06 November, 2015

Profile 112: JUST STARTED—QT-2PC as flown by...who?!

This is how it goes sometimes...

A call came in, an unknown phone number from Texas; I answer and someone drawls, "Yuh'interested in a storah?"

Anyone else might hang up.  Or at least say, "Pardon me?" But I know better, especially if there's a Texas accent attached to it.  So, I sat down on the front step and readied for the moment.  "Storah?" I replied.  "It bettah' be a good'n!"

Have a look at my sketch above.  It's one of the coolest looking warbirds EVAR and chances are good, you have no clue what it is (because I didn't either until my Texas Buddy explained it).

It's the QT-2PC, one of only two of the type that flew during the Vietnam War.  It's role was to loiter over combat areas and spot Viet Cong traffic at night.  Built around the excellent Schweitzer 2-32 glider, this powered version was, in many ways, an ancestor to today's drone.
Photo of the QT-2PC's godfather, the QT-2 (prototype).
Notice the little strips of aerodynamic tape to help indicate airflow...
Credit:  (probably) Lockheed Missiles and Space Company
Now, here's where things get a little...strange.  At the time, there were no markings other than a giant numeral on the tail and those that built it refer to its military sponsor as a "Customer" rather than a specific branch or unit. As a fact, the Army claimed ownership but the project team was actually tri-service (Army, Navy, Air Force).

However, the overriding project was actually managed by DARPA - the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

DARPA, though sometimes clouded in mystery (some truth to that) was created in 1958 as an R & D  lab to develop new technologies for military use.  Basically, if the Air Force ever got jet packs, the Navy flying subs, the Marines computerized body armor or the Army "smart" bullet, DARPA prolly done'it first.  In 1967, with the war in Vietnam all hot and heavy, DARPA got wind of a Navy pilot's idea for a low-altitude observation plane that could fly for long periods of time and be undetectable via sight or sound.

Now, here's where things get a little...confusing.  I think I'm getting better at understanding the labyrinth of how government works but I still can't get past square one.   So, when "mil-speech" starts happening—the jumble of acronyms, unit numbers and contacts—my brain starts to skip.  However, my Texas Buddy wrote the following to me regarding the program's authorship...

At the project onset, we were LAC’s LMSC Advanced  Concepts Airborne Systems Quiet Thruster Program working in a secure corner of the Lockheed Aircraft Service Executive Transport Service Hanger in San Jose (really different and almost independent from the main plant – Skunk Works, North. We were known in the “White World” as “San Jose Geophysical” and we answered the phone with “Stan’s Cleaning and Pressing”.

We did not become Prize Crew ‘til late in the year – after we overwhelmed the competition in an acoustic “fly-off” competition. At that time (approx end of Sept), our onsite DARPA (to say the least) recommended the experimental  aircraft converted to tactical versions (in 90 days), sent to and evaluated in Vietnam (The Prize Crew Operational Evaluation  (OpEval).

I know of two specific sites/reasons for the deployment, but don’t which is correct. Whatever, DARPA could not field the project, so the Army Transportation Corps did so. And, because they were paying the bills, we ended up in “Target Rich” IV Corp (IV CTZ)!

Make sense?  Sure it does.  And if I have any say in the matter, it'll make even more sense the next post!  But until then, let me explain the phrase, "Prize Crew".
A progress shot.  The color is bizarre; its very apparent that it was a custom job and not part of any prescribed formula.
I'll be adding quite a bit of gray, white, yellow and blue to help match the handful of decent color shots I have.
"Prize Crew" was the code name for the Operational Evaluation project that encompassed the QT-2PC's trial in combat.  It's an interesting name that harkens back to the swashbuckling era of capturing the enemy for ransom.  In this case, the Prize Crew team 'captured' civilian-style gliders from a military procurement order and turned them into these spectral birds.

Though only two were ever deployed in-country, they logged nearly 600 combat hours, hawking the trails and terrain of South Vietnam, looking for Viet Cong.   No fewer than 5 DFCs were awarded to its pilots, too.

The Prize Crew mission isn't really new information any more.  There are a couple solid sites that you can click on (here, here and here) for great background.  So, I won't reinvent the wheel (so to speak).

Which gets me back to that Texan who called me up offering me a "storah."

Shhh.  I think I hear a few comin'...  or is that just the wind...?

(watch this space)

And watch the movie below.