which was based on the ANG Syllabus 156102 used in the RIO School at Portland.  RIO Students were given 90-days of active duty (Title 32) to complete the required ground, simulator and flying training.  This was to commence 15 days after they completed undergraduate navigator training.

Oregon’s citizen Airmen have a great aircrew training heritage here in the Pacific Northwest which continues today.  Certainly Oregon’s selection as the ANG’s F-89J RIO School operation was a testament to that.  But this was not Portland’s first experience, nor Oregon’s last, as a schoolhouse for military aviation. 

During World War II, Portland served as a launch point for the 354th Fighter Group to complete its operational training before going from Portland overseas into combat in the European Theater of Operations.  See “The Pioneer Mustang Group’s Portland Sojourn,” here.

Subsequently, Portland provided fighter transition training for newly-minted pilots in Bell P-39 Airacobra and P-63 King Cobra single-engine fighters.  Later in the war Portland provided new pilot graduates transition training into the twin-engine Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter with graduates then going on to operational P-38 units engaged in combat around the world.  See “Pacific Northwest Lightning:  Portland’s P-38 Lightning Flying Training Program of 1944 - 1945,” here.

And in 1983, the 142nd Fighter-Interceptor Group initiated a strategic air defense fighter training operation at Kingsley Field in Klamath Falls, Oregon for ANG units with an air defense mission, first in the McDonnell Douglas F-4C Phantom II, then in 1988 with the General Dynamics F-16 Air Defense Fighter. 

In 1996, this training operation was taken over by Oregon’s new 173rd Fighter Wing.  In 1998 it became the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle Replacement Training Unit for the Air National Guard and the USAF, a mission which continues today.  And in the not-too-distant future, the Oregon ANG will be training with the new Boeing F-15EX Eagle II fighter.