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Christmas Eve flight-with a twist.


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With Christmas here, I started figuring out what kind of flight I would want to try in FS2004. If you grew up during the Cold War, you remember the Air Force PSA that ran every Christmas Eve in the US. NORAD was tracking Santa and his sleigh, just in case he was really a Commie on his way to bomb the country. Hey, it was the Cold War. We were all a little paranoid. ;)


Along with NORAD, there was also a mention about Operation Looking Glass which kept at least one plane in the air continuously from Feb. 3rd, 1961 to July 24th, 1990. I looked at the box the CDs came in. Hmm.. "A Century of Flight", wasn't Looking Glass fairly important during those years? Even though these flights were (and still are) highly classified, could I re-create one of them?


Figuring out how to fly an authentic Looking Glass mission can be tricky, but it can be done.


Let's start with the basics, we'll need the plane and a base from where the missions were flown.

Turning to Wikipedia, we can look up "Operation Looking Glass" and find out a lot about these missions.

Most were flown from Offutt AFB (KOFF) but there were also missions flown from Ellsworth AFB (KRCA).

All of these missions used a variant of the KC-135 called an EC-135. This is not the same as the E-4B, a highly modified 747.

Those missions are known as Nightwatch and are hardly ever flown.

Looking Glass missions have been described as lasting somewhere around eight hours per plane.

We can also figure out that while Looking Glass could direct manned bombers, its main purpose was to communicate with ICBM launch sites and, if needed, could remotely launch the missiles.


So, let's take what we know and put together a package of files for FS.

For the base, I'll install the Ellsworth AFB B-1B package from MAIW. This has a nice scenery update plus an AFCAD update for taxi and parking.

MAIW also has a nice rendition for Offutt AFB, so we might as well install that as well.

For the plane, I'll use the EC-135 downloads (base package plus repaints, panel and sounds) from Historic Jetliners Group, which already has a nice repaint of an EC-135 from KRCA.


Now, the tricky part begins..

We know the flights lasted "around" eight hours and the primary mission dealt with ICBM launch sites. We can also throw in a couple of curve balls.

The first is that the planes would want to be fairly close to the missile launch centers (not so much the silos themselves) but not so close that an attack could take them out. We also know the planes carried a SAC General plus their Battle Staff (senior officers and enlisted).


What we DON'T know, and unless you know someone who flew on Looking Glass missions and is willing to talk about it, what we won't be able to find out, is how or where to fly them. We can still go back to Wikipedia and search for US ICBM missile bases. I kept my search based only on the Minuteman sites and came up with the following:


Minot AFB- 48 25 N 101 21 W

F.E. Warren AFB- 41 08 N 104 52 W

Malmstrom AFB- 47 30 N 111 11 W

Grand Forks AFB- 47 58 N 97 24 W

Whiteman AFB- 38 44 N 93 33 W

Ellsworth AFB- 44 09 N 103 04 W


Next, its handy to have a flight planner that uses a map background and can display positions based on user input. I've used a program called Nav (for FS2002) for many years and its very handy for this job. Plotting out the base locations (and ignoring the positions for the silos for now), you'll start to get a feel for what this area looks like. Just by doing a rough approximation for where the center of this area is located, Pierre S.D. starts to stand out. Looking at the display on Nav some more, and you'll start to see some VORs within this area. I settled on the following:


Mitchell MHE 109.20

Aberdeen ABR 113.00

Lemon LEM 111.40

Philip PHP 108.40


With Pierre PIR 112.50 roughly in the middle.


Flying to each VOR results in a box with a 520 nMi perimeter. This should take just about one hour per lap. It should be noted that the same VORs would be just as valid for missions flown from Offutt. So, almost everything is in place. What else do I need?


For starters, SAC worked in Zulu (or GMT) time.

There's a handy clock gauge in Alphasim/Virtavia's freeware B-1B that cycles between local time and Zulu. Its also a "wind up" clock which adds to the realism. Looking Glass aircraft HAD to be rugged in case their Deterrence mission failed, which is also why the panel should use "steam gauges" for the primary flight displays. Now, I have my panel set up, somewhere to fly, and an accurate clock. Its getting down to the nitty gritty and its time to do some quick flying to test everything out. Which brings up the next problem, where should this plane be parked?


There aren't many clues, but it turns out to be an easy problem to figure out. For starters, the B-1s are parked on the north west side of the ramp. There's an old "christmas tree" area south of the main ramp, but the plane which could control the Alert Force wouldn't park in the same place as those aircraft, it had a totally different (but related) mission and needed at least the same amount of security. That still left some possibilities. So, the Commander of each Looking Glass flight was a General who was senior enough to command all of SAC's assets if needed. Yeah, Bob. Think like a General..


The answer became very clear. On the MAIW AFCAD for KRCA, East Parking, spot #113. Secure and an easy walk to the plane. What good are perks if you can't use them? :cool:


At this point I fired up the sim and loaded the plane at KRCA, spot #113. Called the tower and set Progressive Taxi on to check the pathway. Perfect.

Flew some circuits to get used to the pattern and then landed. Called ATC again and requested to taxi to East parking. I got directed (prog taxi, again) to taxi to East Parking, spot #24. This is a nice recovery area considering the plane and its mission. Where you get directed is also a bit out of our control. We can use the same parking codes the AI uses, but FS will still direct us to park at the closest spot we can fit into.


So, at this point I'm calling it "good" or at least "good enough". All that's left is to load the plane with 12-16 hour's worth of gas (the EC-135 had both a refueling boom AND a refueling receptacle so it could either offload or take fuel), and 12-16 hours sounds like a good ballpark figure. I also have a VERY basic flight plan programmed for my GPS. I use ACS-GPS in both FS2002 and FS2004 as my "Hey, Nav?" gauge for Air Force jets. This allows me to fly "Air Force style" or "Due Regard" versus flying under FS ATC when its needed.

Looking Glass flights were very serious but also very fun for the flight crew. For starters, your #1 passenger is also your General (who signs off on your fitness report for promotions) so flying the plane "tight" is a good thing. However, once you're in position to begin your Looking Glass "watch", you own the sky around you. At this point ATC can't touch you and you're on your own. Timing to way points is very loose, in fact you want to use some random moves or maybe practice deploying the ELF wire from the belly of the plane. Pick one of the VORs and fly toward it, or just keep turning laps. As long as the General stays happy, you're golden. :D


So, I'm all set to run my first logged, long duration flight in FS9 tonight. All that was left was picking out a dramatic "General-esque" call sign. I started EditVoicepack to see what was available and combined that with the last two digits of the tail number, this flight will be ABSOLUTE 83. :cool:


Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, now go fly something. :pilot:

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I can tell you that I used to live in North Dakota about 50 miles north of Minot near the Canadian border and the missile sites were there where I lived and all over North Dakota. They were NOT at the AFB and WILL NOT be at any AFB that I know of. They are out in the middle of no where. Your only indication of seeing one on the side of a highway is the fencing and poles sticking out of the ground. Those are probably air filtration and other stuff.


So like North Dakota, Wyoming would have their silos scattered about just like other places. They are located in low population density areas because they are a target. Doesn't make sense though because by the time a missile was fired off from another country we'd see it and respond so it's a moot point of hitting those targets. Especially when you have nuclear submarines all over hell. I think at any given time there are at least six patrolling the oceans. I can't remember. Their missiles can have 12 warheads per missile but treaty limits to 8. So each sub can have 20 missiles for a total of 160 targets. That's just one Ohio class submarine. There are 14 Ohio class submarines with nuclear ability. 14 * 160 = 2,240 targets just with submarines alone! Although, not all of these subs would be out and about. Like I said, I think it's at least six at any given time.


I'm sure the Looking Glass aircraft used shortwave to communicate with the subs. Though, those aircraft would be doing circles over the Pacific and Atlantic ocean with a very long wire out the back as the antenna. I think it's a figure eight flight pattern for better communications of low frequency.


If you have a shortwave radio you can listen to test EAMs (Emergency Action Message). https://www.numbers-stations.com/military/usa/hfgcs/#:~:text=The%20primary%20HF%2DGCS%20frequency,still%20most%20of%20the%20day.



Just a movie and the protocol is way off, but I thought it was cool.


Edited by CRJ_simpilot
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It wound up pretty good. :cool:


On the one hand, it was about 45 minutes from Ellsworth to the area I picked. Then it was 8 hours to nowhere. :p Then another 45 minutes back to base. I can at least understand why most of the paint on an EC-135's inst panel may have been scratched off. ;)


Here's where it gets odd- MAIW add all kinds of goodies to their AI packages. In this case it includes marked restricted MOAs on the FS map and GPS.

There's a (real) MOA just to the south of the box I mentioned above, like within 10 miles of the box I picked out. Today, its controlled by the South Dakota ANG, back in the 1980's- who knows? :rolleyes: I might have been closer than I thought.


Looking Glass was an Air Force-only deal before the E-6 came on line. The Navy ran its own program called TACAMO (TAke Charge And Move Out) mostly using C-130s. That's something I can't speculate about, I did my time on attack subs for six years. :cool:


I haven't done it in a while, but you can google the location of the silos and control centers and display them on Google Earth. :)

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Isn't TACAMO used for multiple uses? Like Shoot-and-Scoot? TACAMO could actually be used by combat air traffic controllers.


Come to think of it, there are silos here in Colorado. One is a tourist attraction and I saw another that I think is near Denver (why?) that's for sale, but massively over priced and has water that needs to be pumped out and lots of renovation needs to be done.


I'd rather buy a long lines bunker or build my own from my own drawn up plans. Which is something I've been meaning to do. Getting it built will require a state lottery win. LOL I'm a bit of a SHTF prepper so know a thing or two. Everyone was looking for masks and what not with the China flu, I had N95's, swimming goggles (virus can enter the eyes) and a full fledged face mask with p100 filters. Yes, I wear this "beast" in the stores. I've only seen one other guy with a full $200 face mask. I wear my N95 getting a hair cut.


Good help us if Ebola comes to our shores...

Edited by CRJ_simpilot
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